Thursday, May 26, 2016

SHOT IN DETROIT; Willis Dumphrey


Willis Dumphrey and Carla Battista

The only convenient— no, make that the only possible time—for them to have sex was before eight A.M. And to top it off, they had to do it on a narrow cot in the boss’s office. It took Carla back to her high school days when she made love on her mother’s bed while Mom was at her shift at the Chrysler Plant on Jefferson. 
Travis, their boss, kept the cot for similar purposes if that was Vera Wang she smelled in the fiber. If their wages were any indication, he was too cheap to spring for a room.
 Travis Slack, former ballplayer and now businessman, never came in much before noon, and many days didn’t show up at all. He was about to run for City Council or so the Metro paper said. He never confided in his bartender and cook. Sometimes she worried the scent of their morning activity would seep into the room and trip them up, but at some point in the past, it’d become part of it.
The two of them were supposed to come in by nine to set up. The bar attracted an early lunch crowd—people from downtown offices, the courts, or the stadiums if there was a game. The waitresses, hostess, and dish-washer started work at ten or so when things picked up, giving the lovers a nice chunk of time. Carla and Willis finished their shift at six and went home to their spouses. But there was this first—this magic—and almost every day.
It was not a love affair exactly or if it was she was kidding herself.  It felt more two lonely horny people taking comfort in each other. Too bad it had to be at this hour, though at some point, it began to seem right. When one of them took a vacation or got sick, the other one grew antsy. Making love with her  husband twice a month—that’s what seemed odd now. That’s what seemed cheesy or stale.
            “You’re going to invite Sweetie in here while I’m gone, aren’t you,” Carla asked, curled up in Willis’ arms. Sweetie was a waitress who’d just turned 22. Willis laughed. They were dressed now but couldn’t quite say goodbye. They had a few minutes. She was going to Lapeer for a few days to help her daughter out with her new baby. It’d be her first grandchild if the kid ever got itself born. Trixie was a week late and showing no signs of an imminent birth. Going bonkers waiting. Of course, there was no husband on the scene to calm her down. The lunatic father had hit the road.
Willis was about to say something funny—she could tell from the smile that was beginning to form on his lips—when the door to the office swung open and two men wearing masks pushed into the room, obviously startled to find the two of them. Carla started to scream but then thought better of it. The larger man shrugged and without saying a word, yanked the cord from a lamp, motioned for them to get up, and herded them toward the cold storage unit down the hallway. They could hear the other man rifling the safe as the three moved in single file down the hallway. Once inside the storage room, the man inadvertently rubbed up against Willis and his mask slipped down. They saw it was Travis and glanced at each other in shock.
“Too bad,” he said. Just those two words was all. Looking indecisive for a second or two, he shrugged, pulled a knife from his pocket, and quickly stabbed Willis in the chest and stomach. Willis slid to the floor as blood spurted. His eyes went blank in seconds.
“Travis,” Carla started to say. “You don’t…” She could see the terror in his eyes, but also the heartlessness. The coldness.
“Money for a campaign’s hard to come by. If I rob myself…”
He shrugged then and his arm rose over his head, coming down hard into her breast. His ballplayer days were behind him, she thought as she died, but he still had some power in those arms.

