JOE PEACE IS A GALLOWS-HUMORED TALE OF REVENGE AND REDEMPTION WITH NOIR-LIKE DIALOGUE AND SLIPPERY MORALS, ALONG WITH ACTION, SUSPENSE, AND SOUL. Twenty years ago, Joe Peace was an ace homicide investigator for the Austin Police Department, until his penchant for cocaine and a disastrous affair with his partner Cassie buries him at the bottom of the APD's burnout brigade. In Austin, Texas, the psychotic founder of the most powerful drug cartel convinces Joe the cash is greener on the other side of the fence, and Joe becomes a player in the drug scene, buys a mansion, and collects beautiful coeds like butterflies, but the party ends when new details of Cassie's death surface, opening wounds long scarred over. Other crews muscle in on Joe's operation, and he's trapped in the twilight between the cops—who want to take him down—and the kingpins of the street—who want to take him out.
“IF YOU ENJOY A GOOD MYSTERY WITH MORE TWISTS THAN A NEST OF RATTLESNAKES STUCK IN AN ICEBOX, YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE JOE PEACE.” Rebecca McFarland Kyle Top 500 Reviewer, Amazon VineTM Voice
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Shelfstealers, Laredo, Texas www.shelfstealers.com
Praise for KERRY DUNN’S
JOE PEACE “With plenty of twists and turns, this mystery offers more than the stereotypical mob story... an exciting gang story and also a heartbreaking tale of relationships.” —Publishers Weekly
“Engaging characters, a setting that holds its own, and burning questions are the stuff that makes up good crime noir. Add to that author Kerry Dunn’s irresistible wit and way with words and you’ve got a book that can proudly share space with the likes of James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, and Dennis Lehane. If you enjoy a good mystery with more twists than a nest of rattlesnakes stuck in an icebox, you’re going to love Joe Peace.” —Rebecca McFarland Kyle, January 2012 Top 500 reviewer for Amazon Vine™ Voice
“Kerry Dunn delivers a hard-boiled novel fueled by the bad decisions and tough-talking witticisms of his memorable anti-hero JOE PEACE. Dunn immerses readers in a world of gangs, police life and corrupt officials—then dishes out the action with an assured and authoritative touch.” —Richard Hine, author of Russell Wiley Is Out To Lunch
JOE PEACE by
Copyright ÂŠ 2011 and 2012 by Kerry Dunn All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, except in case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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JOE PEACE by
SHELFSTEALERS LAREDO, TEXAS
For my parents, Ray and Adair Dunn, who never gave up on me, even during those times when I had given up on myself.
BACK WHEN I WAS ON THE JOB, ESTEBAN ROSA WAS THIS SKINNY TEEN LIVING A FLATLINE life on the street corners of East Austin, selling Ecstasy and Mexican dirt weed to University of Texas students and their professors. He thought this grunt work would eventually catapult him into the upper echelon of his gang, Una Familia, but that merry band of psychopaths had no use for his nervous, almost gentle nature. I busted Esteban a few times, enough to start feeling sorry for him, like you would for any low-level mover just doing what he was told to keep in tortillas and Budweiser. When I jumped the fence, I put him to work for my crew. He did better with me. Dude plies his trade in an upscale Latin club I owned called Los Diablos (because I didn’t know the Spanish word for cliché). Every Friday, he mans the counter of my check-cashing/payday loan/underthe-table meth and coke operation two blocks from the club, a place styled Working Joe’s Cash Advance. The years had put some weight on him. Hell, that’s what years do to a man: soften him up, bloat him out, make hair grow out of the nostrils and ears like his brain turned to fertilizer somewhere between forty and fifty. I’m thinking, shit, it’s been a while, and look at us, me and this half-ass protégé of mine, about seven-thirty on a muggy June night. Two of us sitting on a bench a few yards from the aquamarine statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan next to Town Lake. I once patrolled this area unsober, swatting mosquitoes and shaking down the daylight family men moaning in the bushes and
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
