Boston Teran's debut, God is a Bullet, a taut, dark, and astonishing literary suspense novel, was short-listed for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and won England's Crime Writers Association's John Creasey Memorial Dagger for Best First Novel.
Now, with Never Count Out the Dead, Teran exceeds the extraordinary achievement of his debut, delivering a tour de force tale of a murder gone wrong and a victim bent on revenge.
In a rundown Los Angeles bungalow, Shay Storey sits across a battered Formica table watching her mother clean the semi-automatic they will use for a killing. It is 1987 and Shay is just thirteen. Their intended victim is a local policeman named Victor Sully. Shay and her mother shoot him and bury him in a shallow grave in the desert northeast of Los Angeles, but somehow, some way, Sully claws his way to survival.
His life, though, is destroyed anyway, and he slips out of Los Angeles under cover of darkness, a broken man. It is more than ten years later that these three lost souls meet again to play out the inevitable drama set in motion by that first violent meeting in the desert, each searching for revenge, and perhaps, redemption.
Riveting, powerful, and brilliantly written, Never Count Out the Dead is an unforgettable reading experience that will linger in your brain long after the last page is turned.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||4.30(w) x 6.62(h) x 1.12(d)|
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NEVER COUNT OUT THE DEAD
By BOSTON TERAN
St. Martin's PaperbacksCopyright © 2001 Brutus Productions, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter One26 September 1987, San Frasquito Road
Near midnight and no moon. Alicia Alvarez's thick mouth moves faintly as she tries to calm away her fears. San Frasquito Canyon is the last place in the world she wants to be. Especially now.
Lights from the few scattered ranch houses have no effect upon the landscape, and without a moon the winding ten-mile drive up through a stretch of national forest is a black hole the high-beams can barely eat into. She understands too well why this isolated canyon has been a notorious dumping ground for the murdered.
San Frasquito Canyon connects the northern San Fernando Valley with Lake Hughes and the edge of the high desert. It's where the aqueduct pipes make their iron climb across the mountains to water that urban sprawl known as Los Angeles.
She had begged Charlie not to make her come. With his hearing less than ten days away it was too dangerous. He could be under surveillance. It was a risk to her, to Burgess. It put them all in jeopardy if ever a connection was-
Her headlights rake the trees along a curve. A Gothic structure forms out of the darkness behind them, concrete white and two stories high. Appearing as it does through the black silence causes her to lose her breath until she realizes-it's the Department of Water and Power substation Charlie had given her as a landmark.
She starts to slow. Her high-beams float the ground. San Frasquito bends back and the narrow turnoff on the west side of the road is there just as Charlie said.
She pulls in. The stones under her tires crunch as she comes to a stop. She shuts off her lights. She looks back down the pitched canyon as if, somehow, someone could or might be following her.
Certain there is nothing coming on that black chamber of a road, she turns her attention to the tree-lined cul-de-sac. Charlie had said up that small inlet were a handful of homes owned by the DWP and rented to employees who worked the district.
Without headlights she starts up the road. Around the first turn on the right sits a disheveled California bungalow. That must be where one of Charlie's dealers who works the desert is staying. Just past the bungalow, also on the right, a lineup of attached clapboard garages the DWP uses for storage. She pulls alongside the first as she was told.
Alicia slips out of the car, is morbidly afraid to be seen. She watches, listens. Is met with the tinkling of a mobile from the sagging porch and a single bulb that illuminates a doorway like a dying star. Huge pines overhang everything, making the air cool and damp.
A slight whistle spins her around. A figure smokes beneath a shroud of branches, and waves.
Her high heels move quietly as they can across the asphalt. She and Charlie Foreman kiss. He is stubble-faced and tired, but there's no mistaking the unkempt anger that has divined more than a few destructive scenarios.
As she is led further back into the trees, Alicia asks, "What's wrong?"
He squares up a look that could drain her blood. "I'm getting ready to eat seven years in stir, okay. What's right?"
"Can't your lawyer-?"
"He works as far as the money goes. I got priors for dealing, remember?!" He flicks his cigarette into the dark, takes her by the arms. "I need to know something, honey. I need to know you're with me."
"Jesus, Charlie, how could-"
"No, I mean like when your ex was practically using your pussy for target practice, till I worked him. Like that, okay?"
"What did I say when we first met? One is the body, the other is the wings. It's still like that."
