Cooper and Davis are a couple of jam band-obsessed Texas ex-pats growing some of Denver’s finest organic cannabis and living the good life on tour. Or, at least they were, until legal weed put the squeeze on their market and cramped their playboy lifestyle.
When their last out-of-state distributor gets busted by an Illinois task force, they’re left with no choice but to turn to their reckless former associate Elroy “Sancho” Watts to unload one last crop down in Teller County, Texas.
But Sancho Watts has troubles of his own in the form of Texas Ranger Russ Kirkpatrick, tasked under the table with nailing Watts for anything that will stick because of his involvement in the drug-induced suicide of a state senator’s son.
Not to mention his infamous new business partner, Heisman quarterback and NFL burnout Bobby Burnell, a man working to rise from the ashes of his self-destructed football career by making a name for himself in his criminally inclined Teller County family, no matter who he has to double-cross to get there.
What ensues is a pine-curtain criminal jamboree where everyone involved keeps their cards close to their vest, and all the high-stakes two-stepping is sure to result in bloodshed.
Praise for TEXAS TWO-STEP:
“Tough and taut, Texas Two-Step packs a punch. Michael Pool delivers.” —Sam Wiebe, award-winning author of Cut You Down
“Texas Two-Step is a shotgun marriage between the Coen brothers and Joe Lansdale. Come for the gun-slinging, drug-dealing hijinks, but stay for the witty characterizations and whip-crack plotting that drives this humdinger to its action-packed denouement. Michael Pool follows up on every ounce of promise he’s shown so far as one of Texas crime fiction’s hottest rising star. Make room on your bookshelf for Texas’ own Elmore Leonard!” —Eryk Pruitt, author of Dirtbags, Hashtag, and What We Reckon
“Michael Pool’s Texas Two-Step is a gritty adventure in the spirit of True Romance and Savages, filled with weed, bullets, double-crosses, and even a messy sort of redemption.” —Nick Kolakowski, author of Slaughterhouse Blues and A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps
“Michael Pool spins a story that’s got kick. Take a couple of desperate pot growers and a truckload of weed crossing state lines, throw in a gauntlet of thugs, losers and backstabbers, along with law enforcement watching and listening in, and you’ve got Texas Two-Step. A story that’s got pace, terrific characters and some unexpected turns. Everything you want in a crime novel.” —Dietrich Kalteis, award-winning author of Zero Avenue, House of Blazes, Triggerfish, The Deadbeat Club and Ride the Lightning
“Some things, once you get into them, they’re hard as blue blazes to get out of. I would count Michael’s book as one of them. It’s almost impossible to put down, and, even when you finish it, it won’t let go of you. They say to write what you know. If Michael followed that line of reasoning, I’m a little worried about him. I hope he makes out alright.” —Tim Bryant, author of the Dutch Curridge series
“Michael Pool’s spot-on descriptions in this crime caper make for a good read with its own voice.” —Earl Javorsky, author of Down Solo and Trust Me
Read an Excerpt
"What the hell we gonna do with it now, Coop?" Davis asked. They were sitting around the basement trimming table in the biggest of Cooper's three Denver grow houses, the one he actually lived in when he wasn't crashing at his girlfriend Josie's high-rise condo in Lodo. Davis was trimming up a fist-sized cola and giving Cooper that same look he'd been giving him since they were kids back in Southeast Texas, the one that said "You got us in this mess, now how you gonna get us out?"
Cooper frowned, tried to shrug it off. This was gonna throw his entire life into something resembling chaos, but it could have been worse. If that Chicago drug taskforce had waited a week to kick down his boy Nelson's door, they'd have snagged Cooper's entire new crop of Bruce Banner with it.
Though now he needed to find a new place to sell thirty pounds of absolute head-stash Colorado dope, and pronto. Shit, somebody somewhere had to want it. Time to work the dwindling, all-but-dead network a little harder, maybe cut one of the other growers a flat fee to set up a one-time deal, though no one ever seemed to want to do it. He could figure out what to do with the next crop later. If there was a later. Things would work out because they always worked out. Cooper Daniels was just lucky like that, and he knew it.
"Coop?" Davis's annoyed tone brought Cooper back into the moment.
Cooper brushed his shaggy hair back out of his face and said, "Yeah, man, all right, no sweat. I'll make some calls. Could have been worse."
"I know it," Davis replied, "but that don't make it good, either. Even if you find someone to take it, who's gonna drive it?"
