Today Anthony Neil Smith brings his virtual motorcycle rally to HBW in support of his new novel Hogdoggin'. It kicks off ANS season over here. Over the next couple of weeks there'll be plenty of posts revolving around Smith's work and world, so get used to it. For those uninitiated in the rally, go over to Crime Dog One and catch up on the story, it's been wild.
In the Last Episode, Ed Pettit showed Lafitte how to have a gloomy good time.
The cook came out the back door carrying a bag of patty melts and his vat of chili saw Smith, the owner of the Virtual Dive Bar, and probably the biggest supporter of this mess of a Rally, hanging around the outskirts of the mob that had circled Steel God’s bike. He crossed his arms and peeked over shoulders, but wasn’t as worked up as the rest.
The cook asked, “Who’s he got?”
Smith stopped his pacing. “It’s Hot Guac. Guy who leads the Skull Patrol? Yeah, he’s not doing so good.”
The cook looked down into his vat. He saw his reflection in the pooling grease. “I was going to dish some of this out.”
Smith shook his head. “They’ll just chuck it up again after this show.”
The cook thought, Well, how is that different from any other day?
He set the vat down, shouted at one of his busboys who was watching the show, told him to take that shit inside. He didn’t want to. Wanted to see the guy get what was coming, deserved or not. Wanted to see some fucking blood, bossman.
But the cook threaten the kid’s job and his face, so he relented and hauled the chili back inside. The cook heard the kid spitting in it soon as he hit the door.
Back to the action. He said to Smith, “You want to get a better view?”
Smith cringed. “I’ve seen enough already. Last time, Guac didn’t look quite so bad, but at least his fingers still worked.”
The cook shrugged and bullied his way through most of his employees and regulars to get a front row view. The waitress he’d gone home with the week before--off-his-ass drunk, of course--didn’t want to let him through, but he slapped her ass, and she sighed like all the magic of last Thursday had bubbled up to the top of the soup again. She adjusted her ten-years out of fashion eyeglasses and stepped behind him, hand on his shoulder.
At the center of all this was Steel God, sitting on his Harley, calm as the wind that day, which was unusually gentle. Behind him, tied at the wrists with leather straps, now writhing on the ground, his back contorted, was the guy Smith called Hot Guac.
Steel God noticed the cook and grinned. “Hey, Cookie. Sorry to interrupt your breakfast crowd. I was hoping to use your grease trap.”
“Aw, just going to drown him, that’s all.”
Hot Guac was too far gone to react to that. He just rolled and groaned.
The cook shook his head. “I don’t think I can help you.”
The crowd all went, Awwww. Grumbled. Jake Oliver threw his coffee to the ground and stomped away. The crowd began to disperse.
The cook said, “What happened to you skullfucking him?”
“Man, I’m tired. And I don’t have the constitution to go ahead and pop the bad eye out. No, I guess it’ll be your food as the dick, fucking his mouth.”
Steel God ticked off points on his fingers. “Jesus, the only reason people eat here is that they’re drunk, they want an excuse to miss work, it’s easier than exercising, or it’s their first time. So go on in there and get me a couple of footlongs with that nasty chili sauce on them. On second thought, make it three, and some fries.
“No!” A newly energized Hot Guac finally spoke up. “I’m vegetarian! Don’t do that to me.”
“Fuck,” Steel God said. “I wouldn’t worry if I was you. Most of his dogs stopped being meat, legally, weeks ago.”
A smaller crowd waited around eating the cook’s patty melts, washed down with straight tequila to kill the germs, while he went inside the Hardboiled Wonderland and started the dogs on the grill. Only one of them had something fuzzy on it, so he chopped it off and went on, found a couple of non-greenish stale buns, and some chopped onion left over from the night before. With all the skill and style his father taught him, about the same time he warned him never to eat his own diner’s food, the cook whipped up two foot-long hot dogs, plated them, poured a cup of phlegmy, nuclear chili on top of both and carried them back out to the waiting Steel God.
It was not pretty.
Steel God grabbed Hot Guac’s hair and yanked it back hard, his head tilting backand his jaw dropping. He was pleading, beggin, but Steel God grabbed the first dog and shoved it into Guac’s mouth.
He thrashed left and right at first, sent chili flying everywhere. But Steel God kept it in there, even as the gagging started, and shouted, “Chew or choke, you motherfucker! Chew of choke!”
Eventually, the man chewed. He had a face full of mustard, chili, and drool by the end of it. He puked twice. But he ate both.
Steel God ventured inside to wash his hands, told the cook to keep an eye on the bastard, who was possibly the most pathetic and wretched soul the cook had ever seen.
“I think I just shit myself,” he said.
The cook crouched down, looked him in the eye. “Man, what did you do to him?”
Big smile. “I hired a chick to cut his junk off and deliver it to me. But she didn’t do it.”