Monday, May 23, 2016


Rodney Jones

Rod Jones got lost in Rochester Hills, a moat-like suburb that seemed to circle Rochester proper for some unknown reason. He was nearly late for the match, hadn’t allowed enough time obviously, and he felt knackered before he’d even arrived at the field. His fellow players on the Detroit Roadsters were already loosening when he pulled into the parking lot. The Oakland County team was huddled across the field—a collection of gold and black uniforms shimmering in the sun. He scanned both teams.
As usual, he’d be the only black man on the field—strange for a team from Detroit—but this was rugby. What was the old saying? Rugby was a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen. That word “gentlemen” usually excluded people of color, both here and abroad. He’d never be completely comfortable in the milieu that a top law school had placed him in. He could fool his clients, his colleagues, even a judge now and then, but he would always remember his father saying, “You’ll always be the token affirmative action hire to them. You’re a plonk if you think any different.” Did the old man expect him to work by his side in the Higher Blackley post office in Manchester?
 Sitting with the car door open, he put on his rugby shoes. They were old, a muddy, scruffy mess an outsider might say, but he felt like himself with his rugby shoes on, felt like the kid who made the team as a high school freshman. He rose, feeling that tug in his back again. Sitting in an office chair ten hours a day worked against playing sports well. He did a few stretches, not nearly enough, locked the door, and took off.
Running toward the field, he decided he’d have to get himself one of those navigational systems. For years, he’d divided his time on the 1-94 corridor between Ann Arbor and Detroit. He hated being late. Finally on the field, he was greeted by his mates and within five minutes, the match had begun.
            Rodney was a hooker. It was his job to hook the ball backwards during a scrum. He was on the small side to play this position; hooks took a lot of grief as defensive players. But he’d played hook back in the UK and was more experienced at the position than his teammates.
It was also a tough position due to the amount of running involved. But he loved playing it, was disappointed that he didn’t get big enough to own the position. Instead he had to earn it every time.
It was a glorious day and all the men were playing well. Both teams on fire. That’s what he loved most--to have the game played as perfectly as possible. He was running easily when he saw a loosehead prop coming toward him. Big guy; usually the tall ones played lock forwards. But this guy was coming at him like he knew something Rodney didn’t. My God, was he terribly far-sighted perhaps or gormless, a half-wit—who didn’t see Rodney standing in his path? They were going to collide in a second. He felt fearful suddenly. He saw an explosion: bright lights, wavering lines, a tidal wave of nausea. And then he felt nothing. Nothing.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

SHOT IN DETROIT: Albert Flowers

    When John's mother died, the bungalow outside Detroit was sold to pay off the nursing home, sending  him to live in the basement room of a shabby boarding house.
     "It's dry," the landlady said, sniffing encouragingly. "No mold or radon." When he picked up a mousetrap from the closet floor, she shrugged, "Just a precaution." After telling how to use the microwave, wear to place his trash, and where to find his mail, she climbed the stairs one step at a time, shutting the door behind her. He had to turn on a lamp even on the sunniest days, and not two days went by before he heard the solid clamp of the trap.
     He landed a minimum wage job on the Loss Prevention detail at the Dearborn Walmart. The two classes he'd taken in Criminal Justice at the Community College impressed HR but not his boss who told him. "Don't try any of that fancy stuff in my store."
     Two weeks into his mission (which was how John came to think of it) he spotted a large man half-asleep in the husband chair off Ladies Wear. He was about to radio for advice when a screech cut through the din,
    "Hey, Daddy, what d'ya think?" A bitty girl, maybe sixteen, with reddish corkscrews dashed up to the dozing guy, her twiggy legs skidding to an unsteady halt. She twirled like a bauble on a Christmas tree. "Gonna wear this to the party tonight. Whaddya think?"
     Her father's eyes fluttered open. "Real nice, baby. Lookin' good."
     She modeled her hot pink skirt some more, showing off parts of herself better left covered. John closed his gaping mouth when he heard another girl, hidden by a clothes rack, giggling behind him. Bitty held some huge sparkling hoops up to her ears. "Ain't these sick?"
     Her pal burst into view then, squealing. "Girl, you look like an Eight Mile ho." She doubled over with laughter, her lime-green jogging suit rippling with her mirth. "Don' she Mr. Flowers?"
     "Don' neither." Bitty glanced at her father, sensing potential displeasure. "Go back to sleep now, Daddy. You look kinda peaky." Bitty ran the back of her dewy hand down Daddy's cheek and he quivered like a stroked rabbit. 
     A muscle in John's cheek twitched too.  
     As Mr. Flowers eyes closed, the girls ducked out of sight. John thought about giving the man a tap on the shoulder, certain the Store wouldn't approve of him sleeping in their chair. And John's inclination toward sending Daddy Flowers on his way grew tenfold when the sleeping bear's snores increased in volume. Holiday shoppers tittered, jabbing each other in the ribs. 
     "Maintain decorum," he'd been advised by his red-faced superior. "You need to keep on your toes."
     The two girls popped up again an aisle away. Bitty had pulled on a silver tank top, adding more splash to her ensemble. Eight inches of mid-riffed pooched enough to make a man think. She sashayed back and forth, performing for her friend, giving passersby an over-sized wink. 
     She was up to something. Was she headed for the door? John couldn't tell, so he swung over an aisle, magically landing his hand, which seemed to move involuntarily--on Bitty's upper arm. Her legs flapped wildly, like someone just hanged, as he swooped her up without even trying.
     A collective gasp punctuated by an angry shout or two, exploded from nearby shoppers. Daddy's snore became a roar as he erupted from his doze, located his daughter, and tore after them, knocking over the husband chair, a lady exiting sportswear, and a rack of clearance items. He galumphed through the merchandise, the sounds of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town blaring from the speakers.
     Bitty struggled loose from John's grip. Damn, she could run--skinny legs pedaling despite that tiny tight skirt, darting and dodging her way through the door, past the carts, into the lot. John took off after her, ignoring the heavy footsteps behind him.
      Thinking quickly, John grabbed a shopping cart, shoving it hard in her direction. She went down like a duck over water. A second later a huge arm encircled John's neck, nearly squeezing the life out of him. Daddy didn't let go until one of the courtesy vans circling the lot pulled up. It was then things turned tragic when a portly guard exited the van, stopped Mr. Flower, and a struggle ensued, ending only when too tight of a stranglehold put an end to Daddy. 
     Albert Flowers watched the light fade as Bitty, rising up from the ground, did a frightened dance in front of him. The glitter, rising and falling was the last thing he saw. 
     In his dank room that night, with the scuffle of tiny feet inches away, John dreamed of Bitty at the party: lighting up the dance floor in a dizzying swirl, earring flashing, bare midriff pooching in that glittery costume that cost him his job. It didn't occur to him that it was much more likely Bitty was at a mortuary pricing coffins where Albert Flowers would spend eternity.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Forgotten Movies: Nobody's Fool

