Jeff Nichols a man strong of conviction but weak of character is fresh out of the Don Jail, looking for work any kind of work and a way back into Ann Ryan’s good graces. She waited for his return from prison but is quickly running short on patience. An ex-inmate and friend gets Jeff a job at Ted Bracey’s used car lot, selling cars for commission only. But it’s not enough to keep him and Ann afloat in mid-80s Toronto, and the lure of easy money soon gets Jeff involved in smuggling guns from upstate New York. With that sweet Poughkeepsie cash, now he can keep his promises to Ann; he even buys them a house, but conceals the source of the money. As Jeff gets in deeper and deeper, everyone around him learns how many rules he’s willing to bend and just how far he’ll go to get on the fast track to riches. That he’s a guy who doesn’t let lessons from past mistakes get in the way of a good score.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), and Zero Avenue. His novel The Deadbeat Club has been translated to German, and 50 of his short stories have also been published internationally. He lives with his family in West Vancouver, BC.
Read an Excerpt
... Giving the Finger
Robbie Boyd stepped from the showroom doors, locking up Bracey's AutoPark, catching the stockyard air coming from a block away. Feeling as rumpled as his suit, Robbie ran a hand through his thinning hair, looking to the street. Going to the Toronto Sun box at the curb, he dropped in a quarter and took a look at the front page. The Big Board doing a nosedive, the Jays winning one at home, and a couple of gangbangers gunned down in another Rexdale drive-by, the northwest of the city turning into a war zone. Flipping the page, Robbie gave the sunshine girl a seven and rolled up the paper.
Starting work at nine in the a.m., he'd sold a Monte Carlo to the first guy through the door, some hick who drove down from Stouffville, believed every word Robbie told him about the turbo model with the strato buckets and the previous owner who only put ten thousand true klicks on the odometer. The rest of day, Robbie drank too much NescafÃ© and passed cards and smiles to a bunch of tire kickers, pretty sure two would come back. Minus the pack, he'd clear nearly enough on the Monte Carlo to meet next month's rent.
The Canuck buck was making a slow crawl from the toilet, and Ted Bracey, the guy who owned the AutoPark, was buying cars at auctions in upstate New York, detailing them and sending them north. Promised to raise the sliding scale if the buck crept higher. Ted had hired an ex-con named Vick DuMont, fresh out of the Don, and mentioned over lunch at the deli he was thinking about appointing Robbie to sales manager.
Long on promises, Ted Bracey had been paying Robbie the mini since the place opened. Robbie living on those promises and skinny commissions since the spring.
Looking in the direction of Gunns Loop, Robbie mulled jumping on the one-eyed streetcar, betting it would be packed armpit to armpit. Better to just walk the dozen blocks to home, stop for a cold one at Captain Jack's, two bucks for a pint of Molson's till seven. Twice in the last week, some afterwork babes had drifted in for the happy hour, and one of them, tall with thick-framed glasses, had been looking down the bar, glancing Robbie's way. But Robbie would end up alone, nuking himself a Stouffer's and thumbing the remote, nodding off to Johnny and Ed, same as always. But still, it was something, maybe it was hope.
The old Booker Jones number was rolling through his head again, been stuck there all day. The one about being down since he began to crawl. A grey Ford Econoline pulled to the curb just before he got to Old Weston, exhaust note like a cry for help, a Maltese cross dangling from its rearview. Twenty years since the heap rolled off some Detroit assembly line. One of the double doors on the side creaked open. A guy with a thick neck and dirty, blond hair squatted inside, a bent Rand McNally in his hand, giving the smile of the lost tourist. The guy behind the wheel turned his head and smiled, too.
"Where you boys want to be?" Robbie said, taking them for out-of- towners in for the Jays game, second in the series.
"Got messed around." Flapping open the map book, the blond guy said, "Man, this city's something, huh? Nothing runs the way you think."
"Ought to try the Gardiner after a doubleheader, same time as the Ex. Want to talk about gridlock." Cocking his head, Robbie tried making sense of the guy's map, asking again where they wanted to be.
Climbing out, the driver came around the back, hands in his pockets, leaning in close like he wanted to see the map, nudging something into Robbie's ribs, something sharp.
