The wild, daring, sexy and outrageously original crime novel from Macavity Award winner and two-time Anthony Award nominee Craig Faustus Buck.
Nob Brown is a divorced, disillusioned thirty-something ex-cop turned bottom-feeding tabloid writer. His best friend and occasional lover, Gloria Lopes, is an LAPD detective who needs an Excel spreadsheet to chart her sex life. When Gloria slips Nob the confidential file on the unsolved twenty-year-old murder of a legendary rock-and-roll goddess, Nob hopes to solve the crime and propel himself out of the tabloids and into a lucrative book deal. But he pokes into the wrong holes and unearths rotting secrets that give rise to fresh corpses. As the cold case comes to a fast boil, Nob is forced to battle for his own survival.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.83(d)|
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Go Down Hard
By Craig Faustus Buck
Brash Books, LLCCopyright © 2015 Craig Faustus Buck
All rights reserved.
Eve whispered to Adam Have some fruit from our yard It'll fire up your blood For when we go down hard Lord have mercy Gonna go down hard
— Lana Strain
I look through the spyhole. Gloria has a bottle of gin in her hand and a pair of cuffs hanging from her belt loop. A deadly combination.
I open the door. "Evening, Lieutenant. You got a warrant?"
"Here's your warrant." She grabs the back of my head and sticks her tongue down my throat. I'd like it better if she didn't taste like Cheetos.
She walks in followed by her dog, Runt, who's not too bright but gets by on his looks. The strapping whelp of an Irish Setter and a Rhodesian Ridgeback, I suspect his red coat is the inspiration for Gloria's dye job.
Gloria gives me that crooked grin that always gets to me. It's the coy curl that promises exotic pleasures if you're lucky enough to have those lips engage just about any part of your anatomy. I've known more than a few guys who mistook that grin for an invitation and got decked. Gloria throws a mean left hook.
She heads into the kitchen for ice. I hear the clink of those steel-chain positive swing-through bracelets with every sway of her hips. She wears them in a cuff pouch at work, but tonight she's accessorizing. At the station, a cop might absently pick up the wrong set of cuffs from time to time, but Gloria doesn't have to worry about hers since they're powder-coated hot pink. They're also back-loading for fast closure, the kind of closure I could have used when my marriage collapsed.
I watch her pour a fist of gin. Five eight and lean, she has on the same pair of jeans she wore sixteen years ago when we first met at the academy. I've been married and divorced since then, but they still fit her, even if they used to be a bit looser, lazier in the thigh. She looks damn good.
"Still seeing the boyfriend?" I ask.
She cups her hands and pushes the lever of the ice maker with her knuckles.
"Why? Are you jealous?"
About a half dozen ice cubes spit onto her palms, but she can't catch one. They scatter across the floor like cockroaches in a blast of light.
"Just making conversation." I grab a beer from the fridge.
Gloria picks an ice cube off the floor and throws it in her glass. She only has room for the one cube without causing the booze to overflow, so she leaves the rest to melt on my linoleum. I debate picking them up but decide it's a bad precedent.
The boyfriend is a dentist she met at a Baptist church. Not that she's religious, but she loves gospel music. He calls her his girlfriend; she calls him her Baptist with benefits. Gloria is philosophically opposed to monogamy. As she puts it, "If we were wired to be monogamous, the honeymoon would be a lifestyle, not a phase." The Baptist doesn't like it, but his only alternative would be to live without her, and she's an addiction that's tough to kick.
For more than a decade, she's been my best friend, except we sometimes wind up in the sack. Or on the kitchen table. Or on the floor. Or just rammed up against a wall somewhere. That doesn't happen with any of my other pals. Not that I'm complaining. Sex with Gloria is wild and thrilling and sensual and full of surprises, even after all these years, but it can also be unrelenting. If the woman tracked her orgasms, she'd need an Excel spreadsheet. Friends shouldn't give friends performance anxiety.
Gloria takes a hefty slug of gin. "I've got a present for you," she says.
