Bill Vincent is a killer, but in the name of justice. Not that the law would see it that way. With one murderous act of retribution for terrible violence inflicted on his wife, he leaves behind a respectable calling as a prize-winning investigative journalist and hits the road. On the run he ekes out a living in California's Central Valley as a box-maker, a turkey debeaker, a truck driver's assistant, and finally a field hand. In this last job he meets Jim Garret, a like-minded spirit whose thirst for justice equals his own. They join together to beat the corrupt bossmen at their own political game.
About the Author
Jack Remick is a poet, short story writer, and novelist. Trio of Lost Souls is Book 4 in the California Quartet, which also includes The Deification, Valley Boy, and Book of Changes. His novel Gabriela and The Widow, a finalist for the Montaigne Medal and ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Award, and his collection of poetry, Satori, are also available from Coffeetown Press. His novel Blood was published by Camel Press. You can find Jack online at www.jackremick.com.
Read an Excerpt
Trio of Lost Souls
Book Four of the California Quartet
By Jack Remick
Coffeetown PressCopyright © 2015 Jack Remick
All rights reserved.
A black 1973 Lincoln Town Car snaked between the concrete urns with their twin mugo pines. Rod Seger, the dark-suited driver, opened the back door of the Lincoln. Maury Aleghiri got out, and like Chicken Little, skittered to the front door of the ranch-style mansion of stone, wood, and glass and hopped inside. Seger backed the car into the garage. The nose pointed toward Casino Way.
Vincent, on the Black Shadow, unbuckled his helmet. From the saddle bags, he pulled out the pipe — eighteen inches of galvanized iron with caps screwed on the ends — and laid it on the tank of the motorcycle. The ball bearings in the pipe rattled.
He left his helmet on the Black Shadow. He wanted Aleghiri to see his face. Gloves on, he strode across the lawn, the pipe shoved up the sleeve of his leather jacket, and hovered at the side of the garage. Seger got out. Vincent came around the corner and kicked the Lincoln's door closed. Seger, left hand headed for his inside holster, muttered "What the hell" just as Vincent unloaded the pipe across the bridge of his nose, bloodying the side window of the Lincoln. Seger went down, mouth open. Vincent, squatting over the bleeding man, rammed the cap end of the pipe into his teeth. Seger grunted and died in a pool of his own blood.
Vincent snatched Seger's Taurus from its canvas holster. He dropped the clip, ejected the cartridge from the chamber, and stuffed the barrel of the nine mm into the dead man's mouth.
He entered the house from the garage and stepped into a marble and glass and stainless steel kitchen to face a man in a bomber jacket standing at an open refrigerator with a bottle of beer in his right hand. Art Ingles, Aleghiri's number two muscle.
Glancing at the pipe in Vincent's hand, Ingles shut the refrigerator door. His right hand snaked to his hip but he still had the bottle of beer, and his eyes tracked the pipe as it cracked his head. He grunted, slumped back, and dropped the bottle, which bounced on the floor. It did not shatter.
Vincent then slammed the pipe across his throat and he went down.
Vincent ripped the pistol from the downed man's rig — a Desert Eagle .50 caliber, too much gun for a stupid man.
Weapon in his left hand, Vincent walked from the kitchen into the living room — a warm space of wood and glass.
Maury Aleghiri, on a white velour sofa watching a hockey game on a big-screen TV, bolted when Vincent entered. Vincent smacked him in the mouth with the Desert Eagle, and Aleghiri fell. Vincent straddled him, pipe in his right hand, and rammed the pipe into Aleghiri's mouth. Aleghiri gurgled. Vincent jammed the barrel of the Desert Eagle into his face and drove the pipe down hard. His mouth opened in a toothless gape and then his eyes went blank.
Vincent stood. He was calm. He should have been breathing hard, but the killing frenzy was over. He straddled the man sprawled on the black stone at the edge of the carpet. Dead. He should have died a long time ago. Dead, Aleghiri did not look mean.
In the kitchen, Vincent skirted around Ingles in the bomber jacket. He nested the Desert Eagle in Ingles' right hand, squeezed the grip.
