Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bad guys finish first

When my novel, World's End, first came out the reviews were good ( but more than one critic preferred the hoods to the good guys. So here's a short except featuring two enforcers working for the deep-delta, Irish reincarnation of  the Kingfish, Rory O'Neill. They're Neco and Blue,  ideally suited for the business at hand:                                                          

Hail Mary, full of grace
Neco’s pistol rested comfortably in his jacket pocket, a familiar .357 magnum with the bluing worn away from the muzzle and the cylinder's sharp edges. He carried it as casually as another man might carry a pipe. In the twenty years he had worked for the Commissioner, he had worn out the linings of a dozen coats as he packed a gun about the parish or traveled armed to New Orleans and Baton Rouge and beyond. Neco refused to wear a holster because holsters made him sweat more than usual in the hot, heavy air, and holsters were showy.
Luis Necochea Bovnik was the son of a Dalmatian oysterman and an illegal Argentine immigrant taken into the household of the Commissioner's father years before. Neco had grown up close to the Commissioner's family, taking part in the last ferocious days of partisan politics, and becoming the organization's chief enforcer because of his loyalty and physical strength. Neco was short and thick, and no longer young, but he was still capable of awful swiftness: no man had twice made the mistake of considering Neco fat. Steel gray hair swept back from a prominent widow's peak, giving his face the look of a wedge. He chain-smoked cigarettes of harsh, dark tobacco and he seldom spoke.
Ostentation was one of many things Neco did not approve of, Italians were another. World's End contained as much racial diversity as any place on earth, yet retained a curious cohesiveness as Endsmen had been traditionally drawn together by their isolation. There was not just the remains of European invaders: the French, the Spanish, and the presumptuous English. There were also Irish, German, Chinese, and native Choctaws in World's End, as well as powerful Tockos from the Dalmatian coast who had endured every hardship, Cajuns who fled Nova Scotia to settle on the western edge of the parish and were known familiarly as coonass, and freejacks — fair-skinned Negroes whose forebears may or may not have lifted themselves out of slavery.
Neco had already driven up to the city once that day to fetch a pound of cayenne at dawn. Without cayenne, there could have been no good food, and without good food, no real celebration. He had purchased the pepper in the French Market, and then walked over to Bourbon to buy pralines and a brassiere for his girl friend — the kind with colored ribbons and holes for the nipples. He returned to the corner of Royal and Dumaine to find that the two rear tires belonging to the World's End Parish Sheriff's Office had been stabbed with an ice pick. “Wop bastids," Neco had muttered to himself, crushing the pralines in a huge hand.
Neco was still angry about that as he and Blue rode across the top of the parish toward Barter Street, the frontier between World's End and St. Theresa parishes. It was lined with cut-rate stores, liquor outlets, walk-up whore houses filled with girls who couldn't make it hustling in the Quarter. Neco took out the magnum, and placed it on the seat between them.
Blue said, "Straight Ward's wife's a looker."
"Foreign," Neco said, meaning she was a stranger to Louisiana, and that closed the matter.
“Where to?" 
"Turn here."
Neco was eager for the night's work. He liked to use Blue to hit the criminals of St. Theresa Parish who dared cross over the line into World's End. To be beaten by a black man added to his enemies' disgrace. Blue was the only Negro in the organization authorized to carry a weapon, and was affectionately known for his freckles, his adeptness with a blade, and for a ferocity indiscriminate of race.
"Here we goes," Blue said, wheeling into a service station, past the pumps, and up onto the grease rack.
He and Neco got out with the rolling motion of large, purposeful men.
The owner came running. "Where ya at, my boys?" His name was Juriscvik, and that would save him: Neco took care of his fellow Tockos.
"Shut the door," Neco ordered.
He and Blue walked into the office. A slot machine stood in the corner, secured to the concrete floor with one-inch bolts. Three clusters of cherries behind glass proved it a winner.
"Now ain't that sumpthn'?" said Blue.
"Don't tell me you boys are interested in that ole slot." Juriscvik nervously wiped his hands on his greasy jacket.
