Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Work in Progress: Sudden Boogie

A shift here to the work of Louis King Glass. We’ve collaborated a bit on this, but this excerpt really is all Lou. Those of you who have read my eBooks have seen interviews written by the inestimable Mr. Glass therein.

That he is a fan of tough-guy, hard-boiled paperback originals written by Dan J. Marlowe, Donald Hamilton, Peter Rabe, and other Gold Medal writers, along with contemporary authors like Elmore Leonard, Barry Gifford, Ken Bruen, and Peter Brandvold, the southern setting for this 1970s escapade makes sense. Without further ado, Sudden Boogie:

Sudden Boogie

The gravel crunched under Earl's boots and he swayed a bit as he swung through the screen door of the house. Fluorescent blue bubbles floated up behind his eyeballs. He'd just had two swigs of moonshine from a jar his new acquaintance had lifted from a box carried in the trunk of his black Monte Carlo.

The house he staggered into was less a home and more a continuum of nicotine, alcohol, and stimulants of various powdered and pill forms. Earl had walked in on the scene about three hours earlier with a story of automotive disability. He'd heard the music loud as downtown as he stalked along the roadside and passed the graveled cutoff that disappeared into a tunnel of pine trees. That sounded like a party, and a party meant friendly people.

The friendly people didn't mind his joining in at all. They were a mix of college-age kids and older locals. The fellow with the moonshine was around fifty, a farmer. Two others were in their thirties and either worked on farms or worked on tractors and other large implements. Five others were little more than drunk boys in tee shirts and jeans and Chuck Taylors.

And there was a girl.

Earl was forty-five. Any female thirty and under was a girl in Earl's eyes. This girl looked a little older than the boys—maybe twenty-five, tops—but then, girls always matured earlier than boys.

Earl was years past being shy. When he came back from tasting the moonshine, he sat beside the girl on the ragged sofa.

The room was arranged in an uneven U: some mismatched chairs lined a wall facing the front door, which Earl had first entered three hours ago; the girl's sofa and another chair formed one arm of the U, and several more chairs formed the other arm. In the middle was a round coffee table covered with empty beer cans and ashtrays overflowing with butts and the dead ends of old joints.

The men and boys talked about rock and roll bands, reefer, and ball games. They didn't talk about girls or women. Each probably weighed his chances for bedding the lone female member of the group by the time night fell. More than once Earl caught someone frowning at him. One man sitting next to the only pretty girl in a room--or the only girl, period, in a room--wore hell on the bonds of universal brotherhood.

Conversation was limited by how loud someone could speak over the racketing speakers. A turntable rested on a stack of concrete blocks topped with a scavenged freight pallet. Milk crates loaded with albums sat on the floor in a drunken semi-circle by the turntable.

Earl curled his hand around the neck of a Jack Daniels fifth that rested in his lap. He turned to the girl. “I'm Earl.”

She smiled. She had a good smile, with straight teeth and lips that were naturally pink, not glossy or colored with lipstick. “Cora.”

“Cora. Good, solid, old-fashioned name. I like that. Nice to meetcha.”


He offered the bottle. Instead of yelling over the sound, his eyebrows arched a question.

Cora nodded, accepted the fifth, turned it up for a sip. She returned the bottle. “Jack's for sippin', not gulpin'.”

“Good enough,” Earl agreed.

The boy seated at the center of the U's base was an Asian. He was on a bar stool, above the level of everyone else's chair. He yelled out, “Is crap! Crap!”

The farmer had been eyeing Earl and his moves with Cora. Now he turned to the Asian. “What is he talking about?”

“Flutes,” the kid said. “Crap.”

Earl knew then the boy was talking about the music thundering out of the speakers. A record by a band named Firefall was playing on the turntable. The current song included flutes. Compared to some of the sound that had blasted out during the previous three hours, Earl considered this to be easy-listening wine-time music.

The Asian on the bar stool waved a hand to dismiss the flute crap music, then got off his perch and marched to the turntable. He removed the album from the spike, and a squall ran through the speakers. The boy sailed the record across the room like a Frisbee.

“Not sudden boogie,” he said into the silence—a remarkable, seeming tangible silence after the hours of thumping music.

