Two Trains Runningby Andrew Vachss
In his most original and compelling book yet, Andrew Vachss presents an electrifying tale of corruption in a devastated mill town. It is 1959a moment in history when the clandestine, powerful forces that will shape America to the present day are about to collide.Walker Dett is a hired gun, known for using the most extreme measures to accomplish his
In his most original and compelling book yet, Andrew Vachss presents an electrifying tale of corruption in a devastated mill town. It is 1959a moment in history when the clandestine, powerful forces that will shape America to the present day are about to collide.Walker Dett is a hired gun, known for using the most extreme measures to accomplish his missions. Royal Beaumont is the "hillbilly boss" who turned Locke City from a dying town into a thriving vice capital. But organized crime outsiders are moving in on Beaumont's turf, so he reaches out for Dett in a high-risk move to maintain his power at all costs. Add a rival Irish political machine, a deeply entrenched neo-Nazi "party", the nascent black power movement, turf-disputing juvenile gangs, a muck-raking journalist who doubles as a blackmailer, the FBIa covert observer and occasional participant which may itself be under surveillance and Locke City is about as stable as a nitroglycerin truck stalled on the railroad tracks.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- Edition description:
- Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Edition
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- Product dimensions:
- 5.24(w) x 7.99(h) x 1.01(d)
Read an Excerpt
1959 September 28 Monday 21:22
A candy-apple-red ’55 Chevy glided down the rain-slicked asphalt, an iridescent raft shooting blacktopped rapids. Behind the wheel was a man in his mid-twenties, with a wiry build and a narrow, triangular face. His elaborately sculptured haircut was flat on top, long on the sides and back, ending in carefully cultivated ducktails.
The Chevy’s headlights picked up an enormous black boulder, standing sentry in a grove of white birch. The driver pumped the brake pedal, then blipped the throttle as he flicked the gearshift into low. He gunned the engine, kicking out the rear end in a controlled slide through a tight S-curve. As soon as the road straightened, he eased off the gas and motored along sedately.
A quarter-mile later, the driver pulled up to what looked like a miniature cottage. A lantern-jawed man slowly rose from his seat on the one-man porch. He held a double-barreled shotgun in his right hand like an accountant holding a pencil.
“It’s me, Seth,” the driver said, out his side window.
“I knew that a few minutes ago, Harley,” the man with the shotgun replied. “Heard those damn glasspacks of yours a mile away.”
“Come on, Seth. I backed off as soon as I made the turn,” the driver said.
“You’re getting way too old for that kid stuff,” the man said reproachfully. He stepped closer to the Chevy. The driver reached up and flicked on the overhead light. The man with the shotgun glanced into the back seat, then shifted his stance slightly to scan the floor.
“Let’s have a look out back,” he said.
The driver killed his engine, took the keys from the ignition, and reached for the door handle.
“I’ll do it,” the man with the shotgun said. “You just sit there, be comfortable, okay?”
“Are you serious?” the driver said.
“You been here enough times, Harley.”
“Exactly,” the driver said, with just a hint of resentment. “So what’s with all the—?”
“Ain’t my rules.”
“Yeah, I know,” the driver said, sourly. “Let’s go, okay? The boss said nine-thirty, and it’s getting close to—”
“Next time, come earlier,” the man with the shotgun said, taking the keys.
He walked behind the Chevy and opened the trunk with his left hand, leveling the shotgun to cover the interior. He pulled a flashlight from his belt and directed its beam until he was satisfied. Finally, he closed the trunk gently, walked back to the driver’s window, and handed over the keys.
“See you later, Harley,” he said.
1959 September 28 Monday 21:29
The darkened house was a featureless stone monolith, the color of cigar ash. Harley ignored the horseshoe-shaped brick driveway that led to the front door; he drove carefully past the big house, his engine just past idle, until he came to a paved area clogged with cars. He slid the Chevy into a generous space between a refrigerator-white Ford pickup and a gleaming black ’56 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and climbed out, not bothering to lock his car.
A short walk brought him to a freestanding single-story building. Its wooden sides had been weathered down to colorlessness, but the roof and windows looked newly installed.
As he approached, Harley saw his reflection in the mirrored finish of a small window set at eye level. Before he could knock, the door was opened by a short, bull-necked man wearing a threadbare gray flannel suit. The man’s perfectly rounded skull was covered by a thick mat of light-brown hair, roughly trimmed to a uniform length. His facial features were rubbery; his mouth was loose and slack.
“It’s me, Luther,” Harley said.
The short man nodded deliberately, as if agreeing with a complex proposition. His slightly protuberant eyes were as smooth and hard as brown marbles, reflecting the moonlight over Harley’s shoul-ders. Wordlessly, he tilted his head to the left.
