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Wolf DeVoon

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Bidinotto The Wonderful has a self-imposed embargo on cursing. I'm less fussy -- or rather, committed to plain speaking. 'Partners' is coming along swimmingly. Set in 1975, it's the story of a young renegade and his slightly older mentor. Here's a passage from the second act. Critiques and complaints are always welcome. Adult content.

 

Quote

 

There was a gust of cold air when his sister entered, covered in snow. Under a bulky ski jacket, hat, hooded sweatshirt, thick snow pants and boots, she was quite a beauty, late 20's, dark haired and pretty. “Jimmy, you bum! — you said you were going to help me,” she griped. “The chains weigh a fucking ton.”

No swearing,” her mother ordered sharply, but she went to help extract her daughter from the ice and snow and offered her a towel to dry off, hung up the frozen jacket and pants to drip new puddles at the door.

Jimmy's eyes were staring at my wedding ring. “Is that a gag?”

I shook my head. “Got married a couple days ago. Karen.”

How much sense does that make?”

She's a war bride. It'll take time for my leg to heal. We're in a little cabin in town. Don't sweat it. She knows the score. She'll lighten your hair and change your face, like you wanted.”

You're a damn fool.”

Hi, who're you?” his sister puzzled, as she pulled out a chair to join us.

A damn fool,” I smiled and batted my eyes to flirt with her. Very attractive girl, low v-neck blouse, fresh faced, short dark hair wild from being toweled.

He's my partner,” Jimmy said bitterly — and his sister scowled at him with a vicious reproach that wrecked any chance we had of a pleasant lunch.

Put your cigarette out, asshole,” she seethed.

Joanne!” her mother barked angrily from the kitchen. “Come in here! Help me with the salad!”

Sorry, Jim,” I offered quietly.

Nothing to be sorry about,” he said. “My sister's a peacenik. Went to college in Ann Arbor, thinks what I do is immoral.”

She was right. War is always wrong, but that doesn't make war go away.

Becker's father made the issue crystal clear when he came to sit at the table, took time to settle uncomfortably, some kind of physical disability.

Dad, this is my new partner, Kyle Marshall. He took a bullet for me.”

The old man glanced at me and said nothing. Everybody in this house had a sour attitude, a family of hardened faces and bad blood. I didn't want Karen to meet these people.

 

*** ** ***

 

We were bundled up and the afternoon sun was warm, little daggers of ice dripping on the roof of the barn. My Impala had been towed to a concrete pad. Jimmy had a floor jack, compressed air and an impact wrench. I pried off wheel covers and rolled mounted tires around.

How's Connie?”

I told you, she's fine.”

When did you see her last?”

Get out the fuck out of the way! I'm gonna let the front down.”

Becker was in a foul mood. I was needling a sore spot. He dragged the floor jack to the back of the car angrily, screwed with it until it was positioned under the differential, pumped like a madman and lifted the rear, then stopped and twisted the jack handle, let the ass end thump down. I pried the wheel covers. Becker loosened the lug nuts, threw down the air ratchet, and went back to lift the back end again.

There's nothing to be pissed off about, Jim,” I said peaceably, rolling Dodge wheels over and flopping them into position.

You're a fucking idiot,” he fumed. “I told you it never works out.”

The ratchet spun lug nuts off, wheels were swapped, nuts tightened, floor jack pulled, and the air hose coiled back in the barn.

Thanks for lunch,” I said cheerfully, offered to shake his hand.

He ignored the gesture, advanced threateningly until he was ten inches from my face. “Lay off about Connie, understand? I don't want to know how she is. I don't give a fuck how she is, or where she is, or whether she went back to Joey, doing dope again — and you're a fucking idiot! We'll be in a rough spot, kill or be killed, and all of a sudden you'll chicken, or go stupid, thinking about your wife. That's how Upshaw bought it — heartsick about Connie!

How did he meet her? At your apartment or the office?”

Becker staggered like I had punched him in the nose.

I opened my car door, got in, started it, and rolled down my window.

Pick you up tomorrow morning around 10:30,” I reminded him. “There's a costume shop in Oshkosh that has latex and a limited selection of fake ears and noses. She also has to shop for supplies, depending on what she thinks might work with your natural color. It's a big deal coloring dark hair. Be at the gate ready to go at 10:30 — unless you chicken or go stupid.”

