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Rum Punch

Rum Punch

4.1 18
by Elmore Leonard

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"Unputdownable! Beneath its fast moving surface, Rum Punch is a novel about growing old, about the way that time changes us, about the old dream of starting over again and its cost." -- The Washington Post Book World.

Pretty working-girl Jackie Burke is in a tight spot. She's just been picked up at Palm Beach International with fifty grand and


"Unputdownable! Beneath its fast moving surface, Rum Punch is a novel about growing old, about the way that time changes us, about the old dream of starting over again and its cost." -- The Washington Post Book World.

Pretty working-girl Jackie Burke is in a tight spot. She's just been picked up at Palm Beach International with fifty grand and some blow stashed in her flight bag. Lucky for her, the Feds want something Jackie's got: the inside track to Ordell Robbie, the notoriusly slick arms dealer. And they're ready to deal -- Ordell in exchange for her freedom. But Jacki's got another ace up her sleeve... Enter Max Cherry, bail bondsman. Big, tough, basically decent Max is on the verge of divorce and tired of the same old grind. That's where Jackie comes in. The fifty big ones are peanuts compared to what Ordell's got locked away in Freeport. But when a blond blowhead and a none-too-bright ex con try to muscle in on the action, it's time to pull and old bait and switch -- where the good guys are played off against the bad guys -- and where Jackie and Max hope to walk off into the Florida sunset with a hot half million in cold cash.

"Expertly blended...potent Dutch" -- Chicago Sun Times.

"Rum Punch is Leonard's best work! He brilliantly reaffirms his right to the title of America's finest crime-fiction writer." --People.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Chances offered, taken and passed up are the leitmotif in Leonard's latest bittersweet evocation of petty criminals on the periphery, a five-week PW bestseller and a Book of the Month Club featured alternate selection in cloth.
Kirkus Reviews
Leonard's 30th novel—a thicket of sting and countersting—finds him in fine fettle, his piquant characters aging along with him but losing none of their edge as they look for that one big score before death shuts them down. Here, it's $500,000 in illegal arms-dealing profits that has everyone running in circles. The trouble is, it's stuck in the Bahamas, and slick, middle-aged gun-runner Robbie Ordell can't figure out how to get it back to Miami, even with the help of his old ex-con pal Louis Gara. Robbie had been using stewardess Jackie Burke, 44, to bring in the cash at $10,000 a flight, but now Jackie's been nabbed by two cops who are trying to lever her against him. And Jackie has designs of her own on the money, designs that depend on the aid of Bogart-like bail-bondsman Max Cherry, an ex-cop who's finding that, at age 57, "writing paper" on sleazy cons just doesn't kick like it used to—especially after the mob has muscled in on his business, and after Robbie has blown away a punk he'd had Max bail out of jail. An attempted theft by Robbie, his blowzy moll, and Louis of the arms cache of a local neo-Nazi offers a cathartically bloody interlude, but the story surfs primarily on a tide of tension arising from Jackie's tricky plan to work both sides of the law to get the cash—persuading both Robbie and the cops to let her bring in the money in one last run, while claiming loyalty to both. Meanwhile, Max falls hard for Jackie; but as her sting—a complicated shuffling of money-laden and empty bags—nears, will he decide to toss away a lifetime of law-enforcement, even for a prize as rich as the sexy-cool stewardess and her promised loot? Leonard's control ofthis complex scenario and its brilliantly realized actors is breathtaking. Like the title says, it's a heady brew.

The New York Times Book Review
“The greatest crime writer of our time, perhaps ever!”

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.16(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sunday morning, Ordell took Louis to watch the white-power demonstration in downtown Palm Beach.

"Young skinhead Nazis," Ordell said. "Look, even little Nazigirls marching down Worth Avenue. You believe it? Coming now you have the Klan, not too many here today. Some in green, must be the coneheads' new spring shade. Behind them it looks like some Bikers for Racism, better known as the Dixie Knights. We gonna move on ahead, fight through the crowd here," Ordell said, bringing Louis along.

"There's a man I want to show you. See who he reminds you of. He told me they're gonna march up South County and have their show on the steps of the fountain by city hall. You ever see so many police? Yeah, I expect you have. But not all these different uniforms at one time. They mean business too, got their helmets on, their riot ba-tons. Stay on the sidewalk or they liable to hit you over the head. They keeping the street safe for the Nazis."

