A vibrant Midwest metropolis, St. Louis has a rich, multicultural history of art and literature—both high and low. That duality is embraced here in an anthology that spans the reaches of noir, from violent criminality to bad luck and bad attitudes.
St. Louis Noir includes stories by bestselling authors John Lutz and Scott Phillips, a poetic interlude featuring Poet Laureate Michael Castro, and more tales from Calvin Wilson, LaVelle Wilkins-Chinn, Paul D. Marks, Colleen J. McElroy, Jason Makansi, S.L. Coney, Laura Benedict, Jedidiah Ayres, Umar Lee, Chris Barsanti, and L.J. Smith.
“The stories here are uniformly strong. Regular readers of the Noir series know what to expect: tightly written, tightly plotted, mostly character-driven stories of murder and mayhem, death and despair, shadow and shock.” —Booklist
“Thirteen tales of grim homicidal happenings (plus one poetic interlude) set in the streets of the St. Louis area.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
About the Author
For over forty years, John Lutz (b. 1939) has been one of the premier voices in contemporary hard-boiled fiction, producing dozens of novels and over 250 short stories. His earliest success came with the Alo Nudger series, set in his hometown of St. Louis. Tropical Heat introduced Fred Carver, a Florida detective whom Lutz followed in ten novels. More recently, he has produced five books in the Frank Quinn serial killer series. Lutz is a former president of the Mystery Writers of America, and his many honors include lifetime achievement awards from the Short Mystery Fiction Society and the Private Eye Writers of America. He lives in St. Louis.
Read an Excerpt
ABANDONED PLACES BY S.L. CONEYDogtown
"Your dad's a bastard, kid. You should be mad. Hell, you should be madder than me. The fucker ran off and left you with someone you hardly know. You know what I think?"
He knew what Vickie thought. He'd heard it over and over the past couple of days. Tuning her out, he pressed his forehead into the window, the dust along the edge tickling his nose as he watched the cars pass through, hoping to catch a glimpse of curly blond hair and his dad's wide, wide smile; the one he called his "fuck me" smile. He'd never seen it fail to bring a girl to her knees. Sometimes he locked himself in the bathroom and practiced that smile, trying to make it reach his eyes so they crinkled at the corners and blue shined.
She slammed the door on the washer, the vibration tugging at him through his hip. He turned, studying her short black hair spiked like porcupine quills, her eyes squinted against the cigarette smoke as she flapped one of her shirts. He didn't understand why she bothered to wash them. They stank like smoke before they even made it to the closet.
Vickie was only seven years older than Ian and had been married to his dad for two. She hadn't been thrilled with him before his dad left; now he kept waiting for her to call social services and have him taken to a home.
"Everybody needs a vice. Val could've had the decency to leave me some damn money." Dropping her cigarette to the concrete floor, she ground it under her heel, hand digging her pack out of her pocket. "Are you listening to me?"
"Yes." He didn't call her ma'am because that usually pissed her off.
She paused long enough to light her new cigarette, cheeks hollowing as she sucked against the filter. "I saw that look you gave me."
He turned back to the window, staring through the grime to the world outside, wondering how it could keep functioning when everything in his life had turned upside down.
Vickie stopped hiding her smoking the day Valentine left, moving from behind the shed to lighting up inside the house, and every day since then she kept accusing Ian of giving her looks. Maybe she just felt guilty for ruining her lungs, but every time he saw her light up, the pit in his stomach opened just a little wider. Either she'd stopped caring if his dad found out, or she knew he wasn't coming back.
"I take good care of you. I feed you, make sure you're clean. Fuck, I'm damn good to you, considering you're not my kid."
Ian supposed she was right; she did feed him, and so far she hadn't called anyone about him, but he wished she'd stop making him feel like he owed her something for being there.
"I need a vice, and mine left, walked right out the door while you were at school. Didn't even tell me where he was going."
Ian bunched his hands in the sleeves of his shirt, the back of his head tight. He knew this part of the story too. She kept repeating the same things over and over, until the more she said the less he believed her. Vickie reminded him of Sandy Robinson, the girl at school who kept saying Justin Bieber was her brother. She kept repeating it as if it would make it true, as if they'd start believing if she said it enough. Even he was a better liar than Vickie was, and she had seven years on him. It was a little shameful.
