Set amid landmarks like Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo, in crowded streets or leafy enclaves, this collection of crime and suspense fiction, edited by a winner of multiple major mystery awards, showcases both an exceptional lineup of literary talent and the unique atmosphere of New York City’s northern borough.
Brand-new stories by Thomas Adcock, Kevin Baker, Thomas Bentil, Lawrence Block, Jerome Charyn, Suzanne Chazin, Terrence Cheng, Ed Dee, Joanne Dobson, Robert Hughes, Marlon James, Sandra Kitt, Rita Laken, Miles Marshall Lewis, Patrick W. Picciarelli, Abraham Rodriguez Jr., S.J. Rozan, Steven Torres, and Joseph Wallace.
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WHITE TRASH by Jerome CharynClaremont/Concourse
Prudence had escaped from the women's farm in Milledgeville and gone on a crime spree. She murdered six men and a woman, robbed nine McDonald's and seven Home Depots in different states. She wore a neckerchief gathered under her eyes and carried a silver Colt that was more like an heirloom than a good, reliable gun. The Colt had exploded in her face during one of the robberies at McDonald's, but she still managed to collect the cash, and her own willfulness wouldn't allow her to get a new gun.
She wasn't willful about one thing: she never used a partner, male or female. Women were more reliable than men; they wouldn't steal your money and expect you to perform sexual feats with their friends. But women thieves could be just as annoying. She'd had her fill of them at the farm, where they read her diary and borrowed her books. Pru didn't appreciate big fat fingers touching her personal library. Readers were like pilgrims who had to go on their own pilgrimage. Pru was a pilgrim, or at least that's what she imagined. She read from morning to night whenever she wasn't out foraging for hard cash. One of her foster mothers had been a relentless reader, and Prudence had gone right through her shelves, book after book: biographies, Bibles, novels, a book on building terrariums, a history of photography, a history of dance, and Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, which she liked the best, because she could read the little encapsulated portraits of films without having to bother about the films themselves. But she lost her library when she broke out of jail, and it bothered her to live without books.
The cops had caught on to her tactics, and her picture was nailed to the wall inside post offices, supermarkets, and convenience stores; she might have been trapped in a Home Depot outside Savannah if she hadn't noticed a state trooper fidgeting with his hat while he stared at her face on the wall.
Pru had to disappear or she wouldn't survive her next excursion to Home Depot or McDonald's. And no book could help her now. Travel guides couldn't map out some no-man's-land where she might be safe. But Emma Mae, her cellmate at Milledgeville, had told her about the Bronx, a place where the cops never patrolled McDonald's. Besides, she hadn't murdered a single soul within five hundred miles of Manhattan or the Bronx. Pru wasn't a mad dog, as the bulletins labeled her. She had to shoot the night manager at McDonald's, because that would paralyze the customers and discourage anyone from coming after her.
She got on a Greyhound wearing eyeglasses and a man's lumber jacket after cutting her hair in the mirror of a public toilet. She'd been on the run for two months. Crime wasn't much of a business. Murdering people, and she still had to live from hand to mouth.
She couldn't remember how she landed in the Bronx. She walked up the stairs of a subway station, saw a synagogue that had been transformed into a Pentecostal church, then a building with mural on its back wall picturing a paradise with crocodiles, palm trees, and a little girl. The Bronx was filled with Latinas and burly black men, Emma Mae had told her; the only whites who lived there were "trash" — outcasts and country people who had to relocate. Pru could hide among them, practically invisible in a casbah that no one cared about.
Emma Mae had given her an address, a street called Marcy Place, where the cousin of a cousin lived, a preacher who played the tambourine and bilked white trash, like Prudence and Emma. He was right at the door when Pru arrived, an anemic-looking man dressed in black, with a skunk's white streak in his hair, though he didn't have a skunk's eyes; his were clear as pale green crystals and burned right into Pru. She was hypnotized without his having to say a single syllable. He laughed at her disguise, and that laughter seemed to break the spell.
"Prudence Miller," he said, "are you a man or a girl?"
His voice was reedy, much less potent than his eyes.
