Jake Legato’s back!

Check out the second installment in the Jake Legato PI series The Devil’s Cheap Disguise!

It’ll be released October 30th, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon!

blasthemyHere’s an excerpt:

Nobody recognized the lady in the glasses.

But they paid her no mind as she slipped into the clinic, past the security desk and through the hallway. Probably visiting somebody, they all must have figured. Or maybe she worked there or something. Whatever.

They didn’t really see her, didn’t notice that mischievous glow in her eyes. The one that would have alerted them to the coming danger.

She crept through the hallways, marveling at the cleanliness. Bright carpets, desks you could eat off of. Could this really be a drug rehab clinic? A place for monsters addicted to meth or heroin? A place where dangerous men and women went when prison couldn’t help them? The thought warmed her face with a naughty librarian’s sneer. She imagined the fun she could create with some strung-out druggie who’d do anything to please a pretty girl from the Midwest. An old-fashioned girl who your mother would love because she couldn’t see past that wholesome grin.

She poked her head inside a room, spotting rows of people – normal looking people – reciting some tedious rehab mantra like obedient office workers. But who knew what secrets they buried under those compliant faces?

After a glance at her watch, she ducked back into the hallway. There’d be plenty of time to try a new game with a new friend. But for now it was time to focus on the game she’d already set in motion. She could see Legato’s van in the parking lot. Maybe he’d get roped into the homicidal madness or maybe he wouldn’t.

Either way, this was going to be fun.

As the lady walked past the hallway and to the cafeteria a guard called from behind. “Excuse me? Lady?”

But she was gone by then, floating away like a vengeful memory, the seeds of joyful destruction already planted.

 

This Week’s Monologue of Menace: Tony’s Wake up Call.

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Wake up, Tony.

You hear that sound? That’s the safety lock being pulled back on my Semi-automatic Glock nineteen, perfect fit in my tiny hand. Feels nice.

Remember the time we spent at the gun range? You teaching me the basics. Me scared like a kitten visiting a lion’s den. But I’m doing fine today. No tremble in my hands. No sweating.

What were the big three again?

One: treat every gun as if it were loaded. Don’t worry, this one is.

Two: gun always pointed in a safe direction. In this case that means away from me.

Three: Finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Oh, I’m ready.

And four: Don’t point at anything you’re not willing to destroy.

And then there’s the proper stance: elbow slightly bent, leaned forward to absorb the weapon’s recoil. I’m ready, motherfucker. Are you?

Remember how spooked I was when you bought me the gun for my birthday. Too scared to touch it. You told me I needed it, living in this shitty neighborhood. Never know who’s going to be lurking in the bushes late at night, watching, waiting. You never know what kind of harm some creep like that can do if you’re not ready for him.

But now I’m ready. Because now I know the creeps don’t only come with crowbars and handmade shivs. Sometimes they come with big smiles and shitty lies that almost make sense. And sometimes they get busted coming back from office parties that didn’t happen. Because they forget their cell phones at home. Wake up, Tony. I really need to empty a few rounds in your skull. But I’m waiting until you’re wide-awake because I need you to know why.

Read this piece with your ears

The transition from journalist to crime novelist

Bruce DeSilva's Rogue Island

dread lineA lot of people think that daily journalism must be a great training ground for novelists. I tell them that, for the most part, it is not.

As someone who worked as a news reporter and editor for forty years before writing crime novels, I was never comfortable with the bad writing habits and journalistic traditions that make most news writing unnecessarily turgid and tedious. In fact, I spent my career at The Providence Journal, The Hartford Courant and The Associated Press rebelling against those traditions and the editors who enforce them.