digging the love that dare not speak its name—at least in open court. Austin was peaceful then, a hidden Mecca in the hill country. What that Mecca was hiding from, turns out, was Californians. Rosa waxed nervous. I vibed egalitarian. “Esteban, my good friend, how are you?” “I’m good, Mr. Peace. Solid.” “Uh-huh. What you are, Esteban, is a paradox. You sabe?” “I have an education, Mr. Peace.” He lowered his head, spoke to his knees. “I know what a paradox is. Only I don’t know why I am one to you.” “I apologize, Esteban.” Habits, Lord, I got some. One of the worst is a tendency, at times, to be a condescending prick in a couple different languages. “The paradox I’m referring to is the fact that you look a lot heavier than you did last time I saw you, but you’re also a lot lighter.” I tapped the brown bag between my knees with the toe of my boot. “I got this problem,” he admitted. “We all got predicaments, Esteban.” You’re a guy collecting serious money in this town, you learn quick a lot of your conversations will begin this way. Charlie always said, make sure they know their only problem is you. “Me? I’ve got this prostate deal vexing me. I figure, damn, here it is, getting old. I stand in front of a urinal and pray for water like a dust bowl farmer. So I see a gonad man. The best. Rumor has it he pruned Lance Armstrong’s plum. He says it’s an enlarged prostate, but guess what else?” “Mr. Peace, there is no need to tell me this, sir,” Esteban said, obviously uncomfortable with frank testicular discussions. “What else is, I’m sterile.” My theory, if the dude didn’t want to hear about my prostate, he should have brought all the cash. “Can you believe that? News to me. Supposedly, I’ve gotten women pregnant before.” Well, one woman I know of, to be exact, but the event is pretty high up there on my late-night drunken thoughts list. “That is terrible news for you, Mr. Peace.” Poor Esteban. He’d come to beg for more time to pay, and here I was laying my dick in his lap. “I tell the doc, hey, I’ve reproduced. Know what he says? ‘Not with these. Your squiggles don’t wiggle.’ Dude’s British, so he can get away with calling my sperm squiggles.” I had no idea where this spiel came from. Maybe Esteban being light prompted the verbiage. Or maybe I had to tell somebody, and it wasn’t like Charlie was a shoulder to cry on. As for Aurora – the slinky young woman with hippie tendencies currently walking with me on this Escher staircase I
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
call a love life—she was the type who might want to have a kid in five years or so, if only to take the wee tyke to a Primus concert and tape a dandelion to his forehead. Sterility, ruination of post-Woodstock dreams. “Squiggles,” I said again. “Doctors shouldn’t use words like that when they talk to grown men.” “Squiggles, that is funny.” Esteban was as lost as a rabbi in Salt Lake City, but he did owe me twenty large. A little sympathy was expected. So he frowned, doing the concerned thing, like my penis and its surrounding fauna was a tragedy worthy of an opera. “Mr. Peace, I only have five thousand for you now, sir. My cousin, the pendejo, he head back to Mexico with the rest. I’m tryin to find him, but I ain’t yet.” I looked down the walking path, the post-work joggers and secretarial fast-walkers emptying out now. Charlie Winters sat up on a small hill, wearing his reflecting Lambertini shades, even in the dusk, as motionless as the Stevie Ray monument, if not as aqua. I’d known Charlie for close to twenty years, and it wasn’t until about eighteen into that score I could breathe solid around him. Wore his meanness like a favorite shirt. He’d mellowed a bit, though, had Charlie. There was a woman in the picture now. He talked about investing and scoured travel brochures. Deal at our level and you get to a point where all you want to do is retire alive. With, of course, the cash. Esteban Rosa didn’t know Charlie like I did. Esteban knew the Charlie who made people disappear like he was one of those Eastern European dictators you saw in old movie reels with their moustaches and dark dead eyes. It’s like this: there’s a place on the Guadalupe River, right outside of Gruene, where it forks and the rushing waters curve sharply around a bend. People in my trade refer to that locale as Charlie’s Goodnight. End up in that place, bedtime stories were the least of your problems. “You know, Charlie’s right there, behind you.” I nodded over his shoulder. Nobody in Central Texas wants to hear that sentence spoken to them. To his credit, Esteban didn’t turn around, but sweat popped on his forehead and his right eye twitched. “Mr. Peace, if you let me explain, sir—” “All I got to do is wave, and Charlie takes over. He’s not the conversationalist I am, Esteban. Now, tell me why I shouldn’t wave.” “I will get the money, Mr. Peace. It jus’ going to take longer than I thought. I will find my cousin, this I promise. I will get the other fifteen for you.” “Twenty.”