 

*** ** ***

 

Karen was mystified and worried. “Why did you lie to him?”

Because I'm sick of his shit, throwing his weight around, with an emotional glass jaw I could shatter if I felt like it.”

She snuggled closer in the car and shook her head imperceptibly in a gentle rhythm with a frown of puzzlement. “I don't get it. He loves a stripper, risked his life to rescue her, and doesn't visit her, doesn't want anything to do with her any more?”

I shrugged it off. “He thinks he's a dead man, which is impossible if you love someone, open your heart, love being alive. I don't blame him, but if I can do it, he can do it. Lots of men have gone to war, had sweethearts and wives at home waiting for them to come back shot up, crippled, or in a pine box.”

Karen looked down. “I don't like to think about that.”

What normal person could? — except that Becker's family isn't normal. His dad was a judge who survived a bomb attack. Mom was a cop. His twin brother OD'ed on heroin while Jimmy was serving in Germany. The whole family wants revenge, spend as much money as necessary to kick the Milwaukee mob in the balls, because the cops and the feds can't stop them, won't fight fire with fire.”

Kyle?”

Yes, dear?”

How is this your fight?”

I flopped my hands on the wheel, baffled. “What else could I have done? — mope and pine for an airhead who dumped me? Drive a Frito-Lay truck, come home to an empty apartment, watch TV, and get stoned? I'd rather go down fighting — fighting for us, me and you — a girl who ran away from Dartmouth and bluffed her way into a false identity, a fake social security number, a girl with a pistol in her purse, because we're like two peas in a pod. And I'll fight side by side with Jim, right wrong or blue, because he rescued Connie Langer, the girl he loves. So screw him. Just like we're screwed. Make sense?”

I don't like it, but I don't have to like it. Nothing holy is easy.”

You said you weren't religious.”

I am about us. Wouldn't trade a second of our time together, however long or short that might be. My writing has taken off like a rocket.”

I nodded with satisfaction. I married the right woman.

 

A warming spell had softened some of the snow, and Becker was waiting for us at the gate. He was wearing the old leather cowboy hat and a brown suede jacket, looked like the Marlboro Man, no bulge under his arm, probably felt as naked as a baby.

Good morning,” I said cheerfully when he got in the car with us. “This is my wife, Karen.”

He squeezed as far away as possible, jammed against the door, looked away. “How do you do,” Jim mumbled indistinctly and twisted awkwardly to crack his car window, fumbled for cigarettes in his right pocket, avoiding contact with Karen. Becker's discomfort made me grin in devilment. I told Karen to put on a pleated skirt, sexy sheer stockings and tall high heels, to perch on one hip that extended her legs in parallel across the floor hump for maximum distraction.

How long is this going to take?” Becker frowned.

I got us pointed the other way leisurely. “A couple hours,” I said airily. “While we're riding to Oshkosh, let Karen look you over, Jim.”

She sat up and parked her heels together on the hump, revealing the tops of her stockings, clipped with thin frilly black silk straps. “Um, Mister Becker? I need to see your face, please.” He complied, mouth pinched together like a visit to the dentist. Karen cocked her head and examined his scars, the shape of his jaw, and Jim's nice straight nose.

I tried not to smile, got us off the snowy gravel onto the wet side streets of Winneconne, headed for the main avenue.

Well,” Karen said brightly. “I think I can cover your scars easy enough. What kind of a nose would you like? Fatter nostrils? A bigger bridge?”

I dunno,” Becker growled and looked away, took a deep drag on his smoke and blew it out his cracked window. “Whatever you can do.”

It'll be easy to change the shape of your ears,” she said thoughtfully. “I'd like to have a lock of your hair.” Karen reached for her purse on the floor, brushed Becker's leg, made him cringe and shift uncomfortably.

He watched her dig around in her bag, pull out her gun and stick it between her knees temporarily to find a roll of Scotch Tape and a sharp little scissors. I coughed to avoid laughing, wheeled us onto the highway. She hummed a little lilt and pulled a section of tape, stuck the end of it on the dash.

