We think you'll enjoy this exclusive extract from SLOW BEAR the new novel from Noir legend Anthony Neil Smith.
The buzz around this book is really building, here's what people are saying,
"More happens in the first two chapters of Slow Bear than in some literary novelist's entire output.Thrills, spills. Twists, turns. Heart, soul. As good as it gets." - Mark Ramsden, author of Mistress Murder, Radical Desire and Dread: The Art of Serial Killing
"Anthony Neil Smith mixes dark humor, menace, mayhem and a washed-out, one-armed hero in a noirish tale that never stops to take a breath." - Linwood Barclay, author of No Time for Goodbye and Too Close to Home
"Slow Bear is everything I love about dark fiction and don't see nearly enough of. Anthony Neil Smith writes uncompromisingly dark fiction without sacrificing the humanity or entertainment value of his characters. If you always wondered what Jim Rockford would be if he went full dark, Slow Bear is the book for you." Bryon Quertermous
"Slow Bear is many things: a bull in a china shop; a raging lion; a stubborn mule; a fire-breathing dragon; a wise old bird. a drunken old skunk; and a murderous hyena. What's more, he's the kind of noir anti-hero who'll have you rooting for him all the way, which is good because, the way things are going, he certainly needs someone on his side. Another stunning creation by Anthony Neil Smith." - Nigel Bird
"Okay. So here's the deal. Only pick this book up and read it if you gravitate toward realistic, gritty, entertaining stories that will keep you on the edge of your seat and force you to read through the night, making you fall asleep the next day at work and get fired. If you value your sleep and your job, then by all means don't pick it up. Doc Smith has done it again—contributed to the unemployment rolls and helped increase the sale of triple lattes. This is a big-boy novel from a big-boy writer." Les Edgerton, Author, Adrenaline Junkie, The Rapist, The Bitch and others.
"Slow Bear is anything but a slow read. It's a blazing fast, brutal hurricane of a novella that'll leave you breathless and hollering for more. Anthony Neil Smith is one of those authors who must not be missed." J. D. Rhoades
"Funky and furious, SLOW BEAR is a low-blow shot of black humor and hard boiled noir. Anthony Neil Smith's laconic, one-armed Indian ex-cop protagonist lands a knock-out." - J. Todd Scott
SLOW BEAR by Anthony Neil Smith
Micah “Slow Bear” Cross slouched at the casino bar, as usual, late that morning with half a beer in front of him when this guy named Jim sidled up on the next stool. Jim nodded at the Bartender Lady, slid two chips worth forty bucks over to Slow Bear and said, “I bet my wife is cheating on me. Can you find out if she is?”
Slow Bear, with his right hand, his only hand anymore, slid the chips back. “Hell, Jim, I know your wife is cheating on you. Everybody knows that.”
Jim cringed. Stared at the bar.
“And it’s with that light-skinned pit manager. Vlad, I think his name is.”
“That fucking slut. That whore.”
“And another thing. You already knew that. All you wanted was someone to justify it. That new gun you bought off Paul? I’m telling you, killing the man is not gonna help. You’ll go to jail, and she’ll fuck other guys anyway.” Slow Bear reached across for one of the chips, pulled it back his way. “That one I’ll charge you for.”
Jim took the other chip and left without a thank you or a fuck you or anything. That was the way people treated Slow Bear. Never a thank you, never a fuck you, never much of anything besides some free chips and a problem to solve. He took another pull of his beer. Warm as morning piss. He’d been pulling at it for three hours. People thought he was a burned-out drunk but that wasn’t true. Most of the time he was burned-out sober.
Later, he bet the chip on a hand of blackjack and kept hitting until he busted, on purpose. He didn’t want Jim’s money. He didn’t like Jim. He kind of liked Vlad. Shame Jim was going to kill the bastard. Well, he could try. Slow Bear called Vlad and told him what was up.
Slow Bear used to be a rez cop. He wasn’t good at it, not really, but he was good at being bad at it. The one time he tried to be good at it, he got his whole fucking left arm shot off by an ex-soldier over something that happened in a war Slow Bear didn’t know much about. That was a year ago.
Now he collected disability and, weirdly, a settlement from the gun company that built the shotgun, some genius move by his not-that-cheap lawyer. Plus his payout for being an Indian, that wasn’t a drop in the spittoon. It gave him enough of an income to sit around at the casino during the day, giving people like Jim and Vlad “advice” on their problems in exchange for some chips. At night he went back to his trailer and sat outside staring at the sky or inside at the TV–baseball games or Cinemax soft-porn–or, very seldom, he would drive, man, drive, as far as he could in circles until he was too tired, then pull off on the shoulder and fall asleep, usually awakened by a cop before dawn who would sometimes buy him a coffee at the nearest Arby’s and trade cop stories. Slow Bear had run out of cop stories and started making them up. No one cared.