I wanted to write about real flesh-and-blood characters, but most news stories are populated by stick figures identified by little more than name, age and job title. I wanted to set my stories in real places, but most news stories use street addresses in lieu of a sense of place. I wanted to write yarns with beginnings…

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This Week’s Monologue of Menace: How I Got the Scar (excerpt from Kiss the Ladies Goodnight)

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In this excerpt from Kiss the Ladies Goodnight, Legato’s toughness gets tested by a young suburban punk named Tolliver who’s not too eager to answer questions. “All right, tough guy,” Tolliver said. “Tell me about the worst beating you’ve ever taken.”

Legato sat in front of the guy, then pointed to a small scar under his left eye. “How about I tell you about this. See the scar?”

Tolliver smirked. “Yeah, I see that. What, you get that from some mugger or maybe the bully from Brooklyn high school?”

Legato shook his head. “When I was a kid, there was this guy on the block, never knew his real name but they called him Tweaks. Every block had one. Dude used to sniff glue day and night, lived for the shit, dug through dumpsters to find an extra tube. That guy. The neighborhood joke, everybody laughed at his sorry ass – the way he’d twitch and stutter. The way he’d get lost in mid-conversation if you asked him how he was doing.

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“Then he moved up to heroin and the shit wasn’t funny anymore. He started robbing people, hiding in alleyways with a tire iron. He’d be in and out of prison and some days you’d see him with bloodstains on his collar that he wouldn’t explain.

“One day I come home from school, hearing screams in the hallway as I walk up – Mama’s screams. When I get there, Tweaks is there, this baseball bat in his hand and Mama’s laying on the floor, arms up, bracing for a swing. Then he looks up, staring at me, kind of laughing, but it’s hard to tell with Tweaks. He raises the bat over Mama, says to me, ‘You better talk some sense to your mother. You hear me? I need money and this is not going to get it!’ He shows me this tiny wad of cash. He stares into Mama’s eyes. ‘Come on, lady! You got more than that!’ Mama was shaking, kept whimpering ‘no’ over and over. She’s looking at me, she’s looking back at Tweaks and I’m scared. Daddy was gone by then, no man in the house. So Mama had a gun, kept it hidden under the bathroom sink. I scampered away, straight to the bathroom, hoping I could get back before it was too late. I was going to shoot this guy, right between the eyes if I had to. I was going put down Tweaks before he put Mama down.

“But then I got back into the living room, that revolver shaking in my hand like an egg timer. I aimed it at his chest, but there’s something about holding a gun and aiming it at somebody. Tweaks started laughing, then came after me with his hand out. He may have been out of his mind, but he knew I didn’t have the heart. I was only twelve, could barely pee straight. And I was talking about shooting somebody? I tried to take aim at his chest again, but I lost my nerve. He turned around, raised his bat and started to swing for Mama’s head. And I fired three shots, two went through his ribcage, sent him to the carpet, shaking like a marlin somebody plucked from the river. The third shot? It went into a mirror off to my left side. A splinter came back and got me just under the eye.” He pointed to the scar again.

The punk said nothing.

“You ready to cooperate with me, Tolliver?”

“Yes, sir,” he mumbled, back erect now, almost respectfully. No more jokes.

This Week’s Monologue of Menace: What a Real Punch Sounds like

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In this week’s monologue, Kimberly tells us what violence really sounds like.

Do you know what a punch sounds like? A real punch. Not that cartoony snap you hear in the movies. None of that Hollywood horseshit, John Wayne socking out an injun.’ I mean a real punch. A real fist meeting a real face. Or a jaw or a forehead. It’s kind of a dull thud, no snap to it. No echo. That was the first surprise.

I’d been working out at a boxing gym. Never cared for the sport — not like the old man — but hey, exercise, stress relief, why not?

Why stress relief? It started with this new girl at work. Julianne. Something about her, it was like she was born to be hated, made for that very purpose. Legs too long, hair too blonde. And the attitude. The way she skipped around my boyfriend like a kitten sizing up a bowl of milk. So sweet. So guileless. But not really. You could see the plans dancing around those Bambi eyes. I’d go to the gym and picture her face tattooed on the speed bag.

