The Anthony-nominated collection of crime stories without guns—the collection we didn't want to be necessary—is back for Volume 2.
Two dozen more crime writers have come together to raise their voices and take pen in hand to call for a sensible and reasoned debate about guns in America. As the mass shootings continue, the avoidable accidents, the suicides, the gun violence that consumes our country rolls on unabated and unaddressed by our leadership other than to say, “Now is not the time to discuss it,” these crime writers have chosen to start the dialogue.
In stories of crime, mystery and suspense these authors have left the guns out to show for a short while that we can do without them and the plot doesn’t fall apart. Maybe, in a small way, we can show that the American way of life doesn’t cease to be, either.
Not anti-gun, Unloaded Volume 2 is pro-reason. These authors comprise gun owners and non-owners, voters on both sides of the political aisle. The cause that unites us all is the desire to see the senseless killing stop and to be able to have the discussion without the divisive language, vitriol and name calling that too often accompanies this debate.
The top priority in these stories is to entertain with thrilling action and suspense that readers know and love about a crime story. To do so without guns leads to some creative leaps from writers who spin tales of simians on the loose, androids with buried secrets, punk rock shows and tattoo shops.
Bestselling authors like Chris Holm, Lori Rader-Day, Bill Crider, Laura McHugh, James Ziskin and John Rector along with many more join together to call for an end to the needless violence and a start to a reasoned debate. With a forward by legendary Sara Paretsky, Unloaded Volume 2 is a book we wish wasn’t needed. But staying silent is no longer an option.
Proceeds go to the non-profit States United To Prevent Gun Violence.
Edited by Eric Beetner. Introduction by Sara Paretsky.
Contributors: E.A. Aymar, Kris Calvin, Andrew Case, Steve Cavanagh, Bill Crider, Chris Holm, Michael Kardos, David James Keaton, Dana King, Nick Kolakowski, Jon McGoran, Laura McHugh, Lori Rader-Day, John Rector, Scott Loring Sanders, Alex Segura, Terry Shames, Josh Stallings, Jay Stringer, James R. Tuck, Dave White, Lili Wright, and James W. Ziskin.
Praise for UNLOADED VOLUME 2:
“[A collection of] entertaining and often thought-provoking stories.” —Publishers Weekly
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|Publisher:||Down & Out Books II, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.65(d)|
Read an Excerpt
by Chris Holm
We pulled into the strip mall a little after four in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. The lot was empty. Dry wisps of snow swirled across the pavement in the bitter wind. The storefronts were dark and stripped of signage, but years of grime had darkened the building's façade, so the lettering was still visible in negative. Inside, I saw evidence of renovation. A stepladder. A floor polisher. Stacks of drywall, half swallowed by the gloom.
Dad scanned the parking lot — his eyes wide, his pupils pinpricks — and frowned. The nervous drumbeat he'd been tapping out on the Caddy's steering wheel ceased. The car was shit brown inside and out, and reeked of cigarettes, even though Dad didn't smoke. It was on its fifth owner and third engine, but Dad loved it just the same. He'd always said that when he made it, he'd drive a Cadillac. Then one day, three months out of prison, he came home with this late-eighties monstrosity.
Mom was furious. Said, "Christ, Jason, what were you thinking? The price of gas alone'll break us." She'd been weird about money ever since Dad got out — partly because he couldn't seem to keep a job, and partly because the owner of The Music Box had bumped her from the dancing lineup not long before, when he found out she'd turned thirty. She still worked there, tending bar, but claimed the tips were shit because her customers would rather give their money to the girls on stage.
Dad wouldn't hear it, though. He was so goddamn happy, I didn't have the heart to tell him that driving a Cadillac didn't necessarily mean he'd made it.
I sighed and stopped poking at my smartphone for a moment. "You told Stick you'd meet him around back, remember?"
"Around back," he said, rubbing idly at his nose. "Right." He tapped the gas. The car lurched forward. His drumming resumed.
He always got like this before a meet. A bump for courage. Then another because the first one felt so good. Maybe a nip or two to ease his jitters. Next thing you knew, he could barely keep his shit together. There wasn't a doubt in my mind he would've rabbited by now if I weren't here. I'd like to think that's why be brought me along, but I knew better. Truth was, Dad figured nobody was gonna pop him in front of his kid. I wasn't the brains of the outfit — I was his insurance policy.
Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't like being invited along.
