Monday, June 30, 2014

CriMemoir: Mike Monson

Mike Monson's latest novella,  The Scent of New Death is out now from Gutter Books, and you know (or you should, anyhow) that anything those folks apply their brand to is gonna be some righteous slice of hardboiled criminal kablooey. I asked Mike for a CriMemoir piece and it turns out, he comes from a criminal background his own self... checkerout:

CriMemoir by Mike Monson

I used to be a thief.

It feels weird to say it now, but it is certainly true. From 1974 to 1977, I stole thousands of dollars from the cash registers of about a half dozen of my employers.

In a way, I blame my older brother Chris. Once, when I visited him at his job at Me-n-Ed’s Pizza in Long Beach, he showed me his technique. A customer came up and bought a pitcher of beer. Chris gave the man his beer and opened up the register and handed him his change. Then, in his head, he added the price of the beer to a running total.

While the transaction looked normal, Chris did not actually ring up the sale, he simply pushed the ‘cash’ button, which opened the drawer (this was back when cash registers were not digital, I doubt this method would work now). He did this periodically throughout each shift until he got up to around 40 or 50 dollars. At the same time he continuously palmed paper money and stuffed it into his pocket until he had the same amount. Chris did this for years and never once got caught.

At that time he was studying philosophy and lived in a big old Craftsmen bungalow with four or five ever-changing roommates. I loved hanging out there, and, while I was still attending high school in a spiffy Orange County suburb, I’d often spend the weekends at the house. It was all about smoking weed and eating little white pills full of speed and drinking cheap wine and listening to Led Zeppelin and James Taylor and Crosby Stills and Nash, and talking. Talking about the horrible Vietnam War, talking about whatever philosopher was popular with them that week, and talking about The Man, and how to stick it to same.

Chris and his roommates all hated The Man and they all expected to participate in the coming revolution. In this world stealing wasn’t seen as immoral or wrong, but as a revolutionary act.

One of the roommates drove a truck part time for a large supermarket chain. He had keys to the back doors of the local stores, and every couple of weeks he’d visit one in the middle of the night. He’d park his car back at the loading dock, go inside and grab whatever groceries he wanted, and bring it all back for everyone at the house. This was known as ‘liberating’ the groceries, not stealing. I don’t think he ever got caught either.

Soon after high school I moved in with my girlfriend and began attending college intermittently while working one horrible job after another. It wasn’t long before I tried to emulate my big brother.

I worked at a busy combination Chevron station and car wash called The Bubble Machine. If a customer got a fill-up, the do-it-yourself ride-along car wash was free. But, if you only wanted a car wash, it was a buck fifty. So, I started not ringing those up and taking the cash. I’m not sure, but I think I got away with about 20 dollars a day. Give or take. I also told a couple of my co-workers about it and they started doing it too. Until we got caught.

The Bubble Machine was a chain and had enough money to hire a private investigation firm to help them combat employee thefts. Apparently, there was a plastic wand at the beginning of the car wash that counted the cars that came through. By counting up all the free car washes and subtracting that number from the total cars getting washed, and analyzing the daily receipts, it was clear that a lot of money from the ‘car wash only’ customers was not making it into register.

All of us were sent to the PI office in downtown Long Beach for an interview and a lie detector test. I confessed right away so there was no point in hooking me up to the lie detector. The private eye and the Bubble Machine district manager grilled me for a while: how much did you take, how did you do it, who else is stealing?

I lied. Told them I’d just started and had only gotten about $50. I told them I had no idea any one else was stealing. I was ashamed and embarrassed and could feel myself blushing as I fought back tears.
Amazingly, they didn’t fire me. They got me to promise I’d never do it again, and made arrangements to take the money I’d admitted to stealing out of my next several pay checks. That was it.

About two years later I became the Assistant Manager of a Pizza Hut in Orange County. My girlfriend and I had broken up and I was living alone in an apartment in Anaheim. I was crazy about women and sex and beer and pot and LSD and live music and had an insatiable appetite.