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
“I have five thousand here, Mr. Peace.” “And you’ll bring me another twenty.” What are friends for, if you can’t gouge them? I could tell Esteban wanted to argue terms. I wanted to get home. “Should I wave?” “Twenty thousand.” He nodded. “I will bring you.” “Three days? Will that be enough time, Esteban?” “I don’t think that’s enough time, Mr. Peace.” “Three days it is.” I stood and waved to Charlie. This time Esteban jerked his head around, probably thinking he was going to get shot anyway. Charlie stood, brushed off his jeans, and walked over. I looked around. Nobody near. Even the tourists and cutting edge alterna-kiddies who’d flocked here earlier to watch the bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue bridge had vanished. “Charlie, could you make sure Mr. Rosa here understands the meaning of three days?” Charlie grabbed Esteban’s forearm and hand, and jerked the hand back until bones cracked. Esteban howled in pain. “Get that taken care of, okay, Esteban? See you soon, amigo.” I made my way down the walking path, Charlie by my side. “Think he’ll pay?” he asked me as we climbed into the maroon Cadillac I always dreamed of owning – leather and wood and room to stretch out while somebody else drove – back when my cop’s salary made everything I wanted a dream, and nothing a reality. “Probably not,” I said. “Might want to give Cesar a call. If Esteban don’t have the money in three days, he’s out. Cesar’s in. What do you think about Cesar?” “He’s thinner than Esteban.” Charlie shrugged. “I trust the thinner Mexicans over the fat ones as a general rule.” This didn’t make much sense. Charlie could have been joking with me, or maybe he was dead serious. Twenty years could only teach me so much about the man. I put in Joe Ely’s Love and Danger, closed my eyes, and trusted Charlie in his dark shades to navigate the hairpin turns necessary to get to my sprawling home in Westlake Hills, which was another one of those dreams that came true. By the time he pulled into my garage, I was having second thoughts about the situation. “Hell, Esteban’s not a bad dude, as far as lowlifes go. He’s never been light before. Maybe we should cut him some slack.”
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
“We cut a lot of things, Joe, but slack ain’t one of them.” He killed the engine. “That damn Rosa knows the rules, same as everybody else. Cousin run off with the money, my ass.” “Might be the truth, Charlie.” Charlie shook his head. Charlie didn’t do soft. “Truth hurts, same as a lie. He didn’t have his full bag. There’s a penalty for that. Esteban wants forgiveness, he can hit up a priest. He wants to walk upright, he’ll pay his stake. This crew don’t do pardons, man.” Charlie was hard man, but that didn’t make him wrong. I had a Cadillac and I had a big house. I had bank. I owned properties in subdivisions I’d never see, in cities I’d never visit. Economic downturns and stock market turmoil meant jack to me. All made possible because we didn’t allow minor players like Esteban Rosa to fuck the system. But, man, the look in the poor bastard’s eyes when Charlie broke his wrist. Sometimes I get to feeling remorseful, for the things I’ve done. That’s why I have Charlie, to keep me from feeling, to maintain the system. “Quit thinking about it, Joe.” He’d always been able to do this, get in my head and cut short whatever was going on in there. “You can’t look back on things that’s already done.” “Looking back is my style, Charlie.” I opened the door. “You know that.” “It’s college, what done that to you.” He adjusted his shades. I did two years at the University of Texas, after a stint in the army. Charlie never let me forget it, looked upon that decision as an example of the faulty judgment I’d shown in every other phase of my life. Heavies of his stature didn’t ponder majors. Charlie handed me the keys, nodded goodnight, and walked to his Range Rover parked near the end of the drive. He’d be back here at eight in the morning, like he was every morning but Sunday, and wait in his SUV until I came out to wave him in. He might wait until ten, or even noon, but he’d sit there until I opened my front door. This could be unsettling, but Charlie liked to keep tabs and I couldn’t stop it if I tried. I drove this crew, but everybody in town understood Charlie was the engine.