"What did I do to deserve a present?"
"Nothing yet, but if you're a bad boy, maybe I'll give it to you."
She moves in and kisses me again. This time she tastes like gin. A big improvement. I slide my hand up inside her blouse to feel her nipple trying to punch through her bra. She's already primed.
"It involves Lana Strain," she says.
My heartbeat spikes. Lana Strain was my adolescent wet dream, that perfect goddess who stamped the mold for my ideal woman. In concert she was high-voltage all the time, a blues-rock Tesla coil. Her songs exploded out of her with dead-on pitch sanded rough by too much smoke and rye whiskey then torched with raw emotion. Her heart-wrenching delivery left me burning to rescue her from the demons in her life, to make it all better for her, to wrap her tight in my arms and comfort her, preferably naked.
Then, when I was seventeen, some douchebag saw fit to splatter the back of Lana's head across her million-dollar Lichtenstein.
I was a four-point-oh heading for the Ivy League, a swimteam star, a party animal, invincible, immortal, at the top of my game. Nothing could take me down, not even my father's death six months before. I'd managed to ride out that trauma on a wave of denial, but a second wave never came when Lana got shot and I needed one bad. The night they broke the news, I sat crying in my room, listening to Lana Live at the Hollywood Bowl over and over. Or was I crying for my father? I used to think I knew. These days I'm not so sure.
"What's this present got to do with Lana Strain?" I ask.
"You want to find out? Let's see how bad you can be."
We migrate toward the bedroom, entwined like tango dancers. Runt makes a halffiearted attempt to herd us back into the kitchen, knowing he's about to be ignored for a while, but when his efforts fail, he pads off to my office to sleep on his favorite sofa. He's been chewing on it for months now, slowly ripping it to shreds. At first that upset me, but then I just gave up. Once Runt's pea brain settles on a project, nothing can stop him.
Gloria rips off my clothes with a sense of urgency. She's ready to rock. I take my sweet time, savoring her, button by button, inch by inch, opening her up like a Chinese puzzle box. It drives her nuts. She heats up, I back off. She cools down, I crank up. It's an excruciating equilibrium.
I work her this way for maybe twenty minutes, until she sounds like an amplified asthma attack, then I pull out the stops. She wails, she howls, she growls, then she goes off like a rocket. Multiple stages.
I'd like to take responsibility for satisfying Gloria, but she's as easy as a bottle of Coke — just shake and pop the top, and she starts spurting; my finesse is just for show. Still panting, she turns the tables and devours me like a rabid beast. A highly skilled rabid beast. It doesn't take me long to detonate but she doesn't stop, she just slows and teases to keep the after surge going on and on. Nice.
Gloria flicks my ear with her tongue, still breathing hard. "You ready for your present?"
"Sure." I guess I was bad enough. And we didn't even use the cuffs.
Our clothes are scattered across the floor. She rolls over and finds her blouse. She pulls a thin chain from her pocket. It has a little gold half heart on it with a jagged edge. It's the kind of pendant that comes in a matched pair for best girlfriends or maudlin lovers to fit together like puzzle pieces so that their heart can only be complete when they're together.
"You can't keep it," she says, "but you can have it for tonight."
I try to take it, but she closes it in her hand. "Uhn uhn," she says, shaking her head. "No hands."
She drops it in her crotch.
"Are you telling me that was Lana's?"
"Probably. But no one ever saw her wearing it."
As I lower my head to retrieve my prize, she adds, "Until they found her body."CHAPTER 2
It's not even eight, but the view through my office window already shimmers in the heat from the dew baking out of the San Fernando Valley floor. I'm supposed to be writing five hundred words for the Enquirer about a sixteen-year-old girl who managed to stab the spike of a compass through her geometry teacher's chest and into his heart. What do I really know about this girl?
My eyes flit to Lana's pendant, which now hangs from my desk lamp. I grab a pencil and start to sketch it as my mind strays from my work. What do I really know about Lana?