Behind the shuttered strip mall, the lot was narrow and unlined. No parking spaces, just loading docks and dumpster enclosures. A chain link fence woven through with dying weeds marked the edge of the property. Dense forest encroached upon it from the other side. Steel doors with heavy locks led into the building at regular intervals, one for every storefront. Every three doors or so there was a picnic table and a pair of those silly outdoor ashtrays that look like big beige plungers. Each of the tables was chained to a metal loop anchored to the side of the building as if the people who'd put them here were worried someone would steal them. Honestly, they didn't seem worth the effort — and if they were, a cheap padlock wouldn't be much of a deterrent.
Out front, sodium vapor lights began to blink on one by one — on a timer or a sensor, I supposed. The sun had yet to fully set, but the sky was thick with clouds the color of smudged newsprint. The lights back here must be manual, I thought, because they remained off. The orange glow out front cast a halo around the building and enveloped us in shadow. My cell phone's screen bathed the interior of the Cadillac with ghostly light.
Dad hit the brakes — a little harder than intended thanks to his nerves. Cold pavement crunched beneath the Caddy's tire treads as we rocked to a halt.
"Where the fuck are you, Stick?" Dad licked his lips. Reached across me and opened the glove compartment. Removed a crumpled envelope and a pint bottle of Old Crow. He stuffed the envelope into his jacket pocket, uncapped the bottle, and took a swig. When he was done, he offered it to me. I shook my head.
"Oh, c'mon. Fourteen's plenty old for a drink."
"I don't like whiskey," I replied — which was true enough, I guess, even though I'd never tasted it before. Also, I was thirteen. I appreciated the gesture, though. He was an idiot, but he meant well.
"Suit yourself." He returned the bottle to the glove compartment. I closed it with a knee, grateful bourbon was all he'd brought to fortify himself. Open containers weren't illegal here — but, last I checked, cocaine still was. Possession with intent is why he missed my last five Christmases. I wasn't about to let it fuck up this one.
Turned out Stick's panel van was parked beside one of the dumpster enclosures. It was midnight blue and nearly invisible in the long shadows of the building. When Stick realized we couldn't see him, he flashed his lights. Dad pulled in beside him, but left the engine running. I put my phone in my pocket and pulled on my gloves. Then we both got out of the car.
The air was cold and dry and smelled of coming snow. It froze my nose hairs and burned in my lungs. My breath plumed. Dad cupped his hands and blew on them to keep them warm, his wedding ring a dull reflection of the sky. Platinum, to hear him tell it, although it looked like sterling silver to me. Mom had kept it in her sock drawer for him while he was away. She'd kept her wedding ring there too.
Stick rolled down his window, pot smoke billowing into the night, and broke into a toothy grin. "J-Man. Doogie. Funny meeting you here."
Stick always fucking called me Doogie, even though my name was Andrew. I think it had something to do with a TV show that was on the air a million years before I was born. He told me once it was because I was so smart. "Only in comparison to the company I keep," I'd muttered in reply. If he'd heard me, he'd been too baked to take offense.
"You bring the stuff?" Dad asked.
"You bring the paper?" Stick countered.
Dad removed the envelope from his pocket and waved it in Stick's face.
"Well, all right, then. Let's get down to it."
Stick reached for the envelope. Dad pulled it away. "Not until I see the goods," he said.
Stick climbed out of the van, sauntered around back, and threw open the rear doors. The cargo area was piled high with all kinds of random shit: leather jackets, unboxed PlayStations, a surf-green Telecaster. Stick rooted around for a minute, found a Barbie-branded tackle box, and slid it toward Dad.
Dad opened it and whistled. Instead of fishing lures, each compartment contained a single piece of women's jewelry.
"Now," Stick said, "lemme see if this paper of yours is half as convincing as you say."
Dad handed him the envelope. Stick tore it open. Inside was a thick stack of twenty-dollar bills. He pulled one out and held it to the light. It was an older design, dog-eared and creased as if it had been circulating for years.
Now it was his turn to whistle. "Jesus, Hank. This shit's no joke. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was the real deal."
"That's kinda the idea."
"How much is this?"
"Three G's. You can count it if you'd like."
Stick liked. His lips moved as he thumbed through the bills. "Where'd you say you got these again?"
"I didn't. A buddy of mine made 'em. Guy's a goddamn artist."
I swallowed a laugh. That was a bit of an exaggeration. The guy in question was a screen printer who made his living selling novelty tees online.
"Damn, dude — even the feel is perfect."
Dad smiled. "That's because he makes 'em from bleached ones." The pride in his tone was evident. Dad was the guy who supplied his buddy with all those one-dollar bills. You wouldn't believe how many vending machines he had to knock over to gather 'em all.
"What about the security features? These things won't stand up to a black light, will they?"
