Glen and Stan, the Odd Couple of scamdom, are back from their Big Get-Even adventure with another get-rich-quick-or-go-down-in-flames scheme.
As part of their trafficking in counterfeit merch, they are looking to turn a few pallets of Grade Z computer chips into some military hardware sure to interest dictators and despots and drug lords around the globe. Bankrolled by a greedy local crime boss, they hope to promote a half-genius, half-addlepated invention from a naive and principled inventor into a bonanza. But no one ever counts on complications arising from a wayward wife, some sexy Eurotrash go-betweens, and a lonely entrepreneurial girlfriend who finds her native tropical isle conducive to a troublesome loosening of morals. Add in a most unconventional explosives expert, and you have a caper half hilarious, half deadly, and 100 percent entertaining.
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 5.70(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Paul Di Filippo sold his first story in 1977. Since then, he has written and published over two hundred more, as well as several novels, amounting to roughly thirty-five books. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with his partner, Deborah Newton.
Read an Excerpt
Eight months after talking to Vin Santo, I finally came to the realization that the mobster had pegged me with complete accuracy. I missed the criminal life.
Not that I was planning to pursue any illegal schemes — I had too much invested in my current innocent, respectable lifestyle. But I knew myself well enough to recognize the yearning.
And besides, I was starting to need more money.
My financial advisor was a guy I knew from my old days as a lawyer, before I got disbarred and sent to prison. Leo Geneva. Worked for a firm called Lightyear Financial Investments. A snappy dresser, he reminded me of a young and skinny Walter Matthau, only more lugubrious. That was fine. I wouldn't really want a grinning, insouciant playboy handling my money.
In his office, I got ready to hear some bad news I already suspected.
Geneva tapped out a little fandango on the keyboard of his laptop, then shifted his gaze from the screen to me, his eyes hound-dog mournful.
"Glen, just a little over a year ago, you entrusted half a million dollars with me."
My partner in the elaborate con that produced this money had been Stan Hasso, a burly lowbrow giant composed of two parts unbridled id, one part unabashed fuck-you, and three parts irreverent self-regard. We had been hoping to get revenge on his former employer and also score five million apiece. But we gratefully accepted a tenth of that, since the deal also included going scot-free despite our many crimes.
"Yes, this is accurate."
"And today, despite a decent return on your investments, you have a little over two hundred and fifty K in your account."
I knew where the money had gone. Buying a decent condo in the trendy neighborhood of Dashwell Corners. Moderate living expenses. And investment in the new enterprise of my girlfriend, Nellie Firmino, a small Cape Verdean cyclone of energy, smarts, and beauty, herself a collateral bonus derived from our failed scam.
Nellie's business, Tartaruga Verde Importing, exuberantly conceived when we got our windfall, specialized in bringing to this country Cape Verdean gourmet items. Liftoff, still in progress, had sucked up a lot of funds.
I said, "I can't quit bankrolling Nellie, Leo. I want to see her succeed. And after what she went through with Stan and me, half that money is rightfully hers."
"I totally agree. All I'm saying is that you are going to need to replenish the coffers somehow or else adopt a less extravagant lifestyle."
"I know. But I don't exactly have a lot of prospects lined up. Not much call for a defrocked lawyer who also recently made headlines in a shady deal that brought down a corrupt but respected citizen."
What I didn't mention to Leo Geneva was that my mind just wasn't inclined toward legitimate pursuits. I found myself yearning for some larger-than-life excitement. Maybe some of my feelings had to do with approaching forty. But the larcenous impulses that had sent me to prison in the first place, rekindled by Stan and his "big get-even" plans, had not been extinguished, but only banked as smoldering embers. I yearned for some kind of nose-thumbing antisocial activity. And if it happened to be a scheme that might net me a big profit, so much the better.
Geneva chewed meditatively on a pencil, presumably a relic of his trade from predigital days. "Maybe you could go with Nellie to Cape Verde. Help her out. Use your brains, get things moving faster, cut down on the burn rate."
I had wanted to do some traveling with Nellie, for both pleasure and business, but the restrictive terms of my parole still had some months to run.
"Let me see what I can do about that."
But I quickly found, on a nonscheduled visit, that my parole officer, Anton Paget — also Stan's PO — wasn't inclined to cut either of us any slack. Not an unreasonable position, considering all the lies we had told him to promote our scam.
"McClinton," said the squat, hardnosed arbiter of my freedom, his favorite gaudy Hawaiian shirt belying his flinty soul, "you and Hasso severely disillusioned me. I thought I knew all the bat-shit ways that a pair of criminal morons could fuck me and themselves over. But you two mooks invented at least half a dozen new ones."
"You always advised me not to settle for less than I'm capable of, Anton."
He regarded me stonily for a moment, then said, "So we just had diametrically opposed ideas for the proper vector of your ambitions — that's what you're telling me?"
"Glen, please get your ass the hell out of my office right now, and don't ever again, during the rest of your parole, give me occasion to see your face on the wrong side of the mug-shot camera. You can travel all you want in a few months, when you depart my tender ministrations."
As I turned to leave, Paget said, "You still hanging out with your lunkhead-in-crime?"
