Under a sky full of stars, Dylan James lies sleeping on the roof of a pueblo-style house. He’s a fugitive, and everyone in Albuquerque seems to be looking for him. A murderous Mafia prince wants to kill him. Two FBI agents want to cuff him. A Goth girl wants to make love to him. And a fierce, sexy Chicana just wants to clean up the mess Dylan made.
The trouble started with a drug-addled career criminal named Doc and a bank robbery staged with a garage door opener. Then it all goes off the rails after a little misunderstanding with Dylan’s ex-girlfriend and her jealous, gun-toting new beau.
When the sun comes up, this sleepy, scrawny desperado is going to show the world what he’s made of—all for a one-in-a-million shot at walking out of Duke City alive.
Advance praise for Duke City Desperado
“Duke City Desperado is more fun than a barrel of heavily medicated monkeys. The crime caper novel is not dead, but in the capable hands of Max Austin it takes on a whole new twist. Two inept criminals equal one good time for the reader.”—Charlaine Harris, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Day Shift and the novels that inspired True Blood
“Duke City Desperado is a page-burner of tart dialogue and breakneck pacing. In lesser hands, this twisty plot could have gone off the rails, but it works because author Max Austin knows it’s all about simple, human relationships, especially the off-kilter relationship at the core of the story.”—Bill Fitzhugh, Lefty Award–winning author of The Exterminators
“With Duke City Desperado, Max Austin again proves to be grand master of the laugh-out-loud noir crime novel. Doc Burnett (“Bank robbery ain’t a matter of brains.”) and his hapless disciple, Dylan, lead readers on a madcap spree that transforms ineptitude into a survival skill.”—Charlie Price, Edgar Award–winning author of Dead Girl Moon
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Read an Excerpt
“Bank robbery ain’t a matter of brains,” Doc Burnett declared in his reedy drawl. “It’s about balls.”
Dylan James sighed. A new topic for Doc. The skinny redneck had talked nonstop for three hours while driving aimlessly around Albuquerque’s dusty streets. So far, he’d covered overpaid athletes, designated hitters, illegal immigration, welfare mothers, the national debt, the decline of country-western music, Memphis vs. Motown, Democrat vs. Republican, rich vs. poor, bacon vs. sausage, Japanese rice-burners vs. honest American motorcycles, and the undisputed fact that TV cartoons were better before censors eliminated the wacky violence.
Doc jumped back and forth between subjects, quick with an opinion, dismissive of contrary views. Nobody preaches like a speed freak.
He fished yet another black beauty out of the pocket of his faded denim jacket and dry-swallowed it as their westbound van zoomed through a yellow light on Central Avenue near the towering green marquee of the old Hiland Theater.
Doc was wound tighter than Dylan had ever seen him before, his face glowing, veins visible under his skin. He hadn’t slept in four days, which meant Dylan hadn’t gotten much rest, either. Too busy listening to his mentor’s constant commentary.
The speed made Doc aggressive and impatient. He definitely shouldn’t have been driving, but he blew up every time Dylan offered to take a turn at the wheel.
Mid-afternoon on a Thursday, there wasn’t a lot of traffic, but Dylan kept his seat belt cinched tight.
“See, here’s the thing about banks.” Doc changed lanes without signaling. “The employees are trained to hand over the money. That’s right in their job description. If a robber makes any threat on human life, they’re supposed to hand over the cash and wait for the cops.”
“Just like that?”
“Well, it’s got to be a credible threat,” Doc said. “The tellers can’t just hand over money hither and dither. They must truly believe their lives are in danger.”
“That’s why you show ’em a gun.”
“If you’ve got the balls, you don’t even need a gun. Put your hand in your coat pocket. Walk in there and say, ‘Give me the money or I’ll kill everyone in this place.’ Show ’em your poker face so they’ll believe you mean it.”
“You’ve got a poker face?” Dylan said, kidding him.
Doc scowled, his high forehead creasing into a flock of V’s. His skin stretched tight over his skull and jutting cheekbones, and his slicked-back hair and reddish goatee seemed glued on as afterthoughts. His dark eyes were set deep in their sockets, but Dylan could see the drug fire burning there.
“Pretty scary, all right.”
“Makes you want to hand over the money, don’t it?”
“I think it takes more than a mean face, Doc.”
“Of course. There’s also the bluff. You’ve got to display confidence. Got to make them believe they’re in the middle of a deadly encounter.”
“And you could do that without showing a weapon?”
“I could do it without getting out of the goddamned van,” Doc said. “I could drive up to a bank and make them hand over the money.”
Dylan couldn’t take it anymore. “Now that’s bullshit. You can’t make ’em pass money out the window, I don’t care how mean you look. They’re not gonna let you drive away with—”
Doc braked suddenly, throwing Dylan against his shoulder belt. The van careened into an asphalt parking lot next to a low brick building. Dylan had been so busy arguing, he hadn’t noticed they were near the Nob Hill branch of First State Bank of Albuquerque.
Doc followed white arrows painted on the asphalt, tires squealing as he drove around to the back.
“What the hell you doing, Doc?”
The drive-through area was divided into three lanes, but only one put motorists face-to-face with a teller. Doc steered the flat-fronted Ford van into that one, stopping just short of the bumper of a blue Subaru station wagon being served at the window. The station wagon had little stick-figure people glued to the back window to show it belonged to a family of six, and bumper stickers that said, “Jesus Is the Answer” and “I (Heart) Menudo.”
