As the bodies pile up, Shayna wonders if Ruzzo will find her before she ends up in Davy Jones' Locker.
|Publisher:||Down & Out Books II, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.38(d)|
Read an Excerpt
A Tommy and Shayna Crime Caper
By S.W. Lauden
Down & Out BooksCopyright © 2017 S.W. Lauden
All rights reserved.
It was a rundown, two-story clapboard house several miles off the guidebook maps. Empty kegs were stacked three-high on either side of the screen door like dented tin soldiers. A mangy dog slept on a shabby couch under the cracked window out front. It definitely wasn't the kind of place tourists would ever visit — unless they were lost or unlucky. Shayna Billups was feeling a little of both these days.
She threw her red convertible into park and pushed the car door open, swinging her long legs out into the street. It felt good to stand up after so many hours on the road. She stretched and yawned, shifting the hem of her tight skirt back down with a practiced wiggle.
The cracked wooden porch wobbled under her high heels, like an uneven pile of firewood. Zydeco music wafted out of the bar to greet her, along with the smell of fried shrimp and stale beer. The Keel Hall might pass for quaint if it didn't look like it was about to collapse. She was reaching for the door when somebody racked the slide on a shotgun behind her.
"I wouldn't go in there if I was you."
His voice was slow and deep. Shayna brought her hands up, calmly turning around.
He had menacing eyes and spiky blond hair that glistened in the afternoon sun. His tattooed arms were bursting from the sleeves of his too-tight T-shirt. It took Shayna a beat to realize that there were also two women, one on either side of him. They both wore too much make-up and ear-to-ear smiles. It was obvious to Shayna that running a bar in New Orleans had taken a nasty toll on her high school friends.
The man brought his gun down, flashing a mischievous grin.
"These two put me up to it, I swear."
Shayna lowered her hands, bringing one to rest on a strategically cocked hip.
"I almost had a heart attack, you asshole."
His eyes traced her curves, from her high heels to her pouting lips. He looked like a rescue dog setting eyes on its first steak.
"You passing through or planning to stay a while, sugar?"
"Well," Shayna said, twisting her blonde hair with an index finger. "That all depends ..."
The man took a step forward, as if in a trance. The woman standing on his left smacked him hard across the head, snapping him out of it. He spun around to give her a piece of his mind and caught an open hand across the cheek.
He gave Shayna one more glance and wandered around the side of the building shaking his head, the shotgun on his shoulder. The two women rushed up onto the porch. Georgia had been the head cheerleader back in high school, but looked more like a linebacker now. She was tall and thick, with broad shoulders and wide hips. Her greasy, yellow hair was the color of stale French fries. She threw an arm around Shayna, squeezing the air right out of her.
Ida was a fireplug by comparison. She was short and stocky, with limp brown curls framing a pockmarked face. It didn't look to Shayna like either of them went very long between drinks or meals.
Ida gave Shayna's ass a firm squeeze.
"Damn, girl. I see you packed your trunk."
"Thanks. I had a little work done last year."
Ida glanced up at Shayna's chest, screwing her lips into a smirk.
"And that ain't all. What brings you down to the Big Easy?"
Shayna chose her words carefully. She'd found out a little too late that killing your husband doesn't pay, at least not right away. The bitchy lady handling the insurance claim told her a payout could take up to a month. That left Shayna without anywhere to be.
"Heading to Los Angeles eventually, but there's no big rush. Thought I'd stop by here to see what kind of trouble the three of us could get into."
Georgia and Ida exchanged a look that told Shayna she had them on the hook. She had to be patient while reeling them in.
"I hope I'm not imposing. You two must have your hands full running a fine establishment like this."
Shayna motioned to a faded sign by the front door. It swung in a slight breeze that delivered the muddy smell of the Mississippi River mingled with the scent of olive trees and piss. The Keel Hall's website made it sound like a swanky Las Vegas resort, but it was nothing more than a pirate-themed dive bar that the locals called Keely's.