What's that for?” Becker fretted nervously.

You have to take off your hat. Hold still, please. I want to try coloring a little sample of your hair, before I screw up your whole head.”

She fluffed and lifted a clump of Jim's dark forelock with her fingers like a barber and clipped it diagonally, so the missing hair wouldn't change his look. “Can you hold my scissors? — thank you.”

Karen confidently wrapped the hair with her tape, and smiled at the result, showed it to him. “You have some red shades in the very dark brown, almost black, but it's not. I don't want to damage your hair with something as awful as peroxide, so I'll try the Loreal Pro precolor wash, see what it looks like. I can't promise to make you blonde. I might be able to do a sort of deep auburn that'll look natural, easy to touch up the roots once a month.”

Becker handed the scissors back and tried to busy himself with smoking.

Darn it, I left my cigarettes in the cabin,” I lied. “Can I have one yours?”

That necessitated reaching past Karen's big tits. She smiled coyly, put her gun back in her purse and moved at the right moment to brush against Jimmy's outstretched arm. Brilliant gal, giving him as much hell as possible.

After a sweet interlude of scratching my thigh gently with her fingernails, Karen turned on her hip to smile at Jimmy again, letting her skirt slide up with natural ease. “How about a different part?” she pondered thoughtfully. “Do you mind? Let me try combing it.” Another excuse to reach for her purse down near his feet, walloping him with the scent of her beautiful wavy hair.

Jimmy had to endure the pleasure she inflicted with hard nails and comb. It took a long time, trying a couple of different styles. “Hmm,” she pondered. “It's good that it's a little long. I can give you a new cut when the time comes. First, let's get the color right, then a new hair style, something easy to comb.”

Becker apologized in body language to roll his window down and get rid of his spent cigarette. Karen smiled at him happily. “You're a very handsome guy, Mister Becker.”

We cruised through Butte des Mortes on the highway to Oshkosh, bright sun and blue sky, heater on low. Karen asked Jim to help her take off her jacket.

Poor guy. She was wearing a scooped blouse, had to stretch her arms and arch to get out of the nice sequined jacket we bought for this enterprise. Jimmy was hot, too, reluctantly unbuttoned his heavy suede, already lost his hat miles ago. Karen talked about the astounding luck she had catching the muskie, how much she appreciated having a gun she could fire easily and accurately.

Becker was suddenly alarmed. “Where are you going?” he growled.

Relax,” I said. “The costume shop is down this way, couple more blocks.”

The jig was up but too bad. I slowed and honked the horn twice at a frame house in the middle of a residential block. The front door opened and Connie came down the porch steps, as pretty and cheery as a happy girl could be.

Get out and open the door for her, Jim,” I ordered.

Becker probably didn't hear me. He was already out of the car, gently closing the front passenger door, walking up the front steps. She ran to him, slammed her pretty blonde head against his chest, wrapped her arms around him.

I reflected solemnly, put the car in park, and Karen dabbed her eyes, fussed with tissue and a compact.

 

*** ** ***

 

The four of us gathered at Connie's mother's home on Christmas Eve.

Connie had a diamond engagement ring. She cuddled at Jimmy's side on the sofa in the living room, while Karen and I helped chubby Mrs. Langer prepare dinner. She wanted to hear a Lawrence Welk Christmas Special, so there were schmaltzy carols on an old Zenith TV that made me feel young again, a little kid in Oconomowoc excited about a model train set that was totally unexpected, an engine that puffed smoke pellets, three box cars and a red caboose that clacked on a circular track, powered by a heavy transformer with wires.

Karen tentatively opened the hot oven with big padded mittens, carefully sucked up and squirted drippings to baste the ham. When I asked if it was okay for her to eat ham, she snorted. “Are you kidding? This is going to be absolutely wonderful!”

Jim and I donned jackets and stepped outside to smoke.

He had settled, no longer angry about life. We stood shoulder to shoulder in spirit, standing next to one another peacefully, almost physically touching. The snow was quite beautiful, untrammeled, like a benevolent blanket over civilian middle class life in a small city. It was very quiet. A passing car crunched softly on the unplowed street, four more folks on their way to grandma's.

How did you know where Gloria lived?” Jim inquired.