As the Assistant Manager, I was in charge of the store at night. The regular Manager was always gone way before five p.m. and never came in during the evening shift. He trusted me to close out the register at night, do the books, and make the cash drop into the safe.

For about six months I had the time of my life. I took out as many women as I could talk into it and I always had plenty of money for drinks and drugs and the gas to go into Hollywood with my dates to hang out and listen to music at The Whisky, the Starwood, and The Troubadour. For a guy making 600 dollars a month, I never seemed to run out of money.

That’s because I was stealing from Pizza Hut. A lot.

It was a long time ago and much of the memory is vague, but I’m pretty sure I skimmed about $200 per night using my brother’s method. In a way I had it easier, because I could just sit by myself in the office and know exactly how much wasn’t rung up and exactly how much to take out of the drop and put into my pockets. I didn’t have to palm money throughout the shift and risk getting spotted.

One day I came in to work to relieve the manager and take over for the night. He took me out to one of the tables for a talk. He looked very serious and very sad. A basic analysis of food cost versus receipts had showed that someone was taking money from the store. A lot of money. It wasn’t him, of course, so it had to be me. I was fired.

The amazing thing is that I wasn’t arrested. I mean, come on, I’d stolen thousands of dollars. I didn’t even have to admit that I’d done it. He told me they wouldn’t fight it if I filed an unemployment claim, they would say that I was laid off. I just had to leave right then and never come back.

A couple of days later I got a job at another pizza parlor. This place was a former Shakey’s Pizza that had been bought by a local man after he’d retired as an engineer. It was a large busy place with a huge menu. He sold a large variety of bottled beer as well as draft Miller, Coors, and Bud.

Early in the morning of my first day I went to see a therapist at a County mental health clinic. I missed my old girlfriend and was depressed about that and I was feeling ashamed about what I’d done at Pizza Hut. My counselor was an intern just beginning to take on clients in order to get the hours needed for his license. For some reason, he decided to have me lay down and do some yoga-style visualization exercises. He identified all my ‘chakras’ or energy centers (bottom of spine, belly, chest, throat, forehead, crown, etc). He had me imagine that rising up from each chakra were golden lights that joined together as one bright light above my body before flowing up into the sky.

When we finished I was in a great mood.  I felt powerful, joyous, and invincible. I walked into the pizza parlor kitchen in the middle of the lunch rush. The owner’s early-20s son was in charge. I’d been warned about him, that he could be an arrogant and cruel sonofabitch.

Still feeling magical, I jumped in to help and the dude said something mean to me. So I hit him. My blow glanced off the top of his head and I don’t think it hurt him at all. He tried to tackle me right next to the pizza ovens. We ended up throwing punches and wrestling around until his dad luckily showed up.

I wasn’t fired. In fact, I became an instant hero to all my new co-workers. Even the owner respected me because he knew what a prick his son could be. I ended up working there for nearly three years.
I never stole cash again. Plus, lucky for me, the draft beer was free to employees. As long as we didn’t steal bottled beer we could have all the beer in the kegs—no limit. He paid a lot of money for beer in bottles, so he couldn’t afford to give that stuff away. But, draft beer set him back only a nickel or a dime a glass. “You guys are all going to steal my beer anyway,” the owner explained. “This way, I can at least keep the losses to a minimum.”

Mike Monson is the author of The Scent of New Death, Criminal Love, and What Happens in Reno. Mike is also associate editor of the quarterly crime journal All Due Respect. He lives in Kona, Hawaii. Check in with him here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 in Crime Flicks: May

Art of the Steal - Jonathan Sobol - Upon his release from prison Crunch Calhoun's motorcycle daredevil gig is teetering atop his last aging legs and desperate to put something substantial together for his golden years he gets his rag-tag group of international art thieves get back together for a big score. What follows might taste like warmed over Ocean's 11 by way of Snatch, but it's got that thing right there in the middle that I'm a sucker for- Kurt Russell. It's a shell game of cons and double-reverses set in a universe populated with paper-thin stock characters that, never-the-less may just hold your attention for its modest running time. Fun, but I had to get drunk to do it, and I didn't particularly respect myself in the morning. Best moment: the look on Crunch's face as he makes the decision to take a fall.

