Wild Turkeyby Michael Hemmingson
Phil Landsdale has problems. He's out of a job, heis son's a pyromaniac, and his wife is running out of excuses as to why she comes home from work every night six hours late.
In his newly appointed house-husband position, Phil decides he has plenty of time to figure things out. And he learns when you have a lot of time on your hands, you begin to notice your/p>… See more details below
Phil Landsdale has problems. He's out of a job, heis son's a pyromaniac, and his wife is running out of excuses as to why she comes home from work every night six hours late.
In his newly appointed house-husband position, Phil decides he has plenty of time to figure things out. And he learns when you have a lot of time on your hands, you begin to notice your neighbors, intricate nuances, and the upset balance if someone doesn't follow the same routine. . . . Like the long and sexy neighbor across the street, Cassandra Payne.
He's been keeping tabs on Cassandra with his new-found friend, Bryan, an ex-detective who lives next door. But when Cassandra's husband is gunned down en route from the airport, Phil and Bryan realize that beautiful Cassandra might be hiding more beneath that insee-weensy miniskirt than meets the eye. When the two go to investigate a stranger lurking around the Payne house, Bryan is almost killed and Phil finds himself drawn into the dark and mysterious world of Cassandra Payne.
With a bottle of bourbon and a full tank of gas, Phil sets out to find the gunman and discovers the truth in a world where some men are men, some are wild, and some only a turkey.
“Wild Turkey deals up one nasty shock after another. It’s just what thriller addicts crave.”—John Clarkson, author of Reed’s Promise
“Wild Turkey is a quick slice of suburban noir that packs quite a wallop.”—Deadly Pleasures
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Read an Excerpt
By Michael Hemmingson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2001 Michael Hemmingson
All rights reserved.
I recall this particular married woman I'd had a short fling with when I was in my mid-twenties. I'd met her at the opening of an art exhibit in downtown San Diego in the Gaslamp Quarter; she was thirty-four and her name was Barbara. She was one of the would-be dancer-painter types that always seemed to be friends with my ex-girlfriend, Elaine. I'd actually gone to the exhibit at the Rita Dear Gallery hoping to spark something up with Elaine again, as we occasionally did, being off-and-on for the past several years. I was immediately drawn to Barbara — her pale skin and dark hair, her lithe body. She wasn't wearing a ring and I didn't know she was married until Elaine said, "We have to meet Barbara's husband and some friends at this restaurant at eight, you should come." As with all gallery openings, there was plenty of wine, and someone brought out spiked punch, and vodka Jell-O. Barbara quickly got drunk; as we talked, she kept leaning into me and touching my arm, and then my chest. Someone put on loud music. As I tried to have a conversation with Barbara, she leaned over and said into my ear, her tongue touching my flesh, "The music is too loud, let's talk outside." We went outside. She pointed to a Toyota Camry and said, "That's my car," and the next thing I knew, we were in the back of her car and necking. It was pretty intense. She stopped, a hand on my chest. "I can't do this," she said, "I'm married."
"And Elaine and I are late. My husband's going to worry."
"You're all right."
"Not to drive."
"The restaurant isn't far. Walk."
"Come with us," she said.
"I don't think so."
"Please," she said.
I said, "All right."
I walked Elaine and Barbara to the restaurant. It was eight-thirty but her husband — a thick man in a suit-didn't seem worried, didn't seem to notice the time. He was deep in conversation with several other men and women in suits, talking about bonds and securities and real estate.
I felt uncomfortable, observing Barbara kiss her husband lightly on the lips, hanging onto his thick arm.
They ordered dinner.
After one drink, I left — abruptly. I said there was something I forgot to attend to. Barbara gave me a look I didn't understand. I didn't want to understand it.
I lived in a downtown studio a few blocks away: I, the starving law student. I went home, turned on the TV. I was sad.
An hour later: a knock on my door.
Barbara, still drunk, came right in. She smelled nice.
"I have twenty, maybe thirty minutes," she said. Her eyes were glassy. "My husband and I took separate cars, I'm sure you know. But if I don't get home in time, he'll worry."
I was flabbergasted. "How did you know where I lived?"
"Elaine told me —"
"Doesn't have a clue," Barbara said. The woman didn't waste any time; she pulled me to her and kissed me. We quickly undressed and went to my futon.
"Look," she said. "I want you to know I've never done anything like this, ever. I've never had an affair."
"Ten years of marriage, never."
"I don't think so."
"You love him?"
"So why —"
"Don't ask why," Barbara said, "just screw me, okay?"
