Now Available: On The Far Horizon

ON THE FAR HORIZON

WESTERN, CRIME, THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

Cattle rustlers on the run, caught between a storm and someone bent on revenge. Cowboys pursued by the law and their own demons through a long night. A dive bar in the middle of nowhere hosts five criminals for a deal that goes terribly wrong.

These and other stories explore the lives of those who populate the west. Homesteaders with mysterious pasts they’d prefer to keep hidden. Women wronged by the men they love and caught up in events beyond their control. There are killers, thieves, cops on the make, and people just trying to get through their days with their eyes On The Far Horizon.

All of these characters, and many others, meet in this pulse-pounding collection that will keep you at edge of your seat.

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Excerpt: On The Far Horizon

In advance of the publication of On The Far Horizon on August 31, here is a short excerpt from the short story Menthols and Pisco Sour:

She tasted of menthols and pisco sours. Jaime ran his tongue along her lips, savoring the flavor, before biting at her lip. He could feel her freeze a little at the sharpness of the pain, wondering if he was going to go further, and had to resist a smile. She was staring at him, looking up from the circle of his arms, where he pressed her in close.

Looking down at her and meeting her gaze, Jaime was unable to tell what exactly she was thinking. She was not lost in passion, not eager to see that he was either. No, she was watching him, a part of her reserved and standing off, to observe this. What for, he wondered, slightly unsettled. To cover his unease, he bit down on her lip again, harder this time, and was satisfied to see her wince and frown.

She had told him her name, but he did not remember it. They had met in some dive bar near Plaza San Martín in Lima, a dark and grubby place he sometimes went to when he wanted to be with the people, so to speak. It was across the street from a tourist hotel and sometimes he would meet American girls there, who were also deigning to visit the place, looking for a little danger. If only they knew, he thought.

This girl though, he had thought she was a prostitute, off the clock for the night. Or maybe not, maybe the bill would come due in an hour or two. She was light skinned, with mestizo features, and quite beautiful with long black hair, wide eyes and incredible tits. They were what had drawn his attention first. Her teeth were a little crooked and her clothes a little too tight and little too garish. Otherwise he would have expected to find her in one of the Miraflores clubs. Maybe, in a couple of years, if fate shone upon her, he would.

Tired of kissing, Jaime moved to pull down the shoulders of her dress and reveal what he was here for, but she pulled away from him. “I just need to go to the bathroom babe,” she said, patting his cock through his jeans. “Don’t unload this while I’m gone.”

He smiled and released her, or rather, she wiggled from his grasp. He walked over to the bed and sat on it, contemplating taking his clothes off, but decided not to. Let her take them off, that would be more fun. Absentmindedly, he flipped on the television, searching for a sports station while he waited.

They were in a hourly hotel, called El Encuentro, the sort of place where everyone ended up at some point or another. Boyfriends and girlfriends stealing away for that first time. Husband and wives who just wanted some peace from her parents and his children from the first marriage. Affairs, of course, and people like him. Impromptu customers.

As a result, the furnishings were very minimal. There was only a mattress and a sheet and two very flat looking pillows. Beside the bed there was a small table with a phone, and on the other side there was a large tub with jets. The place was immaculately clean. That was why he came here. It was something he looked for.

He flipped through the channels for a second time, unable to find anything to capture his interest. Even the porn channels weren’t exciting him. Where the hell was this girl?

As he looked up, determined to go to the bathroom and see for himself what as going on—maybe she was getting high; he didn’t like that, not around him—the bathroom door opened and she stepped out. The first thing Jaime noticed was that she had not taken off her dress to reveal those remarkable tits, which irritated him. The second thing was that she had a gun in her hand, which annoyed him even more.

On The Far Horizon is now available for preorder:
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Now Available: Border Crossing

BORDER CROSSING

A THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

It all seemed routine, until it wasn’t…

George O’Bannon is just minding his own business, trying to get through the Sapurzo border crossing. When he gets pulled in for an interrogation by the border guards, it seems a nuisance. But it will soon prove to be much more than that.

As the questions about his past mount and his answers grow more and more evasive, George will have to decide just what he is willing to risk to get across the border, and if it is worth his life.

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Excerpt: Border Crossing

In advance of the publication of Border Crossing on May 18, here is a short excerpt:

The moneychangers surround the bus as it comes to a halt next to the concrete platform that leads to the border post, their arms uplifted as though to welcome a returning hero. There are shouts of dolares and pesos as passengers begin to descend to arrange their exit papers. Some huddle with the moneychangers to negotiate, but most force their way through the crowd and go to the long line that leads into the border post.

