Saturday, June 30, 2007

Hard Boiled Chapters

Back in the pulp days, you had everything in released in a serialized form. Even Dashiell Hammett's novels were dished out first in both pulp and legitimate magazines (would you believe Redbook?*), before they were published.

It was a good idea then and it is an even better idea for the Internet age. Patrick Baggata has revived it in Hard Boiled Chapters. Or as he says...

Hard Boiled Chapters features gritty crime stories by various authors, serialized into short chapters. Some stories may run only one or two chapters while others take their time to unfold.

How can you go wrong? Patrick has posted so far, seven chapters of "Becoming." Mary Thomas has posted three chapters of "Lefty" and yours truly, has a chapter of "Strawberry Quick," there. Check it out.

*Chapters of "The Thin Man" were sold to Redbook in July of 1933. Pp. 225 of Dashiell Hammett's "Lost Stories" edited by Vince Emery.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

The News

Like a spider that lost traction or that was flicked off a wall, Zola Harris fell before me. Through the shouting and gunshots, I fell to my knees right next to her. I held her hand as she laid there crying, neither of us able to say anything. I held her hand as she went to Heaven...and I know she went to Heaven. I’ve known Zola Harris all of my life and if there truly is a God above and Heaven is where he lives, that’s where she would be.

You see, Miss Zola always took care of those who couldn’t take care of themselves, all of the kids in the neighborhood, all of the old people in the neighborhood. If your mama couldn’t afford daycare, your mama could take you to Miss Zola’s and you would be blessed. If you couldn’t find anyone to help you with your homework, Miss Zola would help you or if she couldn’t, she had books that could.

She was a retired operator for the phone company and her house was paid for a long time ago. She never had any family, so everyone in the neighborhood became her family.

One of my earliest memories was being barely able to walk, holding on to that wire-basket granny cart that she always had and two kids no bigger than me, from across the street, doing just the same. We were taking food to a lady that was old just like Miss Zola, but she couldn’t move at all. My mom explained to me some years later when I could understand it, that the other old woman had a stroke and that Miss Zola was the only one that would come by and take care of her.

Miss Zola always looked out for us and when we were big enough to look after ourselves, she would still keep on eye on us. She tried her damnedest to keep me out of trouble, but by the time I reached a certain age, I was one of those that wouldn’t listen to anyone because I knew it all.

Still, if Miss Zola was around I straightened up, as did everyone else. No cussing, drinking, smoking, fighting or dealing went down when Miss Zola walked by and nothing happened in front of her house. In my neighborhood, she was far more effective than all the police put together.

So the police came by, too late as usual. They asked me for a statement as one of them put a tarp over her. I told them I just saw her fall as they put the yellow tape up and that was almost the truth, because Miss Zola taught me to never lie to the police.

Then the coroner showed up, eating a sandwich. I’ve seen walrus-looking motherfucker so many times in my life that I’m starting to wonder if he’s the grim reaper. He had that glazed look in his eyes and then I look around and notice that all the police are like that too.

This woman was more mother and grandmother to me than my real ones...and they couldn’t be any less interested. She’s a report for them to fill out. Paperwork to them, motherfucking paperwork and nothing else! I walked off on the cop, what was he going to do, arrest me? He’d have to care about something other than himself to do that.

I went home and cried, I couldn’t let my boys see me like this. I didn’t eat dinner, I couldn’t. I drank a glass of water out of the tap and I turned on the TV. The news talked about some dumb bitch heiress that got three times more tries anyone I knew, to stay out of jail.

She didn’t want to go to jail! Jail! Not fucking prison, jail! Forty-five days with your own cell? No one trying to beat, knife or rape you and you get your own space? I could do time like that, standing on my head.

When and not “if” I get popped, I’d like to ask a judge if I could serve time like that. But he’d probably double my sentence and put me in maximum security wing in Quentin with the Aryan Brotherhood, for being a smartass.

Then it was on to some political dickhead visiting the Pope and the police busting the heads of the people protesting him having the nerve to show his face in that town. Another dickhead who wrecked his Corvette doing 120 miles an hour on the Bay Bridge. Then on to some supervisor that really wasn’t living in the district that he represented and couldn’t come up with a decent lie to cover himself.

Eight minutes of rich people proving to me that all that money doesn’t buy one lick of common sense. After the commercials, the war in Iraq, some immigrants protesting in Washington and lucky to not have their heads busted by the police, from what my cousin told me of D.C. Some poor five year-old that got shot in Oakland, a story about computers, another one about whether the state or pet owners should be able to cut dog’s balls off or not, and when they came back from commercials? The weather.

Miss Zola didn’t exist as far as they were concerned. The most important person in this neighborhood, the one person that had done the most for this neighborhood and she wasn’t worth mentioning. I could tell that no one working at that TV station was raised around here, because they would’ve found a way to mention her somehow, in this one big fucking commercial for “Rich People Gone Wild” that they call the news.

Then when I went through the paper the next morning, all it said was that there was shooting and that someone was killed. Something happens at three in the afternoon and the paper doesn’t know any details? They don’t want to know the details and they just plain don’t give a shit.

It’s not news to the rich people in Pacific Heights, to the people who have to work for theirs Downtown or for the people out in the suburbs. They don’t give apparently don’t shit either, because Miss Zola wasn’t blonde and she didn’t have a rich daddy to buy her a chain of hotels or a political office.