She wasn't my first married woman, and not my last. I'd heard all the excuses for infidelity since I was nineteen and had discovered the sad and sexual world of married women.
Barbara and I fucked twice in an hour and a half of loss, bliss, and body parts — clearly well over her time limit.
"It's late," she said, her head on my chest.
"Will he be waiting?"
"He probably went straight to bed, like he always does. He won't notice."
"He trusts you."
"He just doesn't notice. I should go," but she didn't move.
I said, "Stay."
She sat up, looking for her clothes. "That I can't do."
I watched her slip her panties and bra on, then her black jeans and gray vest. I felt hollow.
I saw her to the door.
"Bye," she said.
I grabbed her arm. She smiled. I said, "Hey." I kissed her. It was a ten-minute kiss.
"Hey, boy," she said.
"Back to bed?" I said.
"I'm scared," she said, "I'm married," and she pushed me away, and she ran.
I think I understood what she was going through.
Well, if I didn't then, I do now.CHAPTER 2
I felt the same way, more than ten years later, when I was unfaithful to my wife, Tina — when I embarked on my disastrous affair with Cassandra Payne.
I was thirty-eight and had been married to Tina for five years. We were doing the American Suburban routine — tract house in San Diego, two children (a boy and a girl), two cars, good jobs ... until I lost mine.
After graduating law school, I did a year as a public defender, then got hired at a fairly decent law firm as a junior litigator. For three years, I never went to trial, hardly walked into a court except for motion hearings. Most civil lawsuits wind up in a settlement at some point, or remain in limbo. But when I finally did go to trial, on a pretty large medical malpractice suit, I lost the case, and my employer was out half a million dollars, having taken the case on contingency. The partners let me go.
I got a job at another, less prestigious firm. A lot of ambulance chasing was going on there; I was expected to do just that. It was the last thing I wanted in my life. I didn't go to law school for this, and it hurt, it deeply pained me, and I dreaded getting up each morning, trying to force settlements out of insurance companies and various institutions. One day, something inside me snapped. I was at a motion-to-strike hearing; the opposing counsel had put together an effective line of bullshit. The next thing I knew, I had this attorney on the floor of the courtroom, right in front of the judge's bench, and I was choking the poor unsuspecting bastard.
The bailiff pulled me away and cuffed me; I was arrested and sent through the system. At this point I could better understand the situation of some of my clients. Tina had to bail me out; the firm I worked at wouldn't spend a dime. I was charged with assault and battery, I was fired, and the other lawyer sued me. I pleaded no contest, and because I had no record, was given a hundred hours of community service, probation, and a fine. The lawsuit was still waiting to go to trial; I refused to settle and I didn't think the lawyer was going to pursue it any further. In the meantime, the State Bar was investigating the matter.
I briefly went into private practice, operating out of my home, but I screwed things up, not paying attention to details, and a client of mine sued me for legal malpractice and complained to the bar. I settled with my ex-client for $3,000, and then, based on all of the above, was disbarred for a period of five years.
All wasn't lost, however. While I was doing well, I had made some smart investments with decent returns, and Tina had a good job working for Social Security, evaluating SSI eligibility. She'd been working part time, then went to full time.
We came to this agreement: since the returns on the investments would keep us in the same lifestyle for a few years, her job would supplement, add extra security. While I figured out what I was going to do, I would become a house husband. Our son, Matthew, was starting kindergarten. Our daughter, Jessica, was just getting out of diapers. I would do the laundry, keep the house clean, mow the lawn, and have dinner ready when she came home.
This wasn't so bad. I needed the sabbatical. I don't know what went wrong. I had always wanted to be a lawyer, ever since I was a kid and watched reruns of Perry Mason. I'd worked hard to get through law school and pass the bar exam. I worked very hard to rise in the profession. I guess the pressure was too much.
Maybe I would return to practice when I could get my license back, maybe I wouldn't. Maybe I would write novels about lawyers like John Grisham. Maybe I'd become a lumberjack or a fireman. I figured my options were wide open and I had plenty of time to figure things out.
I had a beautiful wife. I had two wonderful children. I had a fine, comfortable home, with an increasing market value. I had a nice car. My days were without stress: in the morning, I made Tina and the children breakfast. I kissed Tina good-bye. I helped Matthew get ready for school. I drove Matthew to school, Jessica with me. Jessica and I returned home. She watched cartoons and I opened a beer. I read, or watched cartoons. I did the laundry. I mowed the lawn. I picked up Matthew from school and brought him home, and he watched afternoon cartoons with his little sister. I had a beer. Sometimes, I'd have beers with other men in the neighborhood, men who soon became my friends.
