Sunday, April 25, 2010

Accounts Receivable

About a week-and-a-half ago I helped spread the word about the flash fiction contest overseen by Chad Rohrbacher. Here's my entry. The others will be posted through Monday at 5:00 PM at Chad's Site.

Accounts Receivable

Jason Worthington told Daniel Rollison he had a week to find his daughter. Rollison listened to the information Worthington had for him and it wouldn't take more than three days. It took two.

Worthington had wanted her found alive.

Rollison almost made it. Girl hadn't been dead ten minutes when he found her in the emergency room, tubes up her nose and in her mouth and down her throat, pale as fresh snow. Overdose, which was why Worthington wanted her found in the first place, so she wouldn't. Now Rollison was back to get paid.

"I'm not paying you a goddamn cent," Worthington said. "Cindy's dead."

"I'm sorry about that, I really am. The payment's for my time. I never told you I'd bring her back."

"You said you'd bring back a receipt. Something she'd signed to prove you found her. You were up on your high horse, preaching ethics about how you had no way to be sure what I might do if I knew where she was and all you'd do was find her and tell me how she was. Well, she's dead, and you don't have anything signed by her. I won't pay."

Rollison liked splitting hairs even less than he liked working fifteen-hour days to find a dead girl. "Mr. Worthington, I know this is a tough time for you, but a contract is a contract."

"And my daughter is dead. You want your money? Get a lawyer, and good luck to you."

"I won't need a lawyer. I won't need much luck, either."

This time it did take three days. They met next at Worthington's home. Rollison handed him a two-inch thick manila folder, rubber banded to keep the pages from falling out. Then he sat in the leather wing chair across the desk from Worthington and watched his composure slip away as quickly as a junkie's friends.

"How did you get this?" Worthington's voice was as dry as if he'd had no water for a week.

"Which part? The part where you help Russell Bailey launder his drug money through the laundromats? Or how you finance the occasional random kilo yourself for a taste of the profits? How you sold weed for party money in college? Maybe you wonder how I found out about the hookers and how you like to role play? I hadn't heard of your 'border patrol and illegal immigrant' variation before. Only Hispanic girls for that, I guess. Or Hispanic boys."

Worthington raised a handful of papers, his elbow on the desk. "You're a private investigator. I read your references, I know you're good, but this—this is law enforcement. I don't even know how law enforcement would know some of this."

"Did you ever check what I did before I went private? Doesn't matter; you wouldn't find anything. I worked for a government agency. The acronym might mean something to you; probably not. This agency has access to a lot of information."

"But you don't work there anymore."

"I have friends."

"But they can't just hand that information out."

Rollison raised a finger to stop and scold. "You're confusing illegal with impossible."

Worthington's shock veered toward outrage. "What did this cost you? You must have paid ten times what I owed you to get all this."

"I didn't pay a cent. I told you, I have friends."

"I have friends. Everyone has friends. Friendship only goes so far." He looked at the disheveled stack of papers in his hand. "What was this worth to you?"

"Let's not argue semantics. I have friends; you have whores. Friendship for you is a cash transaction. The kind of friends I'm talking about have my back because they know I have theirs. All I had to do was let out the word you wanted to screw me." Rollison picked half an inch of paper from the pile in the open folder. "I could've had twice this much."

"What are you going to do?"

"Cash the check you're about to write."

"It's blackmail, then."

"Blackmailers don't take checks. You owe me for three days' work." Rollison reminded him of the figure.

"That's all."

"You seemed to think it was a lot when you refused to pay."

Worthington scanned the papers in his hand, gathered everything back into the folder and took his time closing it the best he could. "You can't really use any of this. I'm not a public figure. It's not like I have a political career you could ruin. Considering its source, none of this is admissible in court. The friends who helped you would be in more jeopardy from exposing this than I will."

J.D. Crawford once told Rollison during a surveillance that it's easier to pull a stallion off a mare than to get a nickel from a rich man unless it was for something he could either show off or fuck. It depressed Rollison to be reminded of how wise J.D. had been. "You're missing the point. Very little of what's in there came directly from my friends. They provide what's called background. They lead me to people with the most direct knowledge of your weaknesses. Then I squeeze. May I?" He nodded toward the folder.

Worthington pushed it across the desk; Rollison sorted through the documents. "Here. A statement from Russell Bailey himself. None of what my friend told me is in here, but Bailey would much rather cop to this and have to cut a deal than face what I threatened him with. And you have no idea how much whores love to talk about their johns."

