With his trademark knack for gut-busting laughter and head-splitting action, Joe R. Lansdale serves up a bubbling cauldron of murder and mayhem that only he could create.
Hap Collins has just returned home from a gig working on an off shore oil rig. With a new perspective on life, Hap wants to change the way he's living, and shoot the straight and narrow. That is until the man who stole Leonard Pine's boyfriend turns up headless in a ditch and Leonard gets fingered for the murder. Hap vows to clear Leonard's name, but things only get more complicated when Leonard's ex shows up dead. To the police it is just a matter of gay-biker infighting, but to Hap and Leonard murder is always serious business, and these hit a little to close to home.
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1It was mid-April when I got home from the offshore rig and discovered my good friend Leonard Pine had lost his job bouncing drunks at the Hot Cat Club because, in a moment of anger, when he had a bad ass on the ground out back of the place, he'd flopped his tool and pissed on the rowdy's head.Since a large percentage of the club was outside watching Leonard pop this would-be troublemaker like a Ping-Pong ball, and since Leonard hadn't been discreet enough to turn to a less visible angle when he decided to water the punk's head, the management was inclined to believe Leonard had overreacted.Leonard couldn't see this. In fact, he thought it was good business. He told management if word of this got around, potential troublemakers would be sayin', "You start some shit at the Hot Cat Club, you get that mean queer nigger on your ass, and he'll piss on your head."Leonard, taking into account the general homophobia and racism of the local population, considered this a deterrent possibly even more effective than the death penalty. The management disagreed, said they hated to do it, but they had to let him go.That wasn't enough of a heartbreak, about this same time Leonard lost his true love, Raul, again, and was in the mood to tell me about it. We drove out to a friend's pasture in Leonard's latest wreck, an ancient white Rambler with a loose spring under the passenger's ass, set up some cans on a rotting log and took pot shots at them with a revolver while we talked beneath a bright blue, cloudless sky.Way it happened was Leonard knocked a row of cans down with a few good shots, and as we walked over to put them up again, he was beginning to tell me how he and Raul had been arguing a lotwhich was nothing newand how Raul had walked out. This was not new either. But this time Raul hadn't come back. That was new.Few days later Leonard discovered Raul had taken up with a leather-clad fella with a beard and a Harley, and had been seen riding around LaBorde on the back of the bike, pushed up tight against Leather Boy. So tight, Leonard said, "He must have had his dick up the fucker's ass."We had one revolver between us, and as Leonard talked, he handed the revolver to me and I started to load it. I had placed four shells in the chambers when out of the woods, bounding as if on a Pogo stick, came a frenzied squirrel.Let me tell you, if you have never seen an agitated squirrel you have seen very little, nor have you heard much, because the sound of an angry squirrel is not to be forgotten. It is high-pitched and shrill enough to twist your jockeys up your crack.For a moment, Leonard and I were frozen with amazement, stunned by the shrieking. Both of us have been in and around the woods all our lives, and as a youngster I had hunted squirrel and our family had fried and stewed and eaten them with poke salad and mustard greens on many occasions, but in all my born days, and I'm sure in Leonard's, we had never seen anything quite like this.I suddenly wondered if my taste in meat had been passed down through generations of squirrels by word of mouth, and here, finally, was old Beebo come to avenge the death of a relative. That rascal was bouncing four feet high at a leap, and after about four leaps it was totally clear of the woods and was springing directly toward us.We broke and ran. The squirrel, however, was not a quitter. