Authors: S. Craig Zahler
The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author's copyright, please notify the publisher at:
I wish to thank the following peopleâ
my manager, Dallas Sonnier, for his friendship, his cackle, and his tireless efforts on my behalf;
my father, C. Gary Zahler, for cultivating my palate, decades of encouragement, and the initial;
my queen, Pam Christenson, for being an incredible source of joy in my life;
my mother, Linda Cooke Zahler, and my sister, Jody Zahler;
my valued supporters, Jeff Herriott, Graham Winick, Fred Raskin, Jeff Wagner, Marty Rytkonen, William M. Miller, David Lau, Julien Thuan, and Lydia Wills;
Jennifer Barnes at Raw Dog Screaming Press and Don D'Auria for publishing my earlier novels.
Something Stuck in the Drain
The dead pigeon flew through the night, slapped Doggie in the face, and bounced to the ground, where its cold talons clicked across the pavement as it rolled east. Eyes that resembled red oysters looked to the far end of the alley.
Four men who were dressed in well-tailored suits returned the vagrant's gaze, watching him through the steam of their exhalations. At the front of the group stood a big black fellow, the one who had kicked the pigeon as if it were a soccer ball.
“Leave me the fuck alone,” Doggie said from his seat atop a fine piece of cardboard.
Light flashed in the foremost individual's eyes, and steam rose from the wide nostrils of his broad nose, which resembled that of a bull. At his left shoulder stood a very slender Asian man whose pockmarked face looked as if it did not have the muscles that were required to produce a smile.
“Where's Sebastian?” asked the kicker, his left foot producing another feathered corpse.
Doggie pressed his back to the alley terminus. “I don't know anybody named Sebastian.”
The big black fellow kicked the pigeon. Doggie shielded his face, and a talon tore across his right palm. Dislodged feathers zigzagged through the air like needles stitching fabric.
“Everybody in Victory knows Sebastian.”
An idea navigated the damp and angry contents of the vagrant's skull and arrived at the thinking part. “Are you guys cops?”
Nobody answered the inquiry.
“Here's another one.”
The big black fellow looked at the speaker, a doughy redheaded guy who had sad green eyes and wrinkled clothing. In front of his right loafer lay a splayed bird that resembled a martyr.
“Good one,” said the kicker.
Over the years, Doggie had noticed a lot of dead pigeons on the streets of Victory.
The big black fellow pulled gloves onto his huge hands, leaned over, and seized the dead bird by its head. “Hungry?” he asked, eyeing the vagrant.
“Fuck you, nigger.”
Guns materialized in the hands of the two men who stood behind the pockmarked Asian as the big black fellow walked toward Doggie, carrying the pigeon corpse. Beyond the far end of the alley lay a dark, silent street.
“White bums have the worst attitudes,” the redhead remarked as he inspected a hangnail. “I've always preferred the black ones.”
“Me too,” agreed the pockmarked Asian. “Why d'you think?”
“WellÂ â¦ a black guy who's homeless accepts being homeless. He can point to his history and say, âThis country stole my people from the motherland, shackled us, and forced us to work. Now I'm free, and I refuse to work. This country owes meâfor the slave days and those shitty bus seats and a thousand other injusticesâand I'm collecting for life.'”
“Exactly. Restitution. But a white guy who's homelessâit's different. There's no restitution. His parents thought he was going to college and so did he. Grad school, maybe. So he sits on the street, getting drunk, crapping his pants, thinking, âHow'd I get stuck with all these niggers?'”
The big black fellow stopped directly in front of Doggie. Suspended in the air was the dead pigeon, its belly swollen by the gases of putrefaction. Crooked feathers pointed in all directions.
“Where's Sebastian?” The kicker pivoted his wrist, and the corpse swung like a pendulum. “Tell me or it's Thanksgivin' Part Two.”
Doggie did not like blacks, and they did not like him. Whenever possible, he isolated himself from his dark-skinned peers by flopping in the fringes of Victory, where he could alter his chemistry and beg for money in peace.
“Where?” The big black fellow's eyes were small and merciless.