Worthington spent three minutes skimming. His eyes moved across the pages faster or slower, depending on what he saw. He squinted a couple of times, pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger once. Then, taking care to show his hands and move slowly, he took a leather-bound checkbook from the top drawer of his desk and asked again how much he owed. He used an old-fashioned fountain pen to write the check without another word.

Rollison shook the check dry and put it in his wallet. Said thank you. Stood and turned for the door—he saw no reason to shake hands—made half a dozen steps before Worthington spoke.

"You really did all this in three days." Not a question, but Rollison knew one was coming and waited. "The police have already written Cindy off as an overdose. You know there's more to it than that."

"I thought there might be."

"Could you find out?"

Rollison turned toward him. "Sure, I'll do it." He returned to the wing chair. "Tell me what you know. Including what you held back last time."

"Before we start, I might as well ask how much of a retainer you want."

Rollison shook his head. "I don't need a retainer. It's not like you're going to stiff me."

Baseball Prospectus

Yes, I know, Baseball Prospectus is an annual publication by seamheads, for seamheads. Still good writing is good writing.

The following are all drawn from the section on the Florida marlins and their players. Not all sections are this entertaining, but felicitous phrases are inserted often enough to be fun and not detract from the business at hand.

On pitcher Anibal Sanchez: Coming up on the fourth anniversary of Sanchez's September 2006 no-hitter, we're still waiting for him to put in a full season in the majors and pitch as well as he has in shorter stints. Holding your breath in anticipation of that joyous event is not recommended by Baseball Prospectus.

On infielder Jake Smolinski: He missed quite a bit of time the last two years recovering from every injury this side of being mauled by a lion.

And, an early candidate for Line of the Year, and one that should be appreciated by crime/noir fiction writers everywhere, a line I truly wish I had thought of myself, regarding pitcher Chris Volstad: Volstad clearly has ability, but a groundball pitcher without his sinker is like a stripper without nipples.

My more standard reading is behind this month, as BP's annual has 629 pages of info, but I hadn't read such a publication since Bill James stopped writing them. It's good to see someone still does them well.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Public Service Announcement

Chad Rohrbacher is running a flash fiction challenge over at his blog, Chad's Site. He's looking for a crime or superhero story of 1500 words or less, to be posted to your blog by April 26. Folks will vote on the best story, and the winner will get a copy of Victor Gischler's new novel, The Deputy, plus Preludes 1-5 and issue #1 of the Deadpool series. For free.

That's right. Free. Victor. Gischler.

Details can be found here.

(Thanks to Steve Weddle for making me aware of this.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Road Trip

Over at Do Some Damage, Jay Stringer has issued a challenge to write a flash piece with the recession as its theme. Links to the other entries can be found over at the Do Some Damage blog; my entry is below.


"The thing is, Denny needs new skates. His feet grew over the summer, he can hardly get his feet into the old ones, and new skates are six hundred bucks."

"Jesus Christ, Tom. Six hundred dollars? For ice skates?"

"Hockey skates. Special blades, special insides. It's okay, he needs them. It's the sticks that kill me. Two bills apiece, and he'll break at least two, probably three this season."

"Two hundred bucks for a piece of wood?"

"Not wood anymore." Tom drank an inch of beer. "Some composite thing, fiberglass or something. Lighter, easier to control, lets him shoot harder."

"He knows you're laid off, right?"

"Yeah, he's a good kid, telling me he'll make do. Thing is, schools are looking at him. Northeastern and Minnesota-Duluth are talking about scholarships to play hockey. Best he gets here is a couple years community college, even if I'm working. I'm not going to blow his one chance because of a lousy thousand dollars. Not a lot of money when you think about your whole life."

Frank Morgan finished his beer, waved for two more. "I got a day's work if you're interested. We'd keep it off the books, not screw up your unemployment."

"My unemployment don't even pay the mortgage. I heard some jagoff on the radio the other day, talking about how paying unemployment makes people not want to work. Cocksucker's probably taking money to vote for bills paying farmers not to grow shit. You got a day's work, I'll take it. What do you need?"

"Drive a light truck. Help me load and unload some machine parts. It's a long day—leave here by seven, probably not home till after ten or midnight. I could pay you three hundred."

"No shit, Frankie? Three hundred bucks? I'll push your fucking truck for three hundred. Where we going?"


"Where the hell's that?"


They left two days later at ten after seven. Ate breakfast at a joint in Erie and were at the border near Buffalo by noon. Canadian border guard asked if they had anything to declare; Frank said the springs in the truck were for shit and the guy laughed, waved them through. Stopped at a warehouse in an industrial park halfway from Mississauga to Brampton to load the truck.