Russo's new novel, EVERYBODY"S FOOL based on Sully from NOBODY'S FOOL debuted last week and made me want to go back and watch the Newman film of the book again. A quiet performance in a decent film, the kind rarely made then or now. It didn't know my socks off but it never once made me cringe.

Bruce Willis couldn't act then and can't act now IMHO. Melanie Griffith is not much better.
I suppose there are more mediocre actors out there but  few who have had such a long career. IN COUNTRY was the one film he made that I respect but maybe because of the source material being so relevant to my generation. And I guess I'll give DIE HARD some props. This film was made in various New York state towns and that really helps give it an authenticity not completely earned by a few of the actors, the script and sluggish direction. Horton Foote did this thing better but it's far from a waste of time.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tommy Red, Charlie Stella

There are few writers (except possibly Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins), who can write mob dialogue as well as Charlie Stella. Knowing what words and letters (or lack of them) to put on the page to make the exact right sounds reverberate in your head is an art. I could watch GOOD FELLOWS on automatic replay and never be able to duplicate its language structure. Even if Stella writes it from the inside, it is still a significant skill . And dialog like his can be a shorthand for explaining the lives and minds of his characters. If some writers define their characters and place through long descriptive passages of country life or artwork or the steel and techno world of workplace, Stella puts us there with a well-placed piece of dialog, a turn of phrase, a quick observation, a cultural reference. 
Another thing-he is also skilled at adding details that will place the reader in that world. It never feels forced or overworked. He has a skilled voice, and an unerring ear.I pick up books all the time that flounder at the attempt to do this.

In his latest book TOMMY RED, our hero, if one can call a hit man that, is hired to get rid of a guy waiting patiently in New Hampshire to rat out important people under the witness protection program. Trouble is, when the job is done, the men who hired Tommy want him gone too. Tommy, as an Irish man, has never completely convinced the mafia of his loyalty. And certainly they have never won his.

Tommy is not about to let himself be offed. Not with his daughter almost ready to enter vet school and make him proud. So Tommy does what he does best: takes his revenge. 

You learn a lot about Tommy in the next one hundred plus pages, about his unhappy marriage to the one-time bar lap-dancer, Sandi, about his daughter, Alyssa, about his political opinions. So too the mob boss and the ex-cop who gets the story rolling after picking up  his wife from decoupage camp.
This is a clever and to- the-point novel yet it never feels rushed. And as a reader not overly adept at understanding 1) spy stories 2) money stories 3) mob stories, Charlie makes navigating my way though the plot fun.