Maybe these people would give half a shit if they only knew Miss Zola, but no television or newspaper thought that they would care. If any of them came down here and walked from Sutter to Duboce, from Franklin to Presidio, they would know who Miss Zola was. Because this is where Miss Zola lived and this is where the people that cared for her, would keep talking about her and keep the memory of her alive.

I cared, but for all the wrong reasons. Someone had a beef with me and over what? I don’t know. So many people have beefs with me that I should change my name to butcher. That bullet was meant for me, not her. I know who pulled that trigger...though I don’t know what he is about or why he couldn’t have taken five more steps and done me the right way, instead of doing Miss Zola wrong.

He made his play and he played it wrong. That’s the last lesson he learned as I showed him the right way to pop a cap into someone...right up close and no one there that would snitch me out.

I feel bad, not for him, because “it was him or me” type of situation. I feel bad because I know Miss Zola wouldn’t have wanted it that way. She would’ve wanted me to forgive and forget, and I know she would never forgive me. I do know that “vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” I also know that means that only God can judge people and when my time comes, God will scrape me off his shoe and into the pits of Hell.

What hurt me worse is that the killing that I did made the news, because the Mayor was two blocks away dedicating a center that will probably lose funding, a year after his campaign for reelection...that is, unless the news decides to not pay attention to some rich dickhead and focus on something important, for once. The newspapers rolled with his killing because that one marked the all time high for murders in San Francisco, for the first six months of the year.

But I will try to do good from now on. I will try and get a job, I will try and take care of those around me that can’t take care of themselves, just like Miss Zola did. It’s the least I could do for someone who gave so much and asked nothing in return.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Writing Is On The Wall

“The writing is on the wall, Tim and it’s ugly. I mean the kind of stuff that young eyes shouldn’t see.”

“What are you going on about, Jim?”

“I’m talking about the writing on the wall, it doesn’t look good. We’re a thing of the past.”

“Who says, Tim?”

Me and James Angelo are hired muscle.

“We make sure that people stay informed of their options. We teach people the finer points of paying their loans or protection money on time, as well as the occasional confiscation of personal property to mitigate those debts.”

What does all that mean? I don’t know. It’s what Jim tells people we do and I almost understand most of it. School and fancy terms for plain things, have never been my strong suit. It was always cracking helmets on the football field and cracking heads off of it.

I would’ve become a mover, but my cousin who used to do the job, had a freak accident where he wrenched his back out, something fierce. He couldn’t see the little cat that ran in front of him while he was carrying his end of couch and the rest is just wrong. Not to mention the lady, who owned the cat and couch, had the nerve to sue him for the vet bills and the cat’s cast.

This has messed with my head...tremendously. I’m always looking down now and no cat, dog, squirrel, bird, or any other pint sized freak of nature, is going to get me.

Tonight as me and Jim sit in a “gentleman’s club” parking lot, Jim’s whining sounds a whole lot like my complaining grand aunt. She always had her hair up in a bun and she wore a black dress. Picturing Jim as my grand aunt (God knows he has the moustache for it) is the only way I can deal all this nonsense.

We are waiting for a guy named “Barry,” who was named after his father’s favorite college coach. They won the National Championship back in the day and as recently as in 2000. The problem is, Barry bets stupid. He always bets on that team...though to be fair, barring a trick play in which the other team pulled a win out in the last minute, Barry would be an extremely rich man right now and I wouldn’t be listening to the “stylistic bitchings” of Jim.

Tim is back on this, “what are we gonna do for a living? I can’t get a real job, my record is too long and no honest employer is going to trust me to even go get sandwiches and coffee with the things I’ve done.”

“I tell you what, Jim; the Board of Prisons could hire you to see if a murderer is truly insane. Having you talk to them in a locked room for half an hour? If they weren’t insane before, they’d be insane after.”

“What did you say?!”

“Hold that temper for something else, here comes our chump now.”

Barry pulls up in a Corvette that is barely two years old, impressive, no? No, it isn’t impressive at all, it’s his sister’s. The guy paying us for this job says to grab anything that Barry drives and we have tried like hell, to keep up with this Corvette.

Barry is a little too eager to see the strippers, because we are almost on him before he sees us. He puts two fingers in his mouth and whistles. Here comes one of the bouncers, lumbering up like a big clumsy attack dog. As I drop him with a small crowbar, I feel bad for the guy because I think we used to play next to each other in junior varsity football. Oh well, business, is business.

Jim holds Barry while I go through his pockets. I find the car keys and then I see why that when Barry calls, the bouncer comes. The bouncer must get great kickbacks from the dancers, because Barry has a roll of one dollar bills that would choke a Great Dane. I work Barry’s face over a little, not too much because if you rough him up too bad, the other gamblers aren’t going to want to borrow money.

One of the other bouncers went back inside to get help, so we decide that Barry has gotten the point and we take off.

“I’m driving the Corvette!”

“Says who? I did all the dirty work,” I say as I walk over to Barry’s sister’s car. “And I have the keys.”

It handles nicely as I try to chirp the tires, but there are electronics that keep me from burning rubber the way I used to. I miss good old-fashioned American muscle and with all of these computer chips, I can’t work on cars anymore. My cell phone rings and I answer it without checking the number...big mistake. Jim’s at it again.

“It said in the New York Times, of all places, that the crime families are going into drugs, or going legit.”

“Hey, as long as there are degenerates like Barry, we'll always work.”

“I don’t know, Tim. We are dinosaurs and the writing is on the wall.”

I let out a sigh; I'm tired of his whining. "What the hell, I could never read for shit, anyway,” as I hang up my phone and I turn it off.