Posted in Uncategorized on July 25, 2011 by ajhayes2

VIRTUE

Posted in Uncategorized on July 22, 2011 by ajhayes2

In the day I bend to my work. Sometimes raking the fallen leaves that scatter across the gold-green meadows that border the forest. Sometimes painting the white washed, wooden fences of the great estate. There are many chores to do in such a fine place as this. I work and watch every day as the maidens come forth, in their exquisite gowns with their tiaras of platinum and gold sitting atop their carefully coiffured tresses, to play with the Unicorns.

The great, rainbow-colored beasts kneel and touch their chalk-white horns to the green grass in tribute to the roses of virtue and virginity that are the maidens. The maids shyly, slyly, glance at each other from beneath lowered lashes and pet the shining horns knowing that only the purest of the pure may touch a Unicorn’s horn. Then, in the long, late afternoon shadows, they troop back into the castle.

They never look at me, of course. I am merely the hired girl of the estate. Plain and possessed of only the simplest garments of homespun wool and cheapest cotton. With rough hands and smelling of sweat, I am less than nothing in their eyes.

But, when the dark comes and the moon rises to sail the depths of the sky, the forests rustle softly and the great beasts come to me. Their quiet nickering and the scent of their lust surrounds me as I lie down and open to them and am transported to the place where only they can take me.

Sometimes, not often, I look at the sleeping castle, think of the maids within and laugh.

READING ALLAN GUTHRIE: TWO WAY SPLIT

Posted in Uncategorized on July 21, 2011 by ajhayes2

There’s a place on Highway 1 in California where you can look straight down a hundred feet on a small cove surrounded by jagged black lava rock walls and held fast at its mouth by submerged reefs. As you look down on the sea you can actually see the roiling evidence of the five or six currents that meet there. They look like several separate snakes weaving their way around, past and through each other. They come together and draw apart and sometimes weave their own way for a bit. You can track their individual trails by bits of seaweed caught in their grip or bottom sand that makes coppery gold patterns as it swirls in the passage of the water. Whatever their paths and crossings and seeming confusions of purpose, at last they join and crash on the small sandy beach and wipe it white and pristine.

Two Way Split is like that place. Its multiple, diverse characters circle and swirl over, under, around, and through each other; seeming to go in all different directions at once. In the end though, they come together and crash onto the sandy beach and wipe it clean and pure and just the way it ought to be.

All that arty bleep aside, In Two Way Split, Mr. Allan Guthrie with a maniacal laugh, knocks your derby clear off your head, sends it flying with the wind and announces that people, events and even life itself always come down to the jagged edge of a two way split. Buckle your chin strap and hang on, troops. You’re in for a RIDE!

Scott Chase Has A Dilemma – A Review

Posted in Uncategorized on July 5, 2011 by ajhayes2

Scott Chase has a dilemma. He’s written a collection of short stories called The Backseat Virgin that depict the dark side of the Florida Dream with a sharp eye for the details that you might not want your grandparents to know about the Sunshine State (or maybe you do want them to know if they haven’t retired there yet or — if they already have retired there — don’t tell them and they probably won’t go out and buy three pit bulls and a sawed off shotgun and spend the rest of their lives jumping at sharp noises or sudden shadows. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.)

His dilemma is that, while the first four stories in this collection are crisp and photographic in their depictions of hurricanes, dope smuggling infants, hit men/enforcers, mob bosses, people just trying to get by and stay alive, private eyes, bent cops, kinda bent cops, really dumb crooks and some really smart crooks — all of whom lead up to and are included in, the final story, The Backseat Virgin. After you finish the collection, you say, PHEW! What a Ride. Then you think, Hey! I want more of these guys.

And that’s the problem. Scott and I talked about it. See, we both know that the stories stand alone quite nicely but — and here’s the dilemma part — Scott would have to write a really Big Ass Novel to encompass what he’s built here and take it where it wants to go.

The nice part of this problem is, he could walk away right now and know that he’s written a pretty damn good collection of Florida Noir tales and let it go at that . . . but he also knows he damn well should write the BAN.