Georgia stepped forward with a broad smile on her frying pan face.
"Glad you like it. We're actually looking for a new bartender, if you feel like staying a while."
"You'll make a killing in tips," Ida quickly added. "We'll even throw in room and board."
Shayna felt conflicted, despite the fact that everything was going exactly like she wanted it to. She didn't regret killing her husband, but really missed planning it. All of the plotting and scheming, the complicated lies and manipulations, had given her a sense of purpose that felt like a missing limb these days. She hadn't just gotten revenge on that abusive, pill-popping son-of-a-bitch; she'd fooled everybody in Seatown, Florida — my hometown — including the police. And now all of that hard work was reduced to a check she was waiting to get in the mail.
The whole thing had been about the cash, but now it didn't seem like it was enough. She craved a new adventure, something to lose herself in completely. Unfortunately, the person she most wanted to share it with was back in Seatown. And he probably hated her for everything she'd put him through.
I've already ruined Tommy Ruzzo's life twice before, she thought. A third time might finally kill him.
Shayna shook her head, chasing those thoughts away. She needed a stiff drink, and maybe something a little stiffer than that. Anything to obliterate the unwanted memories she was trying to outrun.
"Aren't you two sweet? Buy me a drink and I'll think it over."
"Hell, yeah," Georgia said. "We should get you inside before the neighborhood dogs come sniffing around anyway."
Shayna waved the compliment away with the flick of her wrist.
"Speaking of dogs. Who was your friend with the gun? He's cute, in a scummy sort of way."
Ida dug her press-on nails into Shayna's arm until she almost drew blood. Her voice was a smoky growl.
"That's our bouncer, Adam, but keep your paws off of him — he's mine, all mine."
Shayna made a mental note to avoid the bouncer while she was there. She wasn't afraid of Ida, but she definitely didn't need another murder on her hands. At least not right away.
Georgia made a sweeping gesture with her arm as they entered. The interior was even more run down than the outside, but the soft blue lights gave it a pleasant underwater glow. The two large fish tanks behind the short wooden bar looked like they hadn't been cleaned in months. A faded Jolly Roger hung from the ceiling overhead, dancing like a ghost in the breeze of a circular fan. Anchors and helms adorned the walls at odd intervals, mostly to cover up water stains. In between were thrift store paintings with vaguely nautical themes, mixed in with framed pirate maps of every shape and size.
A few of the scattered tables were full, but almost nobody spoke. Ida jumped behind the bar to grab a shaker. Georgia and Shayna climbed up onto stools near a stooped, older man. He wore a black stocking cap and had a thick white beard that hung down to his prominent potbelly. A half empty beer mug sat still on the bar in front of him, as forgotten and lonely-looking as its owner. All he needed was an eyepatch or a pegleg and he could be the centerpiece of the bar's worn-out decor.
Shayna couldn't take her eyes off of him. She leaned over to whisper in Georgia's ear.
"Please tell me he's an actor that you hire to sit there."
Georgia snuck a peek around her.
"Lafitte? Hell, he used to own this place."
Ida set two coconut-shaped mugs in front of them. Shayna watched thick foam bubble over the lip of hers, oozing like spit down to her wrinkled cocktail napkin. A green toothpick floated on top, buoyed by a dried out wedge of pineapple and a shriveled maraschino cherry.
"What the hell kind of drink is that?"
Georgia hoisted hers up in a toast.
"The kind that gets you drunk."
Shayna finished hers off in a couple of gulps. The sugary rum burned going down, but left her feeling warm all over. She licked the foam from her upper lip, slamming the empty coconut to the bar.
"What's a woman have to do to get laid around here?"CHAPTER 2
AND A BOTTLE OF RUM
Tommy Ruzzo was soaking wet. The Florida rain still took him by surprise, especially when he was drunk. That was most of the time these days, and working as a bouncer at The Rusty Pelican didn't help. Mikey couldn't pay much, but he let Ruzzo live on his fishing boat for free. And Ruzzo always had an open tab at the bar — a perk that he took full advantage of, even on his days off.