George descends with the rest, squinting and looking about, somewhat confused. There are two lines, one snaking into the post, and the other, more formless, leading to some counters lined by glass outside the building. Like ticket booths at a stadium. As he looks at the various signs, trying to ascertain which line he needs, a wiry man sidles up to him.

You need to go there first, señor,” the man says, speaking in accented English. “Get the paper. Then you go inside.”

Gracias,” George says, glancing at the man.

You need a bus?” Here the man points at a bus parked in front of the one George arrived on. “Our bus goes on to Liberia. Still space for you. Twenty neuvo pesos.”

That’s all right,” George says. “Thank you.”

Your bus ends here,” the man says.

I know,” George says, with a nod, already moving to the first line the man gestured to.

On the surface, chaos reigns. The line is disjointed and shifting, with people forcing their way forward and others drifting away before they reach the windows, for no apparent reason. The moneychangers, bus touts, and other sellers ebb and flow around the line, along with others whose purpose George cannot identify. One of these approaches him, a tiny man, who looks as though he can’t be older than sixteen, wearing a faded blue uniform and cap.

Tendría usted que venir conmigo,” the man says.

George frowns. It seems unlikely this boy is here in any official capacity. “Necesito mis papeles,” he says, in his halting Spanish, gesturing to the windows. The man repeats his demand and George shakes his head, turning away, making clear his intention to remain where he is.

The man is waiting for him after he receives his exit papers and moves toward the second line within the building. “Tendría usted que venir conmigo,” he says, sternly.

George frowns in irritation, preparing to dismiss him once and for all. “You better go with him,” the bus tout says, materializing from somewhere within the crowd. He nods in the direction of the youth and George looks at him closely for the first time. Though there is no insignia on his cap, or badge on his uniform, he does have a handgun clipped into a holster on his hip. Somehow George did not notice it before. He swears to himself.

Tendría usted que venir conmigo. Continue reading

Now Available: Drifting

DRIFTING

A THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

The rodeo is over and Dane and Colton are on the run.

They flee down back country roads in the dead of night with the law in hot pursuit. All over a woman lost and a dream beginning to sour.

Neither the past nor the law can be escaped though, as they will both soon discover. And the consequences will be fatal.

A story of two modern day cowboys gone astray on a long night.

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Excerpt: Drifting

In advance of the publication of Drifting on April 20, here is a short excerpt:

The Bull-a-Rama was over; the stock already loaded into trailers and on their way back to the Hertel Brothers Ranch, while the tented area behind the stands was in the process of being cleared out for the dance. Dane finished the beer he was drinking, crushing the can underneath his boot heel and throwing it away, while waving at the other cowboys who were gathered behind the corrals drinking and waiting for the dance to start. He headed off across the rodeo grounds, around the stands and towards the RV Park filled with trucks and campers.

Hey babe,” he said when he found her trailer, tucked in with several others around a small stand of trees. She squinted at him without responding as he plopped himself down on the picnic table beside the trailer.

You reek,” she said, “How many you had so far?”

Emma,” he said.

You gotta drive to Maple Creek tonight.”

He shook his head and took out his can of Copenhagen. “Nah,” he said, “We’re going first thing tomorrow. Colton thinks he’s got a line on some girl.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “You both better not get too out of hand then. You’re gonna have to get up pretty early to make it for the draw.”

Only five thirty,” he said. “Besides, don’t you want to spend a night with your man?”

She squinted at him again, but sat on the knee he offered and put her arms around his neck.

Only if you behave,” she said, kissing him quickly and then standing up to go into the trailer.

When have I ever not?”

Every time,” she called from inside the trailer and he smiled and went off to find Colton.

The dance started a little after nine, the deejay putting on a steady rotation of country music with brief digressions into AC/DC and Led Zeppelin among others. The tent, which roughly formed the dance floor, was open at all sides so that people could come and go. It had been set up in the event of rain, but there was not a cloud in the sky as the sun began its descent, ribbons of red and gold streaking the western horizon. The bar was at the opposite end of the tent from the deejay’s setup and in the first hour of the dance it was surrounded by a milling crowd while the rest of dance floor area was more or less empty. As drinks were finished the center of gravity of the place began to shift away from the bar, with couples pairing off and heading out to two-step. Even those not dancing turned their attention to those who were, nodding their heads to the rhythm as they sipped their drinks.

