Zero Avenue: A Crime Novel

Zero Avenue: A Crime Novel

by Dietrich Kalteis


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“If you like your crime hard and fast, Kalteis is for you.” — The Globe and Mail

Set to the cranking beat and amphetamine buzz of Vancouver’s early punk scene, Zero Avenue follows Frankie Del Rey, a talented and rising punk star who runs just enough dope on the side to pay the bills and keep her band, Middle Finger, together. The trouble is she’s running it for Marty Sayles, a powerful drug dealer who controls the Eastside with a fist.

When Frankie strikes up a relationship with Johnny Falco, the owner of one of the only Vancouver clubs willing to give punk a chance, she finds out he’s having his own money problems just keeping Falco’s Nest open. Desperate to keep his club, Johnny raids one of the pot fields Marty Sayles has growing out past Surrey, along Zero Avenue on the U.S. border. He gets away with a pickup load and pays back everybody he owes. Arnie Binz, bass player for Waves of Nausea, finds out about it and decides that was easy enough. But he gets caught by Marty’s crew.

Johnny and Frankie set out to find the missing Arnie, but Marty Sayles is pissed and looking for who ripped off his other field — a trail that leads to Johnny and Frankie.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781770413658
Publisher: ECW Press
Publication date: 10/03/2017
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Dietrich Kalteis’s debut novel Ride the Lightning won an Independent Publishers Award and was hailed as one of the best Vancouver crime novels. More than 40 of his short stories have been published internationally. He lives with his family in Vancouver, B.C.

Read an Excerpt



Frankie del Rey's head was buzzing on the first toke, the locals calling it bhang, hash as good as any Kashmir or Nepalese. Could only get it from Marty Sayles's guys, and going out with him meant there was always plenty of it. Top it off, nobody fucked with her down here. The Eastside was a rough place, winos beaten for pocket change, old folks robbed of their pension cheques, one guy robbed of his dentures a couple days ago. Chicks carried knives or rocks in their bags after hours to keep from being violated. Punks traveled in groups to avoid a redneck shit-kicking. Rednecks coming down here figured anybody in tight black pants and leather was a fag. Couldn't tell the punks from the gays hanging out at the Quadra on Homer, the club where punk bands played every Wednesday, punks and gays getting along. Deep Throat playing on the club's video screen day and night.

Marty Sayles ran the dope on the Eastside, and ran it with a fist. Muling for Marty kept her safe from anything but a drug bust. Frankie waiting for her music career to take off; meantime, this job beat any nine-to-five she could get, employers not hiring anybody looking punk. And to top it off, she was making double the pay for half the hours, compared to the guys in bands who worked graveyard at Royal Foods, getting drunk on something they concocted in the wee hours, calling it moose milk, joking about tossing their cigarette butts in the blueberry hopper and pissing in the cream corn vat, relieving the boredom of the long hours.

The ones who couldn't find work, tried to jump on unemployment enjoyment, that or pogey. Most of them coming up with punk names like Stubby, Homo and Rude, names a case worker coming into a club wouldn't recognize. Arnie Binz, her bass player, wasn't bad at finding work, just had trouble hanging on to it.

First time they met, she caught a late-night ride with him, coming out of the Lotus, back when Arnie was driving a gypsy cab on a fake license. They got to talking on the ride home, Frankie saying she played guitar, Arnie telling her he played some bass, both loving punk. Arnie not charging her the fare.

A couple nights after they met, the cops pulled over Arnie's cab for a failed turn signal. The fake license landed him probation and a two hundred buck fine. Frankie ran into him again at a party the Sgt. Nick Penis Band was playing, the two of them talking about starting a band.

Her drummer, Joey Thunder, had lived on the street, back alleys, squatting in a condemned building on Gore Avenue for a while, living on beans and ketchup, finally moving back with his folks after getting busted at the local thrift shop, switching his clothes for something off the rack, telling the beat cop it was cheaper than doing the laundry. Just walked in and changed, walked out with a new outfit. Third time busted for the same thing, so he did a little time and a lot of community service. Met Frankie and Arnie at a hall where Hammer was playing. The three of them sharing late-night joints and coffee, getting serious about it, deciding to call themselves Waves of Nausea.

