In advance of the publication of All Down The Line on March 23, here is a short excerpt:
The first car, a blue Corsica with peeling paint that was gradually turning it silver, came from the west on Highway Nine. When he reached the turnoff for Hubbard, the driver pulled off the highway and rolled slowly past the ruins of an old gas station and down the main street, such as it was, to the far end of town where a hotel stood at the corner illuminated by one of the hamlet’s two streetlights. The other they had just driven past, stationed by the Community Hall, a stolid and square white building behind which sat the town’s ball diamonds. There were only a handful other buildings to speak of in the place—even the elevators had been torn down years ago—and only a few of those appeared to be inhabited.
There were no lights on in any of the windows they drove by—hardly surprising, given the hour. Even the hotel was dark, with no vehicles parked in front of it. That too was unremarkable, for it had been years since a room had been rented. Even the strippers passing through to perform made the drive to Loverna for better accommodation. The bar still did a regular business, somehow, mostly the local drunks who couldn’t be bothered with an extra half hour of driving to find more pleasant climes.
The Corsica pulled up in front of the hotel, under the streetlight and the driver turned the engine off and the lights as well. Nobody emerged from the car, though there were two people with the driver. They all sat in silence, waiting, looking at the broken and stained stucco that covered the hotel. The driver rolled down his window to let in the cool night air and they listened to the hissing and whirring of various insects.
They didn’t have long to wait. The second car arrived five minutes later, coming from the east on one of the gravel roads south of town. The three men in the Corsica could hear its approach, the distinctive grind of car wheels on gravel, long before it arrived and each of them began to shift in their seats in anticipation. The approaching vehicle, a Dodge half-ton, crossed the railroad track and turned onto a road running parallel to it that intersected with main street and the hotel.
The truck engine pulled up alongside the Corsica and cut its engine. Everyone emerged from their vehicles to gather at the steps of the hotel and shake hands.
“Ed. Misty,” the Corsica driver said, nodding at both of them. “You know Shane and Burscht.”
“Of course,” Ed said. “Good to see you Randall. You haven’t tried to wake Eduardo up?”
Randall shook his head. “We just got here.”
“I’ll see if I can get him up,” Misty said. He had earned the name when a stripper, of that nom de plum, had managed to take all his casino winnings one drunken evening, along with his clothes, boots and hat.
He strode up the steps to the door and hammered his fist against its heavy steel. When there was no response he repeated the tactic, cocking his head against the door to listen for any sound within. He turned to the others and shook his head.
“For fuck sakes,” Randall said, going halfway up the steps and craning his neck above to where a window on the second floor overlooked them. “Wake the fuck up, you lazy fucking half-breed Chinese.”
“You trying to rouse the village?” Ed said, something like a grin on his face.
“This fucking guy,” Randall said, shaking his head. “Every fucking time. He knows we’re coming. He can’t stay up or set a goddamn alarm?”
“It is aggravating,” Misty said.
“You get that from the dictionary?” Burscht said, bouncing back and forth on his heels.
Misty clenched his fists and came down the steps to where Burscht and Shane stood.
“Hey, hey,” Randall said, holding out a hand to forestall him. “None of that now. We’re all friends here.”
Misty turned to Ed who nodded curtly, but his eyes were leveled at Burscht and they were cold.
Randall turned to Burscht. “Hey, I’m already dealing with one dummy,” he said, gesturing up to where Eduardo remained asleep. “Now I gotta worry about you running your mouth? We’re trying to conduct a simple business transaction here. Let’s not make this more complicated than it fucking is. Alright?”
He looked from face to face and everyone slowly nodded. “Okay then. How do we get this useless fucker up?”
“Maybe try the door first,” Shane said, with a shrug.
Everyone watched as Misty clicked down the handle and pulled. The door swung open and they all walked in.
“We could walk away with the whole inventory and he’d never wake up,” Ed said, shaking his head in amazement.
“I wish I could say I’m surprised,” Randall said. “Go roust the pigfucker and don’t be gentle about it.”
Burscht went upstairs, while Shane ducked behind the bar to grab them all beers. The rest sat down at the largest table, looking around the room. It was a sight to behold, cluttered with tables and mismatched chairs in various states of disrepair, all thirty years old at least. Off beside the bar, Eduardo had set up a little kitchen on one table, with a hot plate and microwave. Surrounding them on the table were scattered plates and bowls, well-encrusted with food.