He pushed through the front door, shaking his head like a dog. Water flung from his thick black hair, dotting a couple of nearby tables and chairs. They were worn and empty, like the rest of the place. Monday used to be "Comedy Open Mic Night," but Mikey canceled it after his old friend, Jesse Lee Cavanaugh, went on a killing spree that almost cost Ruzzo his life.
"3 AM" by Matchbox Twenty blared from the jukebox as Ruzzo climbed up onto his usual stool. He knew better than to complain about Mikey's terrible taste in music, so he focused on the volume instead.
"Does it have to be so freakin' loud?"
"What? Oh ..."
Mikey lifted a remote, bringing the volume down from intolerable to merely deafening. His long hair was cropped short now, and spiky on top. It made his bloated red face look like a giant puffer fish.
Ruzzo nodded. He used to be a whisky man, but these days he drank rum. It went well with his baggy Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and flip-flops. His compact frame had gotten paunchy around the middle, and his cheeks and chin were more rounded. He'd come to town a rock-hard New Yorker, but now he was soft like the white sand beaches that lined the Gulf Coast. His surrender to Florida was complete. There are worse places to die.
It didn't help that Ruzzo was broke and out of options. Mikey set two shot glasses down, filling them to the lip with Bacardi 151. He lifted one up in a shaky toast.
"Here's to swimmin' behind bow-legged women."
Ruzzo froze, the drink midway between his lips and the bar.
"What the hell kind of pervert toast is that?"
"No idea. Something my dad used to say."
"Sounds like dumbass runs in your family."
Mikey clenched his teeth into a smile, but let it go. They each knocked their drinks back in a single gulp. Mikey immediately filled their glasses again.
"Any news from Sgt. Badeaux about Jesse Lee?"
Ruzzo tensed. His free hand travelled down to the scar on his gut. The doctors said it was a miracle that the bullet only grazed him. The jury was still out as far as he was concerned.
"Sgt. Badeaux's a rat bastard. Let's talk about something else for a change."
Mikey's eyes shifted to the front window. A line of cars crawled along the highway out front. The grey skies overhead pulsated with the flash of distant lightning.
"Looks like the storm's moving on."
Ruzzo grunted in response. Mikey picked a towel up and started polishing a murky pint glass.
"Any word from Shayna?"
Ruzzo finished off his second shot, slamming the glass down on the bar. It hit the wood with a loud crack.
"You're killing me!"
"Sorry. There ain't much happening in Seatown these days."
Ruzzo's shoulders slumped.
"No shit. I'll drink to that."
Mikey topped his shot off again.
"That's what I like about you, Ruzzo. You'll drink to just about anything."CHAPTER 3
Shayna stood behind the bar at Keely's three weeks later. Her hands shook uncontrollably thanks to a sustained drunken blackout. From what she could piece together, she, Ida and Georgia had been living on a steady diet of beignets, rum and cocaine.
Blurry memories sailed across her psyche like ghost ships. Maybe they'd worn beads and danced on tables, shot pool and skinny-dipped in the Mississippi River. Or maybe they hadn't. There might have been fireworks at some point, or was it gunshots? Whatever the truth was, it seemed like exactly the kind of debaucherous escape that she had always enjoyed — until things fell apart. Why do things always fall apart?
Some memories were clearer than others. Her skin crawled when she remembered how Georgia and Ida dragged her from bar to bar like a prize cow, telling everybody that she was their "hot new piece of ass." Shayna played along; happily slurping down free drinks while every lecherous boozehound in town hit on her. Her new bosses loved all the free promotion for Keely's, but got more and more jealous as the week wore on. Shayna barely noticed until their scowls and insults turned violent.
The flashbacks got worse as the hours dragged on. She caught glimpses of eager men in strange beds, topless carriage rides, and an endless line of blow that extended the length of Bourbon Street. She imagined herself crawling along the cobblestones with a straw in her nose, her heart almost beating through her chest. But at least I'm not thinking about Tommy Ruzzo.