That question made me sad. I had wanted to keep up my dodgy friendship with Stan Hasso — and, of course, with his Junoesque squeeze, Sandralene. Both of them still had a large claim on my affections and trust. And the feelings seemed mutual.
But although they had hung around companionably for a little while after we all returned to the city from the rural locale of our crimes, eventually the bonds of our shared exploits began to fade. We discovered we actually had little in common that would keep us together — at least, under current circumstances.
I pondered memories of one of my last get-togethers with Stan.
That night, the big galoot had seemed unwontedly antsy and ill-at-ease in his own skin, unable to turn his hand to anything he cared about — an attitude utterly foreign to the cocksure, competent guy I had known. With his revenge accomplished and cash in his pockets, he should have been on top of the world. But his long life of crime — he had worked as an arsonist for hire, along with many other illicit sidelines — had not remotely prepared him for his newfound semirespectability.
"Glen, amigo," he told me that night after much boutique bourbon in a hipster bar, "this motherfucking civic-righteousness gig is going to kill me. I feel all the time like fucking Han Solo frozen in that black plastic shit."
"You'll settle into it, Stan. It'll seem like second nature before long."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better? Because that's exactly the goddamn outcome I'm dreading."
We had parted with a mutual promise to stay in touch. But over half a year had flitted by with no further get-togethers. I couldn't even be sure where Stan and Sandy were living these days, and that made me feel mournful and guilty.
But I put those emotions aside to focus on the relationship I was still building with Nellie. She came first. I was chafing at not being able to go with her on the upcoming journey to her ancestral islands, on another buying mission. (It was during one such separation that I'd had my meeting with Vin Santo.) We always parted with genuine sadness, temporarily alleviated by toe-curling predeparture sex.
This time was no different. I saw Nellie off at the airport that Saturday in May around ten a.m. and started the drive home. Just to kill time, I took an alternate route through the city.
At a red light, my eye fell on a flea marketcumrummage sale set up in the vast weedy parking lot of a defunct strip mall. On a whim, I pulled over, parked, and ambled into the sprawl of booths and fast-food trucks.
And that's how I found Stan again.CHAPTER 2
Most of the grim sellers at the flea market looked about two steps away from bankruptcy, eviction, suicide, or selling a spare kidney. Plainly, the economic growth enjoyed by so many in this city, state, and nation had not trickled down to their level. Their rickety folding tables boasted a raggle-taggle miscellany of domestic tchotchkes, oily used car parts, lawn ornaments, distressed vinyl records by performers no one had ever heard of, barely worn K-mart clothing, chipped coffee mugs with office-humor mottos, cheap socks bundled three pairs for five dollars, and the like. Here and there, jewelers and potters and metalsmiths appeared to be hawking the very creations that had gotten them expelled from their various amateur handicraft associations. And the clientele looked to be of much the same socioeconomic stratum as the vendors.
Nonetheless, a certain Dickensian vibe of life enduring — of suffering partly alleviated by its being shared, and a determination to clutch vigorously at any lifeline that chance might provide — prevailed among the crowd, and I found myself somehow spiritually uplifted. The life on display here brought my own petty discontentments into perspective.
It was almost lunchtime. I bought a chili dog and a lemonade from a cart — they were surprisingly fresh and tasty — and continued strolling along the canopied aisles.
Ahead loomed a larger-than-average display of better-than-average stuff: a solid wooden table covered with an attractive colorful cloth, atop which were carefully arranged ranks of new designer handbags: Coach, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Givenchy, Prada, Marc Jacobs. Befitting their classy allure, the table was surrounded by customers admiring the wares and obscuring the vendor.
Still a bit baffled at seeing these luxury items here, I stepped up to the spread, thinking I might spot something that would appeal to Nellie — a gift to celebrate her eventual return. I eased through the pack and up to the edge of the table. A dove-gray Marc Jacobs saddle bag looked like Nellie's style. The price tag on it read thirty-five dollars — about one-tenth of what such a bag generally sold for.
The obvious answer to the riddle of this impossible price came to me perhaps more easily than to some: these items had fallen off the back of a truck and were as hot as the sidewalks in Phoenix on a climate-change August day. Still, a bargain was a bargain.
I reached down to pick up the bag and suddenly found my wrist clamped in a grip that would have saved Gwen Stacy from a broken neck.
"I can spot a goddamn shoplifter from a mile off!" Immediate recognition of the voice's owner stopped me from trying to jerk my hand away. I felt a wave of nostalgia, guilt, fondness, and melancholy wash over me.
Stan Hasso had lost a fair amount of weight. Any slight gut or distributed flab that he once carried had been pared away by lean times. His favored gaudy look of hip-hop overlord, replete with gold chains and styling streetwear, had been replaced by plain jeans, an off-brand polo shirt, and no-name athletic shoes. His face featured some new worry lines, and raccoon patches under the eyes. Only his familiar leering grin evoked the Stan of old, the bold fellow who had been able to conceive, inspire, and guide our shared scam.
Reacting to what they assumed was a genuine accusation, the crowd had ebbed from the table, no doubt wanting to be elsewhere if the cops were called. This unanticipated outcome of his prank compelled Stan to reassure his customers.