.And funny. How can you not laugh at this line. 
 It was a little after one o'clock in the morning when he was thinking he'd like to bite the ass of that Mother of Dragons broad about to take a bath. (Game of Thrones)

Spending a few hours with TOMMY RED makes for a perfect spring afternoon.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, May 13, 2016

Todd Mason will take the helm on May 20th and 27th. Thanks, Todd.

I will be at Grandparents Day at Kevin school until midday. So any links not up at 7:30 will be added then. Thanks!

Ed Gorman writes crime, westerns, anthologies and a blog here.

A Memory of Murder, Ray Bradbury (from the archives)
Ray Bradbury's first collection, published in 1947 by Arkham House, contained so many memorable and lasting stories it has become legendary. A single book by a young writer including true masterpieces such as "The Lake," "The Small Assassin," "The Homecoming," "Uncle Einar" and many, many more--just about unthinkable. A fair share of these stories were later included in The October Country, a collection that is for me the equal of The Martian Chronicles.There's another collection that in the scheme of Bradbury's career is far less important but equally interesting. When Dell published A Memory of Murder we were given our first look at the crime and suspense stories Bradbury wrote for such pulps as Dime Mystery Magazine and New Detective Magazine. Most of the stories appeared between 1944 and 1946. I've probably read this book four or five times over the years. It has the energy and inventiveness of all good pulp with the bonus of watching a young writer struggle to find the voice that is really his. In several of the stories we hear the voice that Bradbury will later perfect. He's often proclaimed his admiration of Cornell Woolrich and here we see the dark Woolrich influence, especially in the excellent "The Candy Skull" (Mexico has long fascinated Bradbury; here it's nightmare Mexico), "The Trunk Lady" and (what a title) "Corpse Carnival." One of Bradbury's most famous stories is here also, "The Small Assassin," written for a penny a word for Dime Mystery Magazine in 1946.The most interesting story is "The Long Night." I remember the editor who bought it writing a piece years later about what a find it was. And it is. A story set in the Hispanic area of Los Angeles during the war, it deals with race and race riots, with the juvenile delinquency that was a major problem for this country in the war years (remember The Amboy Dukes?) and the the paternal bonds that teenage boys need and reject at the same time. A haunting, powerful story that hints at the greatness that was only a few years away from Bradbury.What can I tell you? I love this book. At its least it's a pure pulp romp and at its best it's the master about to change science fiction forever. And making a memorable pass at making his mark on crime fiction as well.

Sergio Angelini, BRIT NOIR, Barry Forshaw
Yvette Banek,  GREY MASK, Patricia Wentworth
Les Blatt, THE NORTHS MEET MURDER, Frances and Richard Lockridge
Brian Busby, THE WILD OLIVE, Basil King
Bill Crider, THE BOOKMAN'S TALE, Charles Lovett
Martin Edwards, THE KING AGAINST ANNE BICKERTON, Sydney Fowler
George Kelley, THE WORLD SWAPPERS, John Brunner
Margot Kinberg, THREE LITTLE PIGS, Apostolos Doxiadis
B.V. Lawson, MAIGRET SETS A TRAP, Georges Simenon
Steve Lewis/Marcia Muller, THE HOUSE OF NUMBERS, Jack Finney
Todd Mason, NIGHT FREIGHT, Bill Pronzini
J.F. Norris, THREE FOR THE CHAIR, Rex Stout
Matt Paust, THE ASHAKIRAN TAPES, Jurgen Fauth
James Reasoner, HERO'S LUST, Kermit Jaedeker
Reactions to Reading, AN AIR THAT KILLS, Margaret Millar
Gerard Saylor, A STAB IN THE DARK, Lawrence Block
Kevin Tipple, THE COUGAR'S PREY, Larry D. Sweazy
TomCat, RESORTING TO MURDER, ed. Martin Edwards

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

SHOT IN DETROIT: Father Bertram

In SHOT IN DETROIT, twelve African-American men under forty die. At one point in its long gestation, I composed back stories for each man, not sure if I would use them or not. 

I decided not. The story belonged to Violet Hart, the photographer, and these long pieces diluted that--and it made for too many characters, something I personally don't care for. 

But I do feel their stories are worth telling. The stories are all basically fictitious but mirror the sort of deaths that take place in any urban area.