The Aura - Fabian Bielinsky - Esteban lives deep inside his own head. He's either seeing to details that only he can appreciate in his day job as a taxidermist or he's meticulously planning heists in his hobby as a master criminal. Only Esteban is all intellect and zero follow through. He doesn't get his hands dirty, he only thinks up the way it ought to go - until... - Esteban ends up with a dead thief on his hands and decides to assume the man's place in a dodgy heist where things are bound to get a lot more bloody than he's used to. Oh, he's also an epileptic. This one is an exercise in mood and tone and texture, much more atmospheric and deliberately paced than Bielinsky's rollicking con-man pic Nine Queens, but lucky for me, it's an atmosphere I prefer to breathe. The tension is slow-building and not a hell of a lot happens before... well, before it all happens, but it's a pleasure getting there and Ricardo Darin has a pretty great face to tell stories with. Best moment: Making eye contact with the wolf - perfectly executed moment of Lynchian deep creeps.

Bad Country - Chris Brinker - Bud Carter, a Baton Rouge cop, stumbles onto the biggest arrest of his career when he nabs a mob contract killer named Jesse Weiland on an unrelated charge. After Weiland's family is threatened by his employers, he works with Carter to take down the syndication. Shit blows up. People die. Actually this flick, based on a true story and featuring the best mustaches since The Iceman and another strong Willem Dafoe performance after last year's Out of the Furnace, has a lot going for it: setting, performances from Dafoe and Matt Dillon up front and an appropriate sense of scale. It did itself absolutely no favors in marketing by reminding us that the director produced the awful Boondock Saints movies, and I was looking forward to Brinker having the chance to atone for that shit (which he halfway does here), but his long journey to redemption was cut short by his untimely death days before principle photography wrapped on this, his directorial debut. So, I'm not sure what to make of his vision. Alongside the solid aspects of the film, it also suffers from a few mis-steps: an over-actiony climax, a bizarre anachronism or two (the film takes place in the early 80s, so what's with the nu-metal on the radio?) and an unfortunate stray line of dialogue or three. Solid B-, but I'd like to have seen more fare in the same vein from Brinker - clearly he had some similar interests. Best moment: Bud buys diamonds.

Blue Ruin - Jeremy Saulnier - Dwight, a homeless, but seemingly carefree beach bum has his world turned upside down when he receives news that a particular man is being released from prison - end of beach life. Suddenly, Dwight is a man of action and as each new scene reveals, he's a man with a plan that he's been patiently waiting out. He follows the newly released convict and his family a short ways away and clearly intends to do the newly freed harm, but after that... who knows? Dwight's plans don't seem to extend beyond the violent act itself and what's in store for the audience is a hell of an artfully delivered, white-knuckle thriller. Holy shit. Just kapow. Wham, bam and waaaaaait for it... waaaaaaaait for it... shazam. To knock this one out of the number one film of the year spot is going to take something fuuuuuuuuuucking special (but holy crap there's some gud shit due soon). My first reaction to this piece of bloody Americana was to shoe-horn it into a couple of complimentarily-intended comparisons, like it was some kind of derivation of greater works, I think I called it Blood Simple by way of Shotgun Stories, but I rather regret even saying that now, as the film is its own thing and deserves to be encountered on its own terms. And those terms can be located within the voice of a bold and ridiculously assured film maker just beginning to speak. Best moment: buying guns from an old high school pal.