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
MY HOUSE IS THAT KNOCKOFF HACIENDA STYLE YOU SEE A LOT OF IN THE HILL country. Tile roof, five bedrooms, three full baths, a pool, a hot tub, a closed in porch, indoor and outdoor fireplaces. Aurora, with a gift for whimsy, dubbed the place Poncho Villas. The house was cool and dark. Upstairs, the television blared and Aurora laughed along. Aurora, she of the hippie tendencies, loved reality television shows. It was one of her few irritating habits. At twenty-three, she was a shade under half my age. I lean towards younger women because I know I won’t fall in love with them. I suck at love, so not falling in it is a vital consideration. It helped that she was more mature than me. I met her one night while carousing in the warehouse district, pinballing from Irish pubs to coffee shops festooned with “Legalize Hemp” posters, the Brazilian folk music on the sound system barely audible over the post-modern intellectual angst of the patrons. Probably if I hadn’t lit a cigarette for her, Aurora would be in grad school now, or maybe an unemployed playwright clinging to the silly notion that she was suffering for her art. But my lust for her was so immediate she moved in with me after two weeks, and had since become satisfied with kept woman status. I corrupt everything I touch, and I’d touched Aurora often in the year I’d known her. I tossed my keys and wallet on the kitchen counter and went to the refrigerator for a beer. Made my way upstairs with the cold bottle against my head. “Joe, is that you?” she called out. “Yeah.” I entered the bedroom, found her draped across the bed, wearing my favorite red silk negligee. A garment designed for removal. The remote rested on the curve of a tanned thigh, showing through a slit in her negligee, a tantalizing glimpse of heaven. Her long, coal black hair covered the pillow. I had to admire my taste. “How was your day, honey?” She said this like I worked in a factory. “The usual. Threatened a Mexican. Bought a new suit.” I flopped down on the loveseat and drank some beer. “What you watching?” “It’s called Will Your Mother Eat It,” she explained. “These grown kids get cash if they make their mothers take at least two bites of these disgusting things.” On the tube, a stuffy matron in a turtleneck glared skeptically at a plate of dead cockroaches while her fat son stood beside her, nodding encouragement. A commercial blared and Aurora muted the sound. “Speaking of sex, did you talk to Doctor Yarmouth?”
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
“Yes, I did. Told him I was ready for the next step. He said while he’s fond of me, he thinks we should date awhile first.” “Joe, come on.” “Yeah, we talked.” I drank some more beer, stalling. “The problem isn’t sexual. I got an enlarged prostate. One thing in that region finally gets bigger, and it’s the wrong damn part.” The sterility bit could wait. Chances are, it wouldn’t matter. By the time Aurora was ready to bear fruit, she’d no doubt be hanging from some other tree. I’ve been in love before, even married once, and I don’t think any of the women who ever borrowed my toothbrush looked at me and thought, There he goes, future father of my children. It was more than likely Christ, I better get out of this place before I end up with an eight-ball hemorrhage courtesy of some drive-by cowboys angling for a takeover. She reached for a box on the nightstand, pulled out a joint and lit it. Will Your Mother Eat It came back on. An elderly Kansas City woman put a maggoty piece of pork in her mouth at the behest of her youngest daughter. “You know it’s affecting your performance in bed, Joe. Damn, what is with guys? Your dick is wilting, and you’re too embarrassed to talk about it.” “I can get an erection, Aurora.” “Don’t I know it. It’s just, you’re one and done, baby. I like long sessions.” “You could love me for who I am,” I said, smiling, “or you could buy a dildo.” “Now you’re being obscene, Mr. Peace.” She said this in her fake French accent, which was pretty good. The object in question tingled. She stubbed out the jay and blew a plume of smoke toward the ceiling, gave me some more thigh. “Does Mr. Peace want a piece tonight?” Mr. Peace did. Mr. Peace was one and done. Afterward, we stayed supine and entwined for about as long as either of us could stand it. Five minutes or so. Aurora stretched and stood. “Gotta shower, honey. I’m meeting Sera for drinks at the Brown Bar.” “You’re kidding.” “No, I’m not kidding.” She brushed at something in her pubic region. “Sera just broke up with her boyfriend. I told her I’d cheer her up.” I glanced at my watch, thinking, I just had sex with my watch on. “It’s almost eleven. Kind of late to go out.” She shrugged and put on her robe. “He was a pretty serious boyfriend.” I should have bitched, but I was always careful not to sound like her father. Aurora never mentioned her father, but I’m sure she had one, and I
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
worried if I complained about her going out so late, especially since weâ€™d just enjoyed a sweaty lovemaking session, sheâ€™d tell me to quit sounding like her father. Though I hope her father never enjoyed a sweaty lovemaking session with her. Jesus, the things I think about.