I know this is preying on his mind now. And he’s cussing all of us who want the BAN on our bookshelves or in our Kindles, right freakin’ now! And he knows he will write the Big Ass Novel because, well, what the hell . . . it’s money and his fans want it and he’s getting tormented to write it and, well, it’s money.

You can find the collection here: http://tinyurl.com/6b35v4l

And that’s probably where the Big Ass Novel will be found when he writes it also.

Apostle Rising: A Presence Of Evil

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2011 by ajhayes2

In Apostle Rising, Richard Godwin shows an amazing ability to present an evil so real it will sneak into the reader’s reality as well as the fictional reality of Apostle Rising’s cast of characters. I’ve been reading a long time and have only rarely experienced the kind of disquiet this book produces in the reader’s mind. Don’t expect a man in a monster mask jumping from the shadows and yelling BOO! It’s not that kind of book (though one scene had that exact effect on me and I don’t scare easy). A masterful exposition of what happens inside the mind of a psychopathic killer and the minds of the police officers who have to wade through the horrific damage it wreaks on their own souls. A unique novel I shall remember for years.

A TWIST OF NOIR

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13, 2010 by ajhayes2

Team Player- AJ Hayes

Just a trace bar lost in the north desert near Albuquerque. Summer thunder ozoned the air outside and stormfront wind out of the Sangre De Christos made the rat-ass bikes lined up in front shake on their kickstands and blew the trash around in the beds of pick ups with tribal stickers peeling off rusted chrome bumpers.
Inside, the lightning of puke and heat and real bad whiskey. The kind that comes sweating out of you the next morning and smells like dead folks. Everclear on the juke and mad dog twenty twenty cooking in the blood.
He was on the third stool from the right, staring into his glass like he was watching a television show. I dropped in next to him. He had that long distance look you get when the booze has chopped all your strings away.
“Hey, Skip. What you doin’ this far away from San Antone?”
“Lookin’ for my starting pitcher,” I said. “Guess I found him.”
I motioned to the barman. He brought two drinks, sat them down, took my money and walked away without looking at either of us. Two hundred semi-drunk people jammed shoulder to sweaty shoulder and nobody’s seeing a thing. That kind of place.
“C’mon, kid,” I said. “Too noisy in here.”
He pushed back from the bar and followed me outside. We stood watching the rain slam down through the feeble neon of the beer signs in the fogged-over windows. Distant fire flashed in the Sangres and the soft ta-thump reached us a second or so later.
“How’d you find me?”
“I didn’t. Mr. VanZandt had your cell phone tracked.”
He laughed soft. It washed away in the rain noise.
“Leave it to the owner to find somebody don’t want to be found,” he said.
“Somebody’s gotta keep track of the franchise, Tommy.” I said. “Take care of the team.”
“Take care of the money, you mean. That man don’t care a whit for the team. He—”
“That your blue truck over yonder?” I interrupted, showing him the gun.
His shoulders slumped and he sighed. “You too, Skip? He’s got you too?”
“He don’t have anybody,” I said. “This is about the team, kid. Let’s go on over to your truck. Easier to talk that way.”
I kept the old, single-action Colt close on him while he got behind the wheel and I slid in on the passenger side.
“Why don’t we take a little drive into the Christos while we’re talkin’? Might be nice up there. Maybe we’ll get above the storm. Watch the lightnin’ hit the desert.”
He wheezed the beat up old Chevy into life and we bumpty-thumped across the parking dirt and up the two lane blacktop toward the mountains.
“You don’t have to do this, Skipper,” he said kind of sad-like. “It won’t make no difference, money-wise. I got the lifetime no-cut, no-trade contract, remember?”
“Yeah, that’s true, kid. That agent of yours.” I shook my head a little. “Pure pit bull, hell-on-wheels, he was. Said you were the second coming and the end of the world rolled into one. Said you threw hell-fire and damnation. Got you that contract. Saddled the team forever with a rag-arm pitcher my three-year-old grand-baby could hit outta the park. That money could buy us three brand new rookie arms and a third base and a couple of big bats. It’s gutting us. But with you, ah, gone, we could win. Maybe even get the division. Maybe even the series—”
“Not what I meant, Skip,” he said. You’re the manager you know that even if you . . . do this. Peggy will get the money. It’s right there in the contract. My only living relative. She gets it. All of it.”
Ahead a yellow sign pointed to a flat, viewpoint pull-off. I pushed the barrel into his side.
“Turn here,” I said.
We rolled to a stop at the edge. Below us the lightning spread across the clouds in billowing streaks of white light. The stars were out, bright and hard.
“You weren’t listening to me, Coach.” His fingers were white-knuckled on the steering wheel. “The team still won’t get that cash. You won’t. Peggy will get—”
I pushed the gun a little harder into his ribs.
“Tommy,” I said. “Don’t you think Mr. VanZandt knows that?”
He went sudden still and death quiet. His mouth formed shapes but no words came.
“She’s gone, son.” I sighed. “Opened the door smiling. Probably thought I’d found you. I got her a good one on the jaw and she went down and out. Never felt a thing. I used that bolo tie you like to wear. The one with the thousand dollar gold nugget for a slide. I left it on her throat. They’ll find her and think you done it.”
I patted him on the back and moved the gun to his temple.
“It’ll look like you were a good man who couldn’t live with what he’d done. At least people will remember that about you.”
I pulled the trigger at the same time he floored the old Chevy and we went flying off the cliff.
So, I’m laying here in the mud and it’s raining hard and cold and I can’t move because my back’s busted and something’s poked a hole through my chest and I’ve coughed out about a gallon of blood and there’s this cold white light circling my vision and it gets brighter and whiter and tighter and I can see the kid, with most of his head gone, hanging half out of the cab of the truck and I know they’ll find us both and figure out what happened and why and it’s darker and colder now and the white light is fading, pinpointing down to black and it feels like I’m falling into dark water and I think about the team I love and the game I love and wish I . . ..