Neco didn't answer. He walked back to the Mercury, hidden now from the street, and opened the trunk. Inside lay a sawed-off, side-by-side Remington .10 gauge, a two-foot billy with a leaded tip, and a submachine gun wrapped in a blanket. Neco moved these about until he located what he wanted — a scarred, double-bitted ax.
"Aw, Neco," lamented Juriscvik.
"Shut your mouth."
Blue went back into the office with the ax. They heard glass shatter, followed by the solid sound of metal pounding metal.
Neco fingered the crumpled pack of Picayunes in his shirt pocket. He extracted a cigarette, applied his own lighter, and inhaled in one continuous motion. He said, "How come you let 'em in?"
"They said they'd bust me if I didn't."
“We'll bust you if you do. You should'a called." 
Juriscvik shrugged. "They're close, Neco."
They heard coins shower onto the floor of the office. Blue shouted, "Li'l momma! Jackpot!"
"Now you go and put them quarters in a sack. We'll make the contribution over at Our Lady of Sorrows."
Blue returned, sweat beading his forehead. "They makin' em tougher," he said. "We got to git ourselves a sledge." He tossed the ax into the trunk.
'“What're you carrying?" Neco asked. Blue produced his switchblade.
Neco shook his head. "No marks." 
"Don't need nuth'n anyway." 
"You like to hit, don't you, boy?" 
"When it ain't work," said Blue.
Neither man was smiling.
Juriscvik brought the sack of quarters. "Now you go on into the shitter," Neco told him, "and you stay there."
Blue stationed himself behind the Dr Pepper machine. Neco went into the office, picked up a chair, and carried it into the storeroom. He sat against the wall, and smoked, studying the stacked cases of motor oil, the new tires, a ball peen hammer at his feet. He had wanted to wish the Commissioner a happy birthday, but the words wouldn't come. He had not even given the Commissioner a gift, because he couldn't think of one that was adequate. Neco decided he would make him a very special present in the days to come, one that only he had the nerve and the ability to make.
The bell rang again and again as cars pulled up to the pumps for service that never came, and then pulled back into the street again. A candy-apple-red Impala waited longer than the others, announcing itself with a sustained blare of the horn. Neco did not know the driver, but he recognized the other man as The Walk, named for his tight trousers and his strut. What the Italians called bella figura.
Neco moved his chair to one side, out of sight. He lit another Picayune, and smoked until he heard the car door slam. Then he mashed the cigarette out against one calloused palm and picked up the hammer.
The office door opened and shut. The pause that followed was full of outrage. He heard The Walk mutter, "Holy shit!"
Neco called out to him, keeping his back to the door.
The Walk stepped into the storeroom as if he owned it. "Why you dumb Tocko," he said, mistaking Neco for Juriscvik. "You let them fuckin' swamp rats..."
Still sitting, Neco whipped the hammer to one side, catching him across the shins. The Walk gasped, and clawed at the door jamb. Blue came up behind and grabbed him in a tight half nelson, driving his fist into one kidney. Neco held his free arm, and hit him in the solar plexus with the ball peen hammer. While The Walk fought to get air into his lungs, Neco traced his waistband. He extracted the pistol.
Blue dragged him unprotesting to the grease rack, and began to work on him with steady, measured blows.
Neco had never gotten up from the chair. He inspected the pistol briefly, a .25 automatic — a woman's gun. Then he unloaded it, placed it on the floor, and broke it into several pieces with the hammer. He gathered these together with the brass cartridges, and went out into the garage.
The Walk lay almost casually across the rack, his trousers and jacket smudged, staring glassy-eyed at Blue's two-tone loafers. There were no marks on him, but his mouth was full of blood. So much for bella figura. Neco went on out the door, and across the asphalt toward the Impala, gripping the magnum in his pocket. The blond driver wisely kept his hands on the wheel, but he stared at Neco with undisguised contempt.
Neco tossed the bullets and the bits of the pistol through the window, and then opened the door for The Walk. Blue brought him forward, holding him up by his belt, and shoved him into the car.
“Wop trash," Neco said.
The motor whined as Neco swung the door shut. The car squealed off toward St. Theresa.
Next, the governor-elect receives a button-man in his elegant Garden District home. 

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