At the sink, he took off his riding gloves and cleaned the pipe, using hot water and soap. He washed his hands and scrubbed his face. He wiped blood from the leather jacket and he rinsed out the sink. His hands shook and his legs trembled and he noticed a twitch pulsing in his left eye. He dried his shaking hands on paper towels that he stuffed into his pocket and then, pulling on his gloves, he carried the pipe from the house through the garage, past the parked Lincoln and the dead man with the barrel of the Taurus jammed in his mouth.
He marched down the curved concrete driveway between the mugo pines in their pots to the Black Shadow just as the last of the blood-red sun sank in silence behind the Sierra. As he zipped the leather jacket, he thought that somewhere, on the coast, it was still dusk and it would be warm and people would be walking in the sand.
He stowed the pipe in the mechanic's cloth he had packed in the saddlebag. He strapped on the helmet, locked the faceplate down. He cranked the Black Shadow and slipped it into gear and drove the speed limit down Casino Way, stopping at all the lights.
Just off McCarran Boulevard, he parked the Black Shadow. He walked into a grove of trees, cracked open the length of galvanized pipe, and poured the ball bearings out and hurled them into the trees. The bearings clattered against the wood with the sharp snap of metal on rock and then there was silence. After slinging the pipe in the opposite direction, he returned to the Black Shadow and rode back into town to the Medical Center.
Parked outside the hospital, Vincent had decisions to make. He had three hundred bucks in his pocket. He had a load of guilt on his mind. He had called Magda, Claire's mother. She was on her way. He couldn't wait for her. He couldn't take anything back. Three dead men.
He had to live with what he had done.CHAPTER 2
The first time Claire saw Vincent was when he moved her baby grand piano to her second floor apartment. He was wearing leather and he stank of gasoline. He was tall and wide and even indoors wore dark glasses so it was not until later that she learned the color of his eyes. But of his muscle, she was sure.
She wanted to be with him for then and forever. She was lost — to the smell of leather and gasoline and the scent of his body.
From the first moment, she knew why she chose Berkeley over Stanford.
From the first day she called him V.
He sat beside her on the piano bench as she played. His heat, his leg, his breath intoxicated her. He said she played pretty good.
From the first day, she was so deep into him that the music — all of it, every note, every plagal cadence, every modulation — was for him. Through his softness she found the truth she had been looking for.
* * *
In the blue-walled waiting room, on a hard wooden chair, Vincent sat drinking coffee amid the hum of machines. He watched the foot traffic and heard the urgent calls that did not matter to him. He hung his head, eyes on the gray rubberized floor of the room. He finished his coffee, his sixth, stacked the cup into the other five, and glanced down the hallway. A door opened. The doctor, a blue surgical mask around his neck. His blue cap a crown on his black hair. Gold-rimmed specs with bifocal lenses magnified his eyes.
Vincent said, "What are her chances, Doc?"
"She took quite a blow to the head."
"Is it bad?"
"She can talk."
A nurse in blue scrubs with a chart approached. She said, "Doctor."
The doctor waved her off. The nurse faded back into the hallway.
The doctor said, "Talk to her. Don't overdo it. You have something in your hair, Mr. Vincent."
"Something in your hair."
The nurse approached again, holding out the chart, and she said, "Doctor, they need you in neurology."
"Yeah," the doctor said. "There, just above your ear."
* * *
Vincent entered Claire's room, which smelled of blood and alcohol. She was propped up in the white bed, head bandaged. Her face was pale, but she smiled when he entered. He took her hand and kissed it.
She said, "Do I look like crap, V?"
"No, babe. You look like an angel."
"You have something in your hair, V."
Vincent looked into the mirror beside the bed, and just as the doctor said, saw a dark glob. It looked like grease but as he pinched it, it loosened and on his finger he saw a clot. Blood. Maury Aleghiri's blood. He snatched a Kleenex from the box on the stand beside the bed and wiped the dead man away.
Claire, her voice weakening, said, "Who were they?"
"What did they want?"
"Payback for the series I did on baby selling."
"Did you kill them?"
"You don't need to know that."