Dane lost track of Emma when he ducked out of the dance to smoke a joint with a few of the other cowboys. This was after he had nearly started something with Gord Steckley, another guy on the circuit who had been talking with her at the edge of the dance floor. She had stormed away while his buddies had grabbed him and taken him away to cool off and get high. She was still gone when he returned, but he didn’t worry about it and went and got himself another beer. Likely she was just going to the bathroom or complaining to some of her girlfriends about him. It was a beer or two later before he realized that she had not returned and bleary thought took hold in his mind that he should go after her, though he knew he was in no state to calm any waters.

It was after eleven by then and the darkness away from the dance was near absolute with only the dim stars and moon above and the blinking lights of the nearby town offering any guidance. How the hell had people gotten around before electricity, he wondered to himself as he stumbled his way through the RV park by feel and hazy memory. He managed to avoid nearly every obstacle, but for a bush growing on the side of the trail that he wandered into, and found Emma’s trailer.

Emma, you there,” he called out as he came to the door. He waited a moment for her to answer. When none came he swore under his breath and heaved a sigh before pulling open the door and climbing within. For a moment he was too occupied with finding the light switch to listen, but after he failed in that endeavor he stopped his fumbling and in the moment that he was standing still in the darkness he heard it. There was a man’s whisper and a woman’s soft laughter and then the rhythmic sound of their weight against the mattress.

He did not stay to hear any more, the door crashing shut behind him as he fled from the trailer, going headlong into the iron fire pit at the center of the campsite. It sent him sprawling to the ground, but he sprung back to his feet almost as soon as he had fallen, not even pausing to see if he was hurt. No sound followed in his wake, but he still kept turning back to see if Emma was rushing after him to stop his flight. No one was there but for he and the shadows.

Returning to the dance he found Colton and pulled him aside. His friend looked at him curiously an odd smile on his face. Dane’s own face felt hot, as though all the turbulent feeling within him was erupting on his cheeks and forehead. For a moment he was worried that he would start to cry, but the emotion turned to anger in an instant and he grabbed Colton by the shoulder.

Come on,” he said, “We’re going to Rimbey.”

What the hell man? Tonight?”

Fuck yes.”

Colton studied him a moment attempting to judge the level of his seriousness. At last he shook his head, “Come on man. I’m having a good time here. Let’s just stick around till morning.”

Dane felt the flush growing deeper on his face. “No, I’m going now.”

What the hell happened?” Dane didn’t answer and Colton shook his head. “How much you had to drink? Neither of us is good to drive.”

I’m good,” Dane said, not even convincing himself. “Look, I’m going right now. You can come or you can try to catch a ride with someone else tomorrow. It’s my truck.”

Colton considered this a moment, a wave of thoughts illuminating his face. At last he relented and they left the dance, Colton taking their last tickets to get some beer, which he smuggled out in his jacket. Dane was already at the truck, the engine idling. Dane took the beer Colton passed him, draining half of it in a single pull and then set it in the cup holder. He gripped the steering wheel tight but made no move to shift it into gear, a pensive look crossing his face. Colton was staring at him, a concerned look on his face, but he did not notice. At last, a decision made, he reached out and put the truck into gear and pulled out of the rodeo ground and onto the road.

Drifting is now available for preorder:
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Now Available: Riders on the Storm

RIDERS ON THE STORM

A WESTERN

CLINT WESTGARD

The plan is simple, the reward large. It should go off without a hitch. But nothing is ever easy in the Rockies.

The MacAllisters gone for Calgary, their ranch hands in town drinking, and their cattle unattended seems the perfect opportunity for Amos, Wright and H.S. to seize. Just round up the cattle and make a quick run for the border before anyone is the wiser.

Instead they encounter trouble at every turn and now a vicious thunderstorm comes riding in, just as night begins to fall. Worse, it seems the ranch was not quite so abandoned as they believed…

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Now Available: All Down The Line

ALL DOWN THE LINE

A THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

Five men arrive to bargain in the dead of night at a bar in a small town on the edge of nowhere.

Each man has his own agenda. And each thinks he is in control, playing the others for his own gain. But when one of them is killed, all bets are off.

For the killer is among them and he is playing for keeps. In the end, everyone will pay, all down the line.

The story of a deal gone terribly wrong.

