Grinder: A Mysteryby Mike Knowles
“You brought me back into this because you know what I am. I’m a grinder, I find out everything.” Bullets squared everything. Wilson left his old boss alive in exchange for a clean slate. Wilson held up his end of the bargain and stayed off the grid for two years. Two years of peace until a man came calling. The man brought a gun and a woman in
“You brought me back into this because you know what I am. I’m a grinder, I find out everything.” Bullets squared everything. Wilson left his old boss alive in exchange for a clean slate. Wilson held up his end of the bargain and stayed off the grid for two years. Two years of peace until a man came calling. The man brought a gun and a woman in his trunk. Thousands of miles from home, Wilson learns that the city doesn't let go so easily. The city is more than bricks; it is a machine running on the blood of hard men and women. The hardest man in the city remembers Wilson and he will stop at nothing to get him back. A dangerous mobster’s nephews are missing and the only suspects are his lieutenants. Wilson is pulled back to once again work under the radar to quietly find out who is responsible, so it can be settled with screams. Wilson is back to being what he was. He’s a grinder again. All bets are off and before he’s done everyone will pay.
"Razor-edged prose and a sympathetic antihero lift Knowles's no-holds-barred crime thriller." Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Verdict: Knowles combines nonstop action with gritty violence to hold the reader's attention. For fans of hard-boiled mysteries." Library Journal
"With lots of action and tension and plenty of dialogue, Wilson's story moves along rapidly as he struggles to cut his ties to the past." Booklist
"This is a good first novel, particularly as a counterweight to the often flaccid mysteries this country produces. Crime fans will enjoy the book and should watch for [Knowles'] next offering." Driven Magazine
"The action is hard and raw and savage, and the characters are about as deliciously nasty as you'd expect." January Magazine
"[Knowles] is a good atmospheric writer and he has the lingo down." Globe & Mail
"Grinder displays some nascent storytelling chops and a viable future for the Hamilton schoolteacher." Winnipeg Free Press
"The action is straight, hard, and fast, and the characters are as sharply etched as this stuff gets." Mystery Scene
Read an Excerpt
By Mike Knowles, Edna Barker
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2009 Mike Knowles
All rights reserved.
I saw him before he even thought I might be the one he was looking for. In one moment all the months of work, honest work, that I thought had worn down what I was, proved worthless. I saw him, out of place on the wharf. His clothing was too metrosexual to be local, and too dance club to be tourist. The jeans were expensive and artificially worn in around the thighs and crotch. His shirt was not cotton, but rather some kind of stretchy blend that stood out unnaturally in the sunlight. The worst was the shoes, their leather shiny and the tips pointed. I knew he was an outsider, and part of me, the part I tried to bury, knew exactly where he was from.
I saw him, but he couldn't see me—not yet. The ocean had changed me enough. I was leaner, harder, and my skin was the colour of worn leather. My hair was long under my hat and my beard was far past the scratchy stage. My clothes were old and worn. I made sure I looked like everyone else who lived on the island before I left the house each day. As I walked around the boat getting ready to offload the day's haul, I watched the out-of-place man. He didn't see me yet, but he would. I was two thousand kilometres from home and too jaded to believe in coincidences. He wasn't here by accident. He knew I was here, and my fisherman's camouflage wouldn't make me invisible forever. I had to make him see me and make him move on me here. If he had known where I lived, he would have been waiting for me there. He was at the wharf looking to set up a tail. I was still one step ahead. That picture brought him here—that damn picture. I had to make sure here was where he stayed.CHAPTER 2
I left Hamilton in stages. The first stage was getting out of the standoff in Paolo Donati's restaurant. Paolo, my former employer, had sent men to bring me to him. I had railroaded the soldiers he sent into letting me drive myself. I was persuasive with them, and I had help—help that spit lead hundreds of metres per second. The restaurant I drove to was Paolo's office. All the city's underworld business ran through the building like blood through a hard corrupted heart. Paolo wanted to see me one last time before he killed me. Paolo had sent me on a job. I stole evidence for him that would wipe the competing mob, the Russians, off the map in Hamilton. What Paolo never told me was that it was also my job to lead the Russians away from him. Paolo wanted them to chase me while he put the final nails in their coffins. It would have worked too. Next to no one knew I worked for Paolo. No one outside of a handful of people knew I even existed. I was an apparition in the city—someone who did jobs quietly. Jobs a man like Paolo would want to distance himself from. I had been used by Paolo, but instead of laying down to die I went on the offensive and stayed alive. I crossed Paolo for the second time—the last time. The restaurant turned into a slaughterhouse. The Russians figured out that I worked for Paolo and they brazenly attacked the restaurant in broad daylight. A death squad showed up to hit Paolo and me at once, but nothing ever goes according to plan in this city. The Russians couldn't finish the job. Paolo and I survived although we were both a few ounces of lead heavier.
