Drive-In Saturday by Ed Kurtz

It was hard to tell, but the blond-haired boy with the wispy fur on his face seemed to have fallen asleep halfway through the second feature, some kind of hippie horror acid freak-out thing Caroline wasn’t really paying attention to, her eyes fixed instead on the rise and fall of the boy’s chest, his delicate, artless fingers resting pink on the steering wheel. She longed to reach out, feel the smooth backs of his hands, run her fingertips along the nape of his neck to the small cubic zirconia stud in his downy earlobe; touch his thin, parted lips with a small, white speck on the bottom one, just a bit of sleep drool. A warm breeze, gravid with pre-rain ozone, drifted in past the speaker hanging precariously from the open window on the driver’s side, the tiny, rusty holes lined up in perfect rows and squawking tense music, adolescent shrieks. She smelled a hint of stale buttered popcorn carried on the breeze from the concession stand, back of the lot on the far end from the weather-worn screen, where the dim florescent tubes beneath the awning no longer attracted any moths and pulsed like acetylene.

The boy swallowed noisily and licked his lips while Caroline studied his shifting features, the knit of his white-blond brow, and tried to remember what the first movie had been. It seemed so long ago, like they had been sitting there so long the old Buick should have run out of gas by then, or the battery died. But the engine still purred and the dash lights still glowed, the boy settling again into stillness but with his hands in his lap now, one on top of the other. She thought if she closed her eyes and tried to play a memory game, to summon up everything around her in pictures in her mind, she might not be able to reconstruct the drive-in or the car, the color of her cupcake dress or the shapes of the eggshell clouds streaming lazily past the yellow sliver of moon that lurked behind the big screen, clearing the way for the gathering storm; all she would be able to see would be him, every last detail of him from the too-tight blue jeans that smelled of grass and sweat and semen to the single brown freckle just off-center at the tip of his round, alabaster nose. She could then recall the slight bulge of his tummy which he tried to keep sucked in, full of Hamm’s beer and red licorice and the cold French fries they’d shared from the Royal Castle; an almost translucent trail of velvety hair that started beneath his belly button and ran all the way down to the thick golden tangle that hid his penis before it all but leapt free of the mesh, as hot and eager as the rest of him. His breath like Parliament cigarettes and peppermint Certs, the last one in the roll he’d sucked into his mouth after giving her one to cut the tang of his own taste in her mouth after she’d finished with him, only ten or fifteen minutes into the first half of the double bill when for a good minute she was certain he was going to cry. He kept saying he was sorry and she kept telling him there was nothing to feel sorry about, but the boy was starting to maybe kind of bug out a bit for some reason and Caroline decided probably this was his first time with any of it, so she cracked open another can that she fished out of the box behind her seat and dug out an orange bottle from her bag, Mommy’s Little Helpers with her own mother’s name on the label.

They crumbled well enough between her finger and thumb, two and half sprinkled carefully into the open mouth of the can, the warm beer smell turning her stomach before she passed it over to him and he drank thirsty and loud. Hush now, settle down, I liked it, I really did, and I like you, too. His friends probably hooting and hollering back at the Royal Castle where she’d found him, spinning their own version of the night’s events as they imagined it, cobbled together between the three of them from ill-informed fantasies and hazily remembered experiences of their own and maybe the odd porno book pilfered from a stepfather’s secret stash. But the boy only dozed, his lungs eking out a whistling wheeze now and again as his breathing slowed and his concave chest came, in time, to be quiet and still as a Polaroid. Caroline rested her head on that chest, and the movie came to an end, and since she never asked the boy’s name she decided Owen was as nice a name as any and how was she supposed to know something like this might happen?

Poor Owen, she thought, awkward and unfinished, shaggy and sweet. All the same, she had to admit it had turned out to be a really lovely night, despite the rain.

Blight Digest Launches

One Eye Press is thrilled to announce the digital release of Blight Digest, a seasonal fiction magazine dedicated to horror. Editors Bracken MacLeod and Jan Kozlowski, along with publisher Ron Earl Phillips, have collected 10 of the best horror and dark fiction stories for this debut launch.

A print edition is following and should be available soon through Amazon.

