As a different sort of blog post, here’s the opening of my forthcoming novel, “Fat Tuesday”. Comments welcome.
FAT TUESDAY IN OLD NEW ORLEANS
Wagner W. Curry left his hotel at eleven A.M., Mardi Gras morning. Fat Tuesday. He forgot to watch his back, but nobody could concentrate on precaution with so much dress-up, drink-down shit going on. He’d managed to hit New Orleans and Mardi Gras for several years now. It wasn’t particularly hard. Nobody really cared where he was on what day – except delivery day – long as business got done.
And Wagner could do business. He showed up on time, where he was supposed to be. Nobody better. His personal mantra went: “I am a manager, I can manage.”
He’d taken a correspondence course in the Air Force, read paperbacks about managing personal business and organizing your life. They were every asshole’s gloss-job, but “I am a manager, I can manage”, caught his ego about chest high and he decided to use it.
Shit, he was a manager. Nobody could tell him otherwise. The reality he managed was one most people couldn’t take for a day, much less three years. But he had. And just then, as Wagner walked to his car thinking how ugly any city-sized party looked when daylight struck, that reality asserted itself mongoose-and-cobra-style.
Wagner spotted a face; an expression that pumped him with adrenalin. It was the tense, eager visage of Danny Monique, a man he unfortunately knew. It was peeking out at him from a hotel window, about twenty-five yards before he got to his rented Mercury in the hotel lot.
The shock of those L.A. eyes in New Orleans steered Wagner, on pure instinct, away from his wheels.
There had been no logical reason to worry, no hint of a problem. But Danny Monique meant just one thing to people like Wagner: chances suddenly became unacceptably high the car would blow Wagner to vapor the second his key hit the lock. Danny was a door-lock boy.
Danny’s frowning face would pinch into a little asshole of an expression as he watched Wagner walk away from the car. He’d either guess he’d been made or assume “Daddy Wags” had thrown fate the spitter, deciding on a whim to cab-it and postpone the full body disassembly Danny had rigged.
But Wagner knew that Danny couldn’t be ignored.
They’d never dispatched anybody to watch Wagner’s ass. Something was fucked up, in a king-sized way. You didn’t send Danny to watch. You sent Danny to rig car doors, or smile his tight smile while small bullets entered people’s heads from extremely close range.
Among guys who knew, word was Danny’s peepers fogged when he felt the brain-spray. He kept it low caliber so he’d have to get close.
Wagner got a cab, knowing Danny would be hurrying to take one after him. A quick look out the back window was all he needed.
Starting a random, increasingly nervous trail through hung-over New Orleans, Wagner strained to guess why Danny Monique had come after him.
Any way you tilted it, things wound-up ugly.
Wagner himself was Big Burrito – number one mule in the extremely large, extremely successful trafficking operation known as The Coke Machine. If that was the light side, Danny Monique lived on the dark side of The Machine, working for Victor The Inflictor back in L.A.
Victor was the guy you didn’t want to see if you dealt powder on the street. He meant they’d decided you’d been ripping them off, so now they’d relieve you of your skin. And Danny played perfect Helper to Victor’s Santa.
Wagner ditched the guessing game. It didn’t matter why Danny was after him. Reality was reality, in Wagner’s world. Once you saw it, the thing to get was the advantage. Get the explanation, if you gave a shit, later.
Wagner paid the first driver, took a second cab and made a crisscross of town, bringing himself almost back to his hotel. Danny Monique stayed after him, probably pissed and by now certain he’d been made. He liked things to go quickly. He hated wasting time.
But it wasn’t wasted for Wagner. It gave him the chance to map some moves.
Legions of cars were parked on the side streets near his hotel. Getting out of the cab by the main entrance, Wagner sprinted through the lobby. He went right out a side entrance before Danny was back inside the place. Danny had to guess directions, which could give birth to mistakes.
Wagner hadn’t boosted wheels in years, but he remembered the golden gift fate often dealt car thieves: the incredible number of mental defectives who left cars unlocked. At first, running along the side street, scanning parked cars, it looked like the retards had either stayed home or gone to pay lots. But a Ford pickup, driver’s door-lock button poking up like a proud little hardon, finally offered itself.