That night, he was sitting on the sundeck of his vintage red-and-chrome Richardson Bi-Level trailer–what a find, man, what a find–in a molded-plastic Adirondack chair. All the lights out, watching those stars and, if he turned his head right, nebulas. His eyes were getting more sensitive. There were more new, distant galaxies and clusters and shit every time he sky-watched. He had learned to distinguish the noises–crickets, coyotes, moose, far-up there jumbo jets, not-so-distant trains carrying oil from the boom. Not much traffic where he’d decided to settle on the rez, some badlands, sparsely peopled, one tree in his yard. So he heard the car a long time before he saw the headlights. Once he saw the lights, he stood. There was no other reason for anyone to be out here except to see him, and that meant something bad.
He walked back down the steps into the trailer, grabbed his .357, and stepped out onto the ground to wait, slipping behind his one tree, out of the way of the lights that would soon blind him reflecting off the trailer. No surprises. He never wanted to be surprised again. Slipped his gun into his jeans so he could wipe sweat off his palm. Goddamned one hand.
Here they came.
Gun out again.
The car was a little Chevy, a Cruze. The driver was fast. He skidded to a stop next to Slow Bear’s pick-up truck and a dust cloud overtook them both. Slow Bear knew the car. He put his gun back into his jeans.
Vlad jumped out of the car and ran for the trailer door.
Nearly gave Vlad a heart attack, looked like. A squeal, an honest to God squeal. He changed course towards Slow Bear. “Micah, I need help, man, I need—” He got close enough to see the big revolver in Slow Bear’s pants and stopped cold and held up his hands.
“Shit, Vlad. I’m not going to kill you.”
“Please, please, I’m cool. I’m real cool,” but he said it like he wasn’t. “I need help, man.”
Needing help was bad. It was real bad. Slow Bear felt it in his bones. In his phantom limb. “What did you do?”
“I don’t know what happened, it was just, it was fast, man.”
Vlad kept clearing his throat and he had puffy cheeks. He’d been crying. Slow Bear didn’t even need his cop instincts to paint the scene for him. This was an easy one. And it was all Slow Bear’s fault.
Slow Bear said, “What did you do?”
“It was self-defense, man, I had to do it.”
Slow Bear stared off over the Cruze, still running. He eventually nodded, sighed. “Give me a minute. Need to get a couple things.”
They rode back to New Town in Vlad’s Cruze instead of Slow Bear’s old Nissan Hardbody that still got him around. Vlad talked the whole time in a warbly sing-song that Slow Bear nodded and Mm hm-ed to while thinking of other shit. He had the things he needed in a plastic shopping bag, the top scrunched tight in his fist and held between his legs. It was a dark night, new moon. Gas flares from oil rigs in the distance, like Mordor.
“I don’t know what happened. It was fast. I don’t know. He came at me, but then he turned around. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to. I would never have hurt her. I loved her. Loved her so fucking much.”
“Wait, what? Her?”
“I don’t know what happened.”
Slow Bear slammed the back of his head against the headrest. Fuck. Poor Greta. Jesus Christ. “What did you do?”
Vlad, chattering teeth. “I-I-I don’t know what happened.”
“I thought you were going to kill Jim.”
“It was…she was…it was both of them.”
Just kill me now.
“Where’s the gun?”
“What? My gun?”
“Do you have it? I’m going to need it.”
Vlad thumbed at the backseat, what little there was of it. Slow Bear looked. It was a mess of Styrofoam go cups and junk mail catalogs and dirty towels. He couldn’t reach from here. He’d wait until they got to the house.
The town was busy enough this time of night. People out in clusters of cars outside of bars or, shit, the school, the library, the firehouse. Headlights on, sitting on hoods, paper bags full of cheap hard booze, plastic grocery bags full of six-packs. Slow Bear remembered some guy telling him it was “misery porn,” the stuff whites expected to happen on the rez. That guy was a poet. Slow Bear didn’t read poems. He would’ve agreed that it was just a stereotype if he hadn’t been a tribal cop during the oil boom. Jesus, the rez was rolling in dough now, and that had made things worse. Fucking meth. He’d had his share when he was younger. Happy he got his shit together before he drowned in it. But there was also heroin. That one was still tempting. It would never completely loosen its hold. Now that Slow Bear was a civilian again, getting “money for nothing,” he could hear it singing to him, a sweeter song than the fucking pain pills that had stopped working.
Anyway, yeah, midnight might as well be noon to oil workers, pushers, users and drunks. Vlad had stopped his bawling and his constant “I don’t know what happened” once he got closer to the house. Slow Bear told him to drive past once and then park out on the main drag across the street from one of the few bars in town, which also called itself a casino, the slots jammed into a space the size of a couple of janitor’s closets.