Easy Money - Daniel Espinosa - A hustler chasing the good life in the world of high-stakes finance, a recently-rabbited convict and a hit man/single-father cross paths and purposes in this elegantly complex and admirably gritty thriller from the director of (one of my favorites from a couple years back, Safe House). It's the first in a trilogy of adaptations of the Snabba Cash novels by Jens Lapidus. and if it's any indication of the quality of the films to come, this is going to be a badass crime saga for the decade. Kinda like a James Ellroy criminal underworld going through a non-comedic version of Guy Ritchie debacle - everybody's got a plan, everybody's got a good reason for what they're doing, everybody's competent, but nobody's too cool or invincible and the deck is stacked against happy endings for any of them and the film is harsh enough to have you fearing the fates of a cast of well-drawn characters you're going to be switching up loyalties betwixt. Damn, I wish we could expect this level of treatment of crime flicks in the US, but sadly... no. Typically, those of us who get off on this type of adult fare have got to seek satisfaction from other parts of the world. Happily, it's more and more available these days. Best moment: confluence of criminality. Hell of a finale.

Freedomland - Joe Roth - Julianne Moore stumbles bloodied and hysterical into an emergency room saying that she's been attacked  and had her car stolen with her son asleep in the back seat. Samuel L. Jackson is the responding detective and finds himself in for a long fucking week. Turns out, the woman is sister to one of the top (white) cops on the other side of town, making the missing kid his nephew and the investigation his priority. Add to that the racial element. White kid disappears in a black neighborhood and the cops shut the projects down to comb the area - forcibly detaining residents and interrupting the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of citizens when black kids disappear all the time without anybody seeming to notice. Riots loom. Professional disaster looms. Personal integrity isn't popular. It's a hot pot of shit, but Jackson's Det. Council steps up to keep stirring it and keep it from boiling over. When Michael Winterbottom dropped off the project (with a screenplay by Richard Price and adapted from his own novel) it was up to the guy who directed Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise to stand in the gap and maybe just get out of the way for some damn fine work by Jackson and a great supporting cast including William Forsythe, Edie Falco, Clark Peters, Anthony Mackie and Ron Eldard. I recall noting the film's box office was disappointing and the critical reaction was pretty luke-warm, which dammit... I shouldn't be paying attention to - duh, but even though I dig Price (tho, I've not read his book) I'd somehow put this one off, and that's a damn shame. Particularly because this is as engaged as I've seen Sam Jackson in a long damn time. And as good as he is phoning it in, it's a whole other thing when he means it. Is it the great forgotten film of the decade? I don't think so, but it does a great job of heaping a bunch of plausible shit on the back of a man of his time and watching the way it sorts out. It's yeah, solid. Mostly, it left me wanting so hard a Sam Jackson, Will Forsythe cop drama on TV with a big dose of Edie Falco to boot. Yeah, that's the shit I want to see. Best moment: Council visits his son.

A Hijacking - Tobias Lindholm - A Danish cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates and this film follows the lives of the hostage crew as well as the head of the company that employs them and owns the boat as they negotiate a resolution over the course of many weeks. It's pretty tense. Just a bunch of real people in a terrible, no-win situation. Am I selling you on this? It's quite good, but I dunno what else to say... It's a bit hard to watch at times, but not overdone, not a big manipulative climax orchestrated to wring a lotta tears or make you wanna break stuff, just steady, assured, observational film making that puts the viewer through some awfully effective tension. Best moment: everybody sings 'happy birthday'.

Lakeview Terrace - Neal LaBute - A racially mixed couple moves into the titular affluent L.A. suburb in 2008 and are harassed and intimidated by a neighbor who happens to be a cop and doesn't appreciate them parading their lifestyle in front of his impressionable children - he's worked hard to give them a proper upbringing and all. The twist? The cop is black. When you're going to chose a racially-charged provocative flick starring Samuel L. Jackson to spend an evening with, do you go with the one directed by the celebrated button-pushing playwright responsible for sucking the air out of the room with fare like In the Company of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors and Nurse Betty or maybe the guy who made Christmas With the Kranks? Friends... this time, go with the Kranks helmer Joe Roth's Freedomland, 'cause this one was cringe-inducing, but for all the wrong reasons. Best moment: is actually hilariously bad - when the couple meets with her father who advises them to sell their 'starter home' and move. Folks, it's a niiiice fucking house in L.A. with a pool and shit and perhaps that was intentionally in there to insult Jackson's cop character's life of hard work and dedication to his kids as a single father, that this couple's starter home was in the same neighborhood as the end of his rainbow, but... it felt more like a mis-step and a pretty tone-deaf one at that.