And then, just like that, she was thinking about him. Again.
Shayna was desperate for someone to talk to. Anybody who could help her escape the dark thoughts that crept into her mind the minute she was sober and alone. A little hair of the dog might do the trick, but the thought of alcohol made her want to puke. She was seriously starting to question her hard and fast rule about never buying cocaine for personal use.
She searched the bar in desperation, but Lafitte was the only customer there. He'd been nursing the same flat beer for an hour, staring off into space. Shayna wandered over to the small sink directly under the bar in front of him. Nothing got her two best assets jiggling quite like the automatic glass washers submerged there.
Lafitte's bloodshot eyes shifted downward, but his expression didn't change.
His voice was soft and gravelly, as if he'd recently swallowed broken glass. Shayna tittered like a schoolgirl in response, but kept cleaning glasses. She had him right where she wanted him.
"The rest of you still work as well as your eyes, old man?"
"Not really, but at least all of my parts are real. Those things hurt when they sewed them on?" He nodded at her chest and winked. She did a terrible job of acting offended by his question.
"What makes you think they're fake?"
"Nothing in nature moves like that, sweetheart."
He lifted his beer to take sip. She grabbed a towel, wiping the bar beneath it.
"Ready for another?"
Lafitte studied the mug in his hand, as if discovering it was there. His nod was almost imperceptible when he set it back down. Shayna pulled the tap to draw him a fresh draft. The golden liquid caught the soft light as she slid it his way.
"This one's on me."
"As long as you're feeling generous, can you give me a light?"
He produced a bent cigarette from his shirt pocket. Shayna set a glass ashtray down in front of him. The image of a gold doubloon on the bottom was smudged black from use and abuse. She pulled out a Keely's matchbook, quickly producing a flame. He took a long drag, smoke escaping from his nostrils without any obvious effort.
"You remind me of my daughter."
Shayna's shoulders relaxed a little now that she had something else to focus on.
"Really? What's her name?"
"No idea. I just made her up. Seemed like you were looking for somebody to tell you a fairy tale."
"Well, that's messed up."
"You wouldn't want to hear any stories about my family, anyway. Trust me."
Shayna tried to act mad, but knew she had no right. That didn't mean she was willing to let him off the hook. He owed her now.
"Then tell me about this dump. What's with all the pirate crap?"
The cigarette danced on his lip as he laughed. He sounded like a stuttering bullfrog with emphysema.
"You want to hear a really crazy story? Go grab that map off the wall over there."
Lafitte spun around on his stool, raising his arm like a slow-moving compass. She was up on her tippy toes, trying to see where his finger would eventually land. It stopped on a large, boxy frame near the men's room door.
What the hell, she thought. My shift's almost over anyway.
Shayna stepped from behind the bar and went to grab the strange artifact. She nearly ran straight into Ida walking across the room. Her boss didn't seem happy to see her.
"Why aren't you working?"
Shayna motioned to the empty room, but Ida's angry expression didn't change. Georgia emerged from the women's bathroom right then, shaking water off of her hands. She took one look at Shayna and sneered.
"Fill up the paper towels in there before you clock out."
Shayna watched them walk away together. She waited until they were behind the bar before she went over to the old frame, pulling it from the wall. Something rattled as she walked. She studied the small piece of parchment trapped inside when she set it down in front of Lafitte. It was about the size and shape of a jagged saw blade with faded black markings spread across it. His eyes danced from her face to the map.
"Know anything about pirates?"
"Only what I've seen in movies."
Lafitte rolled his eyes.
"This map belonged to a bona fide pirate, not some Hollywood wannabe. His name was Captain Edward Aurora."
"Never heard of him."
Excerpted from Crossed Bones by S.W. Lauden. Copyright © 2017 S.W. Lauden. Excerpted by permission of Down & Out 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
About the Author,
Other Books by the Author,
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