Bird Hunter by William E. Wallace

Jack the pit’s barking roused Jim Boy LeBeau. Tucking his Colt magnum into the back of his pants, he staggered onto the porch and kicked the animal to silence then lit a Marlboro as a new Grand Caravan jounced over the rutted hard-pan to his shack.

Jim Boy’s only visitors were bikers who cooked the blue crystal he sold and the toothless hillbillies who bought it. Strangers made him nervous. The last time a mini-van had pulled up in front of his house it had been full of forensic technicians from the coroner picking up Courtney, a city girl who OD’d on Jim Boy’s crystal.

The guy who got out of the Caravan made him relax: he was older, clean cut and just starting to go to flab, dressed in chinos and a polo shirt with his hair cut like a Marine. He looked straight but didn’t give off a cop vibe.

“Hey,” the stranger said in a friendly way. “The guy at the liquor store in town said you had a Remington twelve gauge for sale. I’m planning to try my hand at shooting some birds. I’d like to look at it.”

Jim Boy relaxed a little more. His ad had run in the county shopper. There was nothing illegal about selling some suburbanite a bird gun for hunting.

“Yeah,” LeBeau said. “Let me bring ‘er out.”

The gun was a Remington Model 870 with a pistol grip. It looked more like a tool for robbing banks than a hunting weapon. In fact, its last owner, a heist artist, had swapped the gun to LeBeau for a half kilo of Tina.

Jim Boy handed the weapon to the stranger, who racked it and pointed it at a pine tree on the other side of the house. It clicked when the man with the buzz cut pulled the trigger.

“You from around here?” Jim Boy asked, shaking out another Marlboro and lighting it with a battered Zippo.

The stranger shook his head as hefted the gun with one hand, sighting down the barrel at the tree. “Nope. My daughter used to live in Blaine, though. She died a couple weeks ago. I’m in the area to settle her affairs.”

He handed the shotgun back to LeBeau. “How do you load the damned thing?” he asked.

Jim Boy dug in his jeans for a shell and demonstrated how to insert it.

“When you’re ready, rack a round and release the safety,” LeBeau said, handing the gun back. “Then you rock and roll.”

Buzzcut squeezed the trigger and a big chunk of the pine turned into sawdust.

To LeBeau’s surprise, the stranger immediately fed the gun a handful of shells from his own pocket.

“You say your daughter died?” Jim Boy said, his tone making it a question. “What from, an auto wreck?”

The stranger shook his head. “Courtney was a speed freak. I had to ID her in the cooler at the coroner’s office.”

Courtney. At hearing the girl’s name, LeBeau swallowed loudly. The stranger turned the barrel toward his midsection and released the safety.

“Cops in town said they think she got the dope from you,” Buzzcut said. “They couldn’t prove it, though.”

LeBeau swallowed again. His Colt was under the back of his shirt. To draw he’d have to reach around his gut. He weighed 280, so there was a lot to reach around.

“This county has more meth than manzanita,” LeBeau stammered. “She could have got the stuff anywhere.”

The stranger nodded. “True,” he said. “But they found her body here.”

Buzzcut jiggled the shotgun up and down. “Nice weapon,” he said. “Good for shooting birds. People, too. I used to carry a twelve on a fire team in Iraq. It’s been a while since I held one.”

LeBeau’s hands were shaking. There was no way he could reach the Colt before Buzzcut fired.

“You said you were planning to do some hunting,” he said nervously, hoping to distract the man. “Birds, you said. What kind of birds are you after?”

The stranger smiled mirthlessly as he pulled the trigger.

“Just one,” he said as the shotgun roared. “A shitbird.”

Born Under a Bad Sign by William E. Wallace

To the average gomer sitting in the stop-and-go, it was just another Central Valley commute snafu: somebody’d rolled a southbound 2002 Malibu on the 99 interchange in Ceres, clogging traffic to Fresno for an hour.

To Chase Willard it was more. Much more. For Willard it was a third strike that meant a life slam in some shithole. Maybe Corcoran, San Quentin or High Desert. He’d already worn out his welcome at the low security joints like Avenal, San Luis and Solano.

Things had been going great until Willard lost his left rear tire on 99 just south of Ceres; that’s where the bullet fired by the cop outside the bank in Ripon finally worked its way through the bead.

When it did, Chase was doing the limit, listening to Albert King on the Malibu’s Blaupunkt. Witnesses told police the car rolled three times as it left the road. The wreck knocked Willard out like a fifth of Jack on an empty stomach and when he came to, he was handcuffed to a bed in the detention ward of some hospital in Modesto.

The guy guarding him was tall, skinny and weather-beaten, dressed in a suit and hand-tooled boots. From his slicked-back hair and the plug in his cheek, Willard would have pegged him as a John Deere sales manager or rep from the local Farm Bureau but Chase knew he was a sheriff’s detective because he had a six-point county star hanging from his belt.

A white on black plastic name tag over his breast pocket said he was Sgt. Johnson. He eased himself into a metal chair bolted to the floor.

“Chase Willard, professional stick-up man,” he said cheerfully, shooting a cheekful of chaw into the waste basket near the bed. “You been out of the joint, what? About a year? That’s ‘most a lifetime for somebody with a rap sheet like yours. Y’all had yourself a pretty good run for a while there, Willard, but this time you going inside long enough to end up in the prison cemetery.”