TITLE FIGHTS

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2010 by ajhayes2

The Valleys Of Neptune

I hit the water hard. Rather, the two-hundred-fifty pound concrete block I was attached to hit the water hard. I was just along for the ride. Down and down and down we went, me and the block. I didn’t resist, just made my body as limp and loose as I could. Down and down and down, until at two-hundred and fifty feet, the block and me hit the bottom of the ocean with a muffled thump. The pressure was squeezing my chest flat, but for a moment I had a clear view of an infinite sandy plain, dimly lit by ghost-blue phosphorescence. I looked out over the vast distance with Jimi’s voice murmuring in my ear . . . The valley of sunsets green and blue . . .The ocean swaying me . . . Washing away all my pain . . . Valleys of Neptune is a’risin . . . Rising, yeah, rising. My hand found the small cold steel cylinder and cranked the valve open. I got the mouthpiece in and took a short breath. Not too much, I thought as the air cleared my brain, Not too much. You got a job to do.

*

It was a quiet night and the channel was calm. A slight swell rocked the old boat and made her mutter to herself in creaks and groans. I lit a cigar and watched Micky slap him awake. When he came around, I waited for him to quit whuffing and huffing and trying to get free of the iron manacle clamped around his ankle. I took a long pull off the Havana Grande and stepped out of the shadow of the cabin. His piggy little eyes found me and got wide, real wide.

“Hello, Johnny,” I said.

“The fuck? What the fuck? You? How did–“

I held up my hand to stop him before he started frothing and drooling.

“Seal,” I said. “Told you that when we teamed up, you and me. Remember?”

He shook his head wildly, spraying the deck with sweat and Old Spice.

He remembered, all right.

I squatted down beside him and tilted his head up gently with my fingertips. He tensed then went quiet. I laughed, soft. “Relax, Johnny, relax. Nothing bad going to happen here. No knife. No gun.” I smiled into his eyes. In fact I’m going to tell you exactly how I did what I did. No tricks. I’m going to tell you how to get through this. Alive.”

He got a look on his puss I knew well. I’d seen it many times over the years we’d been partnered up. It’s the one he’d use when he wanted the mark to go gently into the long, long night. It said, None of this has to happen if we all stay calm. I called it the “let’s make a deal” look. It was always followed by a bullet or a blade. Surprise.