Alan would always say he didn’t notice her. And she wasn’t his type anyway. He knew how to say what I wanted to hear, I’ll give him that.

Problem was he knew how to say what everybody wanted to hear. Jodie in human resources, Kelly in shipping. He was good with the words, knew how to soothe, knew how to seduce, couldn’t clear his throat without it sounding like a come-on. It was just part of the package.

It took about a week before the grapevine started buzzing. I spent days with my ears slammed shut. Just didn’t want to know about what everybody else seemed to know. About Alan. About Julianne. I’d take my aggression to the gym after work and make that speed bag rattle like a snare drum. Till the Monday morning it happened…

Soon as they stepped into the conference room, I knew. I could smell her on him and him on her. Alan’s eyes darted from corner to corner, searching for a way out before the questions even began. I just knew.

“Morning!” Julianne whimpered, proud of it, unashamed. She had won. She leaned over for a glazed Krispy Kreme. Bad move.

Her face was right there, like a doe in the rifle scope. Not just ready for it, asking for it. The victorious smirk, the cinnamon-flavored lip gloss. Right. There.

But my aim was off. And my fist found the wrong face. Alan had lurched forward, a white knight coming to the damsel’s defense. But the white knight was clumsy and stepped into a hard right hook meant for somebody else.

Or maybe not. Maybe my aim was perfect. You see, Julianne just pissed me off. But Alan broke my heart.

So I broke his nose. With a hard and heavy right hook, I shattered everything. Everything he was, everything he thought he was, every God damned thing that made him the prize stallion of that place — his swagger, those fancy Italian shoes, that weekend of lies in San Diego — everything came crashing down to the conference room floor too fast and too loud.

And that’s what a real punch sounds like.

Excerpt from my novella Kiss the Ladies Goodnight

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He we are, Copperheads! Your chance to launch into the Jake Legato PI series has arrived! The adventure begins with this novella (only 99 cents on Amazon!). Look for Book Two in August!

Check out an excerpt:

After a quick stop in the men’s room, Legato found the office, knocked twice and heard an uneasy chirp. “Yes?”

“I’m here for the interview?”

“Come on in,” she said, voice relaxed now.

The detective in Legato had Cicely pegged seconds after strolling inside. She was the girl every guy sat next to in high school but never noticed. A sweetheart, eager to please. Always does her homework and yours too if you ask nicely. Yearbook committee, school dance planner, honor roll. But you forgot her name days after graduation.

He took a seat, gave her timid hand a shake. “Jake Legato, nice to meet you”

“I’m Cicely Russo, the manager here,” she answered, eyes aimed at the desk. She forced a grin and asked, “So, what do you think of Bootsie’s so far?”

“I could handle working here, if that’s what you mean. Don’t know much about it.”

“Not much to know, I suppose. It’s a… strip club,” she said, kind of embarrassed by it all. “I got in touch because Andy told me you needed a job.”

“Yeah, tells me he’s had enough of Minnesota weather and would love to get back to San Diego.”

With Cicely reaching into a stack of resumes, Legato stole a glance. Her thick, jet-black eyebrows reminded him of the olive-skinned Greek girls from Astoria he’d see working in diners and run-down family owned coffee houses.

But Cicely gave off a different vibe. Her Maria Callas eyebrows slashed against pale Minnesota skin like skid marks in the snow. And she seemed to be hiding behind somebody else’s face. A gawky introvert in disguise.

Legato. That’s a nice name,” she said. “Puerto Rican? Dominican?”

“Italian.”

She lifted her gaze from the papers, eyes narrow. Maybe aimed at his wide nose – or focused on his mocha-tinted skin. “Italian? Really?”

He choked back a groan and answered the question she was too polite to ask. “Half-Italian, half-black.”

Cicely grinned the awkwardness away. “Andy speaks highly of you. He says you’re a good friend. Somebody he could always trust.”

“I like to think so.”