People would turn to look at Ordell.

"Man, all the photographers, TV cameras. This shit is big news, has everybody over here to see it. Otherwise, Sunday, what you have mostly are rich ladies come out with their little doggies to make wee-wee. I mean the doggies, not the ladies." A girl in front of them smiled over her shoulder and Ordell said, "How you doing, baby? You making it all right?" He looked past her now, glanced at Louis to say, "I think I see him," and pushed through the crowd to get closer to the street. "Yeah, there he is. Black shirt and tie? A grownup skinhead Nazi. I call him Big Guy. He likes that."

"It's Richard," Louis said. "Jesus."

"Looks just like him, huh? Remember how Richard tripped on all that Nazi shit he had in his house?All his guns? Big Guy's got more of everything."

Louis said, "He's serious. Look at him."

"Wants power. He's a gun freak," Ordell said. "You know where you see different ones like him? At the gun shows."

Ordell let it hang. Louis was supposed to ask Ordell what he was doing at gun shows, but didn't bother. He was busy watching the Nazigirls, all of them skinny rednecks, their hair cut short as boys'.

Ordell said, "I got something would straighten them out, make their eyes shine."

He had people looking at him again. Some of them grinned. Louis moved out of the crowd and Ordell had to hurry to catch him. Louis bigger in the shoulders than he used to be, from working out in prison.

"This way," Ordell said, and they started up South County ahead of the parade, couple of old buddies: Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara, a light-skinned black guy and a dark-skinned white guy, both from Detroit originally where they met in a bar, started talking, and found out they'd both been to Southern Ohio Correctional and had some attitudes in common. Not long after that Louis went to Texas, where he took another fall. Came home and Ordell had a proposition for him: a million-dollar idea to kidnap the wife of a guy making money illegally and hiding it in the Bahamas. Louis said okay. The scheme blew up in their face and Louis said never again. Thirteen years ago . . .

And now Ordell had another scheme. Louis could feel it. The reason they were here watching skinheads and coneheads marching up the street.

Ordell said, "Remember when you come out of Huntsville and I introduced you to Richard?"

Starting to lay it on him. Louis was positive now.

"That's what today reminds me of," Ordell said. "I think it's fate working. This time you come out of FSP and I show you Big Guy, like Richard back from the dead."

"What I remember from that time," Louis said, "is wishing I never met Richard. What is it with you and Nazis?"

"They fun to watch," Ordell said. "Look at the flag they got, with the boogied-up lightning flash on it. You can't tell if it's suppose to be SS or Captain Marvel."

Louis said, "You got another million-dollar idea to try on me?"

Ordell turned from the parade with a cool look, serious. "You rode in my car. That ain't just an idea, man, it cost real money."

"What're you showing me this Nazi for?"

"Big Guy? His real name's Gerald. I called him Jerry one time, he about lifted me off the ground, said, 'That's not my name, boy.' I told him I'm for segregation of the races, so he thinks I'm okay. Met him one time, was at a gun show."

Throwing that one at Louis again.

Louis said, "You didn't answer my question. What're we doing here?"

"I told you. See who Big Guy reminds you of. Listen, there's somebody else you won't believe who's down here. This one a woman. Guess who it is."

Louis shook his head. "I don't know."

Ordell grinned. "Melanie."

"You're kidding."

Another one from that time thirteen years ago.

"Yeah, we kep' in touch. Melanie phone me one day . . . She's in a place I have up at Palm Beach Shores. You want to see her?"

"She lives with you?"

"I'm there on and off, you might say. We can drop by this afternoon, you want. Melanie's still a fine big girl, only bigger. Man, I'm telling you, fate's been working its ass off, getting us all together here. What I'm thinking of doing, introduce Big Guy to Melanie."

Leading up to something. Louis could feel it.

"For what?"

"Just see what happens. I think it'd be a kick. You know Melanie, she hasn't changed any. Can you see her with this asshole Nazi?"

Ordell acting like a kid with a secret, dying to tell it, but wanting to be asked.

He said to Louis, "You don't know where in the fuck you're at, do you? Keep coming out of prison and starting over. I see you got rid of your mustache, have some gray in your curly hair. You staying in shape, that's good."

"What'd you do," Louis said, "get your hair straightened? You used to have a 'fro."