Let the Fire Burn - Jason Osder - Documentary about the brewing confrontation between the city of Philadelphia and the MOVE, er movement members and the tragic 1985 standoff that ended in a big body-count and devastating loss of a community as an entire neighborhood burns to the ground. The film is constructed entirely of original footage taken by news and police cameras as well as the original testimonies delivered in court by the survivors, participants and witnesses and if it doesn't get you worked up, perhaps the fact that, regardless your view of the way things were handled, a group of American citizens were publicly burned to death by government officials in the heart of a major metropolitan area only 30 years ago and this might be the first time you've even heard about it (I'd never heard of MOVE or this tragedy before), well that oughtta. A lot to chew on here. Clearly the MOVE folks had every reason to fear for their lives, and clearly the city of Philadelphia had a responsibility to address the group on behalf of their harassed citizens and certainly to look into the welfare of the children being raised on the compound, but what a fucking shame that it came to this, and how scary to watch and think... it would probably go down exactly the same way today. Best moment: Birdie's escape.

Pulp - Mike Hodges - Michael Caine is a very successful if not terribly respected writer of many genres of pulp fiction under a slew of hilarious pseudonyms. He's contracted by an anonymous celebrity (who turns out to be a flamboyant movie star with alleged ties to organized crime, played by Mickey Rooney) to ghost-write his biography. Upon accepting the vague, but lucrative, offer he goes to Malta to meet his mystery employer and after a case of mistaken identity, finds himself enmeshed in a plots sillier and seedier than anything he ever wrote under the name S. Odomy. Writer/director Hodges makes films to his very own very precise internal metronome and as much as I love Get Carter and enjoyed A Prayer for the Dying and Croupier, it's not unusual for me to feel a bit on the outside looking in at what certainly appears to be great party that I seem to have lost my invitation to. I think his films generally work even when I'm beguiled (I'll Sleep When I'm Dead) or befuddled (Flash Gordon) by them... I just can't say why. Pulp is among his more interesting works and one I'd like to revisit, but even though I laughed at appropriate times, I was left with the distinct impression I was not in on a lot of the jokes and not in step with the rhythms of the film maker. Best moment: Al Lettieri exits the shower.

Revenge - Tony Scott - Hot shit Navy pilot Cochran (Kevin Costner) retires with no particular plans for his future other than hanging out on the Mexican ranch of a rich benefactor who's life he once saved. Said benefactor is a powerful criminal and married to a foxy lady, thirty years his junior. Hijinks ensue! Generic plot, sure, but there's an atmosphere of hazy, Scottian cool hovering over the whole thing. Add to that the Jim Harrison source material and the nicely small-scale of it all, and it's always been a picture I could disappear happily into. Been a long time since I'd watched it and frankly, it doesn't hold up quite as well as I wanted it to, but I still enjoy the second half of the picture, especially when James Gammon shows up. Best moment: Miguel Ferrer takes off his mask.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