The blond guy saying, "Get in."
"Hey, easy, come on ... got hardly any cash on me." Robbie dropped the book, looking around for help, the guy inside catching his wrist. The one behind him shoving, kicking the paper under the van.
The blond guy hit Robbie in the gut. The driver slammed the door, looking casual as he went around back and got behind the wheel, working the Ford-O- Matic, coaxing the eighty-five horses to life.
Rolling his tongue around his mouth, Robbie checked for teeth, struggling to say, "You got the wrong — "
Blond guy swung the fist, putting Robbie flat, saying, "Man talks when he should be listening, huh, Egg?"
Grunting about not calling him by name, Egg kept his eyes on the road, dealing with the traffic, crossing Dufferin.
Pulling out a roll of strapping tape, blond guy said nicknames meant shit and swung a leg across Robbie, zipping off about a foot and clapping it over his mouth. "Fact, I go by Bundy. Never gonna say it to nobody, I right, Robbie?" His knees pressed into Robbie's shoulders.
Robbie nodded his head.
"Good boy." Patting Robbie down, Bundy took the wallet from the windbreaker pocket, checking his id, the new photo license, holding the likeness close to Robbie's face. "Yeah, we got the right guy."
Robbie thinking maybe he sold these guys a lemon one time. Maybe the one he was lying in. Robbie finding it hard to breathe just through his nose. Unable to talk through the tape, his lips stuck together, pressing at the tape with his tongue.
"Do me a favor, think you can do that, Robbie?" Bundy asked.
Robbie gave another nod, like sure, sure.
"Want you to pass on a message. Think you can do that?"
Robbie kept nodding.
"Tell your boss, here's what happens when you don't pay what you owe. You with me?"
Robbie stopped nodding, looking doubtful.
Pulling a pair of garden pruners from a pocket, Bundy flipped off the safety catch and snapped its parrot jaws, saying, "You tell that son of a bitch, he's got till end of next week. Next finger's gonna be his. You got it?"
The scream into the tape came out like a long moan, Robbie trying to buck Bundy off.
Landing a slap, Bundy told him to hold the fuck still. "These things are fuckin' sharp."
Robbie couldn't breathe, panicking, trying to jerk his hand away from the blades.
Locking hold of the wrist, Bundy said, "How about a tune there, Egg?"
Lifting a boom box off the passenger floor, Egg faced it to the back and wedged it between the buckets. Egg twisted the volume knob and pressed play. "Addicted to Love" pumped through the speakers, Egg driving on, tapping his fat fingers on the wheel.
Robbie bucked and writhed, Bundy forcing his finger between the jaws.
"There we go, nothing to it." Bundy rode the convulsing Robbie, the man's eyes bugging. Holding up the digit, Bundy showed it to him, saying except for the fingernail, it looked like one of the sausage links he'd downed for breakfast.
Fighting the spin down the black hole, Robbie kept from passing out. Egg turned right past the old Joy Oil station, checked his mirrors, stopped on the side street and switched off the boom box. Reaching a tub of Wet-Naps, he passed them back.
Propping Robbie up, Bundy pulled a few tissues, clapping the man on the back like he'd been a good sport, warning him about going to the cops. He took a couple more tissues and wrapped the pinkie, handing it to Robbie. "There's a clinic a couple doors up. Hurry, maybe they can, you know, reattach it." Bundy pointed past the station. Yanking the handle, he pushed the side door open with a foot, zipping the tape from Robbie's mouth, helping him out, Bundy saying, "Watch your step there, and Robbie ..."
Robbie turned, clamping his jaws, the pain sharp and shooting through him.
"Remember the part about no cops, huh? Coulda been worse, huh? Coulda been your pecker. Just so we understand each other."
Nodding, tears starting. Clutching the injured hand with the other, Robbie didn't take a step until the Econoline turned on St. Clair and pulled away. He stumbled past the station, dripping blood down his sleeve. In shock. The pain becoming more intense.