Doggie had no friends, but he did have one acquaintance, a man who gave him liquor to deliver packages, spy on people, and act as a lookout. The name of this generous enabler was Sebastian Ramirez, and the vagrant had no intention of saying anything about this good hombre to some nigger in a jacket.
“I don't know whoâ”
A kneecap slammed Doggie's sternum, and he shouted. The bird filled his mouth.
“Liar,” said the big black fellow.
The derelict tasted dirt and feathers as a beak scraped across his hard palate. Ineffectually, he slapped his assailant's huge hands.
The big black fellow soon withdrew the pigeon.
Blood filled Doggie's mouth and stole down his chin in a thin crimson line that resembled a serpent's tongue. Frightened and sick, he eyed his persecutor.
“Next time it goes in deeper.”
“You should believe him,” remarked the redhead.
The pockmarked Asian and the fourth man watched the event with what appeared to be a passing interest.
Doggie spat blood. “He ain't here.”
“Where'd he go?”
The derelict could not risk alienating Sebastian, even if it meant sucking on the head of a dead bird. “Fuck you, nigger.”
“He's back on that again,” remarked the redhead.
A shrug curved the shoulders of the pockmarked Asian.
Frowning, the big black fellow slammed a knee into Doggie's sternum and leaned his weight forward. The derelict yelled, and was again silenced by pigeon. A salty bead that was the bird's left eyeball slid across his tongue, and as the pressure on his chest increased, a rib that had been broken by a bunch of cackling black teenagers snapped for the third time in as many years. He tried to shriek, but could only gargle feathers.
Yawning, the redhead looked at the pockmarked Asian. “What kind of gravy goes with turkey?”
“I think he's about to make some.”
“Not on my shoes,” said the big black fellow, withdrawing the bird.
Doggie turned his head and heaved a bilious load of candy popcorn onto the asphalt.
The redhead glanced at his Asian peer. “Always wondered who ate that stuff.”
“Next time the bird goes all the way,” warned the big black fellow. “Where's Sebastian?”
Doggie spat sour tastes from his mouth and wiped detritus from his beard. “He went toâ”
The redhead spun ninety degrees and fell to the ground, clutching his left shoulder as a gunshot echoed. The pockmarked Asian dragged his wounded peer behind a metal garbage bin while the big black fellow and the fourth guy slammed their backs against the opposite wall, pointing firearms.
Silence expanded throughout the alley.
Crawling toward a recessed doorway, Doggie shouted, “There're four of them! Cops! Two of them are hiding behind theâ”
White fire boomed. A bullet perforated the derelict's larynx, and his skull slammed against old bricks. Bitter cold invaded his rent neck, and a heartbeat later, the pavement smacked his face. Gunshots crackled all around him, growing fainter and fainter until the exchange sounded like a deck of cards being shuffled for a game of poker.
“Wonder if he realizes how many black guys are in Hell?” asked someone in an alley that was now far, far away.
Doggie imagined cackling blacks who had horns, red eyes, sharp teeth, baggy pants, and big radios. This version of Hell was in his mind as his heart stopped.
“He looked like an atheist.”
A shotgun thundered, and the big black fellow who kicked pigeons yelled.
Oblivious to Oblivion
It was December, but the hot sun that hung in the sky over western Arizona did not heed the calendar. Squinting, W. Robert Fellburn eyed the police precinct and applied the flask of liquor in his right hand to his lips. The fellow then eliminated the warm remainder, dropped the vessel, and ambled across the pavement, dragging his shadow over faded parking lot lines.
His palm landed upon the glass of a revolving door, and there, he saw a forty-seven-year-old businessman who had puffy eyes, thinning blond hair, and a wrinkled navy suit, which was dark around the armpits. Staring at his unhappy reflection, Robert arranged the errant wisps atop his head and straightened his tie. These things were done out of habit, thoughtlessly, as if he were a self-cleaning oven.
A beautiful woman appeared in his mind, and Robert pushed against his sad, pale face.
The revolving door spun, ushering the businessman into the reception area of the police precinct, where a smell that was either disinfectant or lemonade filled his nostrils. Moving his marionette legs, he proceeded across the linoleum toward the front desk, which was attended by a young Hispanic man who wore a police uniform and a mustache that looked like an eyebrow.