Emma Mae must have told him about her pilgrimage to the Bronx. But Pru still didn't understand what it meant to be the cousin of a cousin. His name was Omar Kaplan. It must have been the alias of an alias, since Omar couldn't be a Christian name. She'd heard all about Omar Khayyam, the Persian philosopher and poet who was responsible for the Rubaiyat, the longest love poem in history, though she hadn't read a line. And this Omar must have been a philosopher as well as a fraud — his apartment, which faced a brick wall, was lined with books. He had all the old Modern Library classics, like Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov, books that Pru had discovered in secondhand shops in towns that had a college campus.
"You'll stay away from McDonald's," he said in that reedy voice of his, "and you'd better not have a gun."
"Then how will I earn my keep, Mr. Omar Kaplan? I'm down to my last dollar."
"Consider this a religious retreat, or a rest cure, but no guns. I'll stake you to whatever you need."
Pru laughed bitterly, but kept that laugh locked inside her throat. Omar Kaplan intended to turn her into a slave, to write his own Rubaiyat on the softest parts of her flesh. She waited for him to pounce. He didn't touch her or steal her gun. She slept with the silver Colt under her pillow, on a cot near the kitchen, while Omar had the bedroom all to himself. It was dark as a cave. He'd emerge from the bedroom, dressed in black, like some Satan with piercing green eyes, prepared to soft-soap whatever white trash had wandered into the Bronx. He'd leave the apartment at 7 in the morning and wouldn't return before 9 at night. But there was always food in the fridge, fancier food than she'd ever had: salmon cutlets, Belgian beer, artichokes, strawberries from Israel, a small wheel of Swiss cheese with blue numbers stamped on the rind.
He was much more talkative after he returned from one of his pilferings. He'd switch off all the lamps and light a candle, and they'd have salmon cutlets together, drink Belgian beer. He'd rattle his tambourine from time to time, sing Christian songs. It could have been the dark beer that greased his tongue.
"Prudence, did you ever feel any remorse after killing those night managers?"
"None that I know of," she said.
"Their faces don't come back to haunt you in your dreams?"
"I never dream," she said.
"Do you ever consider all the orphans and widows you made?"
"I'm an orphan," she said, "and maybe I just widened the franchise."
"Pru the orphan-maker."
"Something like that," she said.
"Would you light a candle with me for their lost souls?"
She didn't care. She lit the candle, while Satan crinkled his eyes and mumbled something. Then he marched into his bedroom and closed the door. It galled her. She'd have felt more comfortable if he'd tried to undress her. She might have slept with Satan, left marks on his neck.
She would take long walks in the Bronx, with her silver gun. She sought replicas of herself, wanderers with pink skin. But she found Latinas with baby carriages, old black women outside a beauty parlor, black and Latino men on a basketball court. She wasn't going to wear a neckerchief mask and rob men and boys playing ball.
The corner she liked best was at Sheridan Avenue and East 169, because it was a valley with hills on three sides, with bodegas and other crumbling little stores, a barbershop without a barber, apartment houses with broken courtyards and rotting steel gates. The Bronx was a casbah, like Emma Mae had said, and Pru could explore the hills that rose up around her, that seemed to give her some sort of protective shield. She could forget about Satan and silver guns.
She returned to Marcy Place. It was long after 9, and Omar Kaplan hadn't come home. She decided to set the table, prepare a meal of strawberries, Swiss cheese, and Belgian beer. She lit a candle, waiting for Omar. She grew restless, decided to read a book. She swiped Sister Carrie off the shelves — a folded slip of paper fell out, some kind of impromptu bookmark. But this bookmark had her face on it, and a list of her crimes. It had a black banner on top. WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE. Like the title of a macabre song. There were words scribbled near the bottom. Dangerous and demented. Then scribbles in another hand. A real prize package. McDonald's ought to give us a thousand free Egg McMuffins for this fucking lady. Then a signature that could have been a camel's hump. The letters on that hump spelled O-M-A-R.
She shouldn't have stayed another minute. But she had to tease out the logic of it all. Emma Mae had given her a Judas kiss, sold her to some supercop. Why hadn't Satan arrested her the second she'd opened the door? He was toying with her like an animal trainer who would point her toward McDonald's, where other supercops were waiting with closed-circuit television cameras. They meant to film her at the scene of the crime, so she could act out some unholy procession that would reappear on the 6-o'clock news.