"We'll figure it out. Might have to get a little creative, is all. Everything will be fine, trust me."
"Don't think I don't know what you mean by 'figure it out.' How many more times do we need to end up in this position before you see the writing on the wall?"
"I'll let you know when I get there." Cooper went back to trimming, finished the bud in his hand and dropped it into the big red ice chest at his side, which was three quarters full. He'd been using the coolers to cure his crops for years, so long that the white interior was stained amber from the resin.
Davis stayed on him. "Dammit, take this serious. We ain't getting half the price per pound we could three years ago. Keep sending it farther and farther away, too. Network's getting smaller all the time. Seems like just about everyone we run with besides us has wised up and gone straight. We've had a good run, right? Saw more Panic than anyone I can think of, just about. Been up to our knees in good times since. Might be time to move on to something else, same as the rest."
Cooper stopped trimming again and looked up. "Lemme ask you something. You see me hitting the nine-to-five circuit? Some asshole in a suit telling me when to eat lunch like he's my daddy? This is what we moved up here to do, and we been doing it, right?"
"We were kids when we started. Weed's legal now. Things change. I know Josie is ready to see you do something else, too."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Cooper asked.
"It don't have to mean anything. Blind fool could see how bad that girl wants you to clean up and put a ring on her finger, is all."
"Yeah? And then what? Quit going to shows, get me a job like Josie's up at Mile High Sports corporate? Set up a 401(k) and start shooting the shit around the water cooler on the cigarette break they don't even let you have? I'd piss off everyone in the building five minutes after I got hired. Besides, she's getting laid off in a couple months. They're going belly-up."
Davis sighed. "Have it your way," he said. "Ignore me and her and everyone else if that's what it takes to convince yourself. You know I'm with you either way. But we're gettin' the squeeze from every which one, and it's only gonna get worse. There's a retail shop on every corner selling eighths for twenty-five bucks. Same thing's gonna happen across the country, sooner or later. We can't exactly send it to China, so where's it gonna go?"
"I know one place it can still go," Cooper said.
Davis stuck his palms out in front of him. "Don't even say it," he said. "I told you I knew what you were thinking. That time we beat the rap down in Dumas we swore never again, and you know it. You don't fuck around with the universe like that."
"Might be we don't have a choice. Besides, we could send it through Kansas and Oklahoma, stay out of the litter box out there in the Texas Panhandle."
"Or we could get rolled up like a clump of shit in some other litter box. They have a gang-load of state troopers sitting at the Kansas border, pulling over anything with Colorado plates. And anyway, Nelson was coming out and paying cash, up front. We need someone who can do that, it ain't worth the risk driving it ourselves. Josie would flip out if you even tried. We don't even know anybody still in the game down in Texas anyway."
Cooper tossed another manicured bud into the cooler and said, "We still know one person."
Davis raised his eyebrows and said, "Tell me you're not thinking about calling Sancho."
"You really want me to, I'll tell you a bedtime story and kiss your teddy bear goodnight. But at the moment I can't think of anyone else to sell it to. And before you get all worked up about it, I haven't heard a word from Sancho in six months, so we might not even be that lucky."
"Probably got locked up somewhere with his daddy working overtime to beat the case. If hooking in with Sancho again is lucky, we must be on the other end of the rainbow."
"Maybe we are."
"I can't believe you'd even consider getting involved with that knucklehead again after what happened in Dumas." Davis slapped the table for effect, and a couple of untrimmed branches toppled onto the concrete floor. He bent down and picked them back up, gave one a smell, and put them back on the pile.
Cooper finished another sparse branch, cut the buds off it, dropped them in the cooler, and stacked the stem on a big pile laid out on trash bags on the floor next to the table.
He said, "All right, look, man. Half the crop's still hanging in the drying room anyway, so we've got a couple days to look for something else. Could probably sit on it for a month if I had to, but rent is coming due, and I about shot my load on that last stretch of shows. I'd need the money even if we did decide to shut down." Davis sighed again and said, "I guess just let me know what you come up with, and we'll get it done. Everything's cut down and packaged at my spot. Me and Sneaky Pete broke the whole setup down and tossed it in storage yesterday, so I'm officially shut for business after this. But, Coop?"
"I need you to tell me you'll at least work on something better than dealing with Sancho Watts."
"I'll do what I can, that's the best I can say."
