It’s 1981 in Fort Myers, Florida. Scotland Ross hasn’t given up drinking, but he has sworn off of trouble.
At a waterside tavern the day the Pope got shot, Scotland drank to cloud the memories of his dead infant son on an anniversary such as this. Distraction comes when the bar owner needs his help. Despite his vow of living within the law, Scotland soon finds himself tangling with a redneck clan, a Cuban gang, a connected crew from New York, and the very friend he set out to help.
Crimes of violence, drugs, and theft pale in comparison to the failure of self-restraint in this humid town on the Gulf coast.
When Scotland’s activities involve his girlfriend, he kicks himself into a higher gear. He didn’t know until it was too late that she’d been involved long before they even met. He’s not fully prepared for the ramifications of that, but there is no time to waste.
Can Scotland save his girlfriend, clear his name, get justice for being screwed over, and stay out of jail?
Tushhog is dark noir set in the state of sunshine. A story of crime and compulsion and the depths to which people rise or sink.
Praise for TUSHHOG:
“In Tushhog, Jeffery Hess has created a wicked lean follow-up to Beachhead. The remarkable Scotland Ross is back for another go-round, sadder maybe but no wiser, which means that he gets himself into all sorts of entertaining trouble. An excellent sophomore entry in what promises to be a long-running series of bruising, bare-knuckle crime novels.” —Pinckney Benedict, author of Miracle Boy, The Wrecking Yard and Town Smokes
“Anti-hero Scotland Ross is back and Jeffery Hess’s prose is better than ever in this Sunshine Noir follow-up to last year’s unputdownable Beachhead. With tight pacing, snappy dialogue, a grungy edge and a whole lot of attitude, Tushhog brings us another classic crime caper complete with our hard-nosed protagonist, still trying to walk the razor’s edge between right and wrong, and a colorful cast of troublemakers and rabble-rousers, each intent on stretching Scotland Ross to his limits. In the tradition of Elmore Leonard, Tushhog is a no-holds-barred noir you won’t soon forget.” —Steph Post, author of Walk in the Fire
“In Tushhog, Scotland Ross returns, and though he’s determined at the outset to re-envision his life according to his rules, it’s his personal code that ultimately lands him at the center of a masterfully spun cycle of mayhem.” —Tracy Crow, author of Cooper’s Hawk and Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine
“Tushhog is Jeffery Hess’ follow-up to Beachhead and the return of Scotland Ross. The action starts on page one and does not let up, offering the reader a one-two punch of quick, rapid-fire wit punctuated by grisly, can’t-look-away action. Hess’ prose is all Florida, all the time. Look out, Carl Hiassen…Jeff Hess is coming for your crown. You’ll trust no one in this story, but that won’t keep you from turning each and every page because Hess gives this story his all.” —Eryk Pruitt, author of Dirtbags, Hashtag, and What We Reckon
“Tushhog is spellbinding, driven, reckless and authentic. Constantly cinematic, this novel catches you in its violent, slyly funny, hair-raising grip and never lets you go. Jeff Hess has written a terrific novel that captures crime and all its gruesome and subtle consequences.” —Fred Leebron, Professor of English, Gettysburg College
Read an Excerpt
Tuesday, May 12, 1981
As Dougie Gibbons exited the Fox Den, he passed two guys in blue jeans and muscle T-shirts, standing in the parking lot smoking menthol cigarettes, their hair greasy and unkempt. Cubans, most likely. It didn't matter. The odds were never good for a black man alone in a parking lot. Technically, Dougie was only half-black, but that was all it took most places. He kept walking without altering his pace until the taller of the two Cubans stepped up to him.
Every muscle in Dougie clenched and he halted. His tortoise defense. It also gave him the best odds as his lack of height was a disadvantage in fights. His abundance of weight made running a bad idea. He carried a .38 in the waistband of his pants. It wasn't time for that yet.
Dougie chewed his lip around a crooked tooth that arrowed toward his upper lip — like a bulldog with an underbite. He wiped his dry nose with the back of his thumb as a way to appear tough. "Weird place to serve a summons," he said resuming his pace.
"You Dougie, yes?"
Dougie stopped again and turned to them. Saw a BMX bicycle chained to the light pole on the corner. Reminded him of his son. He wondered what kind of bike the kid would want for his birthday.
"Dougie Gibbon," the taller guy said.
"Maybe, man. Maybe not." The mispronunciation tore Dougie's attention from the bike. "Why? Who wants to know anyway?"
The other guy said something fast and Dougie assumed the guy meant, "It's him."