A key turned in the lock. Pru clutched her silver Colt. Omar appeared in dark glasses that hid his eyes. He wasn't dressed like a lowlife preacher man. He wore a silk tie and a herringbone suit. He wasn't even startled to see a gun in his face. He smiled and wouldn't beg her not to shoot. It should have been easy. He couldn't put a spell on her without his pale green eyes.
"White trash," she said. "Is Emma Mae your sister?"
"I have a lot of sisters," he said, still smiling.
"And you're a supercop and a smarty-pants."
"Me? I'm the lowest of the low. A freelancer tied to ten different agencies, an undercover kid banished to the Bronx. Why didn't you run? I gave you a chance. I left notes for you in half my books, a hundred fucking clues."
"Yeah, I'm Miss Egg McMuffin. I do McDonald's. And I have no place to run to. Preacher man, play your tambourine and sing your last song."
She caught a glimpse of the snubnosed gun that rose out of a holster she hadn't seen. She didn't even hear the shot. She felt a thump in her chest and she flew against the wall with blood in her eyes. And that's when she had a vision of the night managers behind all the blood. Six men and a woman wearing McDonald's bibs, though she hadn't remembered them wearing those. They had eye sockets without the liquid complication of eyes themselves. Pru was still implacable toward the managers. She would have shot them all over again. But she did sigh once before the night managers disappeared and she fell into Omar Kaplan's arms like a sleepy child.CHAPTER 2
GOLD MOUNTAIN by Terrence ChengLehman College
He knocked on the door and waited. A voice called out in English. Usually it was a white man, older, wearing glasses or with a beard or both. Usually the older white man looked into the bag, then at the bill, then went through his wallet for money. Usually the tip was a dollar or two, sometimes more. This did not happen often and he did not expect it.
He heard footsteps and then the door opened.
He stared at the man as he fumbled with his wallet; he was not white and not older, but Chinese — not Japanese or Korean, he could tell right away from the pallor of his skin, the shape of his eyes and nose and mouth. In his mid-thirties, he thought, he wore glasses and a blazer, a pair of dark pressed pants, and shined shoes. A few small moles dotting his right cheek, otherwise his skin was light, his hair longish and wavy, swept back as if blown by wind.
The man gave him a twenty and said, "Keep it"; he could not speak English, but this phrase he had come to understand. He nodded, turned to go. Then he heard the man say in his own dialect, "You are from Fuzhou?" He stopped, did not turn back right away. When he did he said in his own language, "Yes. Are you?"
"No," the man said, "My family is from the north. But I've traveled."
He paused, then said, "Is my pronunciation okay?"
"Yes, very good."
"I'm a professor here. I teach history."
"Right," he said. "Thank you." He turned and went downstairs and out to the fence where he had chained his bicycle. He looked at his watch. He had two more deliveries across campus, had to hurry or else they would call the restaurant and complain.
The orders coming from the college had picked up since the end of August. Now there were people everywhere — the faces black, brown, white, most of them young, some older, even old. Many pensive, serious, many jubilant and smiling. There were Asian faces as well, but only a few, and he did not stare at them too long or try to make eye contact, did not want to seem conspicuous. Most of the buildings were gray and blocky, others weather-blasted with regal columns and stone carved façades. He liked riding by the baseball field, watching people jog along the gravel track or playing ball in the midst of all that green.
The rest of the day he could not stop thinking of the professor who had given him the good tip and the chance to speak in his own dialect, and not Cantonese (to the other delivery men) or Mandarin (to his boss). On sight he had known the professor was Mandarin, northern Chinese, but he was speaking Fukienese and so he had to ask. Maybe his father had been from Fujian province, or his mother. He wondered why and how much traveling the professor had done to acquire a dialect so different from his native one, how he too had wound up in a place like this.
He rode and kept his eyes roving. Too many times during the summer he had almost been clipped by a speeding truck or car while enjoying the warmth of the sun on his back or a cooling breeze in his face. For this he was teased by the other delivery men.