They walked back to Jim and Greta’s house once Slow Bear had gotten the gun out of the backseat—a .22 pistol, like he’d expected—and put it into his bag. He used an old taco wrapper to pick it up. The lights on the street were busted. Only house lights gave them an idea of who else was out, sitting on lawn chairs or wooden steps in dusty front yards, toking up, sipping whiskey that came in a plastic jug. So what if a few insomniac drunks saw them? Wasn’t a soul on this rez ever going to give up Slow Bear’s name. Not. One. Soul.
They turned up the driveway past Jim’s Jeep Cherokee and Greta’s Kia on the patch of dirt and grass that was supposed to be a front yard. The TV was loud enough to hear a couple feet from the door which, thankfully, was closed.
“Didn’t lock it, did you?”
Vlad shook his head. “I don’t even remember.”
Slow Bear knelt on one knee and pulled a latex glove from his bag. Flexed it on most of the way, then used his teeth to pull it fingertip tight. He told Vlad, “Don’t touch anything. Period.”
Vlad nodded but Slow Bear knew he was going to touch shit. Tell people not to touch shit, they touch shit anyway. Slow Bear pushed himself up and opened the screen, then, with the lightest of touches, took hold of the knob and turned slowly. The door creaked open.
The TV was loud. The crab-fishing show was on. Lots of bleeping. The tiny house, a cookie-cutter rez project like all the others on this street, built in, what, the seventies? Had the look of Civil War about them now, crumbling, peeling, sinking.
Inside, the scene was right there in front of them: living room, TV blaring, the back of a recliner, pitched high and forward like someone was slumping in it, a futon to the side against the wall, a coffee table knocked sideways, a free-standing lamp with a halogen bulb, casting shadows. A bare foot sticking past the recliner into Slow Bear’s line of vision. The whole place smelled like microwaved food and the shit of the recently deceased.
The recliner had bullet holes in it.
“Fuck, Vlad. Self-defense? From behind?”
“I don’t know what—”
“Are you an idiot? Are you a goddamned idiot?”
Slow Bear took several more steps so he could see what he had already guessed would be there. Jim, slumped over in the chair, three twenty-two bullets in his head, his shorts and briefs pulled down to his ankles. On the floor in front of him, Greta. More than three bullet holes in her and Slow Bear guessed maybe only one of the ones that killed Jim had gone through, maybe, his eye-socket or something and struck her, but not killed her, because she had been on her knees sucking Jim’s cock. The rest of the bullets in her were scattered, like a man with a shaky hand. Like you’d see from a jealous husband catching his wife cheating. Never seen one where it was the lover more jealous.
“I swear! I swear! I don’t know.” The man wouldn’t step inside any farther. That was okay. Slow Bear imagined there was Vlad DNA all over this place.
Slow Bear turned. “Close that door.”
Vlad did. Then he stepped over to the corner and stood there like a little kid in trouble. Slow Bear pointed at him. “Good. Stay there.”
Vlad nodded. Slow Bear strategized. He didn’t want to wander around and spread evidence of his being here—boot prints, hair, skin—any more than he had to. He tried to tune out the crab-fishing show on TV. And then Vlad started talking. “You told me he knew! You told me! I had to protect myself. I had to confront him. Greta wasn’t happy with him, she wasn’t, she told me she wasn’t. I was going to tell him he should stay out of it, you know?”
Slow Bear sighed, yawned. Goddamn it. He started back towards the short hall past the living room—a small bathroom full of cheap make-up and expensive shampoo bottles, most of them empty, and a rust-stained tub. Two bedrooms, one for storage and one for sleeping and fucking.
Vlad was still going, “—Like, he got off on it? And she was into that? He says he knows about me and she starts telling him how we fucked, and he got hard, and she got hot, and and and—”
“That’s not self-defense!”
“I don’t know what happened!”
Vlad would keep saying that until he figured out something that he could believe. Or something Slow Bear would tell him that he would believe.
In the bedroom, Vlad still out there braying like Greta had betrayed him, it was easy to find what he was looking for. The box-spring and mattress for the queen-sized bed was on the floor, not a frame, and an upside-down Igloo cooler served as a bedside table for Jim—his watch, his video game controller, his candle-in-a-jar that smelled like apple pie, and the TV remote for a screen at the foot of the bed so big that it covered one of the sliding closet doors. Slow Bear first checked under the mattress, then the box spring. Nope. Then he tilted the cooler. There it was: a slightly-used-but-new-to-Jim Taurus made to look like a Glock, or a Springfield, yeah, more like a Springfield, all the arty lines and shit. It was a forty, for fuck’s sake. Shame. No, he didn’t think Jim really would’ve used it, but probably got it to make his dick feel bigger than it already was.
Vlad: “We were talking about having kids, man!”