"It's such fucking bullshit. At first I was sort of relieved. No offense, kid, but do you know how much foundation I was using to cover the bruises from your daddy's fists? There's vice and then there's vice. Shit, it's sick. I know it's sick." She paused to take a draw off her cigarette, the tip of her tongue poking out between her lips as she picked off a stray piece of tobacco. "It's odd what you can get used to. When I look in the mirror, my face seems empty without the occasional black eye."
He wondered if she stood in front of that mirror and rehearsed the things she said. It was like seeing the same play over and over again. That was one thing about lying: you never wanted it to sound rehearsed.
She stood, pulling an armful of clothes from the dryer and dropping them in the basket. He couldn't tell if she was using any less makeup. It still looked like a painted mask, the edge of it not quite meeting her hairline. Sometimes he thought about seeing if he could peel it back to reveal what lay underneath.
"Mean fists or not, the bed gets lonely without someone in it. Shit, I haven't been alone in bed since your daddy came and I crawled out my window." She dumped ash on the floor before sticking the cigarette back into her mouth, one side clenched down around the filter, making her face uneven, like old Mrs. Ashworth after she'd had her stroke. "I didn't know I was trading one bad man for another, but at least your daddy was better in bed than mine."
He didn't want to hear this. Rolling his eyes, he pushed off the washer and started up the stairs, palm skimming the handrail.
"Hey, runt, you're supposed to be helping me. Get your ass back down here."
Ignoring her, he yanked his dad's old union jacket from the chifforobe in the entryway and pulled it over his shoulders, the sleeves hanging to his fingertips, shoulders still too wide. He closed the door on her — "Ungrateful bastard" — and loped off the porch, body all right angles, his joints loose as if he wasn't securely put together yet. The wind blew up the street, ruffling his hair as he stared at the redbrick duplexes across Tamm Avenue, satellite dishes sticking out like malignancies. He kept his eyes trained on Cindy McClellan's upstairs window, hoping to catch sight of her moving behind the glass. At night he sat in the dark, watching as she changed without pulling the blinds. He liked it best when she raised her arms, her breasts jutting out in small peaks, her nipples perfect exclamation points. One of these days he was going to try out his "fuck me" smile on her.
The sun was just starting to go down, highlighting the tower on the old Forest Park Hospital along the east side of the neighborhood. Soon they would gut it, tearing it down to build another parking lot. It was what happened to abandoned places.
He walked past green, white, and orange, the Irish flag painted on the curb and flying high, down past the faded shamrocks on Tamm Avenue. Concentrating on taking deep, burning breaths, he walked through the fog of each exhale, pretending it made everything new.
There were still kids climbing on the giant stone turtles poised midcrawl over Turtle Playground, arms out as they walked along the back of the long stone snake, moms and dads watching, laughing. The constant hum of traffic on 64 edging Dogtown followed him as he turned from their laughter and made his way up to the swings at the end of the park. At this time of day it was mostly grown-ups in this part of the park. It was his favorite time to swing. With them here he didn't feel too old to be playing. Maybe growing up wouldn't be so bad if he could still swing.
He closed his eyes, pumping his legs and thinking about his dad as he listened to the squeak of the chain. It wasn't unusual for Val to leave on business, but he always said goodbye, and he always let Ian know when he was coming back. Ian knew better than to think his dad was a saint. He'd overheard Mrs. Donovan say Valentine had a quick smile and an even quicker zipper. He'd never knocked Ian around, but he knew his dad had quick fists as well. He was loud and boisterous, and life seemed to bend itself to his will.
The thought of going back to a house filled with Vickie's practiced monologue and the choking haze of cigarette smoke twisted his stomach up. Pulling his dad's coat closer around himself, he watched as the sun set, the children's laughter disappearing as they made their way home.
* * *
That night he could hear Vickie laughing through the wall, her high, fragile cackle scattered by a deeper rumble. For all she talked about her bed being lonely, she hadn't spent much time alone since his dad disappeared. Ian couldn't figure out if she thought he was deaf or just stupid.
He curled up on his side, listening to the squeak of the bed and her grunting moans, his stomach tight, face hot. Tension coiled in his belly, cock hard whether he wanted it or not. Reaching down into his pajamas, he touched himself, the warnings of Sister Theresa running through his head. He didn't want to think of Vickie, of her makeup mask and ashtray stench, so he turned his thoughts to Cindy. Cindy McClellan's tits, Vickie's moans, and his hand, and he was coming over his fingers, eyes closed against the tears, the heat in his stomach burning to ash as he pressed his face against the pillow to soothe the sharp sting in his eyes.