I WOKE UP AT EIGHT, AURORA NEXT TO ME LIKE A DEAD THING. I LOOKED AT HER UNTIL I confirmed she was breathing. In my line of work, Aurora being a dead thing wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. I kicked on the coffee pot before taking a hot shower. When I stepped out fifteen minutes later my cell was vibrating like a pornstar’s carry-on. “Can you answer that?” Aurora asked, putting a pillow over her head. I grabbed it. “Yeah?” “Joe Peace. How’s everybody’s favorite fallen cop?” “Detective Mankiewitz,” I said without any enthusiasm, so as not to encourage him. “How’s shaking down whores treating you these days?” “Very well, thanks for asking. Wonderin’ if we could have lunch?” “I bet I’m buying.” “I bet you are.” “Schlotzsky’s on Lamar at twelve-thirty, Manks. You’re one minute late and I’m gone.” “Love you too, buddy.” He hung up. Aurora mumbled something like, “Who was that?” “Nobody. Go back to sleep.” I ate breakfast and walked outside, to get the paper and tell Charlie to give me an hour. The Range Rover wasn’t parked at the end of the drive, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t Sunday. For Charlie not to be here could only mean one of
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
three things. Either he was dead, arrested, or left in the middle of the night for Tibet to study with the Dalai Lama, a dream of his that he told me about once, over too much whiskey for dinner and tequila for dessert. I flipped open my phone and hit Redial. It was a pretty day out, not too hot yet. I waved to my neighbor, Mr. Raab, diligently trimming the bushes on the property line separating his lawn from mine. Raab didn’t wave back. Nobody wanted me living in this neighborhood, but that spindly old fuck was especially pointed about it. “Special Crimes. Mankiewitz.” “They call your unit Special Crimes now?” I walked down the driveway, like maybe if I moved, Charlie would come rolling in. “Who handles the ordinary ones?” “Guess we forgot to take your vote, Joe. Whaddya want?” “You guys got Charlie? Is that why you invited yourself to lunch?” “We ain’t got Charlie. Wish we was that lucky.” “Hmm.” “Trouble in paradise, Joe?” “You know me, Manks. I live on the sunny side of the street. Twelve-thirty.” I called Charlie’s cell. No answer. So I dialed up Davey Deuce. “Yeah?” Davey sounded stoned. He was a good kid with major Lebowski tendencies who did lightweight work for me when I was in a pinch. Moved some pot to the college crowd, took in the Caddy when it needed maintenance, that kind of thing. Davey Deuce was pushing forty now, pointless even to himself, an aging stoner who deconstructed commercials and could quote every line of Pulp Fiction, but needed a schematic to tie his shoelaces. And he was the only cat I knew who absolutely had nothing else going on at the moment. “Davey, it’s Joe Peace.” “Mr. Peace, wow.” He giggled. “Wasn’t expecting, you know, you to call, man.” “Davey, we can dig on your expectations some other time. What I need right now is for you to drive me around today. You know where I live, right? You were here for the barbeque?” “Um, like, shit, Mr. Peace, that was last summer and I think I rode there with somebody. You live in Pedernales, right?” “Not even close. I’m in Westlake, 6785 Waverly Lane.” “Got it, Mr. Peace.”