"Pay attention or you'll get run down like a rat," said Fong. He was in his forties but already quite bald, one front tooth capped in gold, a cigarette perpetually dangling from his lips. He had been in the U.S. for over ten years and liked to brag that he could navigate the streets of the neighborhood with his eyes closed. The other delivery man was Wai-Ling, twenty-one or twenty-two, a few years younger than himself, small and quiet with bushy eyebrows and beady eyes. He laughed at whatever Fong said.
Not long after he had arrived, the boss, Mr. Liu, gave him the college campus and neighboring streets as his delivery area. "Can you handle that without getting killed?" Mr. Liu had asked him. He was a wiry old man, originally from Beijing, who ran the restaurant with his small but angry wife. They gave him a map, which he folded and put in his back pocket as Fong and Wai-Ling laughed.
"Like a schoolboy," Fong said. "Don't get lost!"
When a delivery was wrong or late he would be yelled at and sometimes cursed at — he recognized the loud sharp tones, fiaring in the eyes. Times like this he was glad he did not know what was said. He would just hand over the delivery and a few times the food was taken with a door slammed in his face, leaving him empty-handed. He thought Mr. Liu would scream at him for this, but he didn't. "It happens sometimes," his boss said. "Better not to make enemies." He thought Mr. Liu was right, but in the end he knew that none of it would matter if no one knew who he was, which was why he had told no one his real name.
After his last delivery of the day he returned the bicycle to the restaurant and counted out with Mrs. Liu. His tips for the day had been poor, except for the professor who had given him almost four dollars. He left Fong and Wai-Ling smoking out in front of the restaurant. As he walked away he heard Fong shout at him, "Don't get lost, eh?" The same joke every day; he heard Wai-Ling snicker and laugh.
He lived close to the restaurant in a stone and brick building, a steel gate in front trimmed with razor wire. His apartment was small: an open kitchen, a living room, and a bathroom. He had found a mattress on the street and scrubbed it clean and now it lay in the corner covered with a blanket. The black-and-white television sat on a plastic crate, and there was one rickety wood chair against the wall that he never sat in but used as a small table instead. He had his dinner in a bag taken from the restaurant — leftover rice and greasy noodles, a slop of chicken, and overcooked vegetables in brown sauce. He set it on the chair and dug in; he didn't like the restaurant's food, but it was easier than cooking and still the closest thing he could get that reminded him of home. Since he had come to this place his pants and shirts now fit more snugly, and there was a thickness growing around his face. Maybe it was the food, or maybe the place itself was changing him. He thought his parents, if they had been alive, would not recognize him. And maybe this was part of the luxury in coming to the Gold Mountain, where food was hearty and plentiful enough to fatten up even a skinny farm boy like himself.
He turned on the television and watched the baseball game. The score was six to two, and only from the body language of the players could he figure out who was winning. When the score became ten to two he turned it off.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bronx Noir"
Copyright © 2007 Akashic Books.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART I: BRING IT ON HOME,
Jerome Charyn Claremont/Concourse White Trash,
Terrence Cheng Lehman College Gold Mountain,
Joanne Dobson Sedgwick Avenue Hey, Girlie,
Rita Lakin Elder Avenue The Woman Who Hated the Bronx,
PART II: IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT,
Lawrence Block Riverdale Rude Awakening,
Suzanne Chazin Jerome Avenue Burnout,
Kevin Baker Yankee Stadium The Cheers Like Waves,
Abraham Rodriguez, Jr. South Bronx Jaguar,
PART III: ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT,
STEVEN TORRES Hunts Point Early Fall,
S.J. ROZAN Botanical Garden Hothouse,
THOMAS BENTIL Rikers Island Lost and Found,
MARLON JAMES Williamsbridge Look What Love Is Doing to Me,
PART IV: THE WANDERER,
Sandra Kitt City Island Home Sweet Home,
Robert J. Hughes Fordham Road A Visit to St. Nick's,
Miles Marshall Lewis Baychester Numbers Up,
Joseph Wallace Bronx Zoo The Big Five,
PART V: ALL SHOOK UP,
Ed Dee Van Cortlandt Park Ernie K.'s Gelding,
Patrick W. Picciarelli Arthur Avenue The Prince of Arthur Avenue,
Thomas Adcock Courthouse You Want I Should Whack Monkey Boy?,
About the Contributors,