* * *
Benny had violin practice on Tuesdays so Ian was walking home alone. He tucked his hands into the pockets of his dad's jacket as he walked, the smell of fried food following him down Tamm. It was a straight shot from St. James the Greater once he crested the small hill. He could see Vickie sitting out on the stoop, her long legs stretched out until the tops of her shoes lit up in the sun. The cafeteria macaroni and cheese turned to a hard lump in his stomach. Staring at her was like looking at a black hole.
Letting his pack slip to the ground, he sat down on the bench outside the Happy Medium Barbershop and focused on the people walking back and forth. He closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood as he tried to find the familiarity in its daily routine. The traffic hummed along 64 and the radio droned from the patio behind Seamus McDaniel's farther up the avenue. It was the same as every other day, except it felt empty, a vital piece of Dogtown missing.
"Your daddy is still gone, huh?"
Mr. Allen settled on the bench next to him, cane propped between his legs, wrinkled face hidden under the brim of his hat. Ian glanced at the squashed slope of his driving cap and away, staring up the street toward the gazebo. "Yes sir."
"It was bound to happen." He tapped his cane on the sidewalk, snorting and then spitting into the flowerpot by the bench. "You can't run with the types of people he did and not get into trouble." Mr. Allen glanced at him and then down the road toward the house. Ian wondered if he was staring at Vickie's long legs. "She taking good care of you? You're looking a little peaked."
"Yes sir." He'd found it was best to stick to yes and no when you weren't sure what to say. Glancing at the rheumy paleness of his eyes, Ian wondered what Mr. Allen would say if he told him how he woke up in the middle of the night, sure the world had ended because the house felt so empty. What if he told him he sometimes thought Vickie had killed his dad? He opened his mouth, unsure of what was about to pour out, and then caught Vickie with her head turned, watching him.
Swallowing the grit in his mouth, he dropped his gaze. "She feeds me, does the laundry, sometimes she cleans."
"She feeds you, huh?"
"Guess you can't ask for much more than that." He patted Ian across the back and stood, pulling himself up by his cane and walking back into the barbershop.
Someone drove by in a golf cart and Ian settled into the seat to wait Vickie out. Closing his eyes, he listened to Mr. Allen's voice through the open door of the shop.
"Poor kid. You know Valentine started running with the Miller boys. They knew he was part of the hit on the Pulaski Bank last year, they just couldn't prove it. Now it's come back to bite him on the ass."
"Richard, shut your mouth. Door's open. You keep that up and you'll be neighboring with Valentine at the bottom of the Mississippi."
There was a rustle and then Mr. Beech, low and urgent: "The kid's still out there, you big oaf."
The door closed and he was left with a crushing hollowness in his chest, his arms and legs numb as reality receded, taking the air with it and leaving him alone in the still, discarded world. He sat there, blind and unfeeling, until a passing car blew its horn, shattering the bubble he was caught in. Pulling in a deep, shuddering breath, he folded over his knees, the flood of sight and sound making his stomach cramp until he gagged, nose running and eyes burning.
When he was five his Grandma Shone had died, leaving his world a little more gray, a little more empty. It'd been one of the few times Valentine allowed him to cling and Ian anchored his world to his dad. It wasn't always a steady anchor, but it'd always been there, whether it was in the raised echo of his voice or the rumble of his engine as he pulled out of the drive. Now that anchor had been ripped from him.
What am I supposed to do?
The question was present in every beat of his heart. Each time it ripped through him, pulling dry heaves from the depth of his guts. The vague feeling of wrongness solidified until it was too heavy to breathe around. He sat there, bent over his knees, waiting for the profound weakness to pass.
The question wouldn't leave. The constant knowledge of his father gone and his own uncertain future darkened his world. Cars passed on the street and Vickie watched, and nothing changed except for the dropping temperature, the cold solidifying his legs.
Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he stood and hefted his pack over his shoulder and continued down Tamm. Ian stopped on the street, staring at Vickie squatting on the stoop of the house he'd lived in his whole life. She stared back, eyes hard and sullen as she flicked her butt into the yard. Dropping his gaze, he crossed to the house, cheeks and head hot, eyes burning.