Davis nodded. He pulled his latex gloves off and dropped them in the trash on his way to the sink, where he cleaned the scissor blades by dabbing olive oil on them and using a razor blade to scrape off the resin. Cooper thought about how they would have collected the resin as scissor-hash back in the day, when they'd first started growing, but they'd stopped doing that once the volume got so high that they had weed coming out of their ears. Davis said goodbye and walked upstairs and out the front door.
Cooper was sick of trimming for now, so he picked up the razor and cleaned his own scissor blades over the basement's industrial sink until he was satisfied they were clean enough to put away. He pulled off his own latex gloves on the way up the stairs, tossed them in the trash bin. He heard what must be Davis driving away as he crossed the kitchen. It was sunny, but he could already see clouds forming above the foothills to the west outside the window, meaning it would rain that afternoon.
With no cable and nothing else to do, it wasn't five minutes before he found himself swiping through his phone and stopping on Sancho's ranch house phone number. It had been six months since Sancho's last burner number went dead. He hadn't heard hide nor hair of Sancho since then, now that he thought about it. At the end of the day Cooper was running the show, and Davis knew it. Davis had always been content to follow his lead, so let him follow on this one. Cooper's green thumb had been paying his best friend's rent for almost a decade, and making him plenty of money to travel and party in the process. It was hard to deny that Sancho had a knack for getting into sketchy situations, but that didn't mean this deal had to have problems.
His penchant for outlandish behavior was how they'd come to give him the name Sancho in the first place. They'd been up at Sancho's Broken Arrow on East Colfax, seeing Netwerk: Electric or Signal Path, or maybe some other trance jam band he couldn't remember the name of anymore, when this wiry dude in patchwork pants and a T-shirt that said Fuck Y'all, I'm From Texas walked in the door. Soon as the guy laid eyes on Cooper and Davis and the other guys in their group, he'd walked straight up to them in such a way that Cooper assumed one of the other guys must know him. He stepped right up in the middle of the man stuck his hand out with at least a gram of white powder in his palm and said, "You boys want some of this here molly?" before taking a thick finger dip himself.
Though it turned out later that no one knew him, at that time Cooper had just shrugged and taken a few finger dips because, why not? And it was some of the best molly he'd ever eaten, as it turned out. Next thing he knew he was howling at the moon, eyes rolling so far back in his head he could about see what was behind him. And this stranger was right up in the middle of their crew, partying like he'd known them his whole life, whooping and hollering and dancing his ass off with his curly fro standing a foot above everyone else in the place.
When Cooper and Davis had gotten enough control of themselves to stumble over to the bar for another drink, Davis asked if Cooper remembered what the guy's name was.
"I don't know," Cooper said. "But he walks around this place like he's Sancho himself."
That had made them both laugh so hard that the bartender wouldn't serve them anymore. Ever since then everyone had called him Sancho. Even down in Austin, where Sancho moved again after a brief stint in Denver, people called him that. Cooper figured that Sancho probably liked it a lot better than the name his parents had given him back in Wimberley, Texas: Elroy Watts Jr.
Cooper shook off the memory, not wanting to let his mind delve too far into what happened to them down in Dumas. It had almost sent him and Davis both to prison on a state jail felony, and Josie had never let him forget about it afterward. Instead, he clicked the button and dialed Sancho's number, was surprised when Sancho picked up after the second ring and said, "Talk to me," while someone hammered away on a djembe in the background.
Texas Ranger Russ Kirkpatrick was just pouring his second cup of coffee at his desk in the Austin DPS headquarters when he got a call from Javier Perez, the Travis County Sheriff's detective heading up the Weldon Robb investigation he'd been railroaded into taking on against his better judgment.
"Whadaya say, Javi?" he said as Perez's voice came through the line. "Was just about to catch up with y'all, actually. Senator Robb has been up my ass about this thing again lately."
"Yeah? Your ears must have been ringing. I've got something for you."
"About Watts? I thought he was out of the country still. Shoot."
"He's back. You might find it hard to believe, but something came over the wiretap last night."
"I thought that thing already expired?" Kirkpatrick took a sip of his coffee, burned his lip and had to blow on it.
"End of the month. Honestly, we haven't been giving it much attention anyway. I'll tell you this, Watts must have thought the tap expired, too."
"So our man's really back from Costa Rica or wherever he was hiding?"
"Oh, he's back. You better get over here and give a listen. I think we've got something that will stick to him, if you stay on top of it."