After leaving Paolo and the Russians on the floor of his restaurant, I drove myself to a veterinarian in the sticks. The vet was a large animal doctor who lost her family and then hit the bottle. She was unlicensed, but her work was still good and she would do it quietly for cash. I was sure that no one from Paolo's crew or the Russian mob could have heard of her.
I made it to her house and parked out back. I staggered to her door with a brick of cash in my right hand, and used the solid rectangle of money to hammer on the door. I waited in the dim light for a minute until a porch bulb spontaneously combusted into light above my head. The bright light and blood loss made me dizzy; the glow also called out to every insect on the ten-acre property. Mosquitoes and horseflies circled my body on their way to the bulb, causing me to stumble as I swatted the insects buzzing in my ears with the only arm I could use. I swatted at the flies like King Kong swatted at airplanes. My attacks were less balanced than the huge ape's, and I had to give up and use my good arm to balance myself. I pushed the brick of cash the door frame with my right hand and braced myself for another insect barrage.
The door was flung open and, in shadows behind the porch light, a woman stood holding a large plastic cup in her hands.
"Hep you?" The "L" in "help" was slurred out by whatever she was drinking from the cup.
"I need medical attention."
"You're not a ... not a horse. Heh. Do you know that? You're not a horse."
I risked losing my balance again and held the brick of cash out. "I know I'm not a horse, but technically you're not a vet. I know you work freelance ... and I know your fee."
She stared at the money and licked her lips. "How much is it?"
"Ten," I said. "You get another five when I walk out of here."
"Who told you 'bout me?" she asked.
"Some Irish guys told me you were good and private."
"Ten now. Five later?"
"Five when I walk out of here," I corrected.
"How do I know you'll pay?" she asked, not drunk enough to miss that part of the deal.
"You don't, but the ten up front should be enough to get me a tab."
She thought about it for a minute. "What's your name?"
"Call me Mr. Ed."
She laughed her way into a coughing fit, wiped her chin on the neck of her shirt, and then led me into the house. I spent a week and a half in my drunken doctor's care until I was able to leave upright and mobile. The bullet in the back of my arm was out, and the painkillers she gave me worked fine. I paid her as promised and drove back into the city. I had to tie up some loose ends before I left for good.
I didn't have a life on the grid. Nothing was in my name directly—everything was layered. The layers kept me apart from everyone and everything. I spent my youth training and learning to live a life of discipline and paranoia. If I was going to get killed, it was never going to be because someone tracked me down through the system. The only point of contact between me and the circles I moved in was the office. The office was clean save a few items that were important but disposable. There were guns that needed to be lost in a place no one would ever find them. The guns weren't traceable to me, but they had a history that could be tied to the fingerprints that were all over the room. The office also had money hidden inside which, in my current situation, had to also be considered disposable. I wasn't going back to the office—not ever—but I needed it cleaned out.