"What's wrong with you?"
He tried to step around her, but she reached out and snagged the sleeve of his jacket.
"Hey, kid, I was talking to you."
The last week had grown too big for him. All he could think about was her heavy moans and the banging on the wall every night. The shadow of his missing father was a vise, squeezing his chest until he couldn't breathe. Dropping his bag, he jerked out of her grasp, and using the momentum of his turn, he smacked her across the face, a fingernail raising a welt under her eye.
She stared at him, mouth opening and closing in a perfect purple O, and then she stood, catching him across the cheek with her knuckles. The punch sat him down on his ass, the shock reverberating up his spine to ring against his head like he'd stuck it inside the church bells.
"You little shit. I may have taken that from your daddy, but I'll be damned if I let a little runt like you hit me." She ran a hand through her hair, spikes popping right back into place, and glanced around as she tugged at the hem of her shirt. Bending, she hauled him up by the lapels of his daddy's coat and leaned close, her hot breath stinking of cigarettes and mint. "Keep that up and maybe I'll look real hard, make sure you end up with your daddy, you understand?"
He still couldn't think, the world gone plastic and shiny around him. Shoving her off, he left his bag on the porch and stumbled up to his room. He wiped at the warm trickle from his nose and stared at the red smear across his fingers. It looked like they'd both learned something from his dad.
* * *
That night he couldn't sleep, his chest tight and aching as he thought about his dad tangled in the murky current of the Mississippi. The swollen side of his face throbbed with every beat of his heart, a constant echo of Vickie's knuckles across his face.
He'd climbed into bed in his school uniform and now his pants were twisted around his legs, his shoes dirtying the sheet. Across the room his Iron Man action figure threw its shadow at the wall, the outside light catching the childhood guilty pleasure. The house was silent in a way it never was when Vickie was there. Even at night she left the TV or radio on, as if she was afraid of what she'd hear in the quiet.
Maybe I'll look real hard, make sure you end up with your daddy, you understand?
Sitting up in bed, he shoved the covers off and pulled on his dad's jacket, the nylon slick in his hands. The house was cold against his belly, the brick scraping his shirt up as he lowered himself from the window. The world was lit by scattered streetlights, their jaundiced light spreading along the sidewalk like watercolor. The low hum of conversation floated down the street from Seamus McDaniel's, sprinkled with the rise and fall of laughter that colored his idea of adulthood.
Ian started down Tamm, away from the noise and laughter, past the empty lot with its foundation rising from the ground, lost and haunted. Wind blew down the street, trapped from spreading by the buildings along either side, rattling the broken fence with its overgrown lot and crooked Beware of Dog sign. Pausing, he turned and looked back, expecting to see Vickie standing in the door, laughing as she locked him out, but the small brick house was still and dark, empty.
The barking of the big red mutt down the street pulled him forward toward the swings, the miserable squeak of the chain floating over the neighborhood. Cutting across the street, he stopped in the shadows by the house on the corner of Graham and watched the woman as she arced out over the highway. The light caught her hair at the apogee, shining blue black and unmoved as she hung suspended above the river of lights along the freeway. Vickie crested again, legs out as if she would fly off the swing right into the traffic along 64.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "St. Louis Noir"
Copyright © 2016 Akashic Books.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic 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
Table of Contents
Part I: The City
“Abandoned Places” by S.L. Coney (Dogtown)
“Deserted Cities of the Heart” by Paul D. Marks (Gateway Arch)
“Blues for the River City” by Colleen J. McElroy (The Ville)
“Fool’s Luck” by LaVelle Wilkins-Chinn (Central West End)
“Attrition” by Calvin Wilson (Downtown Newsroom)
“Tracks” by Jason Makansi (The Hill)
Part II: A Poetic Interlude
“Four St. Louis Poems” by Michael Castro (Gaslight Square)
Part III: The County
“A Paler Shade of Death” by Laura Benedict (Glendale)
“Have You Seen Me?” by Jedidiah Ayres (Frontenac)
“A St. Louis Christmas” by Umar Lee (North County)
“The Pillbox” by Chris Barsanti (Maplewood)
“The Brick Wall” by John Lutz (Interstate 64)
Part IV: Across The River
“Tell Them Your Name Is Barbara” by L.J. Smith (East St. Louis, IL)
“One Little Goddamn Thing” by Scott Phillips (Sauget, IL)