There were two such men who figure in this story. One was Bryan Vaughn, a fifty-seven-year-old police veteran. He used to be a detective. The other was David Larson, part-time college professor. David was a baseball fanatic, and so was Bryan. In fact, they were both members of an amateur local team, a team I wound up joining.
My friendship with both of these men would help change my life forever.
When you have time on your hands, and you're outside, you start noticing a lot about the block you live on. It becomes an entity all its own. There are the intricate nuances, the upset balance if someone (like the mailman, or the trash collector) doesn't maintain a previous routine.
Before, I'd never really noticed the neighborhood or my neighbors, always absorbed with my work and hardly home. I don't know why I hadn't taken prior heed of Cassandra Payne. I'd seen her, briefly, but hadn't noticed her. Being career-minded and married, I'd forgotten what it was like simply to look upon another woman's beauty with admiration and desire.
There was much to admire and desire about Cassandra Payne. She was tall and slender, almost six feet, with fine pale skin and shoulder-length, straight, jet-black hair. She had very long and agile legs, which I started to closely scrutinize as she came to and from her house. She often wore miniskirts; usually black or white, sometimes leather, sometimes cotton. Once, she wore a yellow cotton mini, and as she got into her car (a Ford Taurus) I caught a glimpse — at least I think I did, from my vantage point across the street — of matching yellow underwear. This isn't to say that she always wore miniskirts — sometimes she wore long skirts, or skorts, or slacks or jeans.
It started to become a game for me, catching her leaving the house and getting into her car, hearing her car (which had a distinctive sound, like it would need a new muffler soon) coming down the street. I'd watch her from the porch, or the window, or with Bryan and David as we sat around and had beers.
This story appropriately begins the day I caught my son Matthew setting the trash can on fire.
I smelled something burning through the window. I went outside. The smell was coming from the side of the house. I went to inspect. There my son was, gazing with rapt attention at the flames dancing out of the metal trash can.
"Matthew!" I yelled, and grabbed him, lifting him in my arms, saving him from harm's way.
I put him the middle of the yard, quickly grabbed the garden hose and turned the water on — rushed to the can, and put out the burning newspapers and milk cartons and junk mail.
My son stood at my side, witnessing his precious fire vanish. He looked disappointed.
"How did this happen?" I asked no one, and to Matthew: "How did that fire happen?"
I saw the matches in his hand.
"Did you start that fire?" I said.
He just looked at me.
I leaned down and grabbed him by the shoulders. "Matthew, why? Why would you do such a thing?" I was shaking him, probably a little too hard.
He looked like he was going to cry. "I wanted to see!"
"Where did you get such an idea?"
"Paulie. Who's Paulie?"
"Look," I started to say, and that's when I noticed the woman in the house across the street from me walk out the door. She was in a black leather mini and fishnet stockings. The mini barely covered what was beyond her hips. She stopped to adjust her shoe, just before getting into the Taurus, and I thought — oh my — I saw something I shouldn't have. She was wearing a white blouse, the fabric so thin I could make out her black bra. She got into her car, put on a pair of sunglasses, and drove off.
"Daddy?" my son said.
I took the matches away. "Don't ever, ever do that again," I told him. "Come on," and I put my hand on his head, gently; we went back into our home.CHAPTER 3
I was never a baseball fan, not as a kid, and not as an adult. I vaguely recall being in Little League and hating the outfit — the long socks, the pants, the hat, the whole thing. I was a bad player, too, always placed way out in left field, and hardly ever hitting the ball when I went up to bat. But there I was, thirty-eight-years-old, disbarred and unemployed, and I was playing baseball every Saturday afternoon with a bunch of middle-aged men who should've known better.
At first, I just went to watch the games; David was the pitcher and Bryan acted as a sort of quasi coach, barking out orders like this all meant something. It was a good excuse to get out of the house, kick back, and drink beer, watching these heavy-in-the-middle, balding, and squinty-eyed men play.
It was amusing, to say the least.
The bleachers were never very full at the park, mostly wives and children, a few friends, a few kids from the neighborhood who would heckle and yell, "You can hit a ball farther than that, old man!" or "Run, pops, run!"
One day, as the story goes, they lost a player — the fellow had a minor heart attack at home, so he wouldn't be back on the field. Bryan and David suggested I fill in the spot.
"I don't play baseball," I said.