It was a vet clinic called Paws 'N Claws. Robbie stood there rapping with his elbow, then he kicked at the wood door a couple of times, yelling, looking in the window for anybody moving around inside. He couldn't get himself to look down at the hand and the wrapped finger.CHAPTER 2
... Between Jobs
"Okay, so you met this guy, getting your hair cut?" Ann Hibbit looked at me like she was waiting for the punch line.
"Yeah, guy from back in the day."
"By back in the day, you mean the Don Jail?"
"Got to start, huh?" Prying my fingernail at the cigarette burn on the Formica table, the yellow moonglow pattern from the sixties. "Anyway, this guy Vick's sitting in the next chair, towel around his neck, getting some off the top." No point telling her Marcel's barbershop was a front for ex-cons looking for the kind of work nobody posted in the want ads. Marcel Banks, former alumnus of the Don himself, was the guy you went to see once you got released, putting guys like me into the kind of jobs that didn't show on any company books. Collections and strong-arm stuff mostly, somebody in need of a wheel man, some muscle or protection, skill sets you didn't find at Manpower.
"Just don't tell me it's commission," Ann said, looking at me over her shoulder.
"All the time ragging about me finding work, now you got to get picky."
"Come on, Jeff, commission, you can't count on that. My granddad did it after the war, barely scraped by —"
"Different times. Top of that, the last guy, guy named Robbie, just walked out and didn't give notice. This guy Bracey, owner of the place, needs somebody pronto. See, Vick tells me the outfit imports cars from the States, leaving fat margins and bigger commission than your average car lot. You ask me, I call that a break." I didn't tell her the part about Ted Bracey smuggling guns under the chassis of the cars coming north, the AutoPark making a perfect front. Marcel Banks lining me up just like he did Vick. Liked that I knew my way around cars, giving me points for never ratting out the outfit I stole for.
"Come on, what do you know about selling cars? You got sent up for stealing them. Like that qualifies."
"Funny girl," I said. She used to be fun before I got sentenced. That smile and bright eyes that first hooked me. Still, Ann had hung in and waited while I served the better part of the deuce after setting my Jose Cuervo on the roof of this late-model Buick I was jacking from a car lot in Malton, middle of nowhere. Sliding my slim jim between the door and window, I popped the lock, got in and crossed the wires. Just my dumb luck, a two-man security patrol rolled by as I pulled off the lot, the bottle sliding off the roof. Didn't even bother trying to outrun them.
Aside from waiting, Ann wrote the letter about true devotion, part of the plan I submitted to the parole board, them seeing her as my support network upon my release back into the community.
"So your con buddy gets you this job ..."
"Great, an ex-con. Thought you had to stay clear of guys like that."
"The man's reformed, same as me," I said.
Vick DuMont did time for his part in a film tank turned fish farm, place called TrueNorth up in Uxbridge. The former catering to the film industry coming north for the cheap Canuck buck, the latter serving a handful of second-rate eateries. Vick told me all that on the ride from the courthouse to the Don, how things might have worked out if the rainbow trout hadn't caught this fucking virus, most of them going belly up in a single night. The Board of Health inspectors coming in stumbled upon some falsified operating expenses, leading to financial restatements and unexplained company funds in Vick's personal account. The health guys tipped the fed auditors, who discovered he'd been suspected by the OPP of arson in a cardboard furniture scam a year before. Instead of landing the insurance claim on the fish, Vick got a three- year stretch.
"How about I get past the interview," I said, "maybe get offered the job, then you chew me out. How'd that be, huh?"
She went quiet, stirring chips into cookie dough, Ann liking the place filled with that nice cookie aroma. Said it made the place feel homey, like when she was growing up. Eggs, butter and packets cluttered the counter. A flour handprint streaked her cheek. She puffed at wisps of hair. A couple of times now, she'd talked about raising kids, never asking how I felt about it. The box of pregnancy strips in the drawer next to the Pill dispenser on her side of the bed made me uneasy. Every morning after we got vertical, the woman went in the can, had me guessing she was peeing on the litmus.
Working the spigot of the box of burgundy on the corner of the table — three liters for the price of two — I splashed the juice glass full. The wine going down easy.
Plopping lumps of dough on the parchment, Ann shoved the tin sheet in the oven, sipping from her own glass.