"Got to keep in style, man."

Ordell ran his hand carefully over his hair, feeling the hard set, ran it back to his pigtail braid and curled it between his fingers, fooling with it as he said, "No, I don't imagine you know what you want."

Louis said, "You don't, huh?"

"Giving me the convict stare. Well, you learned something in the joint," Ordell said. "Otherwise, Louis, that shirt you have on, you look like you pump more gas than iron. Ought to have 'Lou' on the pocket there. Clean the windshield, check the oil...."

Smiled then to show he was kidding. Ordell in linen and gold, orange crew-neck sweater and white slacks, the gold shining on his neck, his wrist, and two of his fingers.

He said, "Come on, let's go see the show."

Louis said, "You're the show."

Ordell smiled and moved his shoulders like a fighter. They walked up behind the crowd that was held back by yellow police tape cordoning off the steps in front of the fountain. A young Nazi up there was speaking as the others stood facing the crowd in their supremacy outfits. Ordell started to push through to get closer and Louis took hold of his arm.

"I'm not going in there."

Ordell turned to look at him. "It ain't the same as on the yard, man. Nobody has a shank on them."

"I'm not going in there with you."

"Well, that's cool," Ordell said. "We don't have to."

They found a place where they could see enough of the young Nazi. He was shouting, "What do we want?" And his buddies and the Nazigirls and the rest of the cuckoos up there would shout back, "White power!" They kept it up until the young Nazi finished and shouted, "One day the world will know Adolf Hitler was right!" That got voices from the crowd shouting back at him, calling him stupid and a retard. He yelled at the crowd, "We're going to reclaim this land for our people!" his young Nazi voice cracking. And they yelled back, what people was he talking about, assholes like him? A black woman in the crowd said, "Come on up to Riv'era Beach and say those things, you be dead." The young skinhead Nazi began screaming "Sieg heil!" as loud as he could, over and over, and the cuckoos joined in with him, giving the Nazi salute. Now young guys in the crowd were calling them racist motherfuckers, telling them to go home, go on, get out of here, and it looked like the show was over.

Ordell said, "Let's go."

They walked over to Ocean Boulevard where they'd left his car, a black Mercedes convertible, with the top down. The time on the meter had run out and a parking ticket was stuck beneath the windshield wiper on the driver's side. Ordell pulled the ticket out and dropped it in the street. Louis was watching but didn't comment. Didn't say much of anything until they were on the middle bridge heading back to West Palm. Then he started.

"Why'd you want to show me that guy? He call you a nigger and you want his legs broken?"

"That payback shit," Ordell said, "you must get that from hanging out with the Eyetalians. Ain't nothing they like better than paying back. Swear an oath to it."

"You want to see where I hang out?" Louis said. "You come to Olive, take a right. Go up to Banyan, used to be First Street, and hang a left." The next thing Louis was telling him, on Olive now, "That's the court building up on the right."

"I know where the courts are at," Ordell said. He turned onto Banyan and was heading toward Dixie Highway now. Halfway up the block Louis told him to stop.

"Right there, the white building," Louis said, "that's where I hang out."

Ordell turned his head to look across the street at a one-story building, a storefront with MAX CHERRY BAIL BONDS printed on the window.

"You work for a bail bondsman? You told me you with some funky insurance company the Eyetalians got hold of."

"Glades Mutual in Miami," Louis said. "Max Cherry writes their bonds. I sit in the office--some guy misses his court date, I go get him."

"Yeah?" That sounded a little better, like Louis was a bounty hunter, went after bad guys on the run.

"What they want me for mainly, see if I can bring in some of those big drug-trafficking bonds, hundred and fifty grand and up."

Ordell said, "Yeah, I 'magine you made some good contacts in the joint. That why the company hired you?"

"It was my cellmate, guy was in for killing his wife. He told me to look up these friends of his when I got out. I go to see them, they ask me if I know any Colombians. I said yeah, a few. Some guys I met through a con named J.J. I told you about him, the one that got picked up again? I'm staying in his house." Louis lifted a cigarette from the pocket of his work shirt. "So what I do is look up these Colombians, down in South Beach, and hand out Max Cherry business cards. 'If you ever go to jail, I'm your bail.' He's got another one that says 'Gentlemen prefer bonds' with his name under it, phone number, all that." Louis went into the pocket again for a kitchen match.