I force my thoughts back to the job at hand. I put down the pencil and turn my eyes back to the screen. Despite nine outstanding queries, this stabbing story is the first assignment I've landed in two weeks. I need the money. I need to focus. What do I really know about this girl?
What do I really know about any woman? They use you up and throw you out, that's what. I type, Fuck you, Holly.
My mood sinks just seeing my ex-wife's name on the screen. She was the love of my life when we tied the knot. I'd just become a cop and was riding high. Four years later I watched another cop do something he shouldn't have. I turned a blind eye. Holly thought I was better than that. I wasn't. Things kept sliding downhill from there. It took her a year to divorce me. Two months after that I left the department. The rise and fall of the Nob Brown empire.
Gloria walks in, buttoning her top.
"Sleep well?" I ask.
"What are you doing up so early?"
"What do you think?"
"You should have been a detective."
"How's it coming?" She glances at my screen.
"Not too bad. If you don't mind starving for work and drowning in debt."
She swivels my desk chair and sits facing me on my lap. Her freckled brown eyes stare into mine. I feel like she's poking around inside my head, opening drawers, peeking under rocks.
"You okay?" she asks. "You've seemed a little down lately."
"Haven't you heard? Down is the new up."
She gives me that grin and presses her lips to mine. The kiss is soft, uncharacteristically gentle for her, unsettling. She pulls away and I feel like she's picked my pocket, even though I can't find anything missing.
"I need to drop Runt off before work," she says. "I've been saving something special for your birthday, but I think I'll give it to you early, maybe get your motor running."
She plucks Lana's necklace off my lamp and walks out with Runt on her heels.
* * *
Two hours later I watch Gloria close her office door to spare me the prying glares of the detectives in the bullpen. I don't have too many friends left on The Job anymore.
Gloria sits down behind her battle-scarred desk, which is so tight to the wall she has to lift her feet over the seat of her chair to get her long legs into the kneehole. That's the only configuration that leaves room in front for a folding chair to accommodate visitors. Steel. Unpadded. God forbid I should get too comfortable and overstay my welcome.
A glass nameplate on her desk is engraved with an LAPD Detective badge beside the name Lieutenant Gloria Lopes, which rhymes with "hopes," even though she's descended from an Argentine. I guess the culture didn't stick.
She pulls an eight-by-ten glossy from a bulging file and it immediately curls into a cylinder. She hands it to me and I stretch it taut. The image is like a sucker punch.
Lana Strain's body sits dwarfed by the wall-height painting. Her brain has exploded across the canvas of the Dotted Babe, the perfect spacing of Lichtenstein's half-tone dots disarrayed by the spray-painted blood. I have to take a deep breath to keep my stomach at bay.
The crime-scene photos were never released, so the faded still life is not just a shock but a revelation. Lana slumps against the bottom of the painting like a life-size rag doll, her Streamline Moderne body vacuum-packed in a black halter dress of dotted swiss. I've pictured her dying in jeans and a camisole top, in sweats, in leather, in tight T-shirts, in torn T-shirts, in wet T-shirts, in men's dress shirts, in shorts, in slit skirts, in bikinis, in teddies and, of course, in nothing. But fifties vintage never crossed my mind. Dotted swiss just doesn't seem right.
Lana looks drunk with her head twisted at an awkward angle, chin on chest just above that half-heart pendant. Her face is covered by an onyx wave of silky hair falling slightly open at the part to reveal one eye, a startling mosaic of greens and golds. Her other eye is hidden beneath her hair, but I doubt much of it survived the bullet's entry.
I can feel Gloria watching for my reaction. My primal love for Lana outlived her gruesome murder, outlasted my adolescence, persisted through many a romance, and survived the carnage of my marriage — and Gloria knows it. She knows me too well. She's waiting to see some eruption of emotion like a Roman lusting for a gladiator's blood. I don't give her the satisfaction.
"The shot heard 'round the world," I say softly.
She allows a smirk.