He was in, pulling his knife, thinking how stupid this would look to anybody who knew him: Wags, hunkered in the dust-caked cab of a pickup on a side-street in New Orleans while the whole town fucked itself blind and stayed unconscious for days. Wags, watching nervously for an L.A. poof in Hawaiian short sleeves, a man who’d come looking to blow his nuts off.
Sweat trickled, stinging Wagner’s eyes. He wiped them with his sleeve after getting the ignition housing to yield its cylinder. Now things went fast. The knife blade penetrated deep into the housing, which gave a little plastic cracking sound, but the blade did its job and he hot started the fucker. Pulling out, Wags got a good look at Danny, puffing and pale, long thin hair plastered to his skull in sweaty, sticky disarray.
Out of shape, thought Wags. I can do you.
Danny stood framed by the doorway of the hotel’s side entrance, glaring at the pickup and Wagner W. Curry, who glared back.
As Wagner went around the corner to fight Mardi Gras traffic, he didn’t see Danny run into the street and point his too-short gun at the driver of a cherry condition Thunderbird deluxe edition.
“Hit the brakes!” The reedy assassin-voice seeped through the slightly open window of the T-Bird, barely audible over the CD player.
But the T-Bird stopped. The gun was easy to understand. The driver got out, Danny took his place behind the wheel. Right away he didn’t like the guy’s lingering after-shave any more than the shit on his cd player. Danny lowered both windows and threw the just ejected disc at the guy as he took off.
“Simian,” Danny rasped in disgust.
It was a few minutes before Wags realized the T-bird, weaving nearer through traffic, was the one. He almost had to smile, except Danny sure as hell wasn’t smiling back. Danny pressed close, trying to keep up when Wagner graduated them from city streets to equally crowded highway.
Wagner’s frustration grew. What was he supposed to do, race the little fudge packer clear to Chicago? Danny clung to the pickup’s ass, trying to be inventive, trying to move up alongside. It was laughable. Wagner saw it coming again and again, slid the greater mass of the pickup a couple feet into Danny’s lane at the right moment and forced the greasy little bastard back to await another opening.
Wagner was now and then enjoying this little game, particularly since he knew Danny hated it. Door-lock Danny was your surprise in the middle of the night type. He’d’ve had a boner as big as all outdoors if Wagner’d never seen him watching, stepped up to that rented Merc and vanished in a red-hot mist.
But it hadn’t tilted that way.
Things like that didn’t happen to Wagner W. Curry, and he firmly believed there was a reason.
He believed in reincarnation. He believed he, Wagner W. Curry and no one else, was in fact the reincarnation of somebody very special. It began back in Oklahoma, in school. When Wagner first read about Rasputin, the man, the name, the idea hooked him like nothing before or since. He found more books on the Mad Monk, quickly beginning to admire and identify.
To know, he thought, what he’d felt and done.
It was some time before Wags could accept the idea, but he knew his attraction to Rasputin could be no accident.
He couldn’t keep from talking about the man. The subject was an intoxicating trigger; a weakness. He babbled. He got odd looks from more than one of his Coke Machine contacts. They tired of hearing how some old Russian fucked the Czarina, got people under his spell, got them to do whatever he wanted and believe he was infallible.
The looks hurt Wagner, but he never let on. He smiled that engaging simple farm boy grin he could muster, and changed the subject.
They’d given him the same look in Oklahoma, wondering how a kid born with blond hair and ten pounds of agri-dust in his veins could give a shit about the long-since freeze dried ass of some Moscow mind-fucker.
They just never got the point. That Mexican teacher he’d put up with in high school, Mr. Gomez, outright accused Wagner of being a communist. A communist! What an asshole! Gomez said if Rasputin hadn’t fucked up the Czarina, and hence the whole Romanoff family, maybe Czar whatshisname wouldn’t’ve been so screwed up and Lenin would’ve found the door locked.
Wagner hadn’t bothered to argue.
Instead, he waited a little over a month, already understanding the advantage and power of patience. Then he’d slipped into Mr. Gomez’s garage one night. It was too fucking easy. Gomez had left the door open. He’d walked in, opened the little slot in the bottom of the gas water heater in the corner and snuffed the pilot.
