The Sweet and the Dead

The Sweet and the Dead

by Milton T. Burton

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Distilled in Texas and the Delta, a straight-no-chaser crime novel set around the legendary Dixie Mafia

Manfred Eugene "Hog" Webern, a retired Dallas County deputy sheriff, is talked into going undercover in Biloxi, Mississippi, in a multistate effort to nail a group of traveling Southern criminals who have been tagged by the press with the lurid name "Dixie Mafia." After making contact with the gang's nominal leader, the notorious Jasper Sparks, Webern begins to worm his way into the group's confidence. He also meets and becomes involved with an old friend of Sparks, the mysterious Nell Bigelow, a former assistant federal prosecutor whose daddy "owns half the Delta."
Having gained the gang's trust, Webern soon learns that the score being planned is the massive robbery of a wintering carnival of an entire year's receipts. Joining in planning the job, he meets such well-known hijackers as Slops Moline, a Charleston, South Carolina, killer and armed robber; Lardass Collins, the country's premier car thief; Tom-Tom Reed, one of the world's most skilled safecrackers; and the infamous Raymond "Hardhead" Weller, an Alabama-born moonshiner who has pulled off more than two dozen high-profile contract killings in his seventy years.
As the story develops, Webern is drawn into a maelstrom of robbery, mayhem, and senseless violence that threatens to engulf his very being. And before the final curtain falls on The Sweet and the Dead, we learn that in the murky world of Southern professional crime, nothing is ever quite what it seems to be.

Praise for The Rogues' Game

"Milton Burton has written a first novel that has the stiletto edge of Raymond Chandler's best prose and the full-metal-jacket brass of Mickey Spillane's early novels."
---Mystery News

"A rollicking debut...Burton's nuanced depiction of the post–World War II era is a delight."
---Texas Monthly

"This stunningly mature, layered first novel from an author who knows Texas and people in equally fine measure."
---Booklist (starred review)

"An auspicious debut: tricky, amusing, even edifying, without a single dull page."
---Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A highly readable novel…Burton shows the skullduggery, swindling, and violence that enliven boom towns....An affectionate and accurate portrait of Texas."
---The Washington Post

"The Rogues' Game is vintage stuff, fun to read and recalls the salad days of 1940s noir writers such as James Cain and Dashiell Hammett."
---The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"This dark first novel will appeal to fans of noir mysteries."
---Library Journal

"An impressive debut."
---Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429902540
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
File size: 375 KB

About the Author

Milton Burton was born in Jacksonville, Texas, and has worked variously as a cattleman, college teacher, and political consultant. He now lives in Tyler. His first novel, The Rogues' Game, was met with wide acclaim.

Milton Burton was born in Jacksonville, Texas, and has worked variously as a cattleman, college teacher, and political consultant. He now lives in Tyler. His first novel, The Rogues’ Game, was met with wide acclaim.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
When I first saw Jasper Sparks it was just before Christmas of 1970, and he was settled in between two good-looking young hookers at his favorite corner booth at Sam Lodke's Gold Dust Lounge down in Biloxi, Mississippi. The Gold Dust was a sleazy place, a clip joint with crooked gambling tables in the back and a fleet of B-girls who would give you a few minutes' vapid conversation and a peek at the tops of their breasts if you bought them a three-dollar drink that was really nothing but weak iced tea in a none-too-clean highball glass. A twenty-dollar bill would get you a quick roll with one of them on dirty sheets in one of the half dozen decrepit travel trailers parked out behind the building. As a bonus, there was always a fair chance you'd get your head cracked and your pockets emptied by one of the ferret-faced pimps who lurked around the place like buzzards around roadkill. As I said, sleazy. But then an exclusive place like the Four Seasons would have been sleazy with Sam Lodke running it. Historians claim that Napoleon called his foreign minister, the Marquis de Tallyrand, a wad of dung in a silk stocking. With Lodke you didn't even get the stocking.

But he and Sparks were kindred spirits, considered master criminals by cops throughout the South. Back in 1970 Sparks had been riding high--high enough, in fact, that some well-connected people thought it was time for him to take a fall, and they'd talked me into going down to Biloxi to help him do it.

My name is Manfred Eugene Webern, but most people call me Hog. I was born and raised a few miles outside Fredricksburg, a little town in the Hill Country of central Texas that was first settled by German immigrants back in the days of the Texas Republic. I'm five eleven and broad chested with a few extra pounds of hard fat over harder muscles, fair skin, and dark blond hair that's beginning to gray. And to be honest with you, I've also got a blunt nose and a pair of bright, piggy little eyes that give me something of a porcine appearance. I earned my nickname as an offensive center back in high school, but in my glory days people of Sparks's ilk called me Tush Hog because they claimed I was as tough and mean as an old boar. Personally, as far as toughness goes, I was always more inclined to think of myself as merely durable and persistent. I survived a hardscrabble childhood on a rocky, worn-out farm, a year of hard combat in the Korean War, and seventeen years on the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, the last nine of which I headed the organized crime division. And when it comes to mean, I couldn't hold a candle to an aging Texas Ranger I knew named Bob Wallace. Called Old Bob by friend and foe alike, he had a hatred of violent professional criminals that went far beyond anything I'd ever seen in a lawman.