Blight-Digest-CoverWith stories by:

  • Cobwebs by Kealan Patrick Burke
  • Letting Go by M P Johnson
  • Night Games by John Boden
  • The Breath by Jessie Volk
  • Hungry by Ed Kurtz
  • Meat District by Lucas Mangum
  • For Sale by Jonathan Woodrow
  • Main Coon by Nick Medina
  • Anatomy of a Rape by Sandra Seamans
  • Brick House by Michael Bailey

[button link=”http://amzn.com/B00O4B6FE6″ type=”icon” newwindow=”yes”] Kindle Edition[/button] [button type=”icon” link=”http://amzn.com/0692321160 ” newwindow=”yes”] Print Edition[/button]

Cover art: “Blue Venus” by Dyer Wilk.

Amore Violenta by Ed Kurtz

Francesca opened her eyes and peered through the false lashes at the setting sun. The horizon was purple and pink (colors of a baby girl’s nursery, she thought) and the light filtered through the treetops like bright needles. Beneath her the grass felt cool and crisp, freshly cut but long enough to provide a soft bed to die upon. It had been damp in the morning, with the sunrise—dewy. Floating in and out throughout the day (at times occurring to her she felt like she was in the water, bobbing up and down at the surface), she had noted the changing position of the sun, the shift of the clouds lazing across the late summer sky above her. They looked to her very much like candy floss being gradually shredded apart, perhaps by some overeager child’s sticky hands at a carnival. She strained to recall whether or not she had ever had candy floss in such circumstances, but her mind was far too hazy to bring anything like that to the fore.

Francesca opened her eyes and peered through the false lashes at the setting sun. The horizon was purple and pink (colors of a baby girl’s nursery, she thought) and the light filtered through the treetops like bright needles. Beneath her the grass felt cool and crisp, freshly cut but long enough to provide a soft bed to die upon. It had been damp in the morning, with the sunrise—dewy. Floating in and out throughout the day (at times occurring to her she felt like she was in the water, bobbing up and down at the surface), she had noted the changing position of the sun, the shift of the clouds lazing across the late summer sky above her. They looked to her very much like candy floss being gradually shredded apart, perhaps by some overeager child’s sticky hands at a carnival. She strained to recall whether or not she had ever had candy floss in such circumstances, but her mind was far too hazy to bring anything like that to the fore.

In the middle-distance, sirens bayed. Francesca considered how she could never tell the difference between different types of sirens by sound alone—police, fire service, ambulance. Any would do. But she knew they were not coming for her. No one knew she was there. She wasn’t particularly sure where there was, anyway. Or even if she was still in Milan.

The last thing she clearly remembered was Aldo barreling through the door, bad drunk and mean on it, spoiling to break something and starting in on the kitchen chairs. He kicked one to splinters before hefting up another and smashing it against the wall, knocking down first Francesca’s picture of Jesus and then her father’s old Army photo where he looked so handsome and young. The glass from each of the frames mingled together in a tinkling snowstorm on the tiled floor. Francesca scrambled to save her bare feet from the shards and ran right into Aldo’s taut, round belly. She bounced back from it, but he caught her by the back of the neck and pushed her down to the floor.

Cagna stupido, Aldo growled, hauling his right leg back as he narrowed his eyes to zero in on where he wanted to kick her. Francesca contracted into a ball, her knees touching her chin, and whimpered. But Aldo’s booted foot never made good on its threat; the drunkard wobbled on the one leg, grunted and toppled over beside her.

In spite of herself, Francesca laughed.

She laughed low and hoarsely, but not for long. Almost as soon as she started, the report startled her into silence and Aldo’s pitted cheek burst open, spitting red. And Francesca’s world went upside-down, then dark.

In the blur, it was Dario. Hadn’t he been there? Hiding in the bedroom closet when Aldo exploded into the flat? Wasn’t it Dario who appeared in the doorway, stark naked and brandishing a pistol, frightening the angry drunk into collapse and firing a round into his face the moment he hit the ground? Big man, Dario. Hides until he’s sure he’s got the upper hand. But then what did she expect from a poliziotto?

Francesca hissed in the gathering dusk and pricked up her ears, listening hard to the diminishing din of the sirens. She longed for a cigarette. She longed for some whisky or wine. She longed for the burning agony in her abdomen to go away, though focusing on it only seemed to make it worse. Some mornings, sprawled out naked and dripping sweat and sex, she’d listened as Dario detailed gruesome and violent episodes from his career, and though gun work came into that Francesca never imagined what it would feel like to be shot. Now she knew. And as always, it was Dario who relieved her of any curiosity on the matter. The big man’s last lesson, she thought, turning her head just slightly to look upon him beside her, right eye wide open and left obliterated altogether, reduced to a red-black pulp. Che catastrofe.