"Know nobody's jumping to hire ex-cons, right?" I said, a chip of Formica coming loose under my nail. Flicking it across the kitchen, I remembered that feeling of me and Vick being led up the steps into the Don, glancing up at that mawkish stone carving of Father Time looking down over the entrance to that hellhole. Gargoyles on the catwalks added to the creepy feel of the place. The prick guard who led us in pointed out the rotunda where they used to flog the inmates. The guard's name was Ruby, and he told us about some inmate performing a swan dive from the top balcony just a week back, the guy was weak and just couldn't take it anymore. Making a detour, Ruby showed us the skinny cells in the old wing, how the inmates used to get a bucket for a toilet, the scratches in the plaster where they counted off their days. The old death row with its own gallows room, that section shut down back in seventy-seven, Ruby wanting us to know it was there, giving us something to think about. Saying guys like us coming in these days had it soft, told us to make ourselves at home.
"Don't do that," Ann said, slapping my hand away from the chip in the Formica. "Isn't it bad enough?" She looked at the crap table she'd hauled home from out back of the Salvation Army store. Came upon it on her way to visitation, coming to see me just that one time, picking up the dangling phone and looking at me through the glass. She told me how she wedged it in the trunk of my old Valiant, tying the lid down with a rope and a bungee, having to haul it home on her own, gave her a sore back for a week.
Pushing back my chair, I stepped up behind her and worked my hands into the muscles of her shoulders, not wanting to fight. It took a moment, but she got into it and swayed like there was music, liking what I was doing. Always said I was good with my hands. She'd packed on a few pounds, not that it bothered me — this woman baking cookies all the time, having to eat them on her own for the last eighteen months.
I told her this job was about more than selling cars. Bracey's AutoPark in the Junction buying pre-owns at auction, shipping them up from New York State, getting them detailed at their shop in Poughkeepsie, Bracey taking advantage of the exchange rates.
"Meaning it leaves more margin, see?"
"Maybe," she said. Then she told me about this place she'd seen for sale, a fix-me-upper over by Baby Point, place with blue shutters. Saw the feature sheet pasted in the window of the Re/Max office over by the strip mall.
I listened to her tell about it, smiling and saying, "Yeah, maybe down the road."
Sighing, she pulled away and went about snugging elastics around sacks of sugar and flour, putting them in the cupboard. Looking at me, saying she wasn't getting any younger, then she said, "Oh, and Deb called, says to say hello."
"Her birthday last week."
"Yeah, forty again?"
"Funny man. Oh, speaking of cars, Dennis surprised her with new wheels. Parked it in the driveway with a big bow on it. Gonna send me a picture."
Guess she needed to take a poke, waiting eighteen months while her clock was ticking. Ann having to rip the cord on the old Toro, dealing with the looks from the neighbors who somehow found out I was doing time. Her sister, Deb Ryan, offering to put a dish on the roof of our rental dump, send money for pay-TV, let Ann tune in the 20 Minute Workout and get Superchannel while she waited for me to get my release. I hated the thought of taking handouts, especially from her sister.
"Dennis just wants her in something safe," she said.
"Uh huh, what's safe?"
"Red Beemer, the little cute one, you know ..."
"Uh huh." Stole one once, an old 2002, not a bad ride. Shoving my glass under the spigot, I worked it with my thumb, refilling the glass, feeling the wine now, leaning back in the chair, saying, "Dennis getting into grand theft auto now, huh?"
"Takes one to know one," she said, then, "Anyway, I'm happy for her, she deserves it."
I should have left it alone, but I said, "The guy hawks chemical fertilizer, and Deb runs a tacky knickknack in a strip mall. How much can they make?"
"Well, enough for a red Beemer."
I shook my head, grinning. "Nothing worse than new money."
"No money." She grinned back.
Waving a finger at her, I said, "Don't go using your mother's face on me, okay?"
Splashing wine in her own glass, she said she was sorry she mentioned it, but didn't look it. Catching her hand, I swung her into my lap, careful not to spill any wine, saying, "You're a true ball buster, you know it?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Poughkeepsie Shuffle"
Copyright © 2018 Dietrich Kalteis.
Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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