Let me tell you a little story about Old Bob. Back in the late '60s a hood named Hiram White from down around New Orleans got a lot of notoriety. In his prime he roved the length and breadth of the South, often pulling jobs as far afield as Florida and Virginia. His specialty was high-line jewelry burglaries and bullion highjackings, though on numerous occasions he'd done strong-arm work for a pair of fastidious Tampa bookies who didn't like to dirty their own hands with collections. In one particularly lucrative residential robbery in Baton Rouge he cut a woman's foot half off with a hacksaw to make her give up the combination to her wall safe. Besides these activities, he'd been involved in several contract killings. In fact, White was a jack-of-all-slime, a sort of freelance asshole with an overblown opinion of himself and a big mouth to go with it. It was his mouth that did him in.

In the fall of 1970, some fleet-footed courtroom work on the part of a famous Houston criminal lawyer named Claude Turpin let White wriggle out from under what would've otherwise been a certain conviction in an armed robbery/murder beef in Dallas. The victim was a thirty-five-year-old jewelry store clerk who left behind two little kids and a wife in the early stages of multiple sclerosis. Bob Wallace had made both the case and the arrest, and White was foolish enough to pass a couple of snide remarks to the old man as he left the courthouse the day of the verdict. And like most of his kind, he did plenty of loose talking in the weeks that followed, talk that percolated back to Wallace through his network of snitches.

On a Saturday night a month later, one of the old man's informants called his house and reported that White was holding fourth like a medieval king at Newt Throckmorton's Fan Tan Club on Greenville Avenue, a joint long known as a character hangout. Not long after that phone call, Wallace walked into the Fan Tan carrying a three-foot length of heavy rubber garden hose. When he walked out a few minutes later, Hiram White lay whimpering and bleeding in a puddle of his own urine, surrounded by a gaping throng of younger hoods who'd been his worshipful admirers only a few moments before. A snitch of mine who was there later told me that Old Bob whipped White like he owned him, and I suppose that from then on he did, in a manner of speaking.

"Everybody needs to answer to somebody," Bob told me a few days afterward in the den of his Garland home. "And White had gotten a little too independent-minded to suit me."

It was a Friday evening and CBS had just started broadcasting nighttime pro football through a few selected cable markets as a sort of experiment. At his invitation I'd stopped by to take in the game and have a few beers.

"Who do you answer to, Bob?" I asked with a grin.

"Almighty God and the governor of Texas."

"Don't forget Miss Jayne," I heard his tiny, fire-breathing wife say as she swept into the room with a tray loaded with Pearl longnecks and corned beef sandwiches.

"Well, that goes without saying, darlin'," he replied. Jayne was four eleven and weighed about ninety pounds while Bob stood two inches over six feet--a disparity that always sent ribald images dancing around unbidden in the back of my mind whenever I saw the two of them together.

"He doesn't just answer to me," she said as she set the tray on the coffee table, "he's scared to death of me, too."

"I won't deny it," he replied placidly, giving me a wink and pulling her down to sit on his lap. In her early fifties, Jayne had a sweet oval face and a pair of direct blue eyes and a mass of honey-colored hair that floated around her head like a thundercloud. I know the hair was touched up to its original color, and there was a little sag under her chin but I didn't care. She was one of the sexiest women I'd ever known, and I envied Bob for being married to her.

"What have you been doing, Hog?" she asked. "I mean now that you've got rich?"

I hadn't gotten rich, but I had gotten prosperous enough to retire from law enforcement. Back in the early '40s, my dad, ever a sucker for a sharp salesman, bought two hundred acres of worthless land up in the Panhandle with dreams of moving the family there and going into maize farming. The war was on in Europe and maize was selling high. But his dreams collapsed when he found out that its cultivation in that part of the country depended on irrigation, and that our land had no ready access to water. From that point on the taxes on the tract were just one more burden on an already overburdened family budget. Somehow we managed to hang on to the place, useless to us though it was, but both he and Mama were in their graves when Bartlett Production Company out of Seminole, Oklahoma, found oil in the neighborhood. I had three good producing wells, and with my future ensured I could see no reason to spend the rest of my life working. But as it turned out, my retirement wasn't as permanent as I'd hoped.

"I haven't been doing much, Jayne," I replied. "Just a lot of fishing and enjoying being lazy for a change."

"Still seeing that pretty teacher up at Denton?"

I grinned and shook my head. "Nah. She gave up on civilizing me."

She slid down from Bob's lap like a little kid. "Well, you two have fun. I'm going to go read."

"You're not watching the game with us?" Bob asked.

She shook her head. "A friend gave me Hemingway's bullfight book. You big strong men can have your ball games. For me it's blood and gore."

"I get enough of that at work," Bob groused.

She stuck out her tongue at him and whisked from the room.

"Ain't that woman a sight?" he asked me with a grin.

I laughed. "Bob, you'd wash her feet and drink the water, and you know it."

"Damn right I would, and I'm not ashamed to admit it, either."

The pregame warm-up was on and the announcer was rattling off statistics. We ate our sandwiches and drank our beer in silence for a few minutes. Finally, right before the kickoff, Bob asked, "Ain't you getting bored now that you're not working?"

I thought for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. Maybe a little. But there are worse things in life than boredom. Why do you ask?"

He sighed and shook his head. "Hog, some people were put on this earth for certain specific purposes, and you weren't put here to sit on your ass up there on Lake Murval with a fishing rod in your hand."

"What are you getting at, Bob?" I asked apprehensively. I could feel the goose bumps walking up my spine like cold little feet.

"Do you remember hearing about an ol' boy named Jasper Sparks?"

"Sure. His name's been all over the Southern Organized Crime Task Force's bulletins the last couple of years. What about him?"

"I want you to help me nail his ass."

Copyright © 2006 by Milton T. Burton. All rights reserved.

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