He’d even been good enough to close the garage door on his way out.
Police investigators figured the whole house was filled with gas by the time Gomez had rolled out of bed next morning, stretched his mex-muscles and flicked his Bic to light that first morning cigarette.
Now Wagner’s attention came fully back to the present; to the road. He heard loud honking directly ahead. A Greyhound was heading right for him, leaning on the horn.
A quick look revealed Danny Monique, angling to get a shot, sitting alongside Wags in the wrong-way lane, causing all the trouble with the Hound.
But Danny, acting nuts, wasn’t gonna be bus-meat because the bus driver had desperately changed lanes, probably figuring the guy in the pickup wasn’t crazy, so maybe he’d figure out how the hell to avoid the disaster this idiot asshole going the wrong way in the T-bird was causing.
Wags didn’t let him down. He veered off the entire highway.
The pickup left the pavement at a small rise in the asphalt. It sailed into dense, hanging fronds of ingrown bayou foliage that brooded over this thin, picturesque strip of Louisiana highway. Ungainly as the pickup looked, it had more armor plating for such flight than a car.
Expecting to be imbedded in some gnarled old cypress, Wagner was amazed as the truck zoomed through that sheath of green and landed in a tooth-smashing slam on semi-mud/semi-rock ground.
The pickup bounded, skidded, and rumbled thirty yards in a hail of flying gravel. It spun as Wagner tried the brakes. Rock and pebbles flew. His tires refused to grip the cheesy, perma-soaked mulch.
The truck slammed broadside into a boulder, windshield shattering into tiny glass projectiles that blew outward and away from Wagner.
Silence descended. Nothing moved. Seconds ticked by.
In the cab, Wags discovered he couldn’t get either door open after the sudden reshaping of the frame. He squeezed quickly out the hole where the windshield had been.
He knew that back on the highway, there would’ve been plenty of honking, skidding, and panic.
Danny Monique would pull over to make sure he’d seen Wags die.
Climbing out and jumping down, Wags saw gas and oil leaking from the truck: a time bomb. He stayed low and bolted for the closest trees. Maybe Danny would see the truck explode and declare victory.
He barely had time to realize this was another Rasputin moment, when the whole area lit up in fiery violence.
The concussion in the air threw Wags forward, speeding his already full-out run beyond the limits of balance. He landed hard, slid a few feet and scratched his clean-shaven, handsome face. He got up quick, shaking dirt out of his straight, until-now-neat blond hair. He smelled his cologne, triggered by his sweat. It was tough to breathe but he knew to keep running.
He didn’t know the same blast had walloped Danny Monique. Danny had run through that first stripe of trees, having abandoned the t-bird by the roadside. The exploding truck had put him back on his ass.
But Danny had done too many people, too many ways to let a simple truck explosion fool him. He believed there had been a fleeing form heading for the next cluster of trees just before everything went orange, yellow, and hot.
When he opened his eyes and still experienced sky instead of whatever you saw in the afterworld, he got right back up and ran toward where he’d seen the fleeing form.
Danny didn’t like places way out where nobody could hear you scream. He couldn’t imagine anybody liking them. The mosquitoes in this place were big enough to carry passengers. He wanted this whole thing over with and behind him. God knew after hitting that mother of a rock the way the truck had, Wags had to be hurt bad.
Danny’s heart rose into his throat, and then sank to his knees again when he saw clear imprints of running feet in the mud ahead of him. Maybe Wags wasn’t hurt at all. Part of Danny couldn’t believe it. He figured some local had seen everything and run like shit, afraid to be questioned by cops who’d inevitably smell homebrew on his breath.
But when he thought a second longer, Danny didn’t believe this any more than Victor The Inflictor would.
So finally, bottom line, it was the specter of an angry Victor that drove Danny farther into alien bayou bog. It was Victor, as much as Wags, that Danny blamed for the sweat now pouring off him. Finally, muttering, he removed his drenched shirt and kept on.
He was quickly out of patience, but not before he was out of breath, out of his element, and not sure how he would find the road again.