But her face curled a little, signaling more awkwardness on the way. “He also says you left the police force under… complicated circumstances.”

“You could say that.”

“Could you tell me more?”

“I could. Or I could tell you about growing up in a Brooklyn neighborhood with bars on the windows and a school with metal detectors at the door.”

“That’s nice, but what I wanted –“

Legato leaned forward, time for the sweet talk Big Trick recommended. “What you want is somebody who speaks the language your customers understand. Am I right? Somebody who can keep this place safe even if that means slapping around a little. I’m guessing that matters more in this place than a spotless record.” Playing the tough guy New Yorker role to a Minnesotan was always an option. Sometimes it even qualified as sweet talk.

The lady fought off a schoolgirl’s blush and said, “Can you start tomorrow?”

“What time do you need me?”

“Ten in the morning. We’ll train you for a while, start you as soon as you’re ready.”

Legato reached for a handshake, but three bangs at the door froze them both.

Cicely’s eyebrows lifted. “Yes?”

A woman’s voice aimed for a scream, but couldn’t get there. “The police need you! It’s… they need you.”

She gathered Legato’s papers. “Just a second, Tammy. Jake, I look forward to –“

Three more knocks, louder, almost angry. “Cicely, it’s… Please!” Now the voice was soaked in sobs. Cicely raced to the door, opened it to find somebody crouching there like her legs had given out. A stripper clad in a robe, crying.

Cicely kneeled, mouth open, gasping. “What is it, Tammy?”

Tammy sputtered words that almost made a sentence. “Cassandra. Because the… police and. They called and she’s…”

Cicely turned to Legato, her face now slack. “We’ll… talk tomorrow,” She gave him a flaccid handshake then repeated, “We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Knowing a thing or two about the delivery of bad news, Legato recognized her shattered look. And he knew that too many words was always a bad idea at those moments. “Thank you,” he said, warm hand on her shoulder, another move he’d learned from his detective days. Contact always made the news less awful.

But Cicely pulled away from the contact, shuddering, eyes scanning the hallway for answers. And Tammy didn’t move at all.

So he slipped away, took a seat at the bar and nodded to Big Trick. “Whiskey, neat.”

And he drank. With every sip, the tortured squeals coming from Cicely’s office slowly faded into somebody else’s problem.

Legato tried to piece everything together. Was Cassandra a dancer? Was she dead now? And who killed her?

He was detecting again, a habit he needed to break. That’s why he had to take off, pull himself away from the bar – even if it meant leaving behind a half-full glass of whiskey on a night he really needed it.

***

Buy it on Amazon!

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Oedipus Shrugged

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These kids scare me.

They scare me with those steely glances half-hidden under sideways slanted baseball caps. They scare me with those baggy pants, those cell phones seemingly taped to their ears as they crouch in corners, gather in cannabis-scented throngs, throw dice, trade whispers, flash wads of cash and swear.

But scariest of all are those t-shirts. No, not the ones that read ‘Don’t want no broke bitch’ loudly emblazoned in calligraphy – the ones that memorialize their dead homies, young bucks slapped down by a storm of gunfire before turning fifteen. Nothing scarier than a kid that knows how tragically short life can be, how the party can veer into a blood-soaked nightmare in seconds. A kid strapped with that knowledge doesn’t give a fuck. And a kid that doesn’t give a fuck will plant lead in your chest for bus fare home before you can beg for a running start.

I teach English to high school freshmen who stopped giving a fuck shortly after outgrowing their last pair of diapers. Today the class doesn’t give a fuck about Oedipus Rex. They tend to their hair, they text, they sleep, they send sneers my way and happily accept the lackluster grades I dish out.

And they watch Tyrus.

It took about twelve seconds for me to figure out that he was the focal point, this circus’s ringleader. A few tics later I came to understand something scarier: he was me thirty years ago – with an updated wardrobe and a prison-ready snarl a million times more lethal than any I would have dared sport.