Tough finding gigs and places to practice, but things had been picking up. Nearly had enough scratched together to lay down a seven-inch demo at Ocean Sound, place looking like a concrete bunker up in North Van. The plan was to get the eps cut at Imperial or Saber Sound, get copies out to the fanzines and university radio stations, put some in hand with this guy Arnie met over at Perryscope, the city's biggest promoter. The plan was to land an agent and get themselves on a tour down the coast, playing places like the Mab in Frisco.

After the record was cut, she'd quit working for Marty. No more running his shit across the border, no more doing whatever it took.

Finding a parking spot along the south side of Hastings, she backed her Karmann Ghia in. Pushed in her lighter, put on another piece of bhang, put her mouth to the orange glow, drawing up the smoke. Holding it in, letting it out, that warm creeping starting in her feet, working its way up.


Parked behind some beat-to-hell van with Alberta plates, a sunset mural over rust wrapping around the Dodge's side, stupid bumper sticker about not knocking when it's rocking. She could just make out the Smilin' Buddha's neon past it, up the block by Columbia. Ground zero for Vancouver's punk scene. Any punk band would kill to play there.

Planned to drop in later, D.O.A. playing all week before they went back on tour, Joey Shithead doing all right since the Skulls split up, the new lineup kicking ass. Their song "The Prisoner" hitting Number One on the ubc's citr. The guy getting hitched a few months back. The underground rags running headlines like "Shithead Gets Married."

First stop tonight was Falco's Nest, just a couple doors past the van. The storefront of a seedy three-storey, the awning over the door claiming hot acts all the time. Cold beer sometimes.

Sucking in the last of the smoke, Frankie switched off the ignition, her car shuttering off. Yanking up the spongy parking brake, she pocketed the keys.

Just starting to spit rain. The street reflecting the traffic lights along Hastings. Somewhere a siren sounded from past Woodward's. Checking the backseat, she made sure she didn't leave anything of value. Unwritten law down here: don't lock your car doors unless you want a smashed window. Some junkie might think there was something worth hiding. Worst thing that might happen, one of the homeless might curl up on your backseat, leave a stain and a funky smell.

Flipping up her denim collar, she popped out the portable Craig deck and stepped into the street. A taxi honking. Frankie throwing the cabbie the finger. Locking the deck in the trunk with her Flying V, she walked past the mural van, a Doberman hurling itself against the passenger window, snarling and baring its teeth. The whole van rocking. Sent Frankie's heart into her throat. Giving the dog the finger, telling it to fuck off.

Marty Sayles's Toronado was parked out front, Zeke Chamas watching her from behind the wheel, grinning at her. Zeke back to playing chauffeur.

Marty had called her after taking care of some business at Lubik's, wanting to get together for a late dinner, asked if she liked Italian, said he booked them a table. This place Paesano's along Broadway was the best, the old woman who ran the kitchen made the pasta from scratch. Frankie guessing the third date with Marty meant he'd be asking her up to his place in the Properties for a nightcap, the boss looking to round the bases, not likely to settle with another peck on the lips.

Frankie had been in the front seat the night of Marty's dui. Out to dinner and a show at the Rio, Marty wanting to see Alien. Both of them doing lines of coke, taking in a couple of clubs after, Marty ordering up champagne, showing his dance moves and making like he was hip. Driving her home after, he was going on about the chest-buster scene, then talking about the preview of 10, Bo Derek running on the beach. Eyes wandering from the road, hand wandering to her thigh. Making his move when the cop's cherry flashed in the rearview. Taking his hand back, Marty pulled to the curb and rolled down his window, ended up wagging a twenty at the cop. The wrong cop. Marty was told to step out and assume the position, his hands sprawled on the Toronado's roof, the cop asking if he'd been drinking.

Frankie guessed Marty was here tonight collecting the back rent from Johnny Falco, one of a string of slums he owned. Liked handling the cash himself. Zeke Chamas driving him around town, backing him up.

Arm hanging out the window now, Zeke watched her walk up from behind, fingers tapping the steering wheel. The tinny am playing "Afternoon Delight."