"They don't have to. All those bills are based on a pre-nineties design. That means no microprint and no security strip."
"Fuckin' A. Whaddya want for 'em?"
"What're you offering?"
Stick thought about it — or did some math, more like. "Tell you what; I'm feeling generous. Pick a piece, any piece. It's yours."
Generous. Right. Whether Dad realized it or not, he was doing Stick a favor. Stolen jewelry is notoriously difficult to move.
Dad took his time looking through the items in the tackle box. Occasionally, he'd hold one to the van's rear dome light for a closer inspection, then set it down — his mouth a thin straight line. Stick, cold and anxious, shifted his weight from foot to foot, his hands thrust deep into his pockets.
Eventually, Dad held a ring up to the light and smiled. Then he extended it to me. "What do you think, kiddo — will she like it?"
I pulled off my right glove and took the ring. It was a square-cut sapphire framed in diamonds and set into an elegant white-gold band. Sapphires were Mom's favorite, which is why she'd chosen Sapphire as her stage name.
"It's perfect," I replied. "She'll love it."
"A fine choice for a fine woman," Stick said, drawing out the second fine until it sounded all skeevy. "Seems we got a deal."
Stick offered Dad his hand, but before they got the chance to shake, the night erupted in a riot of shouts and sirens and screeching tires, blue lights splashing all around. Next thing I knew, I was on the ground — my left arm in a hammerlock, cold asphalt like sandpaper against my cheek.
Four hours later, I was sitting on a bench along one wall of the police station, waiting for child services to show. Beside me was a guy in a filthy Santa suit, fake beard askew, blood seeping through a cotton bandage on his cheek. Nobody paid the two of us any mind. The precinct's bullpen was hopping, their phones ringing off the hook. As if I needed reminding the holidays aren't always so jolly.
Dad and Stick surrendered without a fight. The cops cuffed 'em both and loaded them into separate cruisers. After a quick pat-down, I rode upfront in a third. When we arrived here, the cops stuck them each into their own interrogation room. Nothing fancy, like on TV, just two old offices repurposed for the task.
One of the cops sat me down in a wooden chair beside his desk to take my statement. He typed slowly with two fingers as I spoke. When I finished, he asked if he could call my mom to pick me up. "Good luck finding her," I replied.
He took that to mean she was out of the picture, which was handy, because it meant I didn't have to lie to him. The fact was, I didn't want Mom to find out about tonight if I could avoid it — and I was pretty sure I could. Even if they tried to track her down, it'd take a while. Our apartment was an illegal sublet. Our cell phones were prepaid.
When I was done giving my statement, one of the cops handed me a Styrofoam cup of instant hot chocolate — clumps of undissolved powder still clinging to the sides — and pointed me toward this bench. With the exception of a bathroom break an hour or so ago, I'd been parked here ever since.
Eventually, the door to Dad's interrogation room swung open. One of the detectives he'd been talking to held it for him, although he didn't look happy about it. The other — still seated at the table — shook his head in disbelief, his thick mustache bent into a frown.
Dad headed to the front desk to sign some paperwork, after which the uniformed cop behind it handed him his car keys. Then Dad trotted over to me. His face was tight and expressionless, but his eyes glinted with barely contained delight. He looked as if he'd just been dealt a royal flush.
"Drew, get your things — we're going."
I put on my coat and hat without a word. Picked my gloves up off the bench and stuffed them into my jacket pocket. Then we walked out of the precinct together.
The temperature had dropped significantly while we were inside. The snow had come and gone. Now the sky was black and full of stars. A fine dusting atop the Caddy glimmered like diamonds beneath the streetlights. We brushed it off as best we could and climbed inside.
Dad drove carefully for a while and said nothing, his gaze darting from mirror to mirror as if he thought we might be followed. But once we were a few miles from the police station, he banged the steering wheel and whooped with joy.
"Did you see that, buddy? Your old man just put one over on the fuzz but good."
I muttered noncommittally.
"Aw, c'mon," he said, jabbing me playfully in the ribs with his elbow, "you can do better than that! You just witnessed a goddamn Christmas miracle. Holy shit, was walking outta that precinct a rush. I mean, obviously, I feel bad Stick's gonna take a fall for all that shit he stole, but that's his problem, you know? I was more worried what'd happen when they laid eyes on the fake-ass twenties in my pocket. Guess Wally's bills are even more convincing than I thought!"
"Guess so," I said, even though I knew damn well they weren't. Wally's counterfeits were shit. Every one had the same serial. The shade of green was close, but not quite. That's why I swapped 'em for real bills — taken from Mom's secret stash, which she hid inside a tampon box beneath the bathroom sink — before the meet.