“Now why would you do that?” he said. “Especially after . . .”

He inclined his head toward the dark water. His eyes had gone as flat black as a shark’s.

“I’m giving you the same break you gave me. I mean, you did give me that small air tank, after all.”

He barked a laugh.

“C’mon. You know why I gave you that, right? So–“

“Yeah, I know what you had in mind. Me, standing on the bottom of the ocean, sipping a tiny breath at a time. Thinking about why you’d put me there. Thinking I shouldn’t have taken Katie away from you.” I kept my eyes on his, level and steady. “Believe it or not, I did stand there for a minute or two thinking if I just let go and took a really deep breath of salt water . . . well, maybe I’d feel better dead than I do alive.”

I shook my head hard, clearing away the memory of the water and Jimi singing and that ghostly, phosphorescent plain.

“And, that’s what almost killed me. Wasted air. You only gave me five minutes of gas in the bottle. I shouldn’t have wasted what was in my lungs. I should have started in right off with the hard part and then gone for the air.”

“Okay,” he said. “Save air, I got it. What’s the hard part?” The shark eyes were like obsidian in the moonlight.

“I know you’re not a diver, so I’ll keep it simple.” I jerked my thumb at the sea. “It’s not summer, so the water’s going to be cold. Very cold when you first hit it and freezing at the bottom. That’s not a bad thing, ’cause it’ll come in handy later.”

He nodded.

“With two-hundred-fifty pounds taking you down it’ll be like you’re falling off a cliff. Your eardrums will be screaming from the sudden pressure changes. Just ignore them, if they blow you can get them fixed later.” I pointed at him. “I mean it. Keep your body limp as a rag. If you try to fight a two-hundred-fifty pound rock snatching you to the bottom of the ocean, you’ll use up every bit of air in your lungs and all your strength to boot.”

“Got it. Stay loose. Don’t fight.”

I nodded.

“Okay, when you hit the bottom the pressure will be raising hell with your chest. At two-hundred-fifty feet you’re gonna have about seven and a half atmospheres of pressure sitting on your head. You can take it, but you gotta work fast.”

His ringleted, greasy hair swung from side to side as the deck rocked under us.

“I take it this is where the hard part starts,” he said.

“Yeah, it is,” I said.

I pointed at him again. “I know you look like just another fat-ass Mafia gumball, but we both know you’re not. So pay attention and don’t interrupt.”

I watched him for a moment. He was stock still, head cocked to one side. Hearing everything, remembering everything. His shark eyes planning, planning, planning.

“Okay, you’re there. You’ll probably have a bit of luminescence from the silt and algae the concrete stirred up, so you’ll be able to see. First you’re going to have to shatter your ankle, probably twice. Micky here will show you how.”

His head had snapped up when I said “shatter.” He watched Micky approach and shifted his position subtly. The double click of my forty-five cocking spun his head back around to me.

“Nah, Johnny,” I said, grinning. “He’d snap your neck like a stick and you don’t want to take this ride dead, now do ya?”

He relaxed and didn’t resist when Micky showed him how to make the quick, sharp motions that would pulverize his ankle.

“How is the pain gonna be?” He asked.

“The water temp will help dull most of it,” I said. “The cold’ll also help keep blood loss down while you get the tourniquet in place.”

He opened his mouth once, then closed it.

“Tourniquet?”

“Yeah,” I said. “See, even with your ankle gone–what with your heel and all– you still won’t be able to get your foot through the manacle. So . . .” I put a thoughtful look on. “You do have your own teeth, don’t you?” I said.

He bobbed his head “yes”.

“Good. Then it shouldn’t be problem for you to chew through your Achilles tendon and pull your foot off. Then you hit the air bottle. Push the purge button,” I held the mouthpiece up so he could see me when I tapped the small button in the center. “Hold this all the way in, shove it into your mouth, and suck hard. Fill your lungs and that’ll give you time to get the airline from the bottle wrapped good and tight around your stump. From there on it gets easy.”