The sirens were gone now and so was the sun, but Francesca could still make out her husband’s face only inches from her own, on the other side of her. Was he dying, or merely in shock? He blinked slowly, pushing tears from his glassy brown eyes, and worked his mouth as though trying to speak. How stupid of Dario to place the pistol in Aldo’s hand, thinking him dead already. How ridiculous the tableau would look when Dario’s amici would finally arrive and try to sort it all out. Perhaps, the dying woman supposed, Aldo might live long enough to explain the picture his wife’s lover attempted to compose—jealous husband and unfaithful wife, killed by one another in a wild frenzy of violence and betrayal, nothing at all to do with Dario. More likely, they would all three be dead by the same pistol and the investigators would never suss it out completely.

Francesca laughed.

But not for long.

Cuffs by Ed Kurtz

“Hell, girl,” Morrie said, scratching the back of his neck. “I don’t guess I ever thought of nothing like that.”

She rattled the handcuffs and looked up at him from the edge of the bed, where she sat birthday naked, her brown eyes wide and thick bottom lip puffed out. Morrie felt himself stir in his trousers, the heat there. His own eyes darted from the cuffs to her face and back again. He liked her face. It was pallid and unadorned with the clownish makeup the other girls wore, but she didn’t need any. She looked stark and naked and completely unencumbered with hesitation or those hints of forthcoming regret he knew too well. She was his.

“If it’s not your bag,” she began, but she trailed off, those sad eyes sliding down, ever down, to the threadbare carpet under her bare feet. Morrie followed her gaze. He liked her feet, too.

He liked all of her. Inez. She said her name was Inez.

Morrie hadn’t ever seen a Mexican girl so pale. He didn’t mind one way or another. But he noticed. He noticed everything about her. Her full, pink lips—slightly cracked, as if by the dry Texas air, and with a tiny red spot on the bottom one that suggested she’d bitten right into it. Her unusual hairline, jagged and imperfect, but consuming once he got to looking at it. The freckles that dotted her cheeks, almost imperceptible until he was right up on her, like he’d gotten by the pool table at Jack’s when the Boozefighters MC cleared out and opened up the corner for them. They hadn’t really wanted to shoot, Morrie and Inez. All they wanted, from the moment they got to giving each other eyes and body language signals, was one another.

Now she jangled the cuffs some more and he snapped back to her, eyes heavily lidded and lips parted in a half-smile.

Inez said, “So—you like a little control?”

“I’m always in control,” was what Morrie said. He licked his lips and stepped forward two, three paces.

“Then take it,” said the girl. “I’m yours.”

Morrie drew a deep, cold breath through his nostrils; the A/C unit under the motel room window was set as low as it went, and the air smelled and tasted clean for its coldness. Better still, Inez’s nipples stood out like the erasers at the ends of schoolhouse pencils, as best as Morrie remembered any schoolhouse. He focused on them now, small and dark and tight. And he snatched the handcuffs from her waiting hand.

Dolly’s “Jolene” on the clock radio, the low light flickering in the cigarette smoke yellowed lampshade, Morrie pressed her face down against the flat white pillows on the queen bed and cuffed her thin wrists behind her back while the neon motel roadsign flashed red and white through the frayed window curtains. She kept her face down until he turned it up, by her slight chin, gently but with something approaching command. Inez looked a touch sad to him. Those big, brown eyes just a bit misty. He reckoned he knew why, and it sort of made him sad, too, even as he thrust into her from behind.

The copper smell was coming on strong then, like a pile of old pennies or a coil of electric wire hefted from a railcar, and though he couldn’t exactly push it out of his nostrils, Morrie concentrated on the task at hand. He seized the girl’s wrists, both of them with one great, calloused hand, and pulled them back and up until her shoulders strained. And he pumped into her until he was spent, grunting ape-like, and settled in beside her, not bothering to fool around with the keys on the nightstand just yet.

Inez said, “You knew when you saw me, didn’t you? Right then.”

“Sure, precious,” said Morrie. “I done knowed it right then.”

“That I’d be yours.”

“All mine,” he said.

She smiled sweetly. Said, “I like that.”

Morrie tried to smile back, started to, but his gaze fell upon the gray corpse of her husband on the floor between the bed and the bathroom, his blood turning black on the carpet.

Poor bastard, Morrie thought.

But he felt himself stirring again.