“Why’d you do that?”
He shrugged, spit blood. “Thought it would make a nice trophy.”
“Look, it ain’t so bad. He’s going to keep this up for a while, but he won’t kill me.”
“Aw, man, he ain’t gonna kill me cuz, like everyone else, he’s dying to know what sort of shit I’ll come up with next.” He blew his cheeks out. “That ain’t settling right.”
“I’d get a shot if I were you. But listen--how can you top the dick thing? How can you top what he’s done to you?”
Hot Guac started laughing. A full-on belly laugh, rumbling up just as Steel God stepped back outside, walked over and mounted his bike.
Guac said, “As history has shown us, there’s always a way, my friend. It can always get worse.”
Steel God kicked off and shouted to the cook, “Put it on my tab!”
As they rode off, the waitress with the old glasses and the plain face but sweet little breasts and feet, sidled up to the Cook and said, “What the hell was going on with those two?”
The cook turned, slipped his arms around her. “You want to go inside and fuck in the walk-in freezer?”
Her face brightened. “Can I have a raise, too?”
“How about I lick your pussy instead?”
She shrugged. “Beats getting fired, I guess.”
Hand in hand, they walked back into the Hardboiled Wonderland.
Last year, Scott Phillips told me, “You’ve got to meet my friend Jed.” He was working at a bookstore at the time, and he was pushing my books big time. And then they started talking about this noir movie Mosquito Kingdom that Jed had written and acted in. Some low-budget wonder. So of course, I had to see it.
And, yeah, some of the acting is a bit rough. The editing is kind of weird. But overall, it’s a sweet little movie. The camerawork is beautiful, especially considering how cheap this was, and the story of an island purgatory for wayward criminals as a place to lay low, but they in fact discover they’re never supposed to leave, was a fantastic noir allegory. Ayres was able to weave several different threads together--the act that landed our protagonist on the island, all of the other castaways, their stories, how they tie into our hero’s tale--and give us several layers of that kept peeling off and revealing more.
So, yeah, great stuff. It went on to win Best Cinematography at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, and was invited to be shown at St. Louis international Film Festival.
Since seeing it, I then published Jed’s “Morning After” in Plots with Guns. I’m always surprised at how he is able to wring tense, atmospheric situations out of what seems like the most mundane moments of life:
Terry rooted through the pantry for kibble, but there wasn’t any. Beth hated the dog as an extension of him and she never bought it any food. He’d brought the puppy home the day before she came back from the hospital with their first born. He figured it was only fair. One for him, one for her.
Six months later, she’d given him the weekend to get his things out while she took the baby to visit her mother in Fayetteville. Layla whined and turned in circles as he pushed aside cans of corn and peas, green beans and Gerber bananas.
But then later in the story:
They burst through the front door with grocery bags over their heads, unable to see clearly unless they used one hand to hold the eyeholes gouged in their plastic masks flush to their faces. To compensate for limited vision, they turned their torsos continually in severe arcs with pistols drawn to cover the whole store.
“What’s good here?” shouted Cal as he grabbed the lone clerk by his shirt and planted the barrel of his gun under the young man’s chin. “Down on your fuckin’ knees, now.” Terry covered the store, rounding up a heavy set woman with a teenage daughter in tow and a swell-gutted man of about thirty with a camouflage ball cap on his dome.
How’d that happen?
And check out this bit from “Politoburg” in Thuglit:
You’ve been to Mexico once before, but this time had fuck all to do with Sammy
Hagar and margaritas. This was all dust and rocks and heat stroke, skin turning to leather and sunshine so intense, your balls disappear when you squint. The Sierra Madres hemming you in sounds good for a movie, but actually makes you feel like a fish in a bowl.
You make your way barefoot toward the only road around, trying like hell to
extract some nutrients from your cigarette. The dog carcass from the day before has disappeared from the roadside and you make a mental note not to chance Ramon’s stew today.
Other than the fact that it mentions Sammy Hagar in a favorable light (which I approve of in all stories), this also does a damned fine job of evoking mood, making damned sure I know this is the author’s world and I’m going to lose myself in it.
So we share a love of noir, exploitation movies, music, and we also have connections to evangelicalism that have shaped us. It’s no wonder that when I watch Mosquito Kingdom or read Ayres’s short stories, I feel I kindred spirit at work. I know this guy. I know why he writes this crazy fucked-up shit that he writes. And I want to read plenty more.
Vice versa, he’d probably tell you to read Hogdoggin’ too, so I’ll spare you the sales job and just shorthand it for you: HD MONDAY, 6/1 = ORDER/BUY HD.
Tomorrow--he’s got beer in one hand, a five wood in the other, and a rack of ribs in a third hand. Yes, I said three hands. It’s Victor Gischler.
On the Diner Speakers: Chagall Guevara, “Murder in the Big House”