"If you did, I'm glad. I wanted to kill them myself."
She smiled at him and lay back on her pillow looking thin and tired. Vincent stroked her hand. It was cold. The cold clawed its way into his chest. She said, "I can't move my right hand, V."
"It's the edema,' Vincent said. "Magda's coming. I have to leave."
"Where are you going?"
"I have to turn myself in."
"Don't do that, V. Run. Please."
"I can't run with you in here."
"If you stay I'll never see you again."
"You were going to tell me something."
"You had some news. Another recording contract?"
She sighed. He clutched her hand. Cold.
"Go," she whispered. "Be careful, and call me."
And she fell asleep.
He kicked the bike into gear and made his way to the strip where he parked on the street in a thirty minute zone.
In the Silver Dollar Saloon, he sat at the bar. He peeled a Grant from the clip in his pocket and slapped it down.
The bartender, a small woman with Mohawked black hair and eyes lined with glitter, filled a shot glass. Vincent noticed her leather vest with silver and turquoise buttons and he noticed the tight sleeveless T-shirt and what it covered. He slammed down the whiskey. It burned. She filled it again. He swallowed the shot. He belched then tapped the shot glass.
"You just want a water glass?" The bartender said. "Save me getting a charley horse in my pouring arm."
"You from around here?" Vincent said.
"Nah. Reedley, California," she said.
"Know it," Vincent said. "Interviewed for a job at the Reedley Herald. Give me that water glass."
"What are you? A reporter?"
"Something like that," Vincent said.
"Are you any good?"
"She run out on you?"
"The way you're slugging it down you got woman trouble."
"Are you writing a novel?" Vincent said.
"Nah. Hell's bells. Working here I don't hafta make it up." She filled the shot glass. Vincent emptied it. This time it didn't burn. His throat was dead.
"Again," he said. She filled it. He shot it back and she filled it again and he downed it and this time it burned in his belly.
"Hit it," he said. She hit it.
"Six," the bartender said. "Six straight shots and the toppa yer head oughta pop about now."
"Don't you have something to do?" Vincent said.
"I'm doing it."
"Make it seven," he said.
"That'll eat up the fifty," she said. "Why don't you just get a bottle and a room and drink yourself to death like that guy they made the movie about?"
Vincent reached into his pocket and he peeled a fifty from the money clip.
The bartender said, "These spots on the sleeve of your jacket gotta be blood, right? Where you been, cowboy, that you got blood on your saddle?"
"Tell me when the next fifty's dead."
The rush of air felt good on his face. He loved the beat of the pavement. He always rode fast, rode hard. When he had whiskey in him he rode harder and he rode faster. He headed south to Stateline, out of Nevada. In Stateline he made a decision. He gassed up the Black Shadow. He emptied his billfold — license, credit cards, library card, Reno Star ID — into the trash can by the pumps. He kept the cash. And he hit the road. Past South Lake Tahoe down to Highway 50. Got to get to Sacramento, find a place to hole up.
He laid the Black Shadow into the turns, leaning over the way he'd done it in the Berkeley Hills when he rode with Mitch, sparks shooting from the steel heel and toe taps. No helmets, just raw leather and wind in his face.
Through the trees he passed nighttime traffic grinding up the grade. At the bottom of a hairpin turn he hit loose gravel on the shoulder and laid the machine down — it had to look good — and he skidded on the pavement. The leathers saved his hide, did nothing for the bike. When the bike crunched to a stop, he lay in the ditch — scraped and shaken. He stood and then pitched the helmet into the trees.
The driver, a man of forty-five with a pockmarked face and sinewy hands, didn't want to talk. He didn't ask questions. He didn't smoke. He smelled of sweat and a woman's perfume. Vincent leaned against the door, silent too but thinking of Claire. He would call first chance he got. Outside of Sacramento, the man pulled into a station to fill up. Vincent got out and started to walk.
Payday. Saturday. It was hot in the packing shed. The boxman had shut down the box machine. Time for tequila. The smell of pine. The scent of pine dust mixed with the odor of glue hung heavy in the late evening air. Vincent leaned back against a stack of shook — the raw material for grape boxes — the splinters gouging his back through his T-shirt. He hoisted the fifth of Cuervo and drank.