Bad Luck Billy by Ed Kurtz

Pushing a loose strand of auburn hair away from her wet eyes, she sits behind the wheel and stares—across the parking lot and over the freeway, choked with traffic. One direction stretches north to Waco, the other southwest to San Antonio. But she goes neither way. She just sits, the motor idling, a cigarette burning between the fingers of her left hand, which hangs out of the open window. Al Dexter warbles on the FM station. The air conditioner doesn’t work, but she lets it run anyway, hissing warm air at her sweat-slick neck.

Behind her, in the middle distance, Billy’s garage sits like a gray wad of dust at the opposite end of the lot. The open sign still burns blood red, but the door is locked and all the lights are off. She’d forgotten to switch off the sign, something she realizes now as she peers at it by way of the rearview mirror. For a moment she contemplates going back to take care of it, walks through the steps in her mind: she would have to get Billy’s keys, walk back over to open up the office door. But Billy’s keys are in Billy’s pocket and Billy is in the trunk, because that is where she stuffed him after she opened his throat with the bastard’s own straight razor.

How he gurgled, how his eyes begged for help.

She decides to leave the goddamned sign on.

Jerking the gearshift into reverse, she slowly backs out the slot, curves around to the left, and shoves it down two notches to drive, pointed north. Al Dexter fades into Waylon Jennings. She hums along, unaware that she’s doing so, and steps on the gas. Her plan, the one she’d hatched over her morning coffee, seems like too much effort now. She eases onto the frontage road, merges onto the on-ramp, the purple bracelet of bruising that encircles her right wrist almost pulsing at her eyes as she makes her way onto the freeway. He’d been like to kill her, the way he was. Bad Billy, drunk Billy. Bad luck Billy, whose sure thing at the racetrack turned into a terrible debt he’d never be able to pay. Mean, mad Billy, who passed the mad down to her with his fists and his boots and a belt buckle that sliced her scalp open. Dead Billy, whose yawning red neck was what he got for his trouble while he worried over the receipts in his garage. And though up until now she had every intention to head straight back to their trailer, to haul poor old Billy inside and torch the whole shitheap, it really just seems like too much effort now.

Instead, she cruises north, to nowhere in particular, far away from their trailer where she’d sipped her last cup of instant as the sun came up over the junipers that border the park and decided today was the day she was finally going to kill that rotten sonofabitch.

It’s only just south of Waco that she remembers Billy’s mamma lives outside Fort Worth, a little block of one bedroom apartments built mostly from cinder blocks, and Fort Worth isn’t so far from Waco. She smiles softly, fires up another cigarette, and decides it’s all right with her if the old bag gets to see her boy one last time.

It’s only right.

She touches the sticky gash at her hairline, crusted over with her own dry brown blood, and her smile melts away. The cut, still fresh, stings to the touch. She drags deep from her smoke and wonders what will come next, after Billy’s mamma sees what she has done. Those cinder block apartments just won’t burn the same as the old trailer would have. That, she knows, would have been such a sight.

A pothole escapes her attention, and she crunches the undercarriage right over it. The gas cans in the trunk rattle around, knocking all over poor, dead Billy.

“Come on, baby,” she says in a sweet, sing-song sort of way. “Let’s go see mamma.”

Take a Shot: Ed Kurtz on Death of a Red Heroine, Qiu Xiaolong

While recently browsing a local bookstore with some time to kill, I came upon a display of paperbacks from independent New York-based publisher Soho Crime. I was quick to realize that their line consists entirely of “international mysteries,” meaning crime tales that largely take place outside of the U.S., and the first of the lot to jump out at me was Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong. Due to my vague and generally unfocused interest in things Chinese—relegated largely to Hong Kong kung fu and action pictures—I was intrigued by the premise of a Shanghai police inspector trying to solve a murder case in early 1990s China, a time of confusing socioeconomic restructuring and high tensions in the wake of Tiananmen Square. I bought the book, devoured it quickly, and am now working on the third in the ongoing series.

In Death of a Red Heroine, Chief Inspector Chen Cao is assigned the case of a body found in a remote canal, who is revealed to be something of a socialist celebrity—a model worker often lauded in the state press. When evidence points to an “HCC”, a high cadre’s child, Chen experiences as much pressure to drop the case as he does to solve it. Xiaolong is Shanhaiese himself and, like Chen, a poet and translator who has resided in St. Louis (home of his favorite Western poet, T.S. Eliot) since coming under undue scrutiny from the Chinese government. Accordingly, there is much in Death of a Red Heroine that comes off as semiautobiographical, and since Xiaolong writes in English for a Western audience, the book presents a tantalizing mystery wrapped in a salient criticism of the sociopolitical conditions Chinese people have faced from Mao’s Cultural Revolution to Deng Xiaoping’s later, quasi-capitalist proclamation to “let some get rich first.”