Harley stepped past the slack-mouthed man into what looked like a modern two-car garage. A charcoal-gray Lincoln sedan was poised on the concrete slab, its nose pointing toward a wide, accordion- pattern metal door. Conscious of the other man somewhere behind him, Harley opened a door in the back wall, and followed a passageway to his left.
He paused at the threshold of a large, low-ceilinged, windowless room. One wall was lined with file cabinets, another with bookshelves. Various chairs and a pair of small couches were scattered about, all upholstered in the same dark-brown leather. Most of them were already taken. A few of the seated men glanced expressionlessly at the new arrival, the youngest man in the room.
The far end of the room was dominated by a lengthy slab of butcher block, laid across four sawhorses to form a desk. Behind it sat a massive man in a wheelchair, like a stone idol on a gleaming steel-and-chrome display stand. He had a large, squarish head, with wavy light-brown hair, combed straight back without a part, going white at the temples. His ears were small, flat against his skull, without lobes. Heavy cheekbones separated a pair of iron-colored eyes from thin lips; his nose was long and narrow; a dark mole dotted the right side of his jaw. The man was dressed in a banker’s-gray suit, a starched white shirt, and a midnight-blue silk tie with faint flecks of gold that occasionally caught the light. On the ring finger of his right hand was a blue star sapphire, set in platinum.
The man glanced at his left wrist, where a large-faced watch on a white-gold band peeked out from under a French cuff, then looked up at the driver of the Chevy.
“I was held up at the gate,” Harley said. “Seth took about half a day to . . .”
Nobody said anything.
Harley took a chair, and followed their example.
1959 September 28 Monday 21:39
“Procter!” a sandpaper voice blasted through the half-empty news-room.
All eyes turned toward a broad-shouldered man hunched over a typewriter. “What’s up, Chief?” he shouted back, without breaking his hunt-and-peck rhythm, eyes never leaving the keyboard.
“Get the hell in here!”
The broad-shouldered man kept on typing.
A pair of night-shift reporters at adjoining desks exchanged looks. One scrawled “2” on a piece of paper and held it up; the other crossed his two forefingers to make a “plus” sign. Each man reached for his wallet without looking, eyes focused on four large clocks on the far wall, marked, from left to right: Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, and New York.
In perfect rhythm honed by long practice, a dollar bill was simultaneously slapped down on each man's desk.
The second hands of the clocks swept on. One full revolution, then another. Two minutes and seventeen seconds had elapsed when . . .
“Procter, goddamn it!” rattled the windows.
The reporter who had made the “plus” sign plucked the dollar from the other’s desk as Procter slowly got to his feet. His hair was as black as printer’s ink; raptor’s eyes sat deeply on either side of a slightly hawked nose. Wearing a blue shirt with the cuffs rolled above thick wrists, and a dark-red tie loosened at the throat, he stalked through the newsroom holding several sheets of typescript in his right hand like a cop carrying a nightstick.
Procter ambled into a corner office formed from two pebbled-glassed walls. Behind a cigarette-scarred, paper-covered desk sat a doughy man wearing half-glasses on the bridge of a bulbous nose. His bald scalp was fringed with thick mouse-brown hair.
“Chief?” Procter said innocently.
“How many goddamn times have I told you not to call me that?” the doughy man snapped, his scalp reddening. “You’ve got a lot of choices in that department, Jimmy. ‘Mr. Langley’ will do. So will ‘Augie,’ you like that better. Save that ‘Chief’ stuff for your next editor.”
“So I’m fired?” Procter said, his voice not so much empty as without inflection of any kind.
“I didn’t say that!” the doughy man bellowed. “You know damn well what I meant. This isn’t one of those big-city sheets you’re used to working for. We do things differently around here.”
“I’ve been around here all my life,” Procter said, mildly. “Born and raised.”
“You like playing word games, maybe you want to take over the crossword. You haven’t been around this newspaper all your life. You came home, that’s what happened.”
“Came home after being fired, you mean.”
“I say what I mean, Jimmy. You’re a great newshound, but this is your fourth paper in, what, seven years? We both know you wouldn’t be working for the Compass if there was still a place for you with one of the big-city tabs.”
“And we both know, soon as a job on a real paper opens up again, you’ll be on the next bus out of here.”
“I can do what I do anywhere.”
“Is that right? For such a smart guy, you do some pretty stupid things. What happened up in Chi-Town, anyway?”
“The editor spiked too many of my stories,” Procter said, in the bored tone of a man retelling a very old story.
“So you went behind his back and peddled your stuff to that Communist rag?”
“That exposé never saw a blue pencil, Chief. They printed it just like I wrote it.”
“Yeah, I guess they did,” the doughy man said, fingering his suspenders. “And I guess you know, that’s never going to happen here.”
“I’ve been here almost three years. You think I haven’t learned that much?”