Kirkpatrick sat up straight. "Gotcha. I'll head on over in an hour or so. Anything else I need to know before then?"
"Not really. Just that I get the impression Watts thinks we've lost interest in him."
"What makes you say that?"
"Come on over and see for yourself. Play this one out right, I think Senator Robb might get some of that Texas justice he's always shooting off about."
"Sounds good," Kirkpatrick said, already flipping through his notebook to be sure he didn't have anything planned today. "I'll see y'all in an hour. Thanks, Javi."
Perez told him not to mention it and they hung up. Kirkpatrick took a few minutes to organize his desk and finish his coffee, then popped his head in the office to let his commanding officer know he'd be back later on.
He drove through La Mexicana and picked up an eight-pack of chorizo-bean-and-egg breakfast tacos on the way over. The Travis County Sheriff's Department hadn't been crazy about having Kirkpatrick forced into their world by a loudmouth state senator like Weldon Robb, especially with the warpath he was on. Even more so considering the grey line Robb had Kirkpatrick walking, thanks to a few favors he'd called in. Kirkpatrick always tried to ease the tension of dropping by with food or coffee. He knew for a fact there wasn't an officer within fifty miles who didn't appreciate homemade tortillas and the best damn chorizo sausage in the entire city, which was saying something.
He didn't blame them for not wanting him around anyway. Inter-agency politics had always been a problem, no matter where he worked. So had people in power, using their influence to get their own private sense of justice. Even back in the MPs, during the Gulf War, it had been that way. You just couldn't let someone come in and steal your thunder, at least not if you expected to have an upwardly mobile career trajectory.
But when a state senator's grandson twists off on psychedelic drugs and hangs himself from a Live Oak using jumper cables, some discomfort among agencies is to be expected. Without a killer to blame for his grandson's death, Senator Weldon Robb had jumped like a June bug on the idea of finding whoever manufactured the drug, so he could punish them instead. After throwing his weight around behind the scenes, he'd managed to finagle Kirkpatrick into a one-man task force whose entire life consisted of figuring out who had manufactured and sold the boy the drugs, so that the son of a bitch could be buried beneath the jailhouse.
Which had led Kirkpatrick by roundabout investigation to Elroy Watts. Sancho, as some people called him. Along with some help from Travis County, he'd dug about as deep into Sancho's life as anyone could expect. Travis County deputies had hemmed him up and taken his car apart three different times, to no benefit. Tapped his phone, staked out his farm from an adjacent hilltop. Kirkpatrick always felt that Travis County Sheriff's had come on too strong and spooked him, wasn't surprised in the least when Watts took off one day six months ago for South America. They didn't have much on him, but he wouldn't have known that. Probably he just felt the heat and his lawyer daddy told him to get out of town until things cooled off.
Now he apparently thought things had cooled enough to come back. If there was one thing Kirkpatrick knew about guys like Elroy Watts, it was that they never stayed out of the game for long.
Kirkpatrick pulled up to the Travis County Sheriff's office on Airport Boulevard and parked near the edge of the lot. He stepped out into the heat and put his beat-up beige Stetson on to shield his face from the scorching sunshine, then went inside. He flirted with Shirley, the dispatcher, for a minute, passed out a few tacos on his way back to Javi Perez's desk. Perez looked up from whatever paperwork he was messing with when he heard Kirkpatrick's boots coming down the hall.
"I can always tell it's you coming by the rhythm of your boot steps," Perez said as Kirkpatrick entered the office. "I see you brought a little something-something to ease the pain, too."
Kirkpatrick smiled and set the tacos on the edge of Perez's desk. "Figured a proud Mexican like you couldn't resist them," he said. He liked Perez, and they got along, despite all the departmental drama. The tacos were more of a bribe for the rest of the department to stay off his back, but he always kept a few for Perez anyway.
"Please, son. I'm as American as you or apple pie, minus that cheap cowboy getup. Third generation naturalized citizen."
"I know it," Kirkpatrick said. "'Cause you sound whiter than I do. Just giving you some grief."
"Well while you're giving, go ahead and pass me them tacos. And some verde sauce, yeah?"
Kirkpatrick nodded and passed a couple of tacos and a tiny plastic container of green salsa over to Perez. Perez wasted no time taking the first one down.
Excerpted from "Texas Two-Step"
Copyright © 2018 Michael Pool.
Excerpted by permission of Down & Out Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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