"Hey, people, don't run off! Just playing a joke on my buddy. He's really too straight to take an extra penny from the register cup. Glen, you glorious bastard, get back here!"
Released, I walked around to Stan's side of the table and was instantly enveloped in a familiar bear hug. I could only be glad he didn't lift me off my feet, as he had been wont to do when his emotions demanded such a gesture. He still smelled like too much body spray, and I would probably reek of it myself once he let me go.
He eventually did, and only then did I notice that Stan had a fellow vendor with him behind the table: an older woman with frazzled dyed-red hair and wearing a tatty beige sweater despite the balmy spring weather. She looked as if she were saving every cent she might earn today for her next bottle of Night Train Express.
"Stan —" I began, but he interrupted.
"Alice, can you watch the table for a few minutes? Glen and I have a lot of catching up to do."
Alice agreed in a tobacco-cured voice. "Sure thing, Stan. Take a good, long break."
He looked at her admonishingly, as if he expected her to pocket more than her share of any sales, but then said, "Thanks. We won't be super long."
Stan guided me out into the aisle. I noticed he had a slight limp still, from when Nancarrow's goons had shot him in the knee.
"What say we grab us a beer? My treat!"
"Okay, Stan, I'd like that."
He led us to a beer seller who actually had frosty kegs on ice, not bottled stuff. An umbrella-shaded plastic picnic table held a young couple who were making goo-goo eyes at each other and nursing an inch of warm beer in their plastic cups — until Stan glared effectively at them, inspiring them to down their drinks and move along. Stan sidled onto a bench, and I sat opposite him.
"You're looking good, Glen boy. Slick and spic and span, without a single mussed hair. Well fed, no worries, and neat as a department store mannequin or a castrated show dog."
I felt hurt at Stan's assessment, maybe because it had some truth in it. I started to frame some suitable sharp comeback, but he beat me to it with an apology of sorts.
"Oh, Christ, this is not how I wanted our reunion to happen, man. You just took me by surprise. And I'm feeling kinda lousy about everything. I wanted us to hook up again when I was riding high. I was planning to call you once I got myself sorted out. But having you see me now, like this — it just plain sucks. Can I take back the bogus shit I just spouted about you? I'll eat my words. Whadda ya say?"
I was vindictive enough to let him stew for just a few seconds before I answered. He nervously sipped his beer.
"Stan, I don't think even you could shovel horseshit high enough to bury what we've got between us. I'm your friend, and you don't have to keep up any pretenses with me. I know we've been out of touch for nearly a year, but it wasn't because I didn't want to see you and Sandralene. It was just that I felt ... I felt your path was different from mine, and we weren't really connecting anymore. That's all. Anyhow, I'm here for you now. You want to tell me what's up?"
Stan fussed with his Solo cup, rotating it back and forth like an improvised Fidget Spinner. I drank a little of my own beer for something to do in the awkward pause. Children ran and shrieked while their parents shopped. Finally, he knocked back his whole drink, tossed the cup over his shoulder in the general direction of the trash barrel, and looked me straight in the eye with a fierce wounded pride.
"I'm fucking busted, and Sandy's left me."CHAPTER 3
Stan's confession sent my mind racing down two parallel tracks — a sensation a bit like trying to play high-stakes poker while doing a jigsaw puzzle depicting polar bears frolicking in a blizzard.
The first track: he had managed to blow through five hundred thousand dollars!
The second track: he had let Sandralene slip out of his life!
I couldn't decide which was the greater disaster. The impact of both together was obviously enormous — a truth I could see written on Stan's hangdog face and slumped stance.
Trying to focus on whichever dilemma was more important and possibly subject to remedy, I decided to concentrate on the money angle. Maybe that said something about my own messedup priorities — that I valued money above relationships. Or maybe I just wasn't eager to wrap my mind around the thought of never seeing Sandralene again.
Stan had planted both palms on the tabletop and squared his shoulders. The gesture was simultaneously confrontational and submissive, as if he were a student expecting to get rapped on the knuckles, but also a desperate suspect under interrogation, who might lash out at his tormentors. I knew I had to offer just the right response or risk pissing him off, making him feel even lousier, and driving him away again.
"So," I said, "I'll bet the begging phone calls from relatives have tapered off lately."
Truth be told, I never knew whether Stan had any relatives or, having them, stayed in touch. Once, he had jokingly mentioned a sister, only to deny her existence later. So I was taking a risk in bringing up the potentially fraught topic of family.
Luckily, my instincts were good. Stan's wry laugh told me I had hit just the right note.
"Yeah, you got that right. You see the same people going down that you saw going up. But on the way down, don't nobody want to even know your name."
"Where'd it all go, Stan? That is, if you don't mind telling me." I had notions of several hazardous alleys down which Stan's funds might have wandered, never to emerge. Gambling, drugs, women — the usual culprits. But I never could have guessed the real story.
"I tried to be a fucking angel."
"Yeah, you know, it's what they call suckers who decide to invest in something. A whatchamacallit — a venture capitalist."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Deadly Kiss-Off"
Copyright © 2019 Paul Di Filippo.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
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.
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