“I need a lawyer,” Chase said. He fixed the cop with that exercise yard stare convicts learn during their first flop in the state joint: the dead-eye that gives up nothing but sees everything.

“You gonna need more than that, son,” Johnson said, spitting again. “You gonna need a fuckin’ miracle to keep some cabron in Folsom from reaming your asshole wide enough to park an F150 long bed.”

Chase licked his lips. “Just the same, I want some law.”

The skinny guy grinned as he got up to leave. “You gonna be buried in it, Chase,” he said. “The D.A. says he’s going to stick enough shit on you that you’ll end up looking like a Chia Pet.”

The redneck’s grin broadened when he reached the door. “Son,” he said. “You in a world of hurt.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” William told Johnson’s back as the detective left.

Unfortunately, the peckerwood with the boots was right: when Willard had recovered enough for arraignment, they’d trot him in to face armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon. There’d also be an assault charge because he’d used the Ruger, a big-assed Blackhawk .45 he’d borrowed from his old cellmate, Dick Sealy, to crack the skull of the rent-a-cop guarding the front door to the Wells Fargo branch.

And for what? A $3,847 score, barely enough to finance a weekend in Vegas.

Chase groaned as he remembered there would also be a felony auto theft beef: he’d boosted the Malibu from the Walmart parking lot in Manteca, complete with the box of CDs that included the Albert King record.

What were the words to that King song he’d just cued up when the tire blew?

 

Born under a bad sign

I been down since I begin to crawl

If it wasn’t for bad luck,

I wouldn’t have no luck at all.

 

Chase sighed. At this point, he was pretty sure he’d prefer doing without.

Recovery Man by William Wallace

Eddie Pax climaxed with a gasp about thirty seconds after Kathleen, the woman he’d met in the hotel bar. When both of them were spent, he fished a pair of cigarettes out of the pack on the nightstand and lit them together before placing one between her lips.

“You staying here?” he asked after catching his breath.

She propped her head on her hand and French inhaled. “Room 231,” she said. “I’m here for the CPA conference.”

Eddie vaguely remembered a placard about it in the lobby.

“You don’t look like a bookkeeper,” he said.

“I’m not,” she replied. “I’m office manager for an independent service in the capital. The only time I use a calculator is when I balance my checkbook.”

Eddie Pax climaxed with a gasp about thirty seconds after Kathleen, the woman he’d met in the hotel bar. When both of them were spent, he fished a pair of cigarettes out of the pack on the nightstand and lit them together before placing one between her lips.

“You staying here?” he asked after catching his breath.

She propped her head on her hand and French inhaled. “Room 231,” she said. “I’m here for the CPA conference.”

Eddie vaguely remembered a placard about it in the lobby.

“You don’t look like a bookkeeper,” he said.

“I’m not,” she replied. “I’m office manager for an independent service in the capital. The only time I use a calculator is when I balance my checkbook.”

She’d been a good catch – a professional woman, blond, blue-eyed, late 30s. She was drinking something pink in a frosty Martini glass when he sat down two stools away from her and bought the first of several rounds.

He’d have taken a chance on a woman a lot less put together than Kathleen: he was horny as a herd of Texas cattle when he finished work. Funny how that worked: he never wanted anything to eat afterward but he almost always was in the mood for a piece of tail.

“So what are you here for?” Kathleen asked, taking a drag off her Marlboro and blowing smoke toward the ceiling.

He shrugged. “Had to collect some money a guy owed,” he said.

The guy in question was Pete Codorolli, the owner of a pair of auto body shops. Codorolli was a degenerate gambler. That’s how he got hooked up with Andrei Bondarchuk, the man who’d hired Eddie’s firm. Bondarchuk had loaned the body-and-fender man more than a quarter million to cover his markers. Afterward, Codorolli had ignored the Russian’s demands for repayment.

Higgins, Pax’s boss, sent Eddie to smooth things out.

Codorolli had met him at his main shop after his crew had left for the day. Eddie tied him to a chair, broke seven of his fingers and removed three of his front teeth with a pair of diagonal pliers. By the third extraction, Cordorolli was ready to sign over ownership of his body shops to the Russian.

Hell, he would have signed over his soul to stop the pain.

With the legal papers tucked inside his suit coat, Eddie had put Codorolli under one of the shop’s hydraulic lifts then dropped it and the car it held onto his body.

The Cadillac Escalade had crushed Codorolli like a cockroach. When the shop owner stopped twitching, Eddie untied him, walked out the back door and dropped the rope and nitrile gloves he’d been wearing into a nearby dumpster.

Naturally, Pax didn’t mention any of this to his female companion.

Kathleen let smoke trickle gently from her nostrils like a gun moll in one of those old gangster movies from the forties. “So you’re a kind of like a repo man, right?” she asked.

Eddie nodded. “More like a recovery agent. My boss, Mr. Higgins, sends me out to help other people collect money they’re owed. If the debtor doesn’t have the bread, we arrange for another manner of repayment.”

“A recovery agent,” she said as she stubbed out her cigarette and pulled him closer.

“Yeah,” Eddie said. “You got a problem with that?”

She shook her head. “No. I was just thinking taking money from people who are in debt must be kind of depressing.”

Eddie thought of Codorolli, flattened under nearly three tons of Caddy.

“Kathleen,” he said as he began to get hard again, “you don’t begin to know how depressing my job can be.”