Full disclosure: I'm the one who called the cops. Well, texted, actually, as we pulled into the parking lot. I wanted Stick out of the picture because he and Mom had been banging on the sly for over a year. Dad, God love him, was oblivious. He's never been the most observant guy. Anyway, I'd hoped that Mom would break it off once Dad got outta jail. When she didn't, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Look, I'm not a fucking idiot. I knew going in my fix was tenuous at best. If Mom found out that someone had replaced her secret cash reserve with counterfeits, she'd flip her wig — and it was only a matter of time before Dad wound up back in jail for real. But I had to try. If everything went to shit the twenty-sixth, at least we spent one Christmas as a family.
Halfway home, Dad's face fell. "Son of a whore," he muttered.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I just realized — without that ring, I don't have nothing to give your mother tomorrow."
"About that." I took my left glove out of my jacket pocket, stuck two fingers through a narrow hole between the shell and lining, and tweezed out the sapphire ring Dad had been eyeing.
"Well, would you look at that," Dad said, a smile spreading across his face. "I do believe my boy just saved Christmas."
"Yeah," I said. "I guess I did."CHAPTER 2
by Laura McHugh
He'd always imagined he might die in the electric chair, arms and legs secured with thick leather straps, his skeleton rattling inside his skin as the life was fried out of him. It would be a worthy exit.
He'd come close, only once, to a death he hadn't planned for. Number Six had managed to get a pocketknife out of her little beaded purse, spilling everything else in the process — lip gloss, tampons, library card, a shiny tin of Altoids that popped open and scattered across the grass. She gouged the blade into his belly, cutting through his shirt and piercing the skin. It smarted, though he didn't realize until later just how badly she had wounded him. He'd been too caught up in that extraordinary moment, when it felt like all the windows in his head had been opened and the breeze was blowing through. He kept the pocketknife in a red lacquer cigar box, along with other mementos: an incomplete set of glitter-flecked acrylic nails; an orange eraser shaped like Garfield the cat; an opal earring; a Swatch watch, the battery long dead; a frayed friendship bracelet stiff with blood.
Had the girl with the knife somehow killed him, it would have been the end of his winning streak, the conclusion to a fabulous game that he had played for many years, and he would have died doing something he loved. While not ideal, he could have appreciated such a death. What he could not appreciate, nor anticipate, was melanoma.
It was merely an inconvenience at first, taking time out for the surgery, tending the large wound on his forehead. Then the lymph node biopsies and removals, and the news that the cancer had spread, that surgery had come too late, despite the fact that he still felt fine. The sun, from all those years on the midway, that's what would kill him. Ridiculous.
The doctor had proposed an aggressive treatment plan that he couldn't possibly afford, including infusions of an immunotherapy drug with the dire, laughable warning: can cause serious side effects in many parts of your body which may lead to death. Even then, the odds weren't good, and the extra time it might buy him wouldn't be pleasant. The doctor scolded him for waiting too long to seek treatment in the first place, and he wanted to press his thumbs against her trachea and squeeze, to watch the tiny blood vessels burst beneath her skin. He could almost feel the hard knobs of her vertebrae beneath his fingertips as he imagined his hands closing around her neck, but he didn't touch her.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Unloaded 2"
Copyright © 2018 Individual Authors.
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.
Table of Contents
Introduction by Sara Paretsky,
From the Editor,
"Con Season" by Chris Holm,
"Endgame" by Laura McHugh,
"Pan Paniscus" by James Ziskin,
"The Neon Punch" by Steve Cavanagh,
"You Kill Me" by Terry Shames,
"We Have To Talk" by Dave White,
"Poo-Poo" by Bill Crider,
"I'll Miss You, Baby" by Alex Segura,
"Do What He Says" by Dana King,
"Julie Heart Number Three" by James R. Tuck,
"Flight" by Kris Calvin,
"Habeas Corpus" by Andrew Case,
"Losing Kind" by Jay Stringer,
"Character is Everything" by Jon McGoran,
"Outlaws" by Lori Rader-Day,
"A Vanishing Story" by Michael Kardos,
"Barrio Math" by Josh Stallings,
"When At Last She Spoke" by John Rector,
"Maiden's Light" by Lili Wright,
"Amanda: A Confession" by Nick Kolakowski,
"Magic 8 Ball" by Scott Loring Sanders,
"The Unforeseen Hazards of Hitchhiking" by David James Keaton,
"The Center" by E.A. Aymar,
About the Contributors,
Also by the Author,
The Down & Out Books Publishing Family Library of Titles,