Dougie had learned a thing or two in his life but when to keep his mouth shut wasn't one of them. You'd think someone who had to work harder than most to offset his physical shortcomings would've kept a lid on it to minimize the beatings. Nope. Life was cruel for a mulatto boy in high school, especially one standing only five feet four inches tall.
The two guys crowding him now reminded him of the intimidation between those school yard lockers. The same elevator feeling in his gut.
Dougie hiked up his pants. Pulled his waistband tight enough to feel the reassuring pressure of the .38 against his lower back. "Look, fuckhead," he said, "you and your greasy boyfriend can go whack each other off for all I care. Just don't expect me to cheer you on."
Neither guy so much as flinched. That unnerved Dougie enough to get him sucking at his lip around that tooth.
"Answer our question, we no bother you," the taller of the two said.
Dougie had never intimidated anyone. He was used to that. He'd lost his share of fights, many where he gave away upward of a hundred pounds or so. He never backed down. He wouldn't now either.
He knew Jakki had a dark-haired boyfriend, but he'd never met the fucker and never saw his face. He figured this confrontation was a misunderstanding. On any other day, he'd smooth things over and maybe buy them a beer or two. Tonight was different.
"Look, boys, if one of you dates a girl in this strip club who happens to earn my affection twenty dollars at a time, then tough shit. That's her job. I'm just being a good patron and contributing to the economic growth of southwest Florida. So, dig that!"
Dougie felt like compressed muscle and bone, a fire hydrant of hardened steel. His weight was high, but so was his pain threshold. Always had been. His had been a sink or swim childhood. Never living in one place to long caused him to face what he called "indignities." Being the new kid only accounted for the easy part. His size and his mixed-race parents brought the rest. After the first time, he'd channeled his anger into sports. Being a natural athlete made it easy to make friends on the team. He'd lettered in four sports all four years of high school. When he got to college, he had to drop football, track, and wrestling to focus on baseball. He was a fleet-footed second baseman and decent at the plate, hesitant to bunt. The fact he was small only came up when an overhead liner was too high for his jump. He was used to the taunts and he knew not every athlete was popular. Then he'd gotten caught with a pound of marijuana he stole from an undercover officer and was summarily expelled before the end of his second year.
The two Cubans didn't respond, which meant neither guy was Jakki's boyfriend.
The parking lot held a couple dozen cars, and there was space for twice as many. There wasn't much traffic passing by so things were quiet.
A thought struck Dougie then. The Cubans didn't taunt him or make any jokes about being the world's tallest midget, so that meant they were professionals. They'd called him by name, so they'd done their homework. Two guys such as those doing homework meant they worked for somebody.
The taller Cuban pointed. All Dougie noticed was a gold ring with a diamond the size of a pencil eraser centered in gold nugget inlay atop a thick shiny band. If a diamond that size was real and the gold was fourteen karats, he figured it cost a couple thousand bucks easy. He pointed and said, "You stole a boat."
The accusation was a spear in Dougie's sternum. As crisp and straight as a filet knife peeling flesh from bone. Of all Dougie's skills, concealing his facial expressions was never one of them, and he was sure he failed to hide his surprise the Cubans knew about the boat he'd heisted last week.
Dougie shook off the sensation. "Think you got the wrong guy."
They blocked Dougie's path. "Give us the boat or give us the money you sold it for."
Their commitment to this seemed solid. They knew about his extracurriculars, but he was sure it wasn't their boat he'd stolen. These guys were hired guns. So be it. He was not backing down. He just wanted to get his ass home. "Seriously. You got the wrong guy, fellas."
The taller Cuban swung a punch. Dougie ducked just in time. His downward momentum drove his face into the other guy's rising knee. The impact on the side of his head wrenched his neck and slashed that jagged tooth into his lip.
Cartoon stars danced and twirled around Dougie's field of vision. He staggered back, determined to stay on his feet, and reached for the revolver tucked in the waistband of his pants. Felt the familiar knurl of walnut handgrips and the smoothness of pearl inlay. Before he unscrambled his vision to take aim, the shorter of the two Cubans cracked Dougie in the face with a forearm and snatched the gun out of his hand. It happened too fast to believe.
The guy aimed the nickel-plated barrel at Dougie's face.
The taller guy hollered in Spanish what Dougie understood as, "No shoot. Burnt face. Bring boat, money, or information."
Dougie had always exaggerated his Spanish comprehension, but he was never more appreciative for his basic vocabulary than now. He couldn't tell for sure if those words would stop the guy from shooting. He also didn't know if they implied they'd burn his face or what they meant. He could work with the boat information. "Okay. Okay."
The taller guy yelled again, too quickly for Dougie to comprehend.
The gun lowered and the guy tucked it into his own waistband without taking the time to cover the handle with his shirttail.