With every badass antic, every alpha dog howl, Tyrus reminds me of who I was – and who I likely would have remained if I hadn’t seen the body.

The body was a ripe surprise waiting for me next to the dumpster at the end of our block. It was curled in the corner like an afterthought, swept to the side and forgotten like a bad high school haircut. With eyes alertly aimed at nothing and a grimace only grandma could love, this bullet-ridden object lesson told me everything I needed to know about the glamorous ride of gang life. I knew right then I didn’t want to be fitted for a double-breasted lead suit. And I didn’t have the stainless steel heart needed to play the role of the tailor. So I scrambled back home, vowing to shift directions to whatever street would keep that body from being my fate.

Maybe Tyrus will shift directions himself. Or maybe he’ll wind up becoming somebody else’s object lesson. Right now the only certainty is that he doesn’t know the answer to my question:

“Why did who do what now?”

“What was Oedipus hoping to escape when he entered the city of Thebes?” I repeat.

“Oedipus? Ya’ll heard a’ him?” He asks the class. “We got a Eddie here, that’s Edishia hidin’ under that weave. I got a cousin named Medius – but Oedipus? Never heard of the motherfucker.”

Accidental insight aside, he is out of his element in the classroom. He is a jungle cat perched atop a box of kitty litter. He peppers his speech with jokes and veiled threats, promising to erupt into something dangerous, something he needs to be to survive and prosper is his world.

Tonight at the school dance he’ll be right where he belongs. And I’ll be cowering in the corner, waiting for the storm to pass.

***

I’ve been drafted to serve as the chaperone of tonight’s school dance. It means Cassidy – the school security guard – and I are the lone grown-ups here, the only ones not seeking drugs, firearms or five minutes of semi-public dry humping.

The place looks and sounds like you’d expect – but louder and shinier. Between naps Cassidy makes rounds, generally eyeballing the kids and making it clear that she has a gun that she’s not afraid to use. She’s a small, pale woman with a freckled body that might as well read Made in Ireland on the small of her spine. She couldn’t get lost in this crowd if she wanted to, but tonight she flashes a scowl that is meant to create distance. And maybe a little fear.

“Keep your eyes locked on that one,” she says, nodding towards Tyrus. “I got a tip off that something’s coming his way tonight.”

I’m not sure what that means, but as Tyrus strolls inside it’s hard to aim your gaze anywhere else. He commands attention like light commands flies. He drifts in and out of conversations with one group then another, back and forth between real live talkers and bodiless barks from his cell phone. He’s multi-tasking. At work, at play, easing tensions with promises, raising tensions with threats. Bargaining, hustling, surviving. He’s exactly what I wanted to be at fourteen. And I can’t imagine anything scarier.

Cassidy and I are not especially close. We’ve known each other for four years now and I’m still not sure if Cassidy is her first or last name. But tonight we’re the best of buddies – or so it must seem to anyone foolish enough to believe their eyes. Our bodies are pressed uncomfortably close as we appear to slow dance and engage in intimate chitchat. But really Cassidy is giving me regular updates on the Tyrus-related activity. She starts with this:

“The tall skinny guy in the Bulls jacket – don’t look, don’t look – that’s Chi Slim, big supplier from Chicago.”

Then this:

“This Chi Slim guy? He’s known for playing hardball – just like Tyrus. Last time they did business, things almost came to an ugly conclusion. Guns drawn, threats, all that. Not this time.”

“Why not this time?” I ask.

“Cause this time I’m gonna’ step in and slam the door shut before they cross the finish line.”

“Shouldn’t you be calling … backup or something?”

“Why? Because this wispy little white girl can’t handle herself all alone? I’ll be fine.”

We break away from our staged embrace and she circles. I’m not sure who looks more excited, Tyrus or Cassidy.

I stride to the bathroom, not sure where things are headed and not sure if I want to stick around to find out. I’m washing my hands, lulled in by the placid rush of water, when I have a visitor: Tyrus.