There was a phone number and the name 'Langer' on your legal pad. There aren't that many Langers in Oshkosh.”

Oh.”

There was nothing to say to each other for a while.

We have to go back to work,” I noted.

Jim nodded, and I used the new clean round snow on a wrought iron railing to extinguish my cigarette, went back inside to make a bowl of punch.

It was a simple recipe: champagne, ice, cranberry juice and Cointreau, with sprigs of mint floating on top for color. Dinner would be ready soon. I dipped a steel ladle to fill five old fashioned glasses, served one to each of the women, offered one to my partner, and raised mine to toast with deep feeling.

Merry Christmas.”

 

 

 

Our second fight

 

Kyle!”

She held me so tightly that I couldn't get free without injuring her.

You have to let me go, honey.”

Tears were streaming from her eyes, and I lifted her chin gently to kiss her forehead. My lips lingered tenderly. I spoke by telepathy to the brain behind Karen's anguished eyes: I'll come back, I promise. You just have to trust me.

Becker was waiting for me in the car, headlights off, freezing cold night air penetrating every inch of our exposed skin on Connie's front porch. I was armored in a woodsman's thick flannel shirt, insulated vest, and a leather top coat offered by Jimmy's father when I went to pick up my partner, visit the lake house once last time. Karen's nightgown and housecoat were flimsy.

I quickly opened the storm door and pushed her inside, marched down the steps to the concrete walkway I shoveled this afternoon. Ice crystals squealed under my boots. My thin driving gloves were nothing, and the handle of my car door was frozen shut, had to yank with power to make it work.

Putting Jimmy behind the wheel was a diplomatic gesture. He promised not to drive like a lunatic. He watched me slam the passenger door shut, shiver and huddle in the warm Impala, its heater and defroster whirring full blast.

You okay?”

I shuddered once, relaxed in the warmth. “Yep,” I answered.

Karen okay?”

She'll be fine. Connie and her mom will make her eat. Then she'll sit at her typewriter and write. Let's go. She's watching us from the window.”

Jim switched on the headlights and put it in gear, slowly rolled over a hard ridge that had been pushed up by a loud dump truck's snowplow when we sat with our women around a bright, warm family table for dinner. We were calm and happy, no big deal, two harmless salesmen going on a long weekend trip to a convention of Commercial Travelers of America. They scolded us not to drink and drive.

And that was the end of that.

Humor was another sort of weakness, keeping alive the image of a wife who loved me and laughed easily. Nothing funny about me and Jim. We had a heavy H&K machine gun in the trunk with a case of ammunition. Jimmy's hair and face had been altered dramatically. I had a comfortable brown mustache.

Should have put side mirrors on this thing,” Jim griped.

The car rolled quietly over slippery streets and I took off my deerstalker, put it on the seat next to his leather cowboy hat, got out a Marlboro and leaned to fish for my Zippo, felt the big solid butt of my holstered gun, clean as a whistle, ready to be scorched with hot gases any moment.

It's a tense posture, expecting a gunfight. The front line was everywhere.

Oshkosh was no exception. We had to be careful to avoid downtown, a little strip of night joints that were mob owned. I felt better when we finally hit the highway to Milwaukee, a couple hours of relative relaxation, unless there was a skid and slide that put us in a ditch.

Slow down, partner,” I reminded him politely.

Don't be a pussy,” he bitched and fumbled for his cigarettes, showed me the kind of evil focus that men are capable of — perfectly competent to juggle little fussy objects while racing across patches of black ice at 60 miles an hour.

I glanced around and found the ends of my seat belt.

You told me you got rid of this car!” he grouched. “Lepsky knows the plate number, saw it on the docks, and there was a witness who saw it in Shorewood because you decided to shoot up the fucking house!”

I frowned at him. I did not want to revisit old business.

The thought crossed my mind that Jim was nervous, disturbed about leaving Connie, and steeling himself to face death again. He was always grouchy about the job of ruthless crime for hire.

Any phone calls we need to take care of?” I inquired.

Becker scoffed. “Fifteen.”

What's the plan when we get to town?”

There's twenty thousand in the wall safe at my apartment, and I want my fucking Mercedes!”