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Excerpt: Riders On The Storm

In advance of the publication of Riders On The Storm on March 30, here is a short excerpt:

1

THEY HAD JUST entered the long and narrow draw past Sounding Creek when the storm hit. It had been threatening from the moment they left MacAllister’s, the sky filled with brooding clouds that seemed even more ominous in the last light of the day. Seeing them, they hurried to reach the valley, in the hopes that it would provide some cover for both them and the cattle they were trailing.

At the very least, Amos thought, as the rain began to spatter his duster, it would keep them from scattering everywhere once the winds and the rain truly hit. Nothing had gone as expected to this point though, and the encroaching darkness and the storm promised only more misery.

If he were a superstitious man, Amos might have thought the omens were against them from the start. Coming down to MacAllister’s from the north, where the three of them holed up for two days in Davenport’s old sod shack, getting in each others’ way and on each others’ nerves, they came across a dead cow lying abandoned in the scrub. The coyotes and crows had already been at it for at least a day, the smell of it so putrid the horses shied away. Amos stopped to study it for a moment, out of curiosity more than anything, while Wright and H.S. continued on. There was no evident signs as to the cause of the animal’s death, which was not out of ordinary in any way, but he still found it disconcerting for some reason.

The next problem came when they arrived at MacAllister’s ranch. The cattle were not around Gillespie’s Lake, as H.S. had said they would be, but spread out in the surrounding hills. It would take hours to round them up with just the three of them, though the hills would offer them some cover from anyone who happened to be passing by. H.S. had assured them that was extremely unlikely, with MacAllisters gone to Calgary and their hands all in Lethbridge for a day of drinking and whoring.

There was nothing else for it, other than abandoning the job entirely, but to set to work at rounding the herd up as best they could. They split up and went into the hills, thick with brush and trees. Both horses and men were soon in a lather as the cattle ran them across the countryside. Their swears echoed through the air, which might have been a concern, but they saw no sign of anyone.

It was well into the afternoon by the time they had the herd mostly together and heading out of hills toward the ranch. There they encountered their next challenge, for both the cattle and the horses wanted to stop at the lake to drink.

Just let them,” Amos said as Wright whipped at the cattle, who ignored him, plunging their heads into the water. “They’ll go better if we just let them.”

Reluctantly the others agreed and they had lunch by the lake in full view of the ranch house and the shacks where the hands lived. It was disconcerting to say the least, and Amos found himself unable to look away from the yard, expecting at any moment to see someone coming toward them, rifle in tow.

Ain’t nobody there man,” H.S. said, following his gaze. “I told you. They’re all off in town. Nothing to worry about.”

Amos nodded, though he did not feel reassured. Wouldn’t they leave somebody behind just to keep an eye on things? To stop the very thing they were attempting to do. Evidently not for, except for the cattle and birds circling and crying around the lake, the day was quiet and nothing stirred at the ranch.

When they were through with lunch they got back on their horses and got the cattle moving again, past the lake and south beyond the ranch. After their rest and water the animals moved easily, settling into a comfortable walk. The three riders all relaxed in their saddles, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun.

Amos, though, could not resist a final look back at the ranch. As he stared into the distance he was certain he saw movement beside the ranch house. There and then gone. He stopped his horse to watch for a moment, waiting to see if whatever he had seen would reappear. All was quiet and at a call from Wright he turned his horse around and returned to the herd.

2

WHAT REMAINED of the day passed without event, but because of the problems they had encountered in the morning they were well behind schedule if they wanted to be across the border before morning. That would be impossible now. Worse, the most difficult portion of their journey remained and they would have to complete it in darkness, for the sun was setting quickly now, the light going from the day even faster with the storm gathering overhead.

The draw was hard to navigate in daylight and with the added complications of trailing the cattle and the night, it would be even more perilous. Amos did not think about that now, pressing his hat down more firmly upon his head as the drops began to spatter on them. The wind began to gust as well, almost knocking the horses sideways as they picked their way down into the draw.

Amos felt the urge to hurry the horses and cattle ahead of them on into the draw where they might find a bit of shelter, but he knew it would foolish to go faster than they already were. A flash of lightning sparked to the south and west, illuminating the cattle in spectral colors, followed a short time later by the low rumble of the thunder. That seemed to be a signal of some sort, for the rain began to come in torrents only moments and the wind howled as though possessed by spirits.

The air itself felt charged and wild, as though the storm clouds above were about to spill below and engulf them. The animals were disconcerted by it, Amos’ horse jumping about as though there were rattlesnakes at his feet.

God damn,” he said and spurred the horse up to join H.S. who was staring up into the rain at the clouds.

