A special treat to close out the month. I’ve been working for a while on my next book, something both different and alike from my other books. You’ll have to wait to find out the details–hopefully not too long–but to get you interested and as my little Halloween gift to you, here’s the first chapter.
The first time I killed a man was just south of Lone Pine, a mile off 395 in a scrub-grass desert that rarely saw the rain. He was a tweaker turned informant who bought meth with cash the cops gave him for his troubles. But it takes a special kind of person to play the rat. You’ve gotta have your wits about you, and maybe even more important, you gotta have luck. Bug—that was what we called him cause of the way his eyes looked and I won’t use his given name here—whatever he was, he wasn’t very lucky. And damn, was he stupid. Still, my mother always said you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. That’s probably even more true when you’re the one who pulled the trigger.
Bug didn’t know it was the last day of his life until it was almost over. The five of us—me, Bug, Sticker, Rondo, and Goat—told him we were going on a run to pick up a package north of Lone Pine. One of the best meth cooks in California worked out of that desert, and Bug wasn’t suspicious. We took the van instead of our bikes. We had a ready-made excuse—the hollow compartment in the back where we stored the meth for transport. The real reason was we didn’t want to leave his bike in the desert when we could strip it for parts.
It was when we turned off the highway that I knew Bug was scared. He’d been what we called a hang around for just three weeks, barely enough time to have learned everyone’s names. But he couldn’t even keep the deception going for that long. They’d pegged him an informant by his second visit to The Abyss, the bar the Sons of Dagon called their own. Then it was just a matter of time.
They strung it out for a while. Kicked his ass a couple of times. Told him it was part of the process. Show he was tough and all. But they were playing with him. They talked loose and free about crimes that were never committed, runs they said they were planning but that were really other gangs’ business. Bug ended up providing not one useful piece of information to the FBI, the ATF, or whoever the hell it was he was working for. I never knew and never cared.
That night, though, Bug finally got it, finally knew just how royally he had screwed up. We rolled down that dusty, pock-marked back road and it dawned on him, like a deer sitting in the crosshairs of a rifle. Right before you pull the trigger, it knows. And that was Bug.
No reason he should have, really. The best crank was cooked in places like that, and it was reasonable to think that the road would end at an old trailer, choked with the smell of rotten eggs dipped in ammonia, like a bucket of cat piss had been splashed on the walls. But there wasn’t a cook; we weren’t there for meth. So when we reached the end of the line and there was nothing but a cliff overlooking a dry riverbed, Bug couldn’t have been surprised. But it was that look from Goat that made him absolutely lose his shit.
Goat, International President of the Sons of Dagon. Less grandiose than it sounds, as the Sons had but one chapter out of Los Angeles. Might seem hardly worth bothering with for the authorities, but the Sons had a reputation for violence and criminal activity that far outshone their larger and more numerous brothers. The Hell’s Angels were still dangerous, but they’d gone Hollywood, and previous investigations had shattered the Vagos and the Mongols. The Sons were next on the FBI’s hit list, but it sure as hell wasn’t going to be Bug that took them out. I knew that, and he knew it too when he saw the look in Goat’s eyes.
Sometimes I think words like “presence” and “stature” were made up to justify a particular man’s power, to grant unto him the ineffable quality that makes some men wolves in a world of sheep, whether they’ve got it or not. Not so with Goat. That man had it, and it didn’t much matter what “it” was. He had a look that could melt steel, and there weren’t many who felt it fall upon them that came out alive.
But that wasn’t the look he gave Goat that night. No, this was something else. Disappointment, tinged with pity, an emotion I didn’t think he was capable of showing.
“Duncan,” he said, never taking his eyes off Bug, “wait outside.” I didn’t hesitate, for hesitation following a command had been beaten out of me during my three months of serving as one of the gang’s hang arounds, the bottom rung of the organization. I slid open the door of the van and stepped out into the still night.
Crisp, dry air rustled my hair, and the cold-light of long dead stars shone down from a cloudless sky. It was so quiet, but not for long.
Raised voices from the van. The noise of a struggle. A cry. The sharp slap of flesh against flesh, bones breaking, teeth shattering. The back door of the van flew open with the sound of metal on metal, the dark mass of Bug’s body ejected into the dirt. Goat followed close behind, leaping onto the ground as Bug tried to crawl away. “Son of a bitch,” he grunted, punctuating the words with a vicious kick to Bug’s ribs, and I cringed as I heard one crack.
“Hold him up,” Goat said as Sticker and Rondo came around the back of the van and Bug begged through a mouth of broken teeth. Sticker and Rondo didn’t listen. Each grabbed an arm and wrenched Bug up and he cried out in pain so pitifully that I even took a single step forward to help him. That’s when Goat noticed me.
“Hang around,” he said. “You’ve been hanging around long enough. You ready to show your true faith and allegiance to the Sons of Dagon?” Goat’s eyes burned in the desert night, while I stood silent. Bug struggled, and Sticker punched him in the stomach. That was enough to remind me that the next few minutes would determine how many more I had left.
“Yeah,” I muttered.
“What you say, boy?”
I stood up straight. “Yes, sir.”
Goat nodded. He reached behind his back and pulled out the silver Colt 1911 that was his trademark. I didn’t move, didn’t dare to breathe. Goat was going to kill somebody tonight, and if I showed fear, if I hesitated, if I pissed him off in any way, he might just decide to add me to the list.
He pointed the gun in my direction and waved me over with it. Bug sobbed, while Sticker and Rondo held him up, his back to the cliff’s edge. Goat was fifteen paces away from me, but those steps seemed an eternity. Goat took his gun by the barrel and slapped the grip into my hand. He grinned. “Time to earn that patch.”
He stepped back. Rondo and Sticker released Bug, easing far enough away to make it clear this was my show while not giving him any hope of escape. Then it was just me and Bug.
He could barely stand, and his left eye had swollen shut. He’d shit himself, and the stench hung thick around him. I looked down at the Colt. I’d held a thousand different guns in my lifetime, but I still never got used to the weight, so much heavier than I had expected when I was a boy. For a couple seconds, I toyed with the fantasy that this was a test, that the gun was just a bit lighter than it should have been because it was unloaded. That I’d point it at Bug, pull the trigger, hear a click, and that would be it. We’d all laugh and head back to the club and get drunk. It wasn’t true, and I figured if you are going to take a man’s life, you should be honest about it. Bug was about to die, and I was about to kill him.
I didn’t say anything. I leveled the gun at Bug. He started to cry, which must have hurt pretty bad. Rondo snickered in the background. We locked eyes. From somewhere behind Goat shouted, “Do it, boy!” That’s all I needed. I pulled the trigger and blew Bug’s brain out the back of his head. The bullet carried it down into the dry river bed below, and Bug’s body followed.
The crunch of Goat’s boots on gravel. He clapped his arm on my shoulder and growled out a laugh as he took back the gun. He spit a line of tobacco juice down into the dirt valley below. “Son-of-a-bitch was a rat and a liar.” He fixed me with his gaze. “Said you were a cop. Can you believe that shit?” Then he grinned and walked away. “Come on. I’m tired of this place.”
I looked down to the sand below, turning black from the growing pool of Bug’s blood. He had been wrong. I wasn’t a cop. I was so much worse than that.