She holds him, but is afraid. He runs his fingers across the dark skin of her face, then down the thick padding around her ribs. "I don't want to have to do this, okay. I don't like putting you in the middle. But I need you to talk to Ridden, okay. You tell him.... He's got to get that indictment off my back."
A dense, malignant feeling starts to fill up her insides. "I don't understand. How can Burgess-?"
"You go to him and that Storey cunt who runs his head. She'll understand better than him. They can work with my people. Even if they have to kill that shitass in Baker. I want the indictment snuffed. I can't do more time, okay? I can't make it. I'll fuckin' disintegrate."
His own muscles are heaving. "You tell Ridden and you tell Storey, okay, if they don't help me I'm going to the District Attorney and ... trade my ass ... for that scam being worked on 56th Street."
Alicia's lips go dead white at the thought of having to climb into that nightmare. "Where does that leave me?"
His whittled eyes flash red from whatever he's been smoking and drinking. He reminds her, "One is the body, the other is the wings."
She closes her eyes and leans against his chest. Can smell his raw, sour perspiration. "It's Dee," she says; "I'm afraid of her."
"You tell her, okay. They don't help, or they try any shit on you, and I will mix a killer fuckin' cocktail and pour it down all our throats."
Chapter Two1 October 1987, Echo Park, Los Angeles, California
Shay Storey sits across the kitchen table from her mother. There is midnight about the windows and traces of damp cling to the glass. She watches as her mother cleans the semiautomatic that will be used for the killing. Shay Storey is just thirteen.
The room is lit only by a small worklamp on the table. Shay's whole future seems articulated in the shadowy arcanum of a mother's face and hands bent to the task of lubricating the firing mechanism of the Parabellum she has laid out in pieces on the milky gray formica.
"Are you following what I'm doing here?"
Her mother pushes out from the half light. Her eyes are small dark seeds as she stares into the moon-shaped face of her child. "I didn't ask if you were watchin'. The fuckin' mindless watch. I asked if you were following what I'm doing here. You're gonna have to know how to take one of these apart and put 'em back together yourself. Otherwise, you'll always be at the mercy of some cock with a little attitude."
"I'll learn," says Shay defiantly ... "I'll learn."
Dee Storey is a woman for whom everything is done in a blood rush. She takes a hit off a cigarette and bears down on her daughter long enough to make it clear she means to have her way.
Shay can feel her mother filling up the space around her. And then slowly she takes over the space inside Shay. She does it with an unvoiced power, with a simple but deadly call to will. All marked by a look, by a breath. By a pose of determined affection.
"I'm followin' you, Mama. Now go on."
Dee goes back to the task at hand. Her fingers work the weapon into shape with taut, sure moves. Shay watches silently. In her mother's hands the blue-black monster seems almost childlike. Not something to be feared, but a benign trinket of certain construction and design. Not a creation of terror, but something that can be tamed and controlled. Something that one could use to hold sway over the tales that feed on them.
The firing mechanism of this weapon is housed in the backstrap. Hammer, strut, and spring, from cocking lever right on through to the ejector. It's the latest advance in selling efficient death. Clean and ready, Dee pieces the semiautomatic back together.
"It's all falling into play," she says. "No more living through one abortion after another, if we do this right. Lake Piru and your goddamn grandmother ... are history. Having to sneak to Mexico ... history. Sleeping in the car in Torreon, surviving on watermelon juice and water, packing tortilla chips and whoring wets ... all history. Stickin' our asses up into the camera for those sleazebags out in North Hollywood ... history. Sleepin' in this slab of pink squalor ... history. We can make it all go away with-"
The ground begins to tremor. Walls, glasses, light fixtures, doors, they all rattle with this unearthly Parkinson's that comes with living along faultlines.
"You think it's another earthquake?"
"Probably just an aftershock," says Dee.
There had been a 5.9 banger that morning centered in Whittier, California, birthplace of one of America's more infamous gangster presidents. The quake had filled eight gravesites and shook down dozens of buildings. The shocks had carried up into L.A., stretching as far as Elysian Hills. One had thrown Shay from her bed.
While they wait for the aftershocks to settle out, Dee's confrontation that afternoon with Alicia begins to feed on all that rage she carries around.
Shay hears her mother mumble, "Fuckin' loser."