It has been noted elsewhere the real main character of Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen series is China itself, and Shanghai in particular. One need not enter into the novel with a scholarly familiarity with the conditions Xiaolong addresses herein, yet he is masterful in the way he weaves social commentary into Chen’s tense struggle to see justice served without losing face and, potentially, political stability. The Chief Inspector already walks a fine line due to his secondary career as a modernist poet, a politically ambiguous profession that could be used against him at any time should he step out of place. Fortunately for Chen, he develops a network of contacts throughout the city—from a successful restaurateur to a retired cop to triad-connected nightclub owner—who assist him every step of the way lest he get too much dirt on his hands. It makes for a diverse and complex cast of characters from every walk of Shanghaiese life and sets up a satisfying series that feels familiar and comfortable by the time the reader opens A Loyal Character Dancer, the second book in the series.

Inspector Chen moved on from Soho Crime after the third book, When Red is Black; the series moved then to Minotaur Books, who released the seventh entry, Don’t Cry, Tai Lake, last May.  Nonetheless, I intend to keep a close eye on Soho Crime even as I rocket through the remaining Chen novels. Scandinavians aren’t the only ones producing top notch crime fiction these days.

Bea’s Wager by Ed Kurtz

When Beatrice opened the door, she assumed the two young men on her front porch were Christians from some church or another. They looked the part.

She said, “Sorry, we’re agnostic.”

The taller of the pair, his hair shaved to stubble, grinned like a monkey.

“If you ever want to see your daughter alive again, let us inside.”

Beatrice gawped, flicked her eyes to the shorter one. He nodded gravely. She let them in.

“Please,” she said, her voice weaker than she wanted it to sound. “Please don’t.”

“Don’t what?” the shorter one said. “She’s fine. You just do what we tell you to do and we’ll be out of here in ten minutes.”

“And Dot? What about my Dot?”

“She’ll be right here. Right after we’re gone.”

“What do you want? Why are you—”

Shh,” the taller one hissed. His face was the color of hospital walls.

“In the kitchen,” said the other. “C’mon.”

They filed in, Bea in the middle. A pot was simmering on the range. The short one bent over to sniff at it, said, “Mmm—chili.”

“I’ll pay anything,” Bea blurted. “Anything you want.”

“Pretty good,” muttered the guy smelling the chili. Bea could not tell if he meant the chili or her offer.

“Oh,” said the tall one, a hint of disapproval in his voice. “We don’t want money.”

“Take some of this chili, though,” mused the short one.

“Shut up,” his partner snipped.

Bea said, “Oh, god. Oh, Jesus.” The blood seemed to drain from her cheeks, leaving them eggshell white. The tall one cocked his head to the side, assessing her reaction. She backed up against the refrigerator, knocked down a magnet with a picture of Snoopy on it.

The short guy dipped a wooden spoon into the steaming pot, then touched it to his tongue. He yelped.

“Hot.”

“Should’ve blown on it first,” his partner admonished him.

By then Bea had started to cry. She directed her streaming eyes at the linoleum floor and undid the top button on her blouse.

“I—I’d prefer y—you use a c—condom,” she stuttered.

The short man dropped the spoon on the floor and let out a curt gasp.

“Jesus!” he cried.

The other one just shook his head.

“Shit, lady,” the short one groaned. “What the hell?”

“Stop that,” the tall one said, waggling a finger at her and looking embarrassed. “Stop that now.”

“I—I don’t understand,” Bea said, rebuttoning the blouse. “You don’t want money, and you don’t want to ra—”

Don’t say it,” the short man said. He looked thoroughly disgusted.

“Well what the hell do you want?

The tall one sighed, crossed the kitchen to a bank of drawers. He pulled them open, one after the other, until at last he found what he was looking for. Raising the gleaming cleaver and admiring it in the warm light of the windows, he said, “Your hand.”

Her eyes locked with his and she raised a single eyebrow.

“You can’t be serious.”

“As a heart attack, lady,” the short one said. “The right one, if you please.”

“But…why?”

“Because that is our demand,” the tall one replied. “Your hand for your daughter. Your choice.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Why should it? Time’s a’wasting, lady.”

She narrowed her eyes to slits, regarded the glinting edge of the cleaver’s blade.

“Do you have, you know, proof?” she asked haltingly.

“Proof of what?” the man with the cleaver said.