Ordell waited. "Yeah?"

"That's it. Most of the time I sit there."

"You get along with the Colombians?"

"Why not? They know where I came from." Louis struck the match with his thumbnail. "They play that cha-cha music so loud you can't hardly talk anyway."

Ordell got his own brand out and Louis gave him a light in his cupped hands.

"You don't sound happy, Louis."

He said, "Whatever you're into, I don't want any part of it, okay? Once was enough."

Ordell sat back with his cigarette.

"Like you Steady Eddie, huh? I'm the one fucked up that kidnap deal?"

"You're the one brought Richard in."

"What's that have to do with it?"

"You knew he'd try to rape her."

"Yeah, and you helped her out of that mess. But that ain't what blew the deal, Louis. You know what it was. We tell the man, pay up or you never see your wife again--'cause that's how you do it, right? Then find out he don't want to see her again, even for five minutes? Down there in his Bahama love nest with Melanie? If you can't negotiate with the man, Louis, or threaten him, then you don't have even a chance of making a deal."

"It would've come apart anyway," Louis said. "We didn't know what we were doing."

"I see you the expert now. Tell me who's been in prison three times and who's been in once? Listen, I got people working for me now. I got brothers do the heavy work. I got a man over in Freeport--you remember Mr. Walker? I got a Jamaican can do figures in his head. Can add up numbers, can multiply what things cost times how many"--Ordell snapped his fingers--"like that."

"You got an accountant," Louis said. "I'm happy for you."

"Have I asked you to come work for me?"

"Not yet you haven't."

"You know what a M-60 machine gun is?"

"A big one, a military weapon."

"I sold three of them for twenty grand each and bought this automobile," Ordell said. "What do I need you for?"

Meet the Author

Elmore Leonard wrote more than forty books during his long career, including the bestsellers Raylan, Tishomingo Blues, Be Cool, Get Shorty, and Rum Punch, as well as the acclaimed collection When the Women Come Out to Dance, which was a New York Times Notable Book. Many of his books have been made into movies, including Get Shorty and Out of Sight. The short story "Fire in the Hole," and three books, including Raylan, were the basis for the FX hit show Justified. Leonard received the Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN USA and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He died in 2013.

Brief Biography

Bloomfield Village, Michigan
Date of Birth:
October 11, 1925
Place of Birth:
New Orleans, Louisiana
B.Ph., University of Detroit, 1950

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Rum Punch 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a delight! The pages fly by. Just a superb story.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I didn't read it until after watching Tarantino's 'Jackie Brown.' The book and movie are different enough that you may enjoy both.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved the book and has such a powerful feel to it. I also reccomend Quentin Tarantino's 'Jackie Brown'(movie) because Quentin portrays it on screen so good. He just changes the title to the name of the flight attendent who is African-American in the movie but in the book she is white. There is a couple of changes. I would say to read the book and than watch the movie. The book was funny, fun, and thrilling. Elmore Leonard does it again writing a good book and Quentin does a good job with the movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked it good story line, the only thing is that he didnt describe some of the place where the event happen very well. But excellent dialouge between the charactors. I recomend this book for anyone into crime novels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Elmore Leonard is a great writer and Rum Punch proves it. The movie is great, so don't beleive kids in film school. Rum Punch is the first Elmore Leonard book I've read, and it encouraged me to read his earlier books.
Sean_From_OHIO More than 1 year ago
I have heard so much about Elmore Leonard and how I would love his works. I have a couple of his books sitting on the shelf for quite awhile and finally got around to reading this and am a little unclear as to where the large scale appeal comes from. The plot here is pretty basic and I was waiting for something unique or unpredictable but it never happened. It was pretty basic. My biggest problem was with both the dialogue and the structure of the book. Many many times it was difficult to keep track of conversations and who was talking and what they were talking about. Overall, this is something that I would have been fine skipping.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is probably one of Elmore Leonard's finest books. Certainly, funny and energetic and an in-depth understanding about the crime worlds and characters he often writes about. Many of Leonard's movies have been made into full-lenght feature films, but none so accurately captured as 'Get Shorty.' Quentin Tarantino's lacking 'Jackie Brown' is more of an ode to his masturbation years over aged wonder Pam Grier. The film adaption is not worth your time of day as to taking the time to relate and know the characters in 'Rum Punch.'