I hope to hell there’s no hail in this,” H.S. said to him.

You think we should stay here in the draw?” Amos said, turning his horse about so that he was looking back the way they had come. “Wait out the storm.”

H.S. shrugged, “Could be an idea. Cattle might be easier to handle if we keep them down here. Don’t know if we can though.”

Amos was about to reply when a bolt of lightning illuminated the sky around them. He waited a moment for the thunder that was to follow, so that he would not have to shout over it along with the rain and wind. As he did so, he glanced from H.S. up the trail to where they had entered the draw and was certain he could see the form of a man in amidst the shadows there. In the instant that he saw the form there was another lightning strike, blindingly bright and nearby, the thunder following atop it almost instantaneously. By the time he opened his eyes again, blinking furiously against the sting from the flash, nothing was visible but the coalescing shadows.

What is it?” H.S. shouted at him.

Amos shook his head and slapped his horse on the haunch, starting back up the draw. The trail they were on was already a muddy, slippery mess and the horse had to pick its way carefully up the, now precarious, incline. The wind blew the rain directly into his face so that it was impossible to see more than a few feet in front of the horse. When he arrived at the spot where he was certain he had seen the man standing there was no one there, nor was there anyone that he could see in amongst the shrub and trees that dotted the trail. He leaned down from the horse to inspect the ground and could make out a variety of hoof prints, no doubt from their own passage, but nothing else.

He shook his head and returned down the trail, muttering to himself under his breath.

Seeing things?” H.S. shouted at him when he grew near.

I guess so,” Amos said, telling himself it had just been the play of the shadows in the heavy dusk which, with the hour and the clouds swallowing the sky entire, had now turned to utter darkness. The black was leavened only by the flashes of lightning, which illuminated the valley for the briefest of instants as they flickered across the clouds or to the ground. He pushed it from his thoughts, dwelling now on the growing heaviness of his duster and the spreading damp he could feel beneath. It was going to be a long night after a hard day, but if they could get the cattle across the border it would be well worth it.

The cattle, he could see, had reached the bottom of the draw, where it opened up allowing them to spread out off the trail, which they did immediately, heading for the sparse groupings of trees that littered the valley floor. It was the only shelter available to them and they clung to it as the storm continued to intensify. The three cowboys hunched together under few nearby trees as well, though it only provided meager cover from the rain and wind. They leaned in close to each other so they could hear the others as they yelled over the rumble of the storm.

I think we gotta keep pushing them on,” Wright said. “If not we could spend hours trying to get them out of these trees in the dark.”

They won’t wanna go,”Amos said.

They won’t wanna go no matter what in this weather. But if we don’t go now we might still be here come morning. Don’t want that.”

Reluctantly, both Amos and H.S. agreed and, after a few more stolen moments of respite beneath the trees, they split up and went to start the cattle out of the draw. Amos went to the eastern end of the valley, letting the horse pick his way around the buckbrush, as he headed to where a group of five cows with their calves was huddled against the slender trunks of the trees there. The animals were even more reluctant to stray from cover than he had been, so he nearly yelled himself hoarse by the time he had the group started south again.

He slowly picked his way back to the trail as he found where some of the other cows had gathered and forced them on their way. He could see Wright just to the west doing the same each time the storm lit up the sky, but H.S. was too far off into the darkness for the lightning to pierce. The storm was almost directly overhead, the thunder now announcing the lightning bursts, which were so close they felt as though they were scalding his eyes.

Wright stayed to trail the cattle they had started back along the path, while Amos went to help H.S. with those that remained. There had to be another twenty cows with calves left to gather and he had seen no sign of them or of H.S., which was strange, given how narrow the draw was and how bright it became with each blast of lightning. The cattle he found easily enough. They were all huddled together in the largest stand of trees to the west of the trail and they refused to move when he came at them with the horse. He tried yelling, clapping and waving his hands and snapping the reins of the horse, but all his sound and fury was easily drowned out by the surrounding storm.

Giving up at last he descended from his horse and plunged into the trees on foot, waving and slapping at the cattle, sending them out scattering to the south. He nearly lost his horse as the cattle leapt from his path, some combination of the storm, the darting cattle and his own flailing startling the nervous creature. When he had calmed it and climbed back on, he rode around the trees to ensure that there were no cattle left and then turned to see what had become of H.S.

Riders On The Storm is now available for preorder:
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Excerpt: All Down The Line

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.”

Right. Sure.”

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.”

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