Sky rockets inflight.

She leaned down and gave him a wave through the passenger window. Zeke flicking a salute, looking bored.

Frankie needed to stretch things out with Marty without losing the job, running his dope. The plan was to break it off as soon as she had all the cash together. Cut the record and get out of town.



She walked in, Falco's Nest open to the indie music scene. Johnny Falco being the second club owner with the balls to do it. Most venues around town treated punk like taboo: pogo dancing leading to underaged drinking, leading to drunken fist fights, leading to police raids and shutdowns.

Johnny moved here from back east, got to know the punk scene in Toronto, told her about living in the Lawrence Hotel, rooms like two bucks and change a night, a Sabbath cover band called Never Say Die stayed down the hall, the band living on potatoes and soup packets. Getting to know them while bowling with empty ketchup and beer bottles in the hall, driving the landlord crazy.

She loved hearing Johnny tell about the Toronto scene: the V iletones, the Demics. Bands like the Diodes, Cardboard Brains and Teenage Head out of Hamilton, venues like Larry's Hideaway on Carlton. Johnny saying he wished he'd been on the coast to catch the Furies before they split up, loved their sound, getting out here a couple years too late.

Photos were tacked up behind the bar: him standing arm in arm with Frankie Venom, another one of him and Daniel Rey, producer for the Ramones, one with Carole Pope out front of the Concert Hall.

Lachman over at the Buddha was first to do it in Vancouver, bringing the sound to town. The Young Canadians, still called the K-Tels back then, put on a hell of a show, followed by the Subhumans. The Buddha had been packed ever since, Lachman still trying to live down the night he kicked out Hendrix, back in the club's R&B days a decade earlier, Lachman telling anybody who'd listen the guy just played too loud.

Falco's Nest had been catching the Buddha's overflow since opening its doors eight months back. Johnny usually short on cash, but long on ideas, showcasing new talent, giving bands a chance to jump off the hamster wheel of shit gigs available to them. The local papers calling both clubs a spawning ground for a new terrorism on the sensibilities, but Vancouver's punk scene didn't read the dailies, fans flocking from as far as Mission, giving the "No Fun City" image a good shake.

Not sure who Johnny had booked in tonight, she walked by the posters plastered across the storefront window. Hoping to duck Marty till later, she'd come to hear some music, have a beer with Johnny, then drop in at the Buddha, catch some of D.O.A.'s second set. The guys sometimes letting her sit in. Her Flying V locked in the trunk, just in case.

She stepped into the warmth and the smoke. The biker blocking the door was Stain, big as a bear, tattooed arms hanging from under the Hellrazor's MC vest. Fingerless gloves and fingers as thick as brats. Never charged her the cover. Everybody else paid two bucks to get in, half a buck less than the Buddha. The way it went at Falco's, if Stain didn't like your looks, it cost you three bucks to get back out. The two bucks went to Johnny, the three going to Stain.

Kissing his cheek, she gave Stain a hug, scanning the room. Black walls, exposed ceiling, graffiti and more band posters plastered on every wall. Johnny's idea of decorating. The floods shone on four skinny guys setting up on the crappy stage of nailed crates. Lead, rhythm, bass and a guy keeping the beat.

"Marty here?"

Stain shrugged like he hadn't noticed, no love lost between him and anybody else dealing dope in here. Johnny's rule: Stain broke up the fights, warned him when the cops or anybody looking like an inspector walked in the door, but he didn't make trouble with Marty Sayles, the drug-ealing landlord. For that Stain got free beer and nine bucks an hour, triple the minimum wage.

A decent mid-week crowd tonight. A couple of guys from the Braineaters, Zippy Pinhead over talking with Monk, another Hellrazor. Frankie thinking Zippy was one of the hottest drummers around, right up there with Robert Bruce, not something she'd admit to her own drummer, Joey Thunder.

Underaged kids in torn denim and leather milled around the stage, sucking on beer bottles, set to pogo. An old rummy stood propped against the far wall by the co-ed can, getting out of the cold long enough to stop the shakes. Stain giving the guy a pass, sometimes slipping him a couple of bucks, showing he had a heart. Once the old guy warmed up, he'd move on.