I pulled the car up to a curb outside a row of mailboxes at a plaza on Main Street. The street ran through Hamilton into the smaller suburbs of Dundas and Stoney Creek. The plaza in Dundas was busy from nine in the morning to ten at night with people shopping, eating, bowling, or getting haircuts. I got out of the car and did a little of everything, to blend in and watch for a tail. I picked up a few items and walked with my bags into the post office. I produced a key from my key ring and opened box 113. The box looked as empty as usual, but it didn't matter. I reached my hand in and pulled at another box inside. The second container was painted the same colour as the brown interior of the mailbox and had a finger hole drilled into it so that it could be slid out. I had to lean back hard to move the tiny box with my one good arm. All at once my weight dislodged the powerful magnets I put inside. I excused myself to the woman I stepped back into, and put the box into my shopping bag. The box was still as heavy as I had left it—a fact that brought a grin to my face.
I performed the same routine at seven other plazas outside Hamilton. Each of the mailboxes contained a similar hidden box, and each was untouched since I had left it. Each box contained a brick of cash composed of the same large-denomination bills. In total, I collected two hundred thousand, twenty-five from each box.
My next stop was an Internet café. It was a busy shop bustling with Asian exchange students and employees from the tattoo parlour and coffee shop located on either side of the café. I logged into a local bank account I set up in a name that had nothing to do with me, and checked the balance. I had six thousand forty-three dollars and change. I closed the screen and opened up a search engine. I used the computer to find the phone numbers of the utility companies I paid monthly bills to for the house and office. On paper, the house belonged to a name my uncle created in the seventies. My uncle was a ghost in the system and his death went unnoticed by the law. I inherited the house when I burned his body and I kept the alias alive on paper. I never used the house unless I had to so the bills were never high, but they would pile up if I were gone a long time. I took one of the pens left behind at the work station, wrote the numbers I found on the Internet on a piece of paper, and logged off the computer. I paid five dollars for my time and left the café in search of a phone. I found it down the street in Jackson Square Mall. The mall had once, decades ago, been the city's premier shopping destination, but years of urban decay left it hollow and lifeless. The mall lost its trendy stores in exchange for dollar shops and discount clothing warehouses. Most of the people left after everyone of means followed the trendy stores uptown. The remaining shoppers were bored transients with no way to follow anyone anywhere.
I found a row of scarred vandalized pay phones outside a hotel that exited into the mall. I tried two phones only to find them gum-filled or mysteriously wet. The third was intact and produced a faint dial tone. I pulled the phone numbers I brought, and the pen I stole, and called each utility twice, logging the balance owed first on the house then on the office. Once I recorded each debt, I made my way back to the Internet café.
My unit was still empty so I logged on to it once again. I paid all of my bills, home and office, from two separate accounts. Once I had paid everything that was owing, I tucked the paper away and left the pen where I had found it.
I drove to the house not bothering to wind through any special routes. I was surprised at my direct approach, even more at my internal logic, which made me believe no one could have possibly been on my tail yet. I didn't feel like myself anymore. I was losing the connection to the paranoia that ran my life. It wasn't filtering my every move now; it felt more like a tiresome habit I was happy to be rid of rather than a means of keeping me alive.
I pulled into the driveway and sat behind the wheel. I hated the house. I had lived there with my uncle until it became mine following his death. My long stay started as a visit, waiting for my parents to return from a "business trip." They never came back, and as a result I was passed on to the only family I had—my uncle. He wasn't mean, he was just distant. He made me go to school, do my homework, and read. The reading wasn't solely for me; it was to give us things to talk about. The reading led to talking and the talking led to my real education. I learned how to read between the lines of books and then between the lines of conversations. Once I learned how to dissect what people said, it didn't take long for me to find out that my parents were thieves. They took jobs that were high risk and high cash. The jobs allowed them to give me a normal life in a house with friends and a school. Once I learned about them, it was an easy jump to become involved with my uncle and his "work." He was like my parents in that he wasn't honest, but unlike them in that he lived a life detached from everything—no kids, no friends, no connections to the world to speak of. It was how he survived intact long after my parents died.