They grabbed Dougie by the arms and dragged him to a van parked on the street. It was a cargo van with no rear seats or windows, which was lit by a spotlight plugged into the cigarette lighter. They shoved him in.
No one started the van. Instead they all gathered in the back, out of sight. The corrugated floor was harsh on Dougie's knees. It was the most uncomfortable place Dougie had been. It took everything in him not to let his imagination get away from him. He leaned on his hands to reposition himself.
Something flew through the air a split-second before Dougie felt pain in his left hand. He pulled his hand to his chest and rolled onto his side. "Motherfucker," he yelled.
The shorter of the two Cubans held a bowling pin and rested the business end on his shoulder like a major league slugger holding a bat.
The back of Dougie's hand burned with heat from the inside and his fingers barely moved. Pain shot through his wrist when he squeezed. "Who the fuck are you guys?"
"Boat or money," the taller Cuban said. "Then pain stops. Not before."
Dougie cradled his broken hand to his chest. "There was no money. And I don't have the boat."
The shorter guy raised the bowling pin again. "Boat or money."
Dougie held out his good hand as if to slow things down. He'd never snitched on anyone. Would never snitch. "I'm the one who stole it, so it's not snitching. I'm just telling you where it is now. There's nothing wrong with that, now is there?" He nodded, happy to have sorted it out in his mind so he could sleep at night with a clean conscience if he survived this shit show. "There was this woman," he said, "a hot number with tits and hair like Loni Anderson. No tan lines or modesty."
"Loni Anderson," the taller Cuban said with a smile, nodding toward his friend.
"She threatened to stop sleeping with me unless I got her husband a boat. He's got it. It's on the north side. Waterway Marina. It's been painted, but it's there. Same name, too. The Golden Noble. Horrible name. It's not even gold anymore. It's red."
"You go. Bring to me."
"You want me to steal it again? Well tough. I can't steal shit with one fucking hand."
"Something else then."
"How did you know about the boat, anyway?"
"Give us something else of value or your pain doubles."
Pain in Dougie's hand flared and he shifted his shoulders to put it farther away from the pit bull with the bowling pin. "What are you talking about?"
"We must take something."
"Face it. You struck out. It happens. At least you don't have a busted hand to show for it."
The pit bull cracked the bowling pin into Dougie's leg, causing the leg to contract, rolling Dougie onto his side. He recoiled as lightning surged behind his eyes after bracing himself with his broken hand. He rolled to his back, hugging his hand, which felt even more broken now. He grunted. "What the fuck do you want from me? I rent a onebedroom duplex on the Intracoastal and ride an old ten-speed bike," he lied. "All I've got is this twelve-dollar Timex. You're welcome to it if you'll let me out of this shitbox."
"I speak as plain English as it gets. Something of value or your life."
The earnestness in the guy's face impressed Dougie. Whoever he worked for was lucky to have this kind of focus.
"Look." Dougie held out the sides of his polyester shirt with silhouettes of clipper ships. It was a holdover from when he flew through discos and scooped up blondes in tube tops with coke habits. Being a little older and in a quieter town meant different venues for the same indulgences. "Shit," he said. "I enjoy my money when I get it. I don't save it or buy things that'll be worth more someday I may not live to see. Hell, no. I spend it on women, booze, and blow, man." The speech winded Dougie. Or maybe it was the pain catching up to him. He wished he would've skipped seeing Jakki for one goddamn night.
The taller Cuban rested his fist under Dougie's chin. Dougie felt the diamond on the guy's ring digging into the skin on his jawbone. The guy leaned in and said, "Then it's your life."
The other guy, the pit bull, raised the bowling pin over Dougie's head.
Dougie flinched, then straightened and made it up to his knees. "Hold up, fellas." His broken hand hung limp as he tried to slow them down. "Hold up. There's got to be a way to work this out."
Cara Quemada drove her white Lincoln Continental into the center of a warehouse east of the airport and kicked open her car door with the heel of an ankle-high boot. She'd just come from a nightclub where the lighting was dim and she'd danced with strange men and stolen their wallets. She wore heavy hose to hide the veins in her thighs and because short skirts made her self-conscious. She had the physique of a woman five or ten years younger but was old enough to know how to disguise weaknesses, including the disfiguration on her face. She stood next to her car as her two best men approached.
"No boat or money, Cara Quemada, but we brought you a hard case," Miguel Lopez said as he pointed to a tight-lipped mulatto with a broken hand and a face as swollen and purple as an eggplant. He didn't stack up to much, not just because of his breeding, though his teeth were white and straight except for on the bottom. Cara understood all too well how he might've embraced this defect all these years. She couldn't understand someone living with something so easily repaired. In her research, she'd seen worse teeth made perfect. Yet here he was, practically drooling. Still, she knew he had something to give.