Shay is not sure if her mother means her and asks, "Who's a loser ... me?"
"I'm talkin' about the wetback," says Dee. "She's a gutless shit, and Foreman.... He gets busted by some needledick sheriff and they hit us with a goddamn ultimatum like we're-"
The earth begins to settle back and Dee turns to Shay. "Go get my speed and the hair clippers."
"What do you want the hair clippers for?"
"I'm going to shave your head."
"'Cause I don't want anybody to be able to identify you tomorrow, that's why. Now get the clippers ..." Shay starts down the hall. "And don't forget my speed."
Dee leans around in her chair and looks out the barred kitchen window. That little stucco piece of pink slab they sleep in is partway up Laguna Avenue, on the slope side of the hill. From there they can see out over the roof of the Sir Palmer Apartments to Echo Park Lake.
Dee looks south toward the skyline of the city, then up Glendale Boulevard to the huge white egg-shaped Angelus Temple, with its white rooftop cross-branded onto the night sky. This neighborhood was part of that long-ago L.A., when they were still selling a protean landscape of climate and quality of life. And all you had to do was plop your ass down for a reasonable price.
You have to go a lot farther out to have all that now.
"Here's the clippers, and your speed."
Shay sets the clippers and vial of pills on the formica. Dee palms two 15-mg amps, reaches for a pint of Southern Comfort on the sink counter, and gets the pills down in a couple of lean swallows.
Shay waits beside her. Dee picks up on the nervous gloom that has settled in and pulls her baby close. They can both feel the cool night air coming off the window glass.
Dee points toward the window. "Ain't we a pair, raggedy girl?"
Shay looks into the glass. Their reflections are marred only by the window bars. Their white skin is a powdery contrast to the dark, dark eyes, Their shiny black hair ephemeral, so ephemeral and black. Their heartshaped mouths, their faces translucent enough as to escape capture in the dewy frame of the window light. Dee birthed Shay when she was only fifteen, and even now, at twenty-eight, she looks more like an older sister.
"We're going to kill a man tomorrow night.... It won't be easy, I know. I know ... and I know you're afraid. It's to be expected. It's alright. I'm some afraid myself, but ... I have to be able to depend on you, Shay. I have to-"
Two worlds, parent and child, they are eye to eye in the glass, with the lake and its lotus plants and pedal boats for rent as a backdrop, and beyond that graffitied bungalows and dilapidated, avant-garde one-story hideaways etched into a hillside that holds up a skyline which didn't exist fifteen years ago.
Dee runs her hand down Shay's hair. "I'm sorry about havin' to clip off your hair, but it'll grow back." She runs her fingers along her daughter's cheek and across the mouth she shares with her child. Shay can smell the lemon perfume her mother wears and the gun solvent on her fingers. Dee rests her head on Shay's shoulder and closes her eyes. Moments pass. Shay's whole being is naked space and time facing horrid darkness. She watches a slow procession of taillights heading out Glendale Boulevard trawl past the imprint of their features on the glass. Echo Park hipsters on their way to Club Lingerie and low riders out for a little stud humpin'. Then there's the lone black-and-white comin' off the boulevard and doin' the lake with a slow, nasty searchlight.
Down by the freeway overpass there's a wall mural of interracial hip-hop types all running through a series of high-hope schemes. Kids makin' it in all walks of life ... and playin' by the rules. This whole fantasy is bound up in a spray-painted catch-phrase: LIFE IS A MASTERPIECE TO BE PAINTED ... OR LOST.
Just a little dream cartoon, Shay thinks, to chase the truth away.
Shay notices her mother's other hand resting in her lap and the fingers running out words in sign language for the deaf, a last vestige of Dee's life at Lake Piru growing up with a violent, hearing-impaired mother.
Shay tries to imagine her own mother as the wild streetwise girl of fourteen who climbed out of hatred and suffering. Whenever Dee is stressed, or the speed turns up the heat on those dusky movie memories that come out of the darkness to hunt her psyche, those finger moves kick up. They got to talk it out, get it out, scream it out.
Shay reaches down and takes the hand in hers. Dee's eyes open.
"Was I talkin' away?"
"Yeah, but it's alright."
Dee stretches up a bit, looks her baby over. "You're stronger than I am. You don't know it yet, but you are."
"I don't think so."