He’d come at least a mile in. He still saw those tracks now and then. He thought he heard a sound, but couldn’t be sure. It seemed like the guy could be anywhere, but he was nowhere.
Wags hoped the rural turn things had taken would mean the death of Danny Monique. It was another of the omens Wags was seeing in his life with increasing regularity.
Omens. To hear it, for anybody but Wagner, it could sound completely nuts. Maybe he’d failed to hide it… maybe the immaculately combed, cold silver heads of The Coke Machine had decided in some conference call from Bogata that Wagner W. Curry, with his belief that he was the reincarnation of Rasputin and his encyclopedic knowledge of who, what and where they all were, was no longer tolerable.
Maybe they’d deemed him too great a risk, too hard to predict.
Considering this, circling wide through the bush and listening for his winded pursuer, Wags found himself grinning.
Too great a risk? If that was what they thought, they better make sure he didn’t get out of that swamp-bog motherfucker bayou, because if escape was possible, he’d do it. And then he’d be the worst news they ever got.
And Danny was for fucking sure not the badass champion Victor The Inflictor would’ve wanted if he’d guessed things would get down to this.
Wags heard footsteps walk right past him. Couldn’t see ol’ Danny Boy yet, but the feet sang loud. They were all Wags needed. They made him hungry ‘cause by this time it wasn’t just survival. It was that precarious, belly-to-butt-with-the-monster existence he’d been born to. A war nobody ever tried to name or to end. Funny thing was if you were really in it, you liked it.
The footsteps continued… heavier, tiring fast. Soon to be slow enough, vulnerable enough for Wags’ knife, which was his only weapon.
Wags caught himself staring at a bug on a leaf. The two of them remained quiet until the footsteps stopped completely. They were not far from where he was crouched, poised.
He heard Danny’s labored breathing.
An inch at a time, Wags turned his head, extending his body to see around the bushes in front of him. Finally he saw Danny’s feet. Facing away.
Wags paused the slightest pause, then started up out of his crouch to launch at Danny.
But, in mid-launch, he froze. He was unable at first to believe what he saw.
To be sure, it was Danny Monique’s pale, sweaty face.
But there were two enormous, clenching hands wrapped around Danny’s throat.
An alarmingly tall and powerful man held the pathetically gasping Danny in his grip. Wags had no idea who they guy was or where he’d come from. The man didn’t see Wags, but Wags couldn’t bring himself to move.
Instead he watched in fascination as the intruder did an amazing thing: shaking Danny, who was so short of air already that the gun flew harmlessly from his hand into the bushes, the big man turned Danny upside down like a kid handling a doll.
Now the two enormous hands clamped down on Danny’s ankles, holding the feet together. Danny made disoriented, fearful noises as he hung upside down just above the ground. His arms were slack, hanging down past his head. The tops of his hands brushed the rocky soil.
The huge man, looking to the sky for some unseen moral okay, took a deep breath and began rushing toward a large tree. He was building speed as he carried Danny upside down, head still just off the ground.
Danny’s protests grew as he was jostled to awareness by the motion… and the fact that the hands had been off of his windpipe for several more seconds. But he was being moved much too fast.
Wags watched silently as the big man, still clutching Danny’s ankles together, swung his victim like a baseball bat.
Danny’s skull and upper torso hit the great old tree unbelievably hard. The sound was like a watermelon hitting pavement off a high-speed truck. Blood, bits of meat and facial bone coated the big man’s muscle-corded forearms in wet red aftermath. No more whimpering. The front of Danny Monique had been caved in with a single blow.
The huge man’s anger continued unabated. He hammered at the tree with his victim several more times. Danny was tenderized meat, his clothes crimson.
In a disembodied realization amid the hypnotic brutality, Wags told himself this was the strongest man he’d ever seen, bar none, in his life.
He also knew the man had quite possibly just saved his life. Danny, exhausted as he’d been, might’ve heard Wags coming. Might’ve turned and frantically pulled the trigger of his little popper in time to invalidate the truck- starting knife blade.
Now the big man looked down at his victim, rage seeming to leave his body. He dropped Danny unceremoniously. Standing over the pummeled button man, he quietly, expressionlessly, opened his fly and began to piss on him.