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
“Be here at eleven. You’re not, I’ll move your territory to Round Rock by eleven oh one. Any of this getting through the fog?” Nobody wants the Round Rock circuit, next door in Williamson County, a place Stalin and Hitler might have thought over the top. Get busted there with weight, and the next time you walked the streets would be with help from a cane. “My girlfriend’s got my keys, Mr. Peace. She’s over at her mother’s house, I think. Or maybe she went to get, like, doughnuts. Soon as I find the keys I’ll get going.” Nine-thirty in the morning, dude was ripped. Where are you, Charlie? I could have driven myself, sure. I’m a competent guy. But I also have an ego. I was rich enough to have somebody drive me around while I did the backseat thing. I’m good for a run up to HEB for salad dressing or emergency tampons for Aurora, but my ass has to cover this town. If I didn’t have a driver, I might as well go back to being a cop. With no options for the next three hours or so, it being a given Davey Deuce would get lost somewhere along these winding roads, I went back inside for more coffee. My cup full, I sat on my very comfortable couch to channel-surf. CNN reporting on an Obama speech at the UN. He waxed possibilities and responsibility. Then over to Fox News, where a raving bald man excoriated liberals and CNN. Since 9/11, hell, maybe before that, what these news channels mostly do is sell themselves. Nobody reports; they proselytize, and then they give the weather. I’m a taxpayer, in a manner of speaking, and like most taxpayers, I banished the politics and switched over to ESPN. My cell phone rang during coverage of a Pujols grand slam. I checked the Caller ID. “Manks, people are gonna start to talk.” “Yeah, yeah. All kidding aside, Joe, you was right. We got Charlie.” “For what?” I was relieved. Charlie was only a bail bond away. “I guess I said that wrong.” Mankiewitz coughed. “We ain’t got him. Not for long, anyway. M.E.’s about to take him away.” “Goddamn. How?” Goddamn. “Looks like one shot, back of the head.” “That don’t wash. Charlie never turns his back on anybody.” “A woman, maybe,” Mankiewitz suggested. “Not even a woman.” “Well, Joe, there’s you.” “Jesus, Manks, with theories like that I’m surprised you aren’t a security guard.”
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
“At least it’d be a pay raise. Listen, lunch ain’t in the cards today, which should be obvious. But we need to talk soon.” “Just call. Hey, Manks, where’d he buy it?” “This hot sheet place on Congress. Gaslamp Hills or some such shit, back behind the dumpster. Clerk found him when he was taking out the trash.” I tried to wrap my head around it. Couldn’t. “None of this makes sense.” “Sure don’t,” Manks agreed. “When was the last time a clerk in a dump like that took out the trash?” A voice yelled something in the background. “Gotta go. And, hey, Peace, sorry.” I stared at my hands for a long time. Davey might have rung the doorbell at some point, but I wouldn’t swear to it. I had people, not friends, these days, but Charlie was the best of those people. Even what Aurora and I had would end. She’d get bored, maybe she was bored already, and she’d get gone. Another one would come along, and it would be good and then it, too, would be over, and this comedy would repeat itself until I got old and flabby, alone and fucking with the remote. But I never counted on Charlie not being there. He was more important to this business than me. Joe Peace didn’t incite panic; it was Charlie they feared. And they knew Charlie answered to me. I sat there staring at my hands and understood that with Charlie gone, my time at the top was nearing its end. He couldn’t be replaced, and I couldn’t keep this going without him, and how self-involved am I to be thinking these thoughts when the poor bastard was headed to a table in a cold dead-smelling morgue?