The colors of the photo have yellowed with age, the reds faded more than the cooler hues, turning bloodred into a pale tangerine. I can see a vanity in the background, but everything on it is too blurred to be recognizable. Something that looks like an open umbrella, maybe a lamp. Something that looks like a human head, maybe an oval mirror.
"Too bad about the painting," says Gloria. "I wonder if they ever got the bloodstains out."
Some cops just don't get it. "Why would they want to? A good story just jacks up the price. Dotted Babe, now in red."
"You don't think like a cop anymore," she says.
Under the harsh light of the ancient fluorescent fixtures, Gloria's red mane looks amber, like my eyes, though she says they're hazel.
"Ever find the gun?" I ask.
I lay the eight-by-ten like a priceless papyrus on her desk and lean my six-foot-one frame back in the rigid chair. I feel a bump where it hits my back. Someone must have kicked a dent in the steel. Gloria can have that effect on people.
"I loved her voice," I say. "Reminded me of Janis Joplin, only Lana Strain was better built."
"They both died drunk."
"They both lived drunk. What do you expect?"
During my high school years I had the famous swimming pool poster on my wall where I could see it from bed, the one where Lana's arms and legs covered just enough of her body to make the poster legal to sell to minors. Her piercing, carnivorous eyes haunted my dreams. Now I have a new image to haunt me.
My gaze drifts back to the photo, again curled into a scroll. Twenty years later and I still can't believe Lana's dead. In every city she toured, she'd go to blues bars in parts of town the cops were scared to drive through. She'd get drunk and start brawls. She should have been shot in one of those. That would have been a death in character, a death with flare. Getting shot in her Laurel Canyon bedroom wearing dotted swiss was too suburban middle-class for Lana Strain, too mundane. It just wasn't her style. I find it hard to swallow, as if someone covered up the truth about how she died.
"I know you've been slobbering over her since you were old enough to jerk off, Nob, so happy birthday."
Gloria uncurls the photo, slips it back into the several hundred pages of file, and pushes the engorged folder toward me.
"You don't use three-ring binders for murder books anymore?"
She shrugs. "I took it apart so it wouldn't be so obvious. Keep it organized."
"You're letting me take it home?"
"Like I said, you're looking depressed. With the twentieth anniversary coming up, maybe you can sell a retrospective. Maybe a gig will perk you up. I worry about you."
I can't help but smile, amused. "You worry about me?"
"Go ahead and laugh. But no one knows you like I do. Not even Holly. I know when you're in trouble. And that worries me. You know I love you."
"You must if you're willing to put your badge on the line."
"It's my good deed for the decade so don't make me regret it. I can only check the book out for seven days so I want it back in six. And don't use any direct quotes or descriptions. Background only. You never saw this file."
"Don't mention it. And I mean that literally."
"I'll have to tell Mel."
"No one else." Gloria knew my assistant Melody before I did and knows she can trust her. "I'm counting on you to not be your usual fuckup."
"I'll do my best."
I reach for the yellowed file, half-expecting it to sear my hand. The overstaffed folder looks almost bronze, like it was baked in an oven, the edges so well thumbed they feel soft to the touch. It may be two decades old, but it's still the hottest unsolved murder of the twentieth century.
For a Lana Strain worshiper who makes his living as a true crime writer, this is gold bullion, a guaranteed magazine piece, if not a book and maybe even a movie. I can't help but savor the irony that the first love of my life has returned from the grave to save me from the financial divorce havoc wreaked by the second.
Gloria pulls a plastic shopping bag from her garbage can and hands it to me so I have something to hide the file in. I wrap it and tuck it under my arm.
I owe you one.
"Don't worry. I won't let you forget it."
As I leave the station I pass from conditioned comfort into one of those unforgiving LA days where the summer sun makes you feel like an ant that some kid is broiling with a magnifying glass.
Excerpted from Go Down Hard by Craig Faustus Buck. Copyright © 2015 Craig Faustus Buck. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
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