“This place smells worse every time I come here,” Ed said, lifting his head to scent the air, which was redolent with mildew and ancient carpet, cigarette smoke and urine.
“We’re just damn lucky no inspector gives a shit. They’d condemn this place straight out,” Shane said, bringing the beers over for everyone.
From above they heard a cry of pain that was quickly silenced, followed by Burscht’s angry voice. A few moments later Eduardo emerged, stumbling down the stairs bleary eyed and clutching his nose which was bleeding. Burscht came behind him, a laconic grin on his face, the look of a child who knows he has pleased his father. He led Eduardo to the chair, which Shane pushed out for him, and shoved him down to sit between the two opposing sides, before going to lean against the bar.
“Don’t tell me you forgot we were coming again?” Randall said. “Or did your alarm not go off this time?”
“That guy broke my nose,” Eduardo said, his voice muffled by his hands.
“Be glad that’s the only thing he broke,” Randall said, but he gestured to Burscht, who brought a damp cloth over from the bar. Eduardo pressed it to his face to staunch the flow of blood and put his head back so his nose was elevated.
“Now, maybe this is too goddamn complex for your Chinese brain—”
“I’m Filipino, man.”
“—but you have one fucking job in this whole enterprise. And that is to be awake when the fucking delivery comes. When you’re not, when we have to wake the whole fucking town up just to get a sit down with you, it jeopardizes the whole operation. Not to mention, it makes me look like a shitheel to our friends here.”
Randall gestured to Ed and Misty, who sat, staring stonefaced at Eduardo.
“Man, I been asleep like twice when you guys come.”
“You’ve been asleep every time Misty’s come by,” Ed said. “Don’t fucking lie.”
Eduardo gave a half shrug of his shoulders and fell silent.
Randall looked at Ed and shook his head apologetically. “Look, Eduardo, like I said, you got one fucking job here. And it’s not to keep this bar running. It’s to be awake when Misty comes in with the product. Or when we come in with the money. Or when, like tonight, we need to have a meeting to discuss your fucking incompetence.”
“Maybe we need to find someone else to take over the bar?” Shane ventured, trying to put something like a threat in his voice.
“Who the fuck else would choose to live here?” Misty said, looking around.
“That is a valid question,” Randall said. “But not relevant at the moment.”
“I don’t know, that picture really brings the place together,” Shane said, nodding toward the mural that covered one wall of the bar. It depicted an idyllic scene of a prairie lake of people swimming and picnicking along the shoreline. In front of the mural, which looked as faded as everything else in the place, a stage had been built with a stripper pole at its center.
“You don’t have any girls for us either,” Burscht said from the bar, drawing a glare from Randall, which froze his smile.
“Girls don’t come out anymore. Nobody comes anymore,” Eduardo said. “People are wondering why I’m even open.”
Randall and Ed looked at each other. “Are people asking you that?” Ed said, an edge to his voice.
“Sure. Guys at the mailboxes joke about it. Even the assholes that come in here everyday wonder about it.”
“Now see,” Randall said, leaning forward and grabbing Eduardo’s shoulder to pull him close. “This is why we need you awake when we come. Because if people start asking those questions and then they see us showing up at one in the morning, they’re going to start thinking we’re the answer.”
Randall was about to say something more, but he thought better of it and Ed spoke instead, addressing his counterpart. “This is what I am talking about. We’ve attracted too much attention here, and it’s going to bite us in the ass at some point.”
“I don’t think so,” Shane said. “This place has been open for years with nobody coming. Eduardo’s not the first moron these people have seen coming in and trying to start something here. They won’t be surprised he’s here. And they won’t be surprised if he decides to go.”
“You sure about that,” Ed said, and Shane nodded. “Alright, I guess we can live with this arrangement for now. Provided he’s awake when fucking deliveries happen.”
“Leave that to me,” Randall said and turned to Eduardo. “Get the fuck out of here.”
Eduardo stumbled from his chair and went back upstairs, still clutching his nose with the cloth. The others watched him go and then listened as the stairs creaked and the floor above them groaned with his weight.
When it was quiet above, Ed leaned across the table. “Now, let’s discuss our other problem.”