I told my uncle I wanted to do what my parents did, and eventually he introduced me to the life. It wasn't my parents' life exactly—it was his. He taught me to be like him, and like Alice down the rabbit hole, I was whisked off the grid.CHAPTER 3
I cleaned out the house in twenty minutes. I took the address book, money from the floorboards, and an old .38 to carry with the Glock I had on me. I unplugged everything and made a plan to mail post-dated cheques to the landscaper who cut the lawn in the summer and shovelled the driveway in the winter. He would also pick up any flyers left on the property. The rest of the junk mail would fall through the large slot in the door, leaving no evidence that the house was empty.
Before leaving the city, I stopped at a pay phone two blocks from Sully's Tavern. I called the bar and got an answer on the third ring.
"Sully's," Steve's low, calm voice answered.
"How would you like to earn ten grand with a handkerchief?"
"I was worried. I thought you went down after that business with the restaurant."
"You looked like shit the last time I saw you."
I must have been circling the drain because Steve never said he worried; he usually said nothing at all. Before I could say anything else, he spoke again. "What's this about ten thousand dollars?"
"I need you to get into the office and wipe it down top to bottom. There's forty grand in the baseboard behind my desk and a CD taped to the underside of the window ledge. Grab both when you leave, and ten of the forty is yours."
I ignored the question. "That business at the restaurant. Was it on the news?"
"Nah, just gossip."
"My name get thrown around?"
"Nah, but who else is going to start trouble there?" Steve chuckled over the background of clinking glasses and bar conversation.
"I'm leaving for a while. I just need to make sure there are no loose ends at the office."
"Why don't you burn it down?"
It was my turn to chuckle. I was amazed at how easily Steve's mind gravitated towards violence, as though it were the most logical answer and therefore the first suggestion. "There are already enough people involved. Fires bring firemen and cops; I just need to get rid of the prints and the money."
"They're in a compartment in the closet; they're as safe as they'll ever be, but they need to be wiped." There was no immediate reply; I listened to the sounds of the bar for half a minute. "Steve?"
"I'll do it for free."
"Steve!" I protested.
"I'll do it for free."
I finished talking to Steve and told him I would leave the key in the change return of the phone I was on. I thanked my friend and hung up. By the time he got to the key, I would be in the car and out of the city.
I drove eight hours to Montreal. I found a cheap motel that took cash and slept without worry for the night. I woke at eight and used a washcloth to clean everything around the bandages. The pain in my left arm was unbelievable, but the pills the vet gave me would wear it down. I found the nearest post office and mailed twelve cheques and a note to the landscaper who took care of the house. The note told him I would be away on business often over the coming year. I made sure he understood that I would be coming back home every now and again to make sure that the landscaper would not think he could get away with neglecting the lawn. I also asked him to dispose of any flyers left on the driveway or grass. I wanted no sign that the house was unoccupied. After that, I ate a huge breakfast at a French-Canadian chain that was much like Denny's except for the fact that it offered baked beans with every meal.
Full and dulled from the painkillers, I drove twelve more hours to the only other place I had ever been—Prince Edward Island.
Mom and Dad took me to the island as a boy, and together we did everything that the small island offered. It was more than a vacation; it was my only solid memory of family. I could still close my eyes and smell the water, feel the breeze, and hear the sound of the red singing sand squeaking under my feet.
My return was greeted by a monument to technological advancement. Instead of a ferry crossing, there loomed a huge bridge joining the gap between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. A small turn-off advertised the old ferry, but I chose the new bridge instead. I wanted to get to the island as fast as possible. The bandages on my arm were starting to feel moist under my shirt. I needed to find a place to stay so I could rest and heal.
Excerpted from Grinder by Mike Knowles, Edna Barker. Copyright © 2009 Mike Knowles. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Mike Knowles is the author of Darwin's Nightmare. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.
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