He greets me with a grin he couldn’t fake if he had to on a witness stand. A grin that reminds me that he really is just a kid – waist-deep grownup drama aside.

“What’s the ups, Mr. Worthington?”

“Hello Tyrus,” I offer. I have nothing else.

Well, why not try this:

“Look… Tyrus,” I say to him on his way to the stall. “I know I’m just an English teacher, and I don’t know anything about what you’re doing or what you’re not doing and I suppose you don’t care about what I’m thinking or what I was thinking when I was your age or anything…”

He juts his head forward, eyebrows tilted.

“You been drinkin,’ Mr. Worthington?”

“I’m fine. Just…”

Another eyebrow tilt.

“Go home, Tyrus.”

“Go home?”

“Yeah, go home. Just… go. Get out of here, out of this mess. Out of this life.”

He bubbles into slow laughter. And he’s fourteen again. A kid, not a drug dealer or suspected felon, but a baby-faced high school freshman who might get in trouble for breaking curfew or not turning in his homework on time.

There’s something safe about the place he’s standing while frozen in mid-laughter. But it doesn’t last long. Three hooded thugs – Chi Slim among them – rush inside and blur past me like I was a lamppost. All four meet in the stall.

And I can’t move.

I can’t seem to lift my feet when the fragile silence in the stall shifts into awkward mumbles, then full-throated screams. There’s too much echo to know what’s being shouted but I know enough about this world to know that the words themselves matter little.

The chaos rises to a sharp crescendo and is only cut short when four – or maybe five – shots slap into the night. If I could move I’d be in the next time zone by now. But movement would be demanding too much of my body right now with the world exploding like this.

With a furious kick at the stall door, Tyrus emerges, stunned to see me planted at the sink. The fourteen-year-old is gone, felled, or maybe chased away by the gunshots of a few seconds ago.

At this point, everything happens in slow-motion streaks like a scene from an art-house film that’s trying to hard to be remembered.

The bathroom door opens with another bang – it’s Cassidy, gun drawn and face shriveled into a fist.

“Do not move, Henderson! Do you hear me?! Do not move!”

But it’s too late – he’s moved, and yanked me by the hair to his chest. His gun jabs into my face and his grip refuses to yield. There is more screaming, more trading of growls. But I can make nothing of it because I’m feeling too much of everything right now. Too much heat, too much anger.

“You’re not gonna’ win this one, Henderson!” Cassidy screeches.

He knows this already. He can hear the sirens closing in from the distance.

As his eyes narrow into something demonic I wonder if he really wants to win this one. Maybe he just wants a way out. His laser-like gaze meets mine and he seems to have found his exit strategy. I can feel his pistol’s snout creeping into my left nostril, but I can see nothing but the backs of my eyelids. This is happening too quickly, too quietly. This is not the way I always pictured the end.

Under my left foot is a hand sprawling from under the stall. It sputters around, teetering on the cusp of lifelessness. It reaches up and tags Tyrus’s ankle. Startled, he jerks back. That gives me a second. A second to spring free and fall to the floor.

And it gives Cassidy a second to fire seven shots at her target. She finds his chest, his belly, his neck and the side of the stall four times.

His body jerks and contorts, seeking to dance itself free, but never getting there. His eyelids peel back to reveal a sense of shock he has no right to feel. After all, it’s not like he didn’t know he could wind up here. He’s seen the t-shirts, he’s heard the warnings. I told him to go home. I told him to get the fuck out of Thebes. But he just had to dive into this unhappy fate, face first and eyes slammed blissfully shut.

As his legs become rubber and abandon him, his body slaps at the floor and his arm curls around my neck in a way that probably means nothing, but, for the moment, feels too goddamn much like my six-year-old hugging me goodnight to be an accident.

THE END

I originally had Oedipus Shrugged published on Beat to a Pulp. Check them out!

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