The Mexicans squatting in a circle around him counted uno dos tres and at cuatro Vincent lowered the bottle, his eyes watering, his gut on fire. The Mexicans clapped and chanted, "Vicente, Vicente" as he handed the bottle to Enrique, the field boss, who flipped off his hat, and standing, chugged the tequila — uno dos tres and he shouted "Ay carajo," shuddering as if he'd sucked on a fire stick. He handed the fifth to Paco, a boy with big eyes and very black hair who took a deep breath and tipped the bottle, now half empty, and drank — uno dos — before he gagged and gave up trying.
Vincent punched him in the shoulder, The Mexicans laughed. Enrique grabbed the bottle and said "Ya no eres chupón."
The bottle passed from hand to hand, ending again with Vincent, who in the heat of the box-shed of the packing house finished off the tequila. And then it went dark.CHAPTER 3
He came to on a cot in a hot cell with metal bars. He smelled the stink of raw canvas thick with old sweat and vomit. His head hurt. He tasted blood. He looked at his knuckles. Skinned. Scabbed. He looked at the floor and it was spinning. He needed a drink. He heard the quiet talk of a voice on a radio. The cell door was open.
A man in red coveralls rolled a mop and bucket into the cell. He had gray hair. He wore black canvas sneakers with the tongues hanging out, no laces. He looked angry.
Vincent stood. As his feet hit the cold floor, pain stabbed his right foot.
He said, "Where am I?"
"Coachella City Jail."
"What day is it?"
"Sunday. You gotta clear out 'cause I gotta mop up."
"So I can just walk out?"
"Did they print me?"
"Nope. Don't waste ink on drunks. Look, I gotta mop up 'fore I get a smoke break."
"What size are your shoes?"
"What do you want for 'em?"
"What makes you think I want anything for 'em?"
"Give you five bucks."
"Wear you own shoes."
"Lost 'em. Somewhere."
"A fin don't get you the time of day."
"A sawbuck then."
"I could listen to Mr. Jackson."
Vincent tugged the roll of bills from his watch pocket. He was surprised the bills were still his. He held out the twenty. The man shrugged. He kicked off the sneakers.
The man plunged the mop into the bucket and he sloshed it around.
"You ought to change that water."
"Yeah," the man said, "I'll get right on it."
On his way out, Vincent passed an empty office. In a desk drawer he found a roll of twine. He cut two lengths with a pair of scissors and tied his new shoes. He left the office through the front door and stepped into heavy air, charged with the scent of diesel and heat and the smell of hot tar and cut grass. His shoulder ached, his toe hurt, his head throbbed. The sun, hanging high in the sky, bit hard and sharp into his skin. He homed in on the sound of the highway. Even in sneakers his feet burned but he didn't stop until he hit the Interstate. Standing beside a sign that said "Fresno 350 miles" he stuck out his thumb.
His mouth tasted rotten, his gut burned, and he was hungry. But the sneakers cushioned his feet from the sun-hot tarmac and when he was close to vomit-sick — no more tequila straight from the bottle — a car pulled up ahead of him. He trotted to the vehicle, to the open door where he saw the driver — a kid, a young version of Ricardo Montalbán, asking where he was going.
"Fresno," Vincent said. He was happy for the ride, a chance to get out of the heat and into an air conditioned car. The Mexican laughed, hit the gas, and rocketed north.
Vincent asked the kid where he was going and the Mexican said he had family in Paso Robles, but he had to stop in Bakersfield. Vincent told him he had gotten drunk with some friends, maybe got in a fight, and wound up in jail. He'd bought a pair of sneakers because somewhere he had lost his boots. After they had settled that, they drove in silence until the Mexican stopped just south of Highway 46 and said that here he had to go west. Vincent shook the boy's hand and he said he had five bucks for gas, but the Mexican said he should keep his money and buy some new shoes.
Excerpted from Trio of Lost Souls by Jack Remick. Copyright © 2015 Jack Remick. Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Press.
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