"Oh yeah. You could survive without me. But I couldn't survive without you. You're my lifeline. You are-"
Shay sees Dee shrug off some lingering thought. She whispers to Shay, "Ain't we a pair ..."
"Wherever we're going ... we'll make it," answers Shay.
Dee nods, then starts to walk through the black moments of what will be tomorrow night. "Killing someone isn't all there is. It isn't even the hardest part. No. The preparation ... and the cleaning up afterwards. That has to be done right. The details ... that's what counts most. The cleaning up afterward ... yes. That's the difference between escape and discovery. Between dyin' and drivin' on. You have to remember that-"
Shay can see her mother's slateblack eyes swim with liquid fire and she knows the speed is kicking in.
Chapter Three2 October 1987, Baker, California
Sheriff John Victor Sully sits in his patrol car just outside the Davenport Motel Coffee Shop and does license checks on the road traffic coming off the interstate at the Baker exit.
Baker, California, is one of those atrocious desert landmarks drydocked on the northern border of the Mojave National Preserve. It is literally a choke line for traffic running through L.A. and Vegas along I-15.
A town of four hundred survives on a grotesquery of all-night gas stations and tow yards, fast food franchises, and motels.
Excerpted from NEVER COUNT OUT THE DEAD by BOSTON TERAN Copyright © 2001 by Brutus Productions, Inc.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The wonderment of literature, not unlike the wonderment of life, often occurs when completely autonomous realities converge to create some separate and unique reality that stands on its own, thoughtfully and thoroughly alive. Such is the case with how Never Count Out the Dead came to be.
First reality: There were times growing up when my father, a widowed gamblaholic, took me from my home and sent me to live somewhere else. Once I was moved into the basement apartment of a two-family house owned by a mother-and-daughter prostitute team. Their apartment was on the floor above. My father was dating both women at the time and felt I was better off having them look out for me.
All I witnessed and experienced of their relationship, their cunning and fearlessness, every brutal and tortured confrontation, I carried around inside my head until I could find a home on the written page for the mythos of that living drama.
Second reality: Soon after my first novel, God Is a Bullet, was published, I began a dialogue with someone I can describe only loosely as "an investigator with journalistic aspirations" and who went by the name of Birdhous-gal.
We began to exchange written dialogues on the corruption behind the building of certain L.A. schools on toxic and potentially toxic sites. As our dialogues continued I also learned that Birdhous-gal was a severe agoraphobic who had barely survived physical and emotional traumas. (In Never Count Out the Dead, the housebound agoraphobic columnist known as Landshark is modeled upon Birdhous-gal.)
Disaster heaped upon youth because of the cancerous character of adults was a motif that seemed to connect these two distinct realities, and so an idea was born. (Boston Teran)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is not a book I personally liked. I felt it was inconsistent and too hard to follow. I have read a lot of books of all genres, so if a book loses me at some points, that says a lot. This was my first Teran book, and certainly my last. It gets a star for effort and one for the beautiful figurative language.
This book is as exhilarating as Teran's first novel, GOD IS A BULLET...more so, in fact. I couldn't put it down! Teran is a master of suspense.
In 1987, Baker, California Sheriff John Sully is to testify against Charlie Foreman on a drug charge. Charlie conspires with a gang of thugs to destroy John¿s reputation even as one of the gang plans to kill him. Teenager Shay Storey obtains John¿s help in taking her back to a relative in the deserted Mojave Preserve. However, Shay¿s mother shoots John. They bury him in a grave, but he survives. John¿s reputation has also been trashed as they plant solid collaborated proof that he sold coke. A helpless John disappears into the night. Almost eleven years late, New Weekly reporter Landshark calls Victor Trey, a quiet person living in El Paso. Landshark informs Victor that he knows he is actually John and has evidence that points towards a criminal conspiracy to desecrate his name. John returns to Los Angeles with one thing on his mind: revenge. As with his previous modern day noir, GOD IS A BULLET, Boston Teran paints a portrait of the uglier side of humanity in NEVER COUNT OUT THE DEAD. The story line breaks into two related tales. The first part centers on the success of the conspiracy against John; the latter segment focuses on his belated counterattack. This novel is excellent as the audience can see inside the heads of the key players to better understand whom did what and why. Mr. Teran owns the sub-genre with his gritty underbelly look at the success of dregs and drones in our graying world. Harriet Klausner