I studied him sideways. The smoke from his cigarette caused him to crack a window, annoying Jim with a swirl of icy air on the back of his head. Maybe if I cracked my window, too, it would moderate a lopsided airflow.

Jesus fucking Christ,” Becker fumed, blaming me for more cold air.

He stabbed his cigarette in a full ashtray and cranked his window shut. I did likewise, rolled up my window to stop a whistling chill, then reached over to extinguish Jim's smoldering Camel Filter.

Let's stop somewhere for coffee,” I suggested. “Empty the ashtray.”

Becker ignored me and slewed through a tight curve in the road that wasn't plowed or salted. When his highbeams painted a straightaway, he punched it.

Slow down,” I growled.

When he ignored me again, I opened my car door and pushed against a wall of freezing air that flooded the car like a whirlwind.

What the fuck are you doing?!” he cried in bewilderment.

I slammed the car door shut and shouted angrily. “Slow! Down! Whatever's bugging you, Becker, it has to stop. Either that or pull over and let me drive.”

He extended his jaw in a fury, took his foot off the gas pedal briefly, kept the center of the highway and slowed to a reasonable speed. If I had infrared film, I could have captured a white hot plume of resentment rising from his dark red head. Karen had done an excellent job of making Becker into a new man on the outside, but he was the same vicious commando with a death wish, made ten times worse by ten tender days with Connie.

I wasn't smart enough to help him, let him grieve and resolve a complicated mess of family pain and John Upshaw's death in a fusillade of gunfire. Jim was hurt so deeply that my frown meant nothing, an annoying fleabite.

You're a fucking idiot,” he snarled at me.

I cranked my window quickly and threw my cigarette out, sighed like a man with a headache and massaged my brow.

On the outskirts of Fond du Lac he pulled into a sloppily plowed truck stop and slid to a stop under a Greyhound sign. “Get out,” he barked.

Why?”

Go back to Oshkosh, where you belong. Smooch your stupid wife and hold her, find a place to live, get a job! She's pregnant. You're fired. Get out.”

Cut it out, Jim. Stop and think.”

Fuck you. Get out!”

I sagged. “Here we go again. All right, tough guy, pull your gun and shoot me. I'm a loose end, a witness who might squeal under pressure, put you in prison for the rest of your life. I know your true name: Verhoeven. How many times do we have to do this?”

Becker scowled at the steering wheel, tightened his hands on it.

Dad, this is my partner Kyle Marshall,” I quoted. “He took a bullet for me.”

I was astonished. Becker's eyes were suddenly wet with emotion.

Go home, Kyle,” he said rigidly. “This isn't your fight. You're a good man and she needs you.”

I nodded peaceably. I didn't want to state the obvious. Jimmy would have to be a man, face the truth, and say it himself.

I wish...” he gulped and brushed wetness from eyes that weren't doing what Jim wanted them to do, remain bulletproof and impersonal, the empty orbs of a dead man.

I know,” I said quietly. “Connie's beautiful.”

Becker had trouble breathing.

You want me to drive?”

He nodded and opened his car door.

 

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On 6/4/2018 at 10:07 PM, Wolf DeVoon said:

Bidinotto The Wonderful has a self-imposed embargo on cursing. I'm less fussy -- or rather, committed to plain speaking. 'Partners' is coming along swimmingly. Set in 1975, it's the story of a young renegade and his slightly older mentor. Here's a passage from the second act. Critiques and complaints are always welcome. Adult content.

 

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This is well-done  and very cinematic, or even tv-like. May I ask if you have adopted the  style of one-or-two sentence paragraphs just for the dialogue sections, or for the novel  as a whole?  I notice that style is very popular now (Louise Penny, a bestselling crime writer up here, uses it exclusively).

Integrating cursing into the story properly has been a test for writers since Mailer was forced to substitute "fugging" for "fucking" in the Naked and the Dead. It got tiresome reading that all the time. Many great crime writers weave it so well into the characters' speech you hardly notice it, it just enhances the action. I think you've used it in good proportion.

I seem to have got inside your own post, well  I can't get out again, this stuff always happens to me.

 

On 6/4/2018 at 10:07 PM, Wolf DeVoon said:

 

 

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