CriMemoir: Eryk Pruitt

This week, we've got a helluva lineup for N@B with Jason Stuart, Jack Ryan, Scott Phillips, Matthew McBride, Clayton Lindemuth, Pinckney Benedict and Laura Benedict and shit, y'know that's a lot of talent in one place (not to mention possible sightings of Josh Woods, Jason Makansi and Tawny Leech), but damn, it's only about a third of what's happening with N@B stuffs this week.
On Sunday the 22 N@B-LA has got Johnny Shaw, Travis Richardson, Ivy Pochada, Samuel Gailey and Craig Faustus Buck, plus they'll raise a glass to N@B community regular AJ Hayes. Also on the 22nd, N@B-SD has Don Winslow, Jeri Westerson, Cameron Pierce Hughes, Ken Kuhlken, Debra Ginsberg, Matt Coyle and Lisa Brackmann. and on the 19th, N@B-NC in Durham gets deflowered by the likes of Steve Weddle, Peter Farris, Grant Jerkins, Charles Dodd White, Chad Rohrbacher, Phillip Thompson and the guy putting it all together, Eryk Pruitt. 

In case you haven't checked out his novel Dirtbags or read his stories online, I asked Eryk to introduce himself to the other kids with an incriminating story... Or rather, I asked him for a CriMemoir piece and he chose to incriminate himself. Thanks, Eryk, we all appreciate it.

On Holding Out

A CriMemoir by Eryk Pruitt

Honor Among Thieves.

I'd never heard such bullshit before. I mean, part of the reason I came up glamorizing the junkie and the drunk and the derelict was because there was no honor anywhere else. I busted my hump day in and day out in the restaurant business, but there were fewer places you needed to watch your back more. And that, a so-called HONEST job. From the Mexicans cooking the food, to the shady waiters bringing it, to the dodgy guy running the place, all the way up to the shiftiest of them all: the owner.... No, after not too long, I sought out honor anywhere I could find it.

But you won't find it among thieves, no sir. That much was a lie.

Not that I was any better. Don't let me suggest otherwise and get away with it. No, my number one sin was frugality. A sensibility that I thought others around me lacked and lacked hard. I grew up on stories like the one with the ant and the grasshopper and how the grasshopper acted like a dick but come winter, there he was, banging on the ant's door, begging for food. I didn't want any such comeuppance, never had never will. So I would save. Squirrel away. Stash.

Or, as others would call it: Holding Out.

And like those fables I grew up with, this one has a moral. Life wouldn't be life without a lesson or two and I've always reckoned if you come out with the same amount of holes you went in with, then maybe you learned them all right. Maybe, maybe not.

So like the ant, I hate to be without. How often has four in the morning come along and you and that girl start to twitch and the others are heading home and she's like "maybe I should too" but what you and her and everybody else from here to the moon are thinking is OH GOD, IF WE ONLY HAD ONE MORE LINE. Or better yet, some really heavy stuff is happening and you're eating seeds and stems because there ain't no more pot and licking the pages of High Times on the off-chance, just the fucking OFF-CHANCE...

So, no. I never wanted it to be like that. Like I said: I'm frugal. I'm in it for the long con. I'm always looking over to the next horizon.

Or, at least, I was.

That one night in '93, still a kid. Me and a handful of guys are sitting around on our skateboards and it's dry, man. Really dry. Some friend of ours who knew more guys than we did said cops busted a vanload of stuff out on 67 near Cleburne, so nobody had any weed. In the days before we could get into bars or successfully work a bra strap, spending a Saturday night without weed was dangerous and before long we were looking for somebody to fight. But we get the great idea to drive three hours down to Waco to watch the dust-up that's been all over the news. Some shit with the ATF and religious fanatics.

Problem is, the Feds don't like kids watching them work. And little did we know, this was a night somebody tried to sneak into the compound and join their religious brethren. So understandably the guys at the roadblocks were on high alert and when a car full of kids roll up to take a look-see, we get machine guns put in our faces. Picture us, all of eighteen years old and spread eagle in the dirt while the ATF rifles through their shit. Oh... and I'm holding out.

That's right. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms have us by the nutsacks and I'm apeshit because there's a quarter-sack of kind in the breast pocket of my Harley jacket. You know the kind with like twenty pockets and zippers and metal on leather. Every suburban kid with a socially acceptable teenage rebellion was wearing one in those days and at that moment, federal agents were searching every inch of it.

Every inch except that one, single pocket. The one with the shit in it.