"Hey ya." Folding her hands on the bar, Frankie smiled at Johnny Falco, the Carling O'Keefe neon flickering behind him like it might go out.

"Hey yourself." Smiling back, he reached in the cooler, drew out a dripping stubbie, knowing her brand. Sliding the ov across.

"Who we got tonight?" Frankie nodded at the stage.

"Middle Finger — drove in from Calgary, their van conking out front, out of gas."

The one with the bumper sticker and freaky dog. Frankie saying, "They any good?"

"Real good, yeah. Here the rest of the week."

She slapped a buck on the bar, Johnny sliding it back. Bands, bikers and friends drank for free. Johnny's rule.

Pocketing the buck, she thanked him and tipped the bottle up, her eyes on his.

Johnny asking how she was doing.

"Getting by, you know. Working on some new tunes." Telling him the Waves were putting some original stuff down, tight on a half dozen covers now. Johnny asking what she was doing for rehearsal space. Frankie telling him about the barn out on Zero Avenue, Marty Sayles owning it like he owned this three-storey shithole, letting the Waves practice out in the boonies. One of the perks for running his dope and going out with the guy.

Her bass player, Arnie Binz, edged his way through the crowd, coming from the back room with a couple cases of beer, Arnie working here three nights a week. His flop up on the top floor, with a shared bathroom at the end of the hall. Worked here since getting canned from the 7-Eleven night shift, caught stuffing comics into his guitar case — the job he landed after he got busted driving the gypsy cab.

Arnie set the cases on the bar, gave her a smile. Told Johnny he ought to switch to cans, easier to carry. Johnny said he'd think about it, sending him back for more.

Middle Finger kicked it off. Johnny passed beers to hands reaching across the bar, stuffing dollar bills into his old-style National register, brass with a crank on the side. The dollar and cents flags popped up every time he hit the lever, opening the drawer. Frankie bopped her head, the guitar player slaying some licks, shrieking into the mic about confused teens. The crowd was getting into it, pogoing, screaming and drinking.

Three tunes in, she felt the need to pee; Frankie sipped her way to the co-ed can, knowing better than leaving a beer unattended.

Slapping Monk's outstretched hand, she made her way across the floor, said hey to Pinhead, weaving past jumping bodies, shoving open the door, the filthiest can this side of cbgb. Fifty bands had passed through Falco's Nest since Johnny lifted a toilet brush. Anytime somebody complained, he'd say, "That's punk for ya."

Johnny taking the bottles from the case, putting them in the big cooler. Realizing he forgot to tell her Marty Sayles had been in, not sure if he'd gone, the guy pissed off on account of the back rent. Johnny telling him he'd have it in a day or so, same thing he always told him.

Sucking a breath, Frankie stepped in. Freaky loo sprayed in hot pink over the mirror, paint that had dripped down the wall and over the glass. Get Modern or get fucked scrawled across the ceiling.

A lone bulb hung from the center of the room, a dead fluorescent tube horizontal over the sink, two toilets, only one with an enclosed stall, a urinal and a plugged-up sink, soapy brown scum floating in it. Toilet paper unfurled like crime scene tape across the floor. Graffiti all over — the voice of the people.

Frankie's eyes adjusted to the dim, a guy in a sport jacket stood pressed against the wall, his head tipped back, Adam's apple bobbing, the guy groaning over the pounding music. A girl on her knees, giving him the business. Frankie thinking ewww, people having sex in this place, worse than joining the mile-high club.

Halfway through saying, "Get a room," Frankie recognized him, turning it into, "Jesus, Marty?" Hearing his name, Marty Sayles focused his eyes, his hands on the girl's head like he was holding himself steady. The blonde craned her neck, her lipstick smeared, eyes of someone on opioids.

There it was, her way out. Frankie put her free hand on her hip, acting pissed, saying, "What happened to having dinner?"

Marty pushed the head away, fumbling at his pants, saying that was later.


Excerpted from "Zero Avenue"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Dietrich Kalteis.
Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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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