He dipped to a milk crate, came up with another album, started it on the turntable.

“Sudden boogie,” the Asian said, smiled, and returned to the stool.

Lynyrd Skynyrd launched into “Gimme Back My Bullets.” The floor vibrated.

Cora put a hand to her mouth and laughed. Earl's eyebrows asked another question.

She spoke into his ear: “Sudden boogie. Southern boogie.”

The moist heat from her mouth seemed to sweep through his body and pop all the bubbles left by the moonshine.

He looked her over. Blonde hair to her shoulders, blue eyes in a face with some baby fat. She looked a little chunky in a tight tee shirt over cut-off jean shorts, but maybe that was the sway-backed sofa's fault, ruining everyone's posture.

He didn't mind chunky. And he liked that mouth.

The Asian was off the stool again, hopping around the inside of the U, bumping the coffee table, hollering out, “Dance! Dance!”

Amid all that flapping, he pulled a .38 revolver from the back of his waist band. He blew a hole in the farmer's chest, turned to one of the boys.

Earl was shocked loose from the warmth of his buzz. He noted when three more figures came into the room behind him, through the front door. They were firing pistols also.

Earl shoved Cora off the sofa, to the floor.

Boys and men were spewing blood and flopping off chairs.

Smoke was filling the room.

Lynyrd Skynrd was slamming along on a wheeling guitar roller coaster of sound.

Earl still had the fifth by the neck. He flung the bottle.

Its square bottom smashed into the Asian's forehead. He tumbled to the floor.

His .38 went spinning toward Cora.

The girl snatched it up, rolled, got up to kneel, squeezed off three shots.

The three intruders were smoked.

One slammed into the sofa before puddling to the floor. Another splayed, flew out the front door—his revolver fell on the turntable and wrecked the arm and its needle. The third backed to the wall beside the door and stood there, his knees locked. He was dead where he stood.

The room was filled with silence, swirling smoke and dust, bits of flying upholstery.

Cora still kneeled and had the gun extended in a firing position. Earl was gentle as he pulled the .38 from her hands, got her up and seated on the sofa.

He checked everyone in the room. The Asian was alive, unconscious. All the boys and the farmers were dead.

He checked, and Cora's targets were still dead.

He picked up the fifth of Jack Daniels, wiped it over with a bandanna from his back pocket. Then he pressed the right hand of the dead farmer to the bottle neck, as if he had been the one to fling it. Careful with the bandanna, Earl put the bottle back on the floor near the Asian.

He wiped Cora's prints off the .38's grips, pressed it into the Asian's hand, then kicked it under the sofa.

Earl checked on Cora. She sat wide-eyed watching him, starting to pant a little.

Earl went through the pockets of everyone on the floor. He took some cash from wallets, left most there, found another .38 in a holster hanging from the older farmer's belt. Earl pocketed that pistol.

He helped Cora up. “Come on, you need to get moving,” he said. He saw signs of something coming on: shock or an adrenalin crash.

He picked up an unopened fifth of George Dickel from the floor.

Out back, he seated her in the black Monte Carlo. His new acquaintance—now dead—had been one of the younger farmers, and Earl had watched the man return the keys to the ignition after closing the trunk on the box of moonshine jars.

Two other vehicles sat in the gravel lot behind the house. Earl checked those, took a wool blanket from one and unfolded it over Cora.

Then he climbed into the driver's seat, turned the key so the big 400 V8 roared, and followed the gravel and back out to where it met the road.

“Where those boys from?” Earl asked.

Cora looked at him with blank eyes.

“You know those boys?” he asked again.

She shook her head. “I don't know none of 'em.”

Earl's eyebrows asked another question.

“I got there not long before you did,” Cora said. “My car started smoking and died, so I walked along and heard the music and went back there.”

Earl sighed. Not knowing where those fellows hailed from, he wouldn't know which direction to avoid—he didn't want to be seen driving a car someone might recognize as belonging to another person. The Monte Carlo's white landau roof made it susceptible to being picked out of a crowd, and it would sure stick out in thin traffic.

Earl sighed again. He kicked the gas and roared onto the asphalt.


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