Slow Bear grinned, glad Vlad couldn’t see him. Vlad must not have known about the two she’d already had taken away, then the cancer scare, then the hysterectomy. All before she was thirty. And, hey, none of that made her a bad person. Slow Bear thought she was actually one of the better people he’d met as a cop. Some domestics, some drunk driving warnings, but all-in-all, she was off the dope and drank like a normal thirty-four-year-old who liked a good party after a week of night shifts at the casino reception desk.
Or, sometimes, after every shift.
Woman shouldn’t be dead for giving her own husband a blowjob.
Slow Bear held the gun between his knees, pulled back the slide, chambered a round. Then took the gun and shoved it into his back waistband, felt like the damn thing was going to fall into his underwear. People must’ve worn tighter clothes on cop shows. But it held. He reached into the bag for the twenty-two, which held eight rounds. He had counted seven in Jim and Greta, one shared. One shot left. He hoped so.
He stepped out of the bedroom, walked down the hall, Vlad now quiet and staring at the TV, someone shouting about a rogue wave. Slow Bear shook his head, hand on his hip, holding the twenty-two.
“I don’t know what to tell you. There’s no way this is going to work as self-defense. Just no way.”
“Aw, man, please.”
“Seriously, you need to turn yourself in and plead, I don’t know, crazy or something. I’m not sure I can really help you.”
Vlad shook his head, rubbed his palms roughly against his scalp. “No, no, no.”
“Well, I can only do so much.”
Vlad looked up. “You’re in it now. You’re in it as deep as I am. That’s what I’ll tell them. This was all your idea.” He pointed at Slow Bear. Actually pointed. “If you can’t figure out a better plan, I’m going to tell them you were the brains behind it all.”
“Vlad, cool it–”
“Because I don’t deserve this shit, man! I did what I had to do, just like you said.”
“When the fuck did I ever say that?”
“In the bar, I swear, you did. You told me what to do, how to do it. I’m not going down alone. So you’d better help me here.”
Slow Bear let out a deep sigh and took in the scene again. Jesus. What an idiot. And now threatening him, too. How’d this dumbass get through a full day on his own?
“You went in hot, didn’t think it through.”
“I don’t know what—”
“Hey, hey, shut up for a minute. I’ll show you what I mean.” He took big slow steps across the room, careful for blood spatter, and then handed Vlad the twenty-two, handle first. “Take this.”
Vlad came out of his corner, gingerly, and took the gun two-handed.
“Watch.” Slow Bear made more careful steps until he was over in front of Jim, hoping the body would stay put. One in a million chance of the body staying upright like this. Perfect. He crouched, hand on his knee. “So you come in, and you stand back there behind him, sure. But you’ve got your gun in hand, but first you want him to know who was killing him, right?”
“I swear, I wasn’t going to kill him.”
For fuck’s sake. “Fine, you were going to warn him. I don’t care. But you called out his name, right?”
“Meaning if he’d had this gun,” Slow Bear reached behind for it, swung it out. “This would’ve happened.”
He shot Vlad in the shoulder. Went clean through. Loud motherfucker, set Slow Bear’s ears ringing, but he’d gotten used to close-up guns. His ears recalibrated fast. Vlad stumbled, yelped, lifted the twenty-two and squeezed off a wild shot, miles from Slow Bear or the bodies, and just kept clicking.
“And you get the son of a bitch with three shots, in the back of his head.” He was thinking fast, missing all sorts of details, but he figured the cops would miss them, too, because it looked so fucking obvious. “But he’s not quite done.”
Two more shots. Slow Bear didn’t want to make them look like someone who knew what he was doing. So one shot went wide, the other through Vlad’s left lung. That was the killer. It might take a few minutes, but that one was it.
While Vlad strangled on his own blood, Slow Bear very carefully wiped the barrel against Jim’s hand, transferring some residue, he hoped. But again, rez cops weren’t going to go all out for this. He set the gun on Jim’s lap, ready to put the dead man’s hand on top of it, when he sensed something wasn’t right. Jim started to slide. Fuck! Slow Bear dodged out of the way, and Jim fell right on top of his wife. She farted. Gas build-up. Still, pretty fucking freaky.
Slow Bear stood straight, closed his eyes and leaned his head back. Took in some deep breaths, trying to calm down. His muscles were knotted up, pulling tighter. Deep breaths through his nose.
In? Cough. In. Ouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut.
Opened his eyes and looked around. Vlad, still blinking. A hurt look, if Slow Bear had to describe it. Why, man? Why?
“You think you were going to take me down for your stupid bullshit? Live by the gun, die by the gun. Goddamned stupid, I tell you.”
The light faded from Vlad’s eyes. Good.
If he’d done this right, it would look exactly like it should’ve looked. Love triangle gone shitty. Guns and hot tempers. Ain’t no one getting Slow Bear involved.