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw that it was in fact gaining on us, and Leonard's cussing was having absolutely no effect, other than to perhaps further enrage the animal, who might have had Baptist leanings.We made the car just ahead of the squirrel, but we didn't make the doors. We jumped onto the hood and then the roof of the car, which was, of course, useless. The squirrel sprang to the hood effortlessly and, with a chatter and a spray of froth, leaped onto the roof and directly at me.Leonard rescued me. He swatted it aside with the back of his hand, knocked it twisting to the ground, where it did a kind of dance on two legs, regained its footing, then began to run hysterically about in a circle. A heartbeat later it broke the circle and charged the car again.I opened up on the fucker. Three shots in quick succession, but the way it was movingall those battlefield tactics, zigzagging and whatnotI succeeded only in throwing up some pasture dirt.Next moment, the squirrel regained the hood and the roof, and the little bastard made clear I had been his intended all along. It latched onto my right forearm with its teeth and it didn't let go, and let me tell you, squirrels have some serious goddamn teeth. It may not be lion or tiger stuff, but when they latch on to you the difference seems minimal.I was off the roof of the car and running, the squirrel hanging on to my arm as if it were a dog tick. I swatted it with the revolver and it still wouldn't let go. I held it out at arm's length and shot it through the chest, but it wasn't going to let a little thing like a bullet make it give in. I ran about the pasture hopping and jerking my arm, and after what seemed an eternity the squirrel finally lost its hold, taking flesh with it. It hit the ground and rolled, and even with a bullet hole in its small chest, it began to chase me willy-nilly about the pasture, bleeding and chattering all over the place.I wheeled and tried to fire again, but the revolver was empty. I threw it at the squirrel and missed. I ran every which way but the squirrel was not deterred. It came leaping and biting at my ass as I darted, bobbed, and weaved, and surely would have overtaken me had not Leonard run over the disgruntled critter with his car. Another thirty seconds and my lungs would have burst and the squirrel's intended plans for me would have been moot.I first realized what had happened when Leonard hit his horn, and I looked over my shoulder to see the squirrel get his. It was a nasty thing, this squirrel destruction. The car banged the squirrel as it leaped, making it a kind of temporary hood ornament. When the squirrel hit the dirt, Leonard slammed on the brakes, backed up, took sight of the injured beast and ran over it, then reversed over it, got out, found a stick and poked at the parts of the squirrel that were sticking out from under the tire. The damn thing was still alive and shrieking. Leonard had to finish it with the stick and his boot heel.On the way to the doctor, me dripping blood all over the Rambler, Leonard said, "I was wondering, Hap. Did you know that squirrel? And if so, could it have been something you said?"2"Rabid would be my guess," said Dr. Sylvan."Oh, shit," I said."That about puts it into perspective. Rabies is making a big comeback these days. The woods are thick with foammouthed critters."Me and the doc were in one of his examining rooms and I was sitting on the examining table, and he had just finished sewing up my arm and fastening a bandage around it. He was a sloppy-looking silver-haired man in his sixties, wearing a blood-specked white smock (my blood), rubber gloves, and an expression like someone waiting for a brain transplant. This expression was misleading.Sylvan put his foot on the trash-can lid lever and pressed. The lid came up, and very carefully he removed his gloves and dropped them into the can and let the lid close. He washed his hands in the sink, fumbled inside his smock, got out a cigarette and lit it."Isn't that bad for your health?" I said."Yeah," said Dr. Sylvan, "but I do it anyway.""In your examination room?" "It's my examination room.""But that seems like a bad idea. Patients will smell it.""I spray a little Lysol around.""You sure the squirrel had rabies? Could he have just been pissed off about something?""Was he frothing at the mouth?""Either that or he had been eating whipped cream.""And you said he was running about in an erratic manner?""I don't know it was so erratic. He came right for me. He seemed to have a mission.""You ever seen a squirrel do this before?""Well, no.""Did he leave a note? Some indication that it might not have been rabies?""That's funny, Doc.""Rabies. That's what it is. You bring the squirrel's head in?""It's not in my pocket or anything. Leonard threw the squirrel, still attached to its head, into the trunk of the car. He thought it might be rabid too.""Then you're the only one that doesn't think so.""I don't want to think so.""What we need to do is cut off the squirrel's head, send it to a lab in Austin, let them do some research, see it's rabid or not. In the meantime, you could go to the house and wait for symptoms. But I don't think that's a good idea. Let me tell you a little story, and let me warn you up front that this one doesn't