“From this last piece of copy you turned in, I’m not so sure. Your job is to cover crime, Jimmy. Crime, not politics.”
“In Locke City—”
“Don’t even say it,” the editor warned, holding up one finger. “Just stick to robberies and rapes, okay? Shootings, stompings, and stabbings, that’s your beat. Leave the corruption stories for reporters in the movies.”
Meet the Author
Andrew Vachss is a lawyer who represents children and youths exclusively. His many novels include the Burke series and two collections of short stories. His books have been translated into twenty languages, and his work has appeared in Parade, Antaeus, Esquire, Playboy, The New York Times, among other publications. He divides his time between his native New York City and the Pacific Northwest.
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I love the Burke books, but when Andrew Vachss decides to step out into new arenas, I am even more entranced. Two Trains Running is set in 1959, when every social faction in America geared up to take control of the 1960 presidential election. Who will win, and what will each group draw the line at how far it will go to win? Vachss sets readers the task of putting together the evidence. This book reads better than any Sherlock Holmes (or CSI) plot, because Vachss gives readers all the information to come to their own conclusion. The story is strongly drawn, and the sense of place is astonishingly three-dimensional. Locke City is a crossroads of low-down activity, disguised as a rundown industrial river town. The characters all have secrets, but we tease those out only by keeping our eyes and ears open, since the omnicient third-person narrative so common to mystery and suspense writing is laid aside here. It's the right choice, as knowing what the characters are thinking would be like adding training wheels to the book. What's important is what the characters say and do, and that information is reported in a series of vignettes that are time-coded like police surveillance. I can't praise this book enough. If you love richness and texture in your reading, snap this novel up. The Burke series made me a Vachss fan, but this book is even more special, like a fine brandy distilled from sumptuous wine.
Andrew Vachss has always been an important novelist, and with TWO TRAINS RUNNING he becomes a major one. His subject is nothing less than how America came to be what it is today as a result of what happened in the pivotal year of 1959, when his story takes place. As rival gangland factions gather and clash over the future of Locke City, so do other larger, more entrenched and no less corrupt forces clash over the future of the country itself. In the center stands the protagonist, Walker Dett. Dett functions as a passenger on both ¿trains,¿ the express running on the Locke City plotline, and the slower but more powerful engine bearing the country itself to a future formed as we watch. While Vachss¿s portrait is of far more than the city in which the tale is set, so too is his subject far more than crime. He delves deeply into the still unresolved problem of race relations, revealing the roots of black anger and burgeoning black pride. He examines the genesis of gang violence and the motivations that draw the young and rootless into that particular hell. And he takes a hard look at government intrusion into all aspects of society, and how the investigation of corruption can lead to the corruption of the investigator. What makes Vachss¿s story even more journalistic is its style. The book is constructed of a series of scenes presented chronologically with the date and time at the start of each. Never does he reveal the thoughts of any character, even his protagonist. He ¿merely¿ reports. With such a seemingly cold and clinical way of relating events, it¿s surprising how much warmth and compassion come through in the human story. The book is filled with well-drawn characters rich in moral ambiguity. Vachss weaves all their stories together seamlessly, and even engages in some fascinating speculation in the process. TWO TRAINS RUNNING works brilliantly on all of its many levels, and is one of those books that repays rereading. It¿s a new American classic ¿ an intriguing story well-told, and a deeper rumination on how we got to where we are today
In 1959 Locke City is completely owned by Royal Beaumont, wheelchair-bound since childhood. Royal, living up to his first name, uses excess force to rule over his vice-laden kingdom that has made the town a Mecca for tourists looking for illegal prostitution, gambling, and a few more violent activities for the right price. No one dare say no or criticize this dictator although a local militant black movement is growing. --- In the fall, two rival New York mobs discover Locke City; each demands a piece of the action threatening Beaumont. First the Italian mafia tries to push Beaumont around; soon afterward an Irish mob offers Beaumont a deal in which they receive a cut in exchange for tossing out the Italians and crushing the blacks. Beaumont has his own plan taking advantage of the ethnic hatred and distrust by bringing in his own killing machine Walker Dett. However, in the midst of compiling one hit after another by outflanking the Italians, the Irish and the blacks, Walker falls in love. Will a woman soften this hit machine? --- Though Burke-less, TWO TRAINS RUNNING is a fabulous testosterone filled historical thriller that grips the audience once the mobs arrive at Locke City, but especially takes off when Walker starts his destruction. Royal will remind the audience of Broderick Crawford in All the King¿s Men while Dett steals the show as a perfect killer until the intriguing twist of when he meets Tussy; that actually slows down the flow of blood (what can one expect with sex, naps, and showers) yet humanizes him. Andrew Vachss is at his action packed best with this convergence of dark forces in a small town in 1959. --- Harriet Klausner