The neighbors weren’t going to call the cops. Not yet. They had all heard both rounds of gunshots now but they all wanted some sleep, or at least to stay up without a goddamned light show on their street for the next however-many hours. So they would wait, call it in after coffee the next day.
But that also meant Slow Bear had to sit his ass here for a while, because even if the neighbors wouldn’t tell the cops who they saw leaving the house after the shots, they’d sure as fuck tell each other, and word got around.
So Slow Bear retreated to the bedroom, slapped Call of Duty into the console, and shot motherfucking enemy soldiers—yeah, he spent a long time figuring out how to do it one-handed—until he was sure it was safe to leave. Out the back, through the back yards of several houses, and then in the clear. It was a long fucking walk back to his trailer. Oh well. He hadn’t seen a sunrise in a while. And it wasn’t like he had anything to do tomorrow anyway.
Slow Bear didn’t make it back to the bar at the casino til almost sundown the next day. He’d thought about finding a ride somewhere, or borrowing a bicycle, or anything, but he couldn’t risk being seen wandering around out late. Didn’t want handprints, fingerprints, smudges, nothing to do with this shit. He’d lifted some cash from their pockets, not cleaning them out because that would look like a robbery. No, he took enough that the cops wouldn’t really miss it.
Anyway, back to the trailer by seven-ten the next morning, sweaty, filthy, tossed off his clothes and flopped face down onto his bed and almost immediately he was gone, dreaming of heroin as a red-haired lover like the girl from SNL. She had a mouth on her—she smiles and you see every last tooth she had—but she did it for him. In the dream she sucked on the business end of a syringe, filled with the good stuff, between showing off those perfect choppers.
Slow Bear couldn’t lucid dream to make her do his bidding. He didn’t want to wake up, either. It had been a while since he’d kicked horse and he didn’t want to board that train anymore, but if his brain was all like “Dream the junk feeling like it’s this chick you dig spreading her pussy for you” then who was he to argue?
When he finally did wake in the late afternoon, like every fucking day he remembered he had one arm, not two like he dreamed, and ached all over so bad it made him want to puke.
He gagged up a puddle’s worth of something alcoholic—sure as fuck wasn’t beer and he remembered the vanilla vodka he drank straight from the bottle at Jim’s place—and sat at the edge of the bed and stretched his jaws until some of the tightness faded away all over. Then a shower, some microwaved chicken fingers, and out for the evening.
He could’ve made a couple hundred already if he’d gotten there earlier, Bartender Lady said. Her name was Kylie and she had dropped out of college, but Slow Bear called her Lady because he was afraid for her but couldn’t afford to get too involved. If she had her way, he’d be beating up her exes, her professors who failed her, her step-daddy, her ex-stepdaddy, and she’d still ask him to piss on her real daddy’s grave. Then offer to pay him with a blowjob. Slow Bear had done the currency conversion in his head and found it wasn’t worth it.
So he ordered the usual beer and waited, figured he’d end up on the losing end that night and was only doing this to keep the habit alive—this habit—in order to make sure he didn’t fall back into the other one.
Heroin. A wide-mouthed, redheaded bitch who made him laugh.
Lady, her uniform shirt unbuttoned two buttons too much, told him, “Trevor was looking for you.”
Slow Bear took a swig. “Well, I guess I’ll have to call this day a loss.”
“You can duck behind the bar with me if you want, sit on the floor.”
What the hell good would that…? “Thanks, Lady, but I don’t think my back could take it.”
She was cute. She dyed her hair red then blue and sometimes it was just dark brown, like now, and one side of her head was shaved. Her glasses were thick and she tried to distract from them with too many earrings and a nose ring. Chubby cheeks, baby fat all over. Why not, Slow Bear? Why not?
Because. She doesn’t do it for me.
Also? Last time he fucked a chick? He couldn’t keep his balance. Threw him off his game. After nine minutes of trying, the chick was done with it, offered to use her hand. He told her no and went home.
So, Trevor. Chief of the rez police. Used to work with Slow Bear, then was Slow Bear’s supervisor, then Chief. Then ex-boss. And somehow they were related, long lost cousins, but then, who wasn’t? Slow Bear drew his disability pay and stayed out of the way except, you know, shit like Jim and Vlad. Shit like cheaters and drug money rip-offs and “sold me a broken iPhone” and whatnot, stuff the cops couldn’t enforce since neither side was right in the first place.
Slow Bear didn’t need Trevor Cross on his ass that day. Slow Bear sometimes forgot he lived on a rez this small, only about four thousand residents still here out of about thirteen thousand tribe members altogether, because on days he had to drive far and wide, or nights he had to walk hell and gone back to his little patch of prairie, it felt like it stretched to the ends of the earth.