have a happy ending. My mother told me this story. In the twenties, when she was a girl, a boy she knew got bit by a raccoon. Kid was playing in the woods, some such thing. I don't remember exactly. Doesn't matter. He got bit by this raccoon. He got sick. He couldn't eat, and he couldn't drink water. He wanted water, but his body couldn't take it. The doctor couldn't do a thing for him. They didn't have the medicine for rabies we have now. The boy got worse. They ended up tying him to a bed and waiting for him to die, and it was not a pretty thing. Think about it. Watching your son suffer from something like this, and it just goes on and on. Kid got so he didn't know anybody. Laid there and messed on and wet himself, bit and snapped at them like a wild animal. Chewed off his tongue. The father finally smothered him with a pillow and everybody in the family knew it and didn't say a goddamn word.""Why are you tellin' me this?""Because you have been bitten by a rabid animal, and beginning right now we have to start shots. Rabies is pumping through your system, and believe me, it will not be denied. Way I see it in my head is all these little microscopic rabid dogs foaming and snapping at the air, dog-paddling through your bloodstream, heading for the brain, where they intend to devour it.""That's a very interesting picture, Doc.""I came up with that when I was a kid and was told the rabies story. First I imagined raccoons, but since I was always hearing about dogs being the carriers, it changed to dogs.""What kind of dogs?""I don't know. Brown ones. We haven't got time to fuck around here, Hap. Bottom line is we don't start shots, you go the same way as the kid, only maybe without the pillow. Right to life, all that.""All right. You got me convinced. You take rabies shots in the stomach, don't you?""Not anymore. That's changed. In fact, it isn't so bad. But this is serious, my man, and we don't want to make too light of it.""Couldn't we wait until we get the results off the squirrel head? I hate shots.""I just gave you one.""Yeah, and I didn't like it.""You'd have liked it less, me sewing up that wound without deadener. Listen up, Hap. We wait until the results come back, it'll be too late. You'll be running around on all fours and bouncing and biting the air. Trust me on this. I'm a doctor. I'll make arrangements at the hospital.""Can't we do it here?""I could, but they also have what I need there. And since I know you don't have any money and I'd like to get paid, you go to the hospital I can get something out of your insurance. You do have insurance?""Yeah. I even overlap a bit. I've got insurance from the offshore work that'll be good for a while, and I have a kind of penny-ante insurance that I've been managing to pay for the last few years. I don't know it'll do much.""Most of this shit insurance, which is what I figure you have, does better you go to the hospital. So give the information to my secretary when you go out, and if it's anything we're familiar with, we may be able to get policy information right away. If not, it'll take a while. I want to check Leonard over too, see if he got scratched or bit. He might have and not even know it. He's got a bite, you'll both go to the hospital. Step on out and tell him to step on in.""Doc, if we got to send the squirrel's head in for dissecting, and I'm going to take the shots before we get results, why bother?""Could be an epidemic. Squirrels aren't usually the carriers. Raccoons, foxesthey're the main culprits. But somehow it may have gotten into the squirrel population. People ought to know. Step on out and send Leonard in. We got to get this show on the road. Oh, before you go, here's a trash bag. Get the squirrel and put it in the bag and leave it behind the reception desk. I'll have someone pick it up."I gave the insurance information to the receptionist, borrowed Leonard's car keys, got old Beebo out of the trunk and bagged him and put him in a cooler they had behind the desk. Then I sat in the waiting room and tried to read a nature magazine, but at the moment I wasn't feeling all that kindly toward nature.I wasn't feeling all that kindly toward the brat that was waiting there either. His mother, a harried woman in laceup shoes designed by the Inquisition, a long black dress and a Pentecostal hairdowhich was a mound of brown hair tied up in a bun that looked as if it had been baked into place to contain an alien life formwas pretending to be asleep in a waiting-room chair.Couldn't say as I blamed her. This kid, who had torn up three magazines and drank out of all the paper cups at the water cooler and stuck his gum on the doorknob leading out of the office, wasn't someone you wanted to look at much.