I DID THE SITTING SHIVA THING FOR THE REST OF THE DAY, STAYED ON THE COUCH drinking wine, unsure, at times, if I was mourning Charlie or myself. Aurora ditched Poncho Villas around one. I told her Charlie bought it, she said “Oh.” She said, “That sucks,” when I explained how. She was fiddling with her iPod when I said it had me down, but the earbuds were already in. Then she left to hang out with Sera, hinted that it might be an all-night situation. It was hot enough to swim but the effort involved was out of my realm. I felt restless but didn’t want to move. I wanted some coke but fought the urge, as always, since that long-ago day when I put my straw away. Charlie didn’t talk much but I already missed having him around. His loss was going to hurt, but I’d manage. We’d built a strong crew. Solid enough to fend off Grady Fingers or Tito Marquez, if either one of those bastards viewed Charlie’s passing as an invitation to a takeover gambit. I fell asleep with an empty bottle of Merlot on my lap, these lies adorning my sleep. Mankiewitz came in with the maid at 9:30 the next morning. Silvia was a short, fat Hispanic woman who was a magician with the mop. Every Christmas she brought me a bag of homemade tortillas. Today, she was bringing me a policeman. “Mister Peace, you got a visitor!” While I slept, something died in my mouth. A squirrel, or a badger. One of those furry, awful-tasting rodents. “Whoever it is, tell them to go away,” I said, my voice threatening to split my skull in half like a cantaloupe. I aimed
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
to talk to her about this open door policy. Silvia’s tortillas were the stuff of legend, but the flour came from my dough. “Hey, Joe Peace.” Jesus. Mankiewitz, shuffling into the living room. “Wild night?” “Wild enough, Manks. You’re either constipated or strangely excited, I can never tell.” “Your faithful sentinel brings news to his patron, sire,” he said, in this bullshit Renaissance Festival voice that made you hate England. “Sit down. Do my head a favor and make sense for once in your life.” He remained standing. Irving Mankiewitz resembled, as always, a cadaver. I’ve known him for twenty-five years, and he’s never looked better, or worse, than he did that morning. Sunken cheeks, red eyes, his shabby suit hanging from his gaunt frame like the gallows rope. He was one of those dudes who, if you were in a good mood, brought out compassion. In a bad mood, you could kill the bastard. “Hope that maid makes coffee, Joe. I got questions.” Fucking questions. I could kill the bastard. “First thing she does. Pour me one too.” I stood, intent on relieving myself in the downstairs bathroom. The prostate had no sympathy for hangovers, and I winced in front of the toilet for a good five minutes before a trickle emerged with porcelain written all over it. I felt like a played-out milk cow. By the time I returned to the living room, Manks was sitting in my leather recliner, his shiny gray pants hiked up past his dark dress socks, a swath of white rail-thin leg bridging the pants and socks. “Good coffee,” he said. “Glad to oblige.” I hit the couch like it was Normandy. “Maybe I’ll open up a diner.” “Hell, I’d go.” “Only because I wouldn’t charge you.” “I got news, Joe. We checked out Charlie’s place last night.” He paused and blew into his cup. This dramatic effect bid was a sham. Charlie wasn’t stupid. The most incriminating thing they’d find in his condo was the Häagen Dazs in the freezer. “We learned a lot. He was way too fond of bad action movies but made up for it with good taste in beer.” “I hope you took the beer home with you.” “Wasn’t like it’s evidence, Joe.” Manks gave me a crooked grin. “You ever going to get to why you woke me up?”