He stiffened all over.

“You want me to gnaw my foot off?

“Why not,” I said, pulling up my jeans so he could see my carbon fiber leg. “It’s what I had to do.”

I glanced at the luminous face of my dive watch.

“Anything you want to say?”

“Nah. Well . . . thanks for the advice.”

He looked down at the water and back at me.

“Maybe I’ll come see you sometime.”

“Good luck, partner,” I said and nodded at Micky.

The step dropped with a rattle of chains.

The last of him I saw were his obsidian eyes burning into mine.

*

I was draped over an orange and pink striped beach chair watching a volleyball game and wondering if the tall girl’s bikini top was going to stay in place for the whole match. Probably not, I decided.

“You’re kinda hard to find, Master Chief,” somebody behind me growled.

I didn’t need to look around to tell who the owner of that voice was.

“That’s either Sam Elliot or Micky Cooper,” I said. “And Sam knows better than to sneak up on me.”

I swung around and slapped him on the shoulder.

“How are you, Coop?”

He puffed out a breath through his walrus mustache.

“Been better,” he said. “Picked a couple nails last month. Some little guy in a big shit pile tenement got a little lucky with his AK, ‘fore I aced him.” He tugged his Padres cap lower over his eyes. “I do so hate Somalia,” he said. “Food sucks, women are too short and everybody’s got a fucking machine gun.”

There was a commotion of whoops, wolf-whistles and applause behind us. Cooper pushed his brim up a bit and squinted down the beach.

“The tall girl?” I asked.

“Nope. Short redhead.” Cooper said. “Let’s grab a brew. Got some news you might not have.”

We walked over to the thatch-roof, sand-floored bar and slid onto a couple of stools. A short, brown man in a polar-white jacket brought us our beers, took our money and got busy washing glasses at the far end of the bar.

I clinked my long-neck bottle against his.

“Absent friends,” I said.

“Fuck the Army,” he said.

“That’s a fine thing to hear from an Army Ranger,” I said.

“Hooah,” he grinned.

“What you got, Coop?”

He took a sip of beer. “Got word from one of my guys that L.A.P.D found what was left of a big fat guy on the beach few months ago.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Coroner’s Office drew a blank. Sharks had him pretty good. Ripped his chest out. Took his lungs and ribcage. No way to ID the body.”

I sipped some Dos Equis. It went down cold and good.

“Found him, when . . . last January, maybe?”

“That’s right. Coroner figured he hadn’t been in the water that long; maybe one or two days.”

“Be about right, way the current runs out there.” I said.

“Funny thing ’bout that corpse,” Cooper said. “A footnote on the Coroner’s report states: Subject’s left ankle severely shattered and left foot is missing completely. No evidence of shark bite. The foot seems to have been torn or ripped off, though body is in advanced decomposition making these findings inconclusive.

He downed his beer and signaled the bar-man for two more.

“So,” he said, “Looks like you can quit lookin’ over your shoulder.”

I smiled.

“Never was, buddy. I just came down here to sort some things out in my head.”

His eyes found mine. Puzzled expression on his face.

“Seems to me you told him what to do and he did it. You must have worried a little that he if he did everything you told him to . . .”

“No. In fact I was counting on him being tough enough to do everything I told him, exactly the way I told him to do it.”

I took a long pull on the beer.

“He shouldn’t have killed Katie. Not the way he did. Not like that. They needed dental records to find out who she was. He needed killin’ for that.” I took a deep breath. Let it out slow.

“So I only lied to him about one thing. Just one little thing.”

I was lost for a moment. Jimi singing in my ears and the Valleys of Neptune glowing into infinity. And a pair of blue eyes and red hair and a scatter-smatter of freckles across the bridge of an upturned nose, waiting for me there.

The big Ranger waited silently for me to go on.

“Been only me and him, that might’a been just business. But Katie?” I shrugged. “That’s why I filled the air tank with cyanide gas.”

He looked at me for a long time with no expression. Then he picked up his beer and clinked the neck of the bottle against mine.

“Hooah,” he said softly.