But size was relative. Trevor probably knew about the shooting as soon as Slow Bear had left Jim’s house, even though he’d played his cards well. Slow Bear hoped Trevor appreciated his solution to the problem, saving everyone a night in jail. Three disbursements back into the pot. Everyone profited.
Slow Bear wished. He fucking wished.
Lady set a fully-dressed Bloody Mary in front of him—big ass pickle and garlic-stuffed olives and a hunk of queso on a sword, black pepper flakes all over.
“Hey, no. No.”
She said, “Trust me. You’ll need your strength.”
“I don’t even like them.” He pushed it back. The black pepper made him sniff.
“Bet you’ve never tried one. I know for sure you’ve never tried mine. Got the habanero sauce.” She leaned towards Slow Bear, elbows on the bar, good view of her tits.
Why him? Why?
Then her eyes flicked over his shoulder. She pushed up and away and went off to get some more beers for the oil workers and white tourists down the way. Slow Bear felt the shuffle and heat before the smell of the man wafted across the bar. Trevor Cross. He took the stool next to Slow Bear and was uncomfortably close. They used to be friends, but they’d never sat this close as friends. Trevor looked like he was carved out of rock. No, not carved. Dynamite blasted, like the unfinished Crazy Horse one Dakota south of there.
Trevor cleared his throat. Laced his fingers on the bar, arms wide, encroaching on Slow Bear’s space. Slow Bear picked up the giant mug of Bloody Mary and gave it a try. Aw, fuck, that was gross. He bit the end off the pickle before setting the concoction down.
“You know where I was all morning?”
Slow Bear turned his head, but didn’t want to look in the Chief’s eyes. One good blink and he looked back at the Bloody Mary. Picked the cheese hunk off the tip of the sword. “I hear you’ve been hanging around the bar looking for me. Seems like a waste of your day.”
“Only partially true.” He whistled for the bartender. Shouted, “Coke Zero.”
Next, an olive. Lady was right about Slow Bear needing his strength. Last night was all reflex. It was as fast as he could think. Some homespun justice, keeping his own mostly innocent self out of the picture. He needed some long-term lying skills in play.
Slow Bear shrugged. “I have no idea.” He took another slug of Bloody Mary. Disgusting.
“What’s up with you today? You’re usually earlier than this.”
“Took a ‘me’ day. My stomach hurt.”
“Something you ate?” He thanked the girl for the Coke and turned on his stool, framing Slow Bear between his wide knees. Goddamn it. Slow Bear took a sip of beer. Bad after the Bloody shit.
“Maybe it’s catching. Might want to sit back.”
“I was over at Jim’s earlier.”
“Hey, how is he? I was over there a few days ago, playing Xbox.” DNA, check.
“You were talking to him yesterday. Did he pay you for something?”
“I ripped him off. I mean, what he wanted wasn’t worth what he paid.”
“Maybe you should’ve listened.” His breath smelled like chewed gum. Slow Bear didn’t know how someone with fresh-chewed gum mouth could stand to drink a Coke. “Because maybe you could’ve given him some better advice. Maybe the man would still be alive.”
Slow Bear finally turned, eyebrows up. “Suicide?”
Trevor rolled his eyes. He took off his cap and rubbed his palm over his hair, slicked back so it looked wet, but Slow Bear knew it was rock hard gel. Fitted the cap back low, right above his eyebrows. “Something like that, except murder.”
Slow Bear deflated, as if it had hit him so hard. He knew how to act. He knew that Trevor saw through it, but Slow Bear still felt…something…like, obligation, maybe. An obligation to lie his ass off.
Slow Bear said, “Well, shit.”
“Him. Greta, too. But at least the killer didn’t get away. You know Vlad, right? Looks like Jim tagged him before his own soul flew free.”
Sighed. “Stories like that make me glad I retired.”
A shrug. “You’re right. I miss the smell of blood.”
Trevor slid off the stool and wrapped an arm around Slow Bear’s shoulders. Got his face in close. “The fuck did you do in there? Why didn’t you leave Vlad alive for us? One call. I would’ve believed you.”
A swig of beer. Still didn’t taste good. It never tasted good anymore. Slow Bear shook his head harder. “No idea, Trev.”
Trevor gripped hard. Too close now. “It wasn’t your call to make.”
Slow Bear thought Fuck it. “I saved you a trial. I saved you having to jail that piece of shit. I saved you the messy shit. What it looks like now is the way it should’ve looked. Clean. Justice.”
“Your justice is dollar store justice, you goddamn—”
“Are you going to arrest me? Fine. You know my lawyer. Look what he did last time. It ain’t possible, what you’re saying, a one-armed man to have done—”
“For fuck’s sake, it still wasn’t your call.”
Slow Bear thought about it for a second. Then another sip of beer. “Mm hm?”
Trevor pushed off and growled. Brushed his sport coat back and put his hands on his hips, the left just above his pistol. Circled. Twice. Staring at a line of automaton old folks pressing buttons on slots, immune to the clanging.