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
“Here it is. We found a shoe box in the hall closet, taped up tight. Cut it open, and it’s full of pictures. None less than twenty years old, looks like, same person in all of ‘em.” I had one person twenty years ago. If it wasn’t her, Manks would be somewhere else, drinking mediocre coffee. I used to be a badge, which made his play predictable. “Joe, why do you think Charlie would have so many pictures of Cassie Dugan?” All these years gone, and I still had a hard time hearing someone speak her name. But in those years I’d learned to wear a mask. The mask had dull red-rimmed eyes and a straight line for a mouth, held for a moment before the eyebrows arched slightly and the straight line curved just enough to give it an I don’t give a fuck flourish. “Was it a sex thing, Manks? She naked?” “Cassie posing naked, there’s a good thought, may she rest in peace.” He shook his head. “Nah, it seemed pretty obvious she wasn’t posing, you know? She’s getting out of her car, she’s in the grocery store, in a cotton candy line at some fair. Shit like that.” “Like surveillance?” “Maybe, but it don’t look like that.” Manks considered. His face sagged along with the rest of him, as if thinking was such a burden one day he’d be flat on the floor like a throw rug. “Somebody takes the trouble to run surveillance on a high-profile cop, they’re gonna want it to be discreet. Old as they are, these photos probably came from a disposable camera and were developed at a Wal-Mart. That don’t strike me as professional.” My head throbbed and I could smell myself. I didn’t like thinking about Cassie in the best of times, and these weren’t them. I also didn’t like Manks glaring at me over his cup of coffee like he had an ace to play but was waiting to check my bluff. “Then you got me, Manks. Charlie and I weren’t running together back then. What he was doing with a box of pictures like that, I have no idea.” “There was a note on top, forgot to mention.” “Jesus, Irving, you’re as subtle as an anvil.” I only called him Irving when I meant it.
Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
He had a shiny red bump on his chin and picked at it for a minute, considering. “It’s why I’m still a downtrodden cop and you’re a felony-prone success story, I guess. Subtlety.” “So what about the note, Manks?” “It read: Lily, I hope this helps you get what you need. Charlie Winters.” “Long-winded, for Charlie,” I said. “But I got no idea what it’s about. Now, I either need to throw up or have a drink, and I’m sure you’ve got somebody you need to shake down.” I stood up again. It wasn’t any easier a second time. “Do you know who this Lily is?” “No idea, but you may remember we call such things a clue in the halls of APD. And you should eat something before you throw up. Then have a drink. That way, you don’t waste alcohol.” “Good idea, Manks. I think I’ll head to Katz’s for breakfast. Can you tell I’m trying to get you out of here yet, or should I write you a note?” Manks gulped the last of his coffee and grimaced. I’d seen people die and witnessed various limbs being broken, including my own, but when it came to grimacing, my sad-sack friend held the crown. Made finishing a cup of designer coffee an essay in pain, a trail of tears, and a dirge in the time of the plague. With some effort, he stood up too. “We’re done. Just wanted to pass that tidbit along.” “You need a few dollars?” I walked him to the door. “You got a hundred ‘til payday?” We were past the point where he was embarrassed to ask for money, and where I believed he would come around on payday. I had eighty in my wallet and shoved the bills in his hand. He patted me on the shoulder and ambled to his smoke-belching Tercel. I watched him leave, and tried to remember if Charlie had ever mentioned a woman named Lily.
Kerry Dunn was born in the year of Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone, the same year The Sound of Music won Best Picture. His birth had nothing to do with either of those events; that is to say, neither Dylan nor Julie Andrews has ever given him any credit for their successes, though he hasn't given up hope that they'll come around. After attending college, Kerry moved to Austin, Texas, stumbling somehow into a career in computers while spending most of his free time writing. He landed a prize in the Austin Chronicle Short Story Competition (the prize, if he remembers correctly, was called "Third") for his story, Supperclub Soul. Another short, Angels from Another Heaven, sold to a small Houston-area magazine; he spent the entire $25.00 on his cable bill to avoid missing an episode of The Sopranos. Kerry now resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his wife, Sheila, his two stepsons, Trey and Trent, and a three-pound Papillion named Spike, who suffers from obsessive/compulsive disorder. Shelfstealers is honored to publish Kerry Dunn's JOE PEACE, a semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.
You can watch Kerry write his next novel, THE HANRATTY HEN PARTY, through Shelfstealers' Watch Our Writers program at www.shelfstealers.com/watchkerrydunnwrite/
If you enjoyed reading the first three chapters of “Joe Peace” by Kerry Dunn, you can purchase a paperback or Kindle version of the book on Amazon by clicking the link below: http://amzn.to/ykdPP8
Published on Feb 16, 2012
Engaging characters, a setting that holds its own spell over readers, and burning questions are the elements which make up good crime noir....