Father Bertram
          He’d never made love to a man under 25—at least not since he’d passed that age himself. He’d never made love to a parishioner. Nor to anyone in a position of subservience. Never to a woman because he’d known he was gay—or queer as they called it then—by the age of twelve. It didn’t seem fair trying to pretend otherwise at someone's expense. What was the point—and he probably couldn’t have done it anyway.
God would help him find his way. That’s what he eventually decided. God made him this way for a purpose. Frank. Jr.—and after his ordainment—Father Bertram believed that fervently. How could he not?
            He’d only made love with seven men in his life: at nineteen with a professor in college, and then with a boy down the hall his senior year, with his roommate in the seminary, and with a doctor who’d he’d been sent to with neck problems when he entered the priesthood, an artist exhibiting his art in a park down the street from his church in Buffalo (only once), a priest in a parish in the suburbs he’d met at meetings at the archdiocese.
His brother, Howard, was the first.
If he counted all his sexual encounters with these men over twenty years, they’d number less than fifty. He didn’t know how to count the times with his brother. Did what they did in that cold attic room really count as sex? Most of it was touching, caresses, nuzzling. Didn’t all boys do this with other boys? Wasn’t it more about experimentation? About finding comfort in their case.
There’d been no other children or even people in their lives back then, living as they did with a mother who rarely left the house and disliked them leaving home either.
“They’ll beat you up,” she said. “You’re the only black boys in this town.”She looked at them sheepishly. "And they'll know."
Know what, Frank wondered? 
She’d come to the New Hampshire town from New Orleans to cook for a rich white man who favored Creole cooking, and she went straight from his kitchen to their tiny under-heated, under-furnished  house—no stops in between. Frank. Jr. and Howard did the shopping, negotiated everything else in the outside world. And at nights, they did what they did. At least, in winter, they could pretend they were keeping warm.
There was no Frank, Sr. Never had been. It was years before they realized Frank Sr. was their mother’s creation. They wondered if they shared a father but couldn’t ask. Everything they asked her, even everyday stuff—like could she sign their permission slip to go to the museum in Concord—seemed to bring her pain.
            Howard killed himself at twenty-three following a dishonorable discharge from the Navy. Frank Jr. decided to become a priest the next year. His mother had moved in with the rich white man by then, something the man wanted.
“Do you share his bed?” Frank Jr. asked in a shuddering voice, as she helped him pack his bags.
            She didn’t look up. “If he wants.” She paused. “I’ll do what he wants.”
His mother was only forty-five—her employer nearing seventy, Now her lover, he reminded Frank, Jr. of Colonel Sanders or Mark Twain, some fancy white guy in a loose suit anyway. Facial hair, red-faced, dour. For Christmas, he’d given the boys school supplies with the admonition to study hard if they wanted a better life. If he gave their mother anything, she didn’t mention it.
            He’d never kill himself, Frank. Jr. had decided, at his brother’s funeral. He’d use the lesson of his brother’s death, his lonely childhood, his mother’s situation, his own  desires, to become a better priest.
            And he was. He taught history, counseled children, taking on a more prominent role after he moved to Detroit and his parish slowly broadened in skin color, tolerance, language. He learned Spanish, computers, the jargon of children.
            And then came the illness. He ruled out his brother, the professor, the seminary roommate, the boy down the hall at college—all too long ago.  It was either the artist, or the priest. Probably the priest. And like Father Owens—that was the priest’s name—he didn’t report the disease. The priesthood and AIDS were not a good fit. Homosexuality and celibacy were at odds. He ignored the symptoms as much as possible, hoping it would go away with the new treatments, and for a long time, the disease seemed more a nuisance than a life-threatening situation.
But because he could not confess his ailment nor pursue treatment openly, superior drugs were excluded from his regimen.
           And suddenly he was in and out of hospitals for months at a stretch. The Church didn’t chastise him—it was too late for that. He didn’t try to track his partners, find his mother back in New Hampshire, do what he should have done. Most of the priests he had known for years stuck by him. But he died alone.
            Alone but for the sound of his brother’s voice.
“Frank Jr.” he heard him calling, saw him then putting out a hand. Bodyless now, they could take comfort in each others souls.