"What's that smell?" Tom asked Frank when they picked up the first case.

"Some kind of special grease they pack them in. So they don't rust."

"I believe that. The stink alone probably repels water."

They picked up a box of Timbits for Denny in Oakville and made the US border by four-thirty. Border Patrol waved the truck over, asked them to get out, asked what they were hauling.

"Machine parts." Frank showed him the packing list. "Tool and die stuff."

The BP told Frank to open the back. Another guy already there with a dog. He slipped a muzzle off the dog and motioned him into the truck. The dog came out whimpering less than a minute later.

"What's that smell?" the handler said.

"Packing grease," Frank said. "For rust."

"You better open one of those cases," the BP said. "Here. This one."

Frank used a pry bar to get the top off. The smell got worse. The BP and dog handler looked inside, saw what looked like a differential dripping with goo. The BP covered his nose with a handkerchief. "Close it up. Jesus Christ, that stinks." Signed the slip and waved them on.

Across the border, Frank said, "We have a couple stops to make. I got a map."

They dropped off cases in Lackawanna and Wattlesburg before getting back onto 90 and driving through Erie. "Keep going," Frank said when Tom signaled for the ramp onto 79. "We gotta go to Conneaut."

"Conneaut? That's in Ohio."

"Unless they moved it. You got a limit how many state lines you can cross in a day?" Both of them getting cranky, twelve hours in and still a couple of hundred miles to go, with this new side trip.

Tom parked behind an auto parts store. Frank told him to stay in the truck. The back slid up and Tom heard Frank talking to someone. Voices got agitated, then louder. Frank said something about "a little light" and the other voice said "cocksucker" something and then feet were scuffling on the gritty pavement. Tom slid out of the cab and snuck to the corner of the truck in time to see some big SOB bounce Frank off the lip of the bed and fling him into the parking lot. Said something about how he'd rather run the grow house himself than have to air this shit out. Tom picked up the pry bar from the back of the truck and hit him as hard as he could between the shoulder blades, then what he hoped was a glancing blow to the head to put him down.

In the truck, Frank said, "Thanks."

"You want to tell me what that was about?"

"The less you know, the better."

"How much more is there to know? You're running reefer down from Canada and this guy don't like the product. How stupid do you think I am?"

Frank sat quiet for a few miles. Then, "I'm sorry, Tom. I shoulda told you. I'll keep you out of it."

"Like hell," Tom said. "When's the next run?"

"You sure?"

"Shit, yeah, I'm sure. But it's five hundred from now on. I got two kids, you know."

March's Best Reads

Here are my recommended reads from March:

Fiddle Game, Richard Thompson—Saw Thompson on a Bouchercon panel discussing cons and swindles. Engaging fellow, good sense of humor, and the right tongue-in-cheek attitude about con games in general. The book isn’t quite what I expected: it was better. The fiddle con in question relates to a bail bond scheme, and who the bad guys are is in doubt for most of the book. The cast is fun and varied, especially a demented prophet who’s not as off as he appears, and never misses an opportunity to turn a buck himself. Thompson keeps things unpredictable but plausible and delivers a very entertaining read. I’ll look for his next book, which is due out soon, if it hasn’t hit already.

Johnny Porno, Charlie Stella—This is a kickass book. Stella is writing what most publishers say they won’t buy—books about Italian mobs—so well you have to wonder why the hell people won’t buy them. Set in the early 70s, Johnny Porno examines what happens when a divorced father gets down on his luck and has to take a job as a runner for the local mob to make ends meet. His ex-wife, her boyfriend, and another mobster all have it in for him, and the cops can’t barely tell which side each of them is on. The characters would make Elmore Leonard proud, and the dialog has elements of George V. Higgins. First-class stuff. (A more detailed review and interview with the author are available at New Mystery Reader.)

First Drop, Zoe Sharp—Sharp’s first Charlie Fox novel makes it easy to see why she was asked to write more. Fox is an excellent female protagonist: feminine, tough enough to do the job, and smart enough to know when she’s in over her head. She doesn’t wait around for divine intervention or a big, strong, man to save her, but knows enough to get help when she needs it. What starts out as a simple job of keeping an eye on a teenaged boy turns into a high body count thriller when an attempt is made on his life at an amusement park, and everyone—including Fox’s partner—is missing when they try to go home. I figured out the ultimate bad guy before the end, but much of the fun came from seeing how Fox would put it all together.