Slow Bear peeked over his shoulder. He knew Trevor probably had a witness saw him with Vlad. Trevor could figure things out because he was a smart cop. But what could he actually prove?
Getting his fucking shoulder blown clean off by that lunatic in a meth lab trailer had actually saved Slow Bear from corruption charges already. Gave him a graceful exit sort of thing. Colored over his bad choices with some last-minute heroics. Getting shot was always a surefire way to get called a hero.
But he had to face it, as he had on the walk home, over and over, it shouldn’t have been his call, like Trevor said. Did he really think no one would figure it out? His flimsy triple-murder diorama?
Because Vlad was trying to wrap battleship chains around his neck, let them go down together forever?
You know why? You really know why? Because Vlad fuck-ing de-served it. People should get what they deserve. Slow Bear laughed to himself. Really? If he believed that…Slow Bear mimed a finger gun to his temple. Bang.
Lady saw it. She rolled her eyes. He winked at her.
Trevor was back. Slid onto the stool again. “The Hat told me to say hi for him.”
“The Hat! Really?”
“Oh, yes. He’s very concerned about you.”
This tickled Slow Bear to no end. The Hat was THE CHIEF (well, “Chairman,” anyway) of the rez. The whole damned bunch of them. They called him The Hat because that’s what he wore in public, whenever there was an audience of some sort, or a TV camera, or photographers. A giant custom-made beaver fur cowboy hat. Clean as the day it was delivered, damn near ten years along now. But that wasn’t saying The Hat was just a “hat,” without any bonafides. When he was a young man, well before his current age of teetering on sixty, his hats were all dirty and torn and that was when he could afford a hat at all. So now that the man ran the tribe and had become an oil tycoon while doing so, more power to him and his humongous, clean hat.
“How is The Hat these days?”
“He’s good, real good. I was talking to him this morning, while avoiding bloodstains all over Jim’s carpet, you know, and your name so happened to come up.”
“Helluva a guy, that Hat.” Slow Bear had met him a handful of times, the first couple being brush-offs, the next two, “What the fuck were you thinking, Officer?” and then the last, in the hospital, shaking Slow Bear’s remaining hand, giving him a key to the rez, or not, maybe he dreamed that part. But whispering, “Don’t play the victim. You got really fucking lucky.”
“Just so happens, huh?”
“Anyway…you know about the Exile. Santana. You know his story.”
Slow Bear did. He did indeed. Every Indian on the rez knew his story because Santana was the only man besides The Hat who would have ever had a prayer of being Chairman…until The Hat made damned sure to squash that spark out like a bug.
Santana Hunts Along. His mom a true hippie, named him after goddamned Carlos Santana. A lot to live up to. And man, Santana sure as hell tried.
What brought him down was, honestly, the same thing that got The Hat where he is. Santana tried to go around The Hat to get a piece of oil action, a better deal for the people than what The Hat was giving them—jobs, sure, but where was the money? Like with the casino, where was the money?
“Invested,” The Hat said. “Invested. For all of you.” And he showed lots of spreadsheets and paperwork to back that up.
Santana should have—should have—called utter bullshit on him, but instead tried to politician his way around it. Sneaky. Problem with sneaky is that the other reps on the board were getting some of that “investment” straight into their pockets (as was Santana, let’s be honest), and before long there was another stack of paper and spreadsheets showing that it was Santana Hunts Along dealing dirty, not The Hat.
Slow Bear knew all this because he was still a cop then and had the inside gossip. The outside gossip wasn’t far off the mark, either. Jailing Santana would mean the end of The Hat’s support in the tribe. He needed to be top Indian to keep the oil contracts the way he wanted them. So he gave Santana a way out—exile. Leave the rez and cut his ties, business and political. Make it sound like he was doing it of his own accord.
And wouldn’t you know it, Santana did just that. Left town. Left the rez. Relocated to Williston and got hired on by another oil company, miraculously, and was well-off by anyone’s standards, a tycoon by rez standards.
That was the story. That was what Trevor was talking about.
Slow Bear shrugged. “What about him?”
“The Hat thinks Santana never really broke off his ties over here. Just hid them. The Hat is convinced he’s still working with the company, still getting checks, and that the company is pulling one over on us. That violates the deal.”
“Not like it was a legal deal.”
“Still. The deal was to avoid legalities and avoid a big fight. A big split. And you fucking know it, too.”
“What do I know?”
“Jesus. Are you taking this seriously?”
“I’m about to call the day a total loss and head back home. Seriously, man. I take that seriously.” Slow Bear stood up. “I don’t know why you’re telling me shit about The Hat and The Exile, like some fucked up fairy tale. Is it a warning? You kicking me out?”
