Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A slice from FAST LANE

Here's a short excerpt from early in Fast Lane where my PI, Johnny Lane, is dishing out some Mike Hammer-like justice to a client who Lane discovered had been abusing his teenage daughter (who Lane was hired to find)... or maybe instead this is more a glimpse into a severely broke psyche? And maybe Fast Lane instead of being the hardboiled PI novel that it at first appears to be is instead a combination of psycho noir and deconstruction of the PI genre. Which of these it is will be left to the reader to discover.

Fast Lane was not only my first novel, but the first piece of fiction I ever wrote with the intention of seeing it published. I originally wrote it in 1990, revised it in '92, self-published it as In His Shadow in '01, sold it to the Italian publisher, Meridiano Zero in '02, and then to Point Blank Press as Fast Lane in '03.

“I’ve been so worried about Debra.” He handed me the drink and sat across from me. “I haven’t been able to work,” he said. “I can’t believe how quickly you found her.”
I took a long sip of the scotch and leaned back in my chair.
“To be honest,” he went on, his smile beginning to show some strain. “You’re making me nervous with the way you’re acting. How bad is it with Debra?”
“Why don’t you pay me the three-thousand-dollar bonus you promised? Then I’ll tell you all about it.”
He sat for a moment, blinking a few times. “I thought I’d pay you once you’d brought her home,” he said.
“I think it would be better if we did it this way.”
“I-I guess it doesn’t matter. You’ll bring her home later today?”
“That’s right.”
“And I could always stop payment on the check if you don’t.”
“Of course you could.”
He pushed himself up. “Why don’t I go write the check?” While I waited for him I finished the rest of my scotch.
When he came back, I noticed some moisture had formed over his upper lip. He handed me a check for three thousand dollars. I put it in my wallet and told him where I had found Debra and what she had been doing.
As I talked he kept muttering about his poor little girl, but for a second, I guess before he had any control over it, a look of excitement flushed over his face. He must’ve realized, because he quickly buried his face in his hands. When he pulled them away he was the picture of the tortured dad. He had even squeezed out a couple of tears.
“Oh dear God,” he cried softly. “My poor little girl. Thank you so much for finding her.”
I stood up and turned away, but I couldn’t get that picture of him out of my mind, of him getting excited hearing what his daughter was doing for a buck in a peep show.
“Oh God,” he was going on, hamming it up. “I’ll make sure she gets professional help. I’ll make sure—”
I spun on my heels and swung at him, catching him hard on his mouth and bursting his lip wide open. He went down like he’d been shot. I only half saw him as he curled into a fetal position, spitting out blood and a couple of teeth.
He lay on the ground blubbering. I stood over him, trembling, trying not to look at him, trying not to think about him, trying not to do what I wanted to do. I went to the bar and poured myself another drink. I downed it quickly and refilled the glass.
Tears streamed down his face and mixed with blood. Between sobs, he murmured that I was insane and that he was going to call the police. I walked over to him.
“Your daughter told me.”
“You’re crazy!” Thick red bubbles popped from his mouth. “Get out of here! Get out of here now!”
I kicked him in the stomach and that started him blubbering even harder. I leaned over and grabbed him by his hair and pulled him up so he had to look at me.
“She told me all about you,” I said. “About you raping her and—”
“You going to believe that lying bitch? That lying little cu—”
I threw him down and kicked him hard in the chest, giving it just about everything I had. I kicked him again. Both times I heard his ribs crack. He moaned and curled up tighter. I was still holding the glass of scotch, although I’d spilled half of it when I was kicking him. I drank what was left. “She’s not lying.” I repeated everything his daughter had told me. When I’d finished I said, “When I bring Debra here later you’re going to be long gone. For good. God help you if she ever sees you again.”
“What am I going to tell my wife?” he asked softly, and then broke out with more blubbering.
“That’s your problem.” I turned away. I had to. I walked over to a rosewood bookcase and picked up a family portrait. In it, Craig Singer was smiling with all his teeth intact, arms wrapped around his wife and daughter. If you glanced at it you’d think it was just as it appeared, a typical upper middle-class family picture. The proud father, the loving but impatient wife, the sullen bored teenager. But if you looked a little more carefully, you’d realize it wasn’t boredom on Debra Singer’s face, any more than it was teenage angst. And if you looked hard enough, you could detect rigid lines around Mrs. Singer’s eyes and mouth that might indicate something more than impatience.
Singer whimpered. I put the photo back on the bookcase. “I’m hurt pretty bad,” he moaned. “I need a doctor.”
“Again, that’s your problem.”
He pushed himself up into a sitting position. I knew he was in a good deal of pain. He’d have to be with a busted up mouth and a chest full of cracked ribs.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “I love my daughter. She’s all I care about. If you give me a chance I can change and—”
“You better stop now while you can. In another minute it’ll be too late.”
He started crying again. “What am I going to do?”
“You’re going to get out of here,” I said. “Now. I don’t know how much longer I can stomach being around you.”
He slowly got to feet, moaning every inch of the way. He grabbed his side loosely and headed towards the staircase. He said he was going to pack a few things. I told him there wasn’t time. He hesitated and then turned around and hobbled to the bathroom. I watched as he cleaned and bandaged his mouth. The bandaged area had already swollen to the size of a small melon. I didn’t see the point in what he was doing, but I also didn’t see any point arguing with him.
When he was done, he asked again about packing some items. I shook my head. I followed him as he left the house.
As he got behind the wheel of his Volvo his expression changed, the submissiveness in his eyes shifting to something else, something cagey. He waved me over.
“You have no right,” he said. “What you did was assault and battery. Possibly attempted murder.”
“I guess you could look at it that way.”
“You guess I could look at it that way? I could sue you for every penny you got and then put you in jail.”
“Well, you could sure try.”
“I could do a lot more than just try.” He watched carefully for my reaction. “If you tell anyone about your allegations or write about them in your newspaper column, you’ll find out how much I can do.”
“Yeah, well, if you’d like we could go to the police right now. I’d be glad to bring Debra along and have her tell her story.”
His jaw muscles tightened as he looked away. Blood seeped from his bandaged mouth and dripped down his shirt. “You better keep quiet about this, Lane. If you don’t, I’ll sue you.” He turned back, facing me. “And I’ll move back home.”
I leaned forward, resting on his window. “Let me make sure you understand something,” I said as politely as I could. “The only reason I won’t write about this is because I don’t want to make things any more difficult than they already are for your daughter. If she ever sees your face again, I promise you there won’t be any face left afterwards.”
He put the car in gear and stepped on the gas. I had to jump back to keep from having my feet run over.
Of course, he was only kidding himself. I guess the finality of it all hadn’t sunk in yet, but it would. It was only a matter of time.
I looked down and saw my hands were shaking worse than a junkie’s. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying not to think about Craig Singer, about what I almost did to him, about what I wanted more than anything to do to him. Because when I was standing over him I knew I came within a hair’s breadth of sending him straight to hell. It took every ounce of strength I had to keep from doing it.
I stood there for a while and then got in my car and waited until the shaking stopped.

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