“That you have my daughter. That you have Dot.”

“You didn’t ask for proof when you thought it was money.”

“Or rape,” the other one said, making his partner wince.

Of course, they were right. Perhaps, she thought, it was just the shock of it, the unexpectedness of the demand. After all, what the hell were they going to do with a hand?

What was the damn point?

“Nice enough kid, that Dot,” the short one mused, turning the cleaver one way and then the other. “I guess she’d do all right with a one-handed mommy.”

“Your call,” the tall one reiterated.

Bea stifled a sob, wiped her nose. Slapped her hand down on the cutting board beside a small mound of finely chopped onions she was about to add to the chili when the doorbell rang. Dot liked the onions, sometimes requested extra.

Maybe they had her, and maybe they didn’t.

“Don’t make a fucking mess of it,” she growled.

Roadbeds by Ed Kurtz

For L.B.

Maury was taking a smoke break when the two thugs showed up. They arrived in a black Lincoln and summoned the crew boss from the dusty light of the car’s headlamps. Lucky was bawling out a digger at the time, a Puerto Rican backhoe operator, and Lucky didn’t quit bawling a guy out for anything. But he quit it for them.

The P.R. stared and Maury figured he was probably the only guy on site who didn’t grasp the situation. He’d never seen Cuco Minchillo’s guys come around a worksite in the dead of night, didn’t even know they worked for the guy whose name was on all the equipment. Minchillo & Sons. Both his sons were dead.

Lucky snatched the hardhat off his skull in a show of submission that made Maury wince. The boss listened while the thugs told him what was happening. They didn’t have to. It was always the same.

“All right, you pricks,” Lucky bellowed to the crew after that. “Pack it up and sit a spell at Sugar’s. But be back on site in two hours, hear?”

Maury flicked his cigarette half smoked into the gaping hole in the pavement. There hadn’t been anything wrong with the road when they started digging it up at the start of the night. Now it looked like the fastest way to China.

A couple of guys groaned but nobody made too much of a production out of it. The P.R. sidled up to Maury and said, “What’s Sugar’s?”

“Tits and ass,” Maury said. “Ten bucks a head, five for a beer. Hell of a way to make a living.”

He wasn’t sure who he meant, them or the strippers.

“Come on,” Lucky said, popping up with an apologetic smile on his macadam-blackened face. “First round’s on me.”

“Forget it. I’m going to catch a quick nap.”

Lucky eyed him cagily. Maury could see the thugs over the crew boss’s shoulder, peering down into the Lincoln’s trunk.

“Two hours,” Lucky reminded him.

“I know.”

“Not earlier.”

Maury broke away, climbed into his Buick and rumbled off into the night. He imagined that he was driving over a long stretch of secret graves, because he was. It was a quarter past one in the morning.

* * *

At 3:15 Maury pulled up to the barrier of orange cones and killed the engine. He finished the dregs of gas station coffee in his cup and switched off his headlamps. The heavy duty tower lights lit the worksite up like a baseball field, but the air was clear of dust and Maury didn’t see a soul. He lit a cigarette and got out of the Buick. In the dead center of the site loomed the hole they’d carved out of the road. He went to it, glanced down at the two bodies crumpled there, their yellow vests reflecting the glare of the work lights.

Lucky’s vest was perforated in the middle of his back, a splash of red smeared up to his shoulder. The Puerto Rican kid got it in the head. His jet black hair was wet with blood. Maury realized he never knew the P.R.’s name. He supposed it didn’t much matter now.

Footsteps scuffed the pavement behind him and a voice said, “He ran. You believe that shit? The dumb bastard actually ran.”

Hence the hole in the back, Maury thought. Poor Lucky. Not so lucky after all, not in the long run. Or the short run, as it happened.

Maury grinned, let out a snort.

In the distance a pair of headlights glowed.

“Crew’s coming back,” the thug said. “Cuco’s got a job lined up to fill potholes on University tomorrow night. Remember to tell ‘em.”

“Fill them with what?” Maury asked.

“Hell, I don’t know—oh. I get it.”

“I got it from here.”

“Sure. You’re crew boss now, Maury.”

The thugs sauntered back to their Lincoln while Maury grabbed a shovel to dump dirt and smashed chunks of low-grade asphalt on the corpses. Two cars, a Plymouth and a Chrysler, pulled up to the cones just as he covered up the last visible bit of yellow.

A car door slammed and a fat slob named Dane wobbled over to him.

“Say, where’s Lucky?”

Maury said, “I’m Lucky, now.”