Slow Bear slapped the bar a couple of times to get Bartender Lady’s attention. She looked over and he said, “No cash today. Get you tomorrow?”
She huffed, like this was a regular thing. The drinks were free while he gambled, of course, but for him that usually meant a dollar’s worth of poker hands, stretched over a couple of hours. Today, he owed her three bucks.
Trevor said something. Slow Bear wasn’t paying close enough attention, plus all the clanging. But when he thought on it a second, him asking You kicking me out? and Trevor, did he really say it? Yeah, Trevor answering, Sort of.
Slow Bear cleared his throat and nearly choked on the last drops of warm beer. “Excuse me?”
“It wasn’t my idea. My idea was to take you in and let your ass rot in jail. Let some of the inmates you wronged discuss their grievances with you.”
“Is that right?”
Slow Bear did. Then he got some phantom limb pain on his missing elbow and reached to squeeze it. Goddamn, looked like an idiot. Lost his concentration. “You know I’m right. You know Vlad did it and instead of helping him cover it up, I delivered some righteousness.”
“We’re past that. Listen.”
“So what do you want? Money? A bribe? Why would you want money from me? You know I’m barely scraping. I’ve kept a low profile.”
“Shut up. Shut up and listen. Just shut up.”
“The Hat would like you to get in with Santana’s operation and find some proof. And, this is important, if there isn’t any, make sure that there is.”
“What? Are you fucking me?”
“If it doesn’t come easy, let me know. I’ll give you something too good to be true.”
Slow Bear shook his head. “You’re assuming a lot.”
“Possibly. There are ways around that.”
“I mean, it’s not like a one-armed Indian can go undercover just like that.” He paused. “You hear that? It was the non-snap of my non-fingers.”
“I said we’ll deal with it.”
Trevor shook his head. “As far as Santana needs to know, you’ll be banished just like him.”
Slow Bear smiled. Yeah, a downright honest smile for once. “Why the fuck would he believe something like that?”
“Because that’s the truth.”
Trevor grabbed Slow Bear’s beer bottle and slammed it onto Slow Beer’s forehead once, twice, three times before it shattered, and Slow Bear felt pulverized, then there was ringing in his ears and blood leaking into his eyes. He fell off the stool onto his bad shoulder and got his feet tangled in the stool legs, twisted his ankle and the damned stool fell on top of him.
He shoved it out of the way. He’d bruised himself all over and was still blinking blood and glass away. That’s when Trevor kicked him in the gut.
Noise, like a seal barking, that he realized was Lady shouting at Trevor to stop. But, fuck, when a man kicks you in the guts, you seize up and feel like you have to take a shit, so you clench back there, and that makes you hurt all over.
Then there was Trevor’s shadow, the Chief leaning over Slow Bear, hands on his knees. “I’m sorry, Micah, but we have to make this look real. I’m going to kick your ass all over this casino, and then cuff you and drag you out to the truck. From there, we’ll improvise.”
Slow Bear barely heard, but got the gist. He rolled onto his stomach, pushed his chest half-off the ground and tried to drag himself away. That second hand would’ve been really helpful in this situation, but he had to work with what he had.
Trevor grabbed him by the collar, goddamn trying to choke him now, and pulled him upright. Still on his knees. The lawman took Slow Bear by the jaw and squeezed. “And then I’m going to impound that fucking trailer of yours, and your truck, too, and freeze your bankcard, credit cards, do you even have any credit cards?”
Slow Bear wanted to tell him he had a gas card, left over from his cop days. He had no idea who paid it, if anyone. But because he was shaking all over and the aches were rolling through his guts like a bad boat wake, he managed to say, “Fuck your mother, asshole.”
Trevor backhanded his face. Slow Bear fell over again. If this was a movie, he would laugh and spit blood on Trevor’s shoes or something, but this was real life and Slow Bear said, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry ohgodohshitohgod, please!”
He finally opened his eyes all the way and saw a blurry crowd of people watching, and one of the security guards–not coming to help, but holding back the spectators–and now Lady trying to get to Slow Bear but getting shoved back by Trevor first, and then a second security guard, a fat pimply fucker grabbing her around the waist and getting a little too personal.
Trevor lifted his boot and raked it across Slow Bear’s ear. Slow Bear felt the rough-bitten leather, gravel, dried gum, hobnails. He rolled away quickly, too dizzy, and pushed up again before Trevor gave him another kick square in his back, sent him sprawling. He was done.
The cop finally settled on his knees beside Slow Bear and cuffed his one wrist, then, like he’d forgot about the lack of another arm, let out a deep breath and said, “Well, fuck.”
If that's whetted your appetite you can buy the book here (and remember if you buy the paperback you'll get the eBook download for FREE)
And of course for the hard-core noir fans there's this VERY LIMITED EDITION t-shirt - available here - when they're gone, they're gone...