"Everyone plays baseball," David said. "It's the all-American sport!"
"I don't play well," I said.
"Neither does anyone else on the team," Bryan said.
He had a point. I figured, what the hell, why not. They got me a uniform — the team was called the Fritzes, of all things — and a hat, and I was ready to play.
Tina thought I was being silly, "men acting like boys" she said; yet I knew she was relieved that I would be getting out in the sun and engaging in some much needed exercise.
To my surprise, I enjoyed that first game. There wasn't the pressure of Little League — where you felt examined, where you knew your parents were watching from the stands, hoping you'd dazzle everyone, only to fail; where other boys on the team — those who could play — would ridicule you for messups. Out here, among the middle-aged, it didn't matter if you screwed up. No one was a star, and no one was passing judgment. If you didn't catch a ball, or if you struck out, it was, "Darn, better luck next time." Not only that, we drank beer in the dugout. When Bryan asked me, after the game (which we lost 12-7), if I wanted to be a permanent member of the Fritzes, I said yes.
Now that I was an amateur baseball player, I felt I had a new purpose. I was energized. After five months of being cooped up in the house, I was starting to think of the future again. On Monday, I told myself I'd look into getting a job; part-time, perhaps, or maybe something temporary, but something.
That night, I vigorously made love to Tina. I marveled at my own randy stamina and succeeding erection. So did Tina.
"Where is all this energy coming from?" she asked after the second time.
"You don't like?"
"I love it," she said. "I'm just wondering —"
"Just feeling horny," I said, my mouth on hers.
"So I noticed, cowboy."
Our sex life had dwindled quite a bit. I didn't realize this until that night. It's the way with husbands and wives, married five years.
I thought we'd get back to more regular sex after that.
I was wrong.
We got married in Las Vegas, by the way. It should have been somewhere else. Las Vegas is a curse for me.CHAPTER 4
Bryan lived next door. The first time I met him, I was mowing the lawn. Or trying to. The lawn mower kept dying, and I had trouble restarting it.
He was standing on his neatly mowed lawn, in shorts and a T-shirt, holding a glass. He wore a floppy canvas fishing cap. He was five-foot-nine, heavyset at two hundred and seventy pounds, I'd say. Pale blue eyes and ruddy cheeks. Think the Skipper from Gilligan's Island, but with more style.
"Damn thing keeps dying," I said.
"Let me take a look."
When he passed by me, I smelled vodka from his glass. He seemed like an all right kind of guy. He took one look at my lawn mower, fiddled with the engine a bit, stood up and said, "Yeah, that's what I thought." He was holding something small and cylindrical in his hand. "Fried spark plug. When's the last time you changed it?"
"Never have," I told him. "Never thought I needed to."
"You change the spark plugs in your car, don't you?"
"My mechanic does that every six months."
"You gotta do it once a year with mowers. How long have you had this one?"
"Not sure," I said, and I really didn't know. I think we bought it when Tina and I got the house. "Three years."
Excerpted from Wild Turkey by Michael Hemmingson. Copyright © 2001 Michael Hemmingson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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I really enjoyed this book. I read it while stuck for 4 hours in the San Francisco airport. I've read some other works by this writer, this is the most commercial. A lot of strange and wild plot twists! This is the kind of book David Lynch should direct as a movie.
In San Diego, thirty-something Phil and Tina Lansdale seems to be on the right tract, American style. They have two children, live in a nice house, and seem to share a happy relationship. Phil is a lawyer while Tina works for the Social Security Administration. However, after a series of incidents, Phil not only losses his job, but the California bar forbids him from practicing for five years. Because of his solid investments, Phil and Tina agree that he can work as a househusband for now. Staying home allows Phil to notice the neighborhood and even meet neighbors, something he never did before. He becomes friends with retired cop Bryan Vaughn and part-time college instructor David Larson. The trio salivates over English expatriate Cassandra Payne until someone kills her banker-husband. While Bryan and David believe Cassandra arranged a hit, Phil becomes bolder and soon begins a strange affair that he knows can only end tragically. WILD TURKEY is a strange relationship drama focusing on an individual whose descent into moral decay is cleverly observed by the reader as one shock after another hits the nervous system. The story line is an erotic Noir that requires a one read sitting and a fifth handy. The moral collapse of Phil and Cassandra¿s femme fatale adds to quite a tale that requires a warning label with some of its showering golden graphic scenes. Michael Hemmingson is quickly earning the reputation by genre fans for his heady writing (see THE NAUGHTY YARD). Harriet Klausner