This wasn't how she'd wanted it to be. She'd started in this country with smuggled cigars and plans to go legit. She figured the high-end product had to get her near fatter wallets and a higher class of people to help her plan come true. A month into her venture, some creep from Camaguey got to her supplier, who refused to do business with Cara anymore. She tried other cigar suppliers but met the same fate. That had left her with few options.
These days, the warehouse, the car, her business affairs — everything she had besides her body — she'd acquired by taking from somebody else.
Miguel towered a foot taller than five-two Cara. His partner, Raul Puig, wasn't much taller than Cara, though he was thick as a garbage can. Beyond all his technical skills, his greatest attribute was his arms. Cara used to fantasize about grabbing onto them as he talked and holding on until he stopped talking. He stood off to the side with his arms folded, looking pissed off, turning to look back toward the battered heap strapped to one of the beams holding up the roof.
She nodded. "This is good. Not as good as a quick buck on a boat, but we will get something out of him to make this worth our time and trouble."
Miguel had been her personal bodyguard for the past year, and her private play toy for the past six months. Anything she said received his immediate compliance. The two of them often had to push Raul onboard. Not this time. He held a crochet hook in his left hand.
The sight of him holding one of those bent metal sticks her grandmother used to whip up blankets and ponchos to sell forced a laugh from deep in her stomach. She would've had the same reaction to a unicorn with a driver's license or a redneck with a Nobel Prize.
Instead, it was a tool and Raul held it as if it was any other and kept a smile on his face.
Cara didn't blame Raul for the hard feelings toward her. His sister was married to Miguel, until Cara claimed him as her own. Raul never got over it. But fine with her. Life was hard all over. Cara knew so better than most.
She'd been raped as a girl, repeatedly, by various men who treated her nice and gave her trinkets and tokens and money and jewelry, and she loved every minute of materialistic attention more than she hated the pain. The humiliation. She knew at a young age her looks were her bread and butter. In between such encounters, she worked to improve her mind. She knew she'd need a strong mind to manage her affairs as well as their rewards.
These men came to her house when her mother and little brother were at the market. Some of them gentle, some of them not.
She'd been ironing on the day she forgot her place in the world. Her newest gentleman caller walked around the ironing board, snuggled up behind her, and lifted her skirt. She set the iron down, but didn't shut it off. When she turned, the man dropped his pants to his ankles and she laughed out loud upon seeing he was no better developed than her little brother.
He swung his left hand hard enough to feel the crack of his ring on her temple. She stumbled back into the ironing board and regained her balance in time to keep anything from being knocked over. That wasn't enough vengeance for this guy. He grabbed her by the hair and pushed her face onto the ironing board, ripped her cotton panties, and did his thing in all of thirty seconds. She remained hugging the ironing board as he zipped up. She didn't want to stand or turn around or ever see the guy again, but life was never easy. The man didn't walk away.
Instead, he pushed one hand into the side of her head to keep her down as his other hand found the electric iron. She felt the slime of his seed oozing out of her as she struggled to get free. With the left side of her face pushed flat onto the ironing board, the guy lifted the iron until she felt the heat radiating off the bridge of her nose. She couldn't see the guy, but she heard his sinister giggle in the instant before he pressed the scalding iron onto the right side of her face. The smell of burning flesh hit her nose before the pain registered in her brain. It was so hot she feared her back teeth would explode. She rocked the ironing board in her struggle. He kept her clamped in place. She grunted wildly, but was unable to make a decipherable word. She didn't know if she ever would again.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tushhog"
Copyright © 2018 Jeffery Hess.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“Tushhog: A Southern male that always finishes a fight” Scotland Ross returns in book two of what I hope will be a continuing series. Set in 1981 Florida the writing made me feel the heat and humidity and grit of the places mentioned and took me back to a time I remember well. Scotland is a man who seems to be a trouble magnet but for four months after his last “troubles” he has held a regular job, lived a normal life with musician Kyla and managed some memories from his past fairly well. He has a regular bar, some people he calls friend and as he approaches thirty thinks maybe he is finally on the right track. And then…trouble finds him again… Wanting to help out his friend he finds himself drawn into a situation that feels wrong but is one he cannot turn away from. Finding the people that murdered a friend’s son leads to much more than any of the characters expected. With Cuban refugee thugs, mafia thugs, drug dealers and plenty of violence this book left me hoping that Scotland will find his way back to “normal” but I have a feeling that perhaps normal for him is a whole lot different than it is for me! Can’t wait for more in this series and would like to thank NetGalley and Down and Out Books for the ARC – This is my honest review. 4-5 Stars