As Dylan puzzled over that combination, Doc said, “Gimme one of those garage-door openers.”
“Come on, Doc.”
“Do it, goddamn it!”
A plastic tote bag on the floorboard contained two dozen garage-door remote controls Doc had collected in burglaries over the years. They’d spent the past few weeks driving up and down residential streets, pushing buttons on the remotes. Only so many frequencies in use for garage-door openers, so once in a while they’d get lucky and a door would glide open. They’d back the rusty white van up to the garage and load up anything of value. Be gone in minutes.
A good scam, but fences paid only pennies on the dollar and you could burn a lot of expensive gasoline before getting a hit. And the prowling was tedious, particularly for a man like Doc, a high-wire act surviving on a diet of fast food and amphetamines and Mountain Dew.
Dylan handed over a remote, an anonymous gray plastic box with two buttons on the top.
“This’ll do fine,” Doc said.
The blue station wagon drove away.
“This is crazy, Doc. Don’t screw around with this teller.”
“I’m about to show you how it’s done.”
“They take this shit seriously.”
“They should! I’m serious as a heart attack.”
“I’m serious as cancer.”
“You’re gonna get us busted.”
“Shut up. I’ll do the talking.”
Late-afternoon sun glared through the windshield. Doc let the van creep forward, trying to get into the shade of a flat awning that jutted above the drive-through teller window.
Dylan pulled up the hood of his favorite sweatshirt, an oversized gray pullover that had “Dukes” scrolled across the front in black. The defunct Albuquerque Dukes minor-league baseball team had been named after the Spanish duke from whom Albuquerque gets its name. The Dukes were replaced years ago by the Isotopes, so now anything that said “Dukes” was considered retro and cool. Dylan still wasn’t sure what the hell an “Isotope” was supposed to be. He pulled the hood close around his face, trying to hide.
“They’ve got cameras everywhere, Doc. They’re taking our picture right now. They’re recording our license plate.”
“I don’t give a shit. This ain’t my van.”
That gave Dylan a brain stutter. “It’s not?”
“Hell, no. You think I’d pay good money for a piece of shit like this?”
“We’ve been driving around for weeks in a stolen van?”
“Stop distracting me.”
Doc rolled down his window, letting in a gust of cool October air scented with auto exhaust.
Dylan peeked out of his hood just enough to get a look at the teller. She was a plump brunette in her mid-forties—around the same age as Doc. Her black dress and lacy white collar made her look like a judge.
“Good afternoon, sir.” Her voice sounded tinny through the speaker set into the thick glass. “How may I help you today, sir?”
Dylan whispered, “Don’t. Please.”
If Doc heard, it had no effect on him. He held up the gray garage-door opener for the teller to see.
“This is a holdup!”
“I’ve got a bomb,” Doc yelled. “Hand over the money or I’ll push this button and blow us all to kingdom come.”
The plump teller pursed her lips.
“Sir, that appears to me to be a garage-door opener.”
Doc twisted his scowl even tighter and shouted at the woman, “It’s a detonator! This van is loaded with explosives! I’ll level this entire goddamned block!”
“All right, sir. There’s no need to curse. If you say you have a bomb, I’ll have to take your word for it.”
“Goddamned right,” Doc growled. “You’ve got one minute to round up the cash and hand it over. Any longer than that, and we all die here.”
“Yes, sir. I understand the situation, sir. I’ll get right on it.”
As the teller turned away from the window, Dylan muttered, “She’s not buying it.”
“Shut up,” Doc said through clenched teeth. “It’s working.”
“No, it’s not.”
“I’ve got her buffaloed.”
“They’re calling the cops.”
“I said shut up.”
“This is crazy.”
Doc looked over at him, his eyes on fire, a muscle twitching in his cheek. He still had his bony finger poised over the button.
“Drive away,” Dylan whispered. “Right now. Before it’s too late.”
“Shut up, you little prick. You’re gonna ruin my play.”
The teller was back at the window.
“The money bags won’t fit through this drawer. Those zippered deposit bags are as big as we can go. Unless you want me to haul it outside—”
“Use the zippered bags. Hurry up. You’re almost out of time.”
As she turned from the window, Dylan heard the quick whoop of a police siren. Maybe a mile away.
He unsnapped his seat belt and popped open the door.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Dylan didn’t answer. He was too busy running.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A book told from the POV of a guy who doesn’t exactly walk on the good side of the law? It’s definitely new and refreshing, and Duke City Desperado offers just that. From the moment I started reading, I kept on rooting for Dylan James, the “bad guy”. A career criminal named Doc, a friend of Dylan’s, decides to rob a bank and bring Dylan along for the ride. But when Dylan bails on him, it’s the start of a series of bizarre adventures that include Dylan escaping, or trying to escape, from the law in just about any way imaginable. The book offers an enjoyable and diverse cast of characters, Dylan probably being the most normal one of the bunch. The action is non-stop, always thrilling and at times hilarious. The writing style is engaging and I felt connected to almost all of the characters. If you want a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat suspense novel that also adds in some humor, I would highly recommend this book. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The "Duke City" characters are always weird and interesting, and this book carries this notion to an extreme. The action is virtually non-stop, and there is a surprise around every corner. I just couldn't put it down. The plot is thrilling, and the story is an easy read. It is extremely engrossing, and went by all too fast. As always, the ending is very satisfying, it just came too quickly.