When we drove away that night – dicks still intact – I showed it to the boys and while we took the edge off all the way back to Dallas, I got an earful about holding out.

But did I learn? No sir. A few years later, I'd turned my shit to eleven. There I am inside my shady neighbor's apartment, chatting up his girlfriend, when there comes a knock on the front door. Those apartments laid out so that visitors and folks who lived there came to the back door. The front doors faced the woods, so only cops and pizza delivery drivers knocked on the front.

And we didn't order a pizza.

Call it the drugs. Say we're stupid. Name it what you want, but for some reason the chattering bastard who opened the door never stopped to think about who may be on the other side of it or maybe we should go about cleaning up the cloudy, streaky mirrors and rolled-up dollar bills and half-cut restaurant straws or maybe even that pipe over yonder... no, he just opened the door and told the folks on the other side to come on in, have a seat.

Folks on the other side were seven members of the East Texas Task Force and a German shepherd. Yep. They put this unit together specifically to battle the scourge of the region, which thankfully we had already shoved up our noses. They searched us, searched the place, then told each and every one of us they would be taking us back to our own apartments to search our homes, would that be a problem?

Would that be a problem?

Well, as I've already discussed in the previous 1000 words, I got me a little compulsion. Yes, we were waiting for more shit to be delivered. Yes, we were all up in arms about how long it was taking and where is that guy and why ain't he here yet and all that, but guess what: if you came over my house, I had four skinny lines all chopped up on my medicine cabinet mirror, waiting for that shady bastard's girlfriend to come over so we can make a night of it. A few Valium by the nightstand so we could take the edge off. A little something to smoke and hell, my birthday was right around the corner, so who all knew what else I had squirreled away.

Yep, I was Holding Out.

So I spent that night with them cops going in and out of every room in my apartment, playing that Good Cop/Bad Cop game where one puts all the shit he finds in a big, giant plastic Baggie and the other tells me how it's going to be. I'm going into a cell with Big Black Bubba. You know what Big Black Bubba will do to a good-looking white boy like me? Do I want to be boyfriends with Big Black Bubba? Then the other comes along and says they ain't looking for me, why don't I just tell them a few names? Why don't I just make a few introductions? Why don't I just make it easy on myself? All the while, they keep walking around the house and filling up that giant plastic Baggie where they'd written my name and information across the front with a big-ass Sharpie.

And then, like an angel from heaven, they get the call on their radios that the guy who we'd been waiting on had shown up to the apartment. Oh no, he made them! He's running! They need backup! The two agents exchanged glances and dropped everything, then ran out of the apartment. Leaving me alone. Alone with that plastic Baggie.

I considered keeping it. Hiding it. Holding Out again. I mean, Lord knows I'd need it later, after the night I had.

But fuck that. Man, I jumped on that shit like a skunk on a june bug and, before you know it, dumped the whole of the contents into the toilet and flushed. I didn't so much as lick the Baggie before I'd gotten rid of all of it.

Twice man, Holding Out nearly got me. That dirtbag maneuver never did nobody no favors. Honor among thieves... Yeah, right.

So I made myself a promise right then and there. After the ATF, after the East Texas Task Force, after a little incident overseas that I still can't talk about... Never again would I Hold Out. Never again would I leave the game with players still on the field. Never again would the fight stop while my gun still held bullets.

No, from here on out I will lay it all out on the table for one long, sustained and glorious party, destined to fuck us all to kingdom come and happily ever after.

Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author, and filmmaker living in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and his cat Busey. His film Foodie has won top awards at eight film festivals across the United States. His short fiction appears in Pulp Modern, Thuglit, Swill Magazine and Zymbol, among others.  His novel Dirtbags is available now. A full list of his credits can be found at

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

All Due Respect

I was asked recently for suggestions on places to try and get short crime fiction published and all the electronic journals I would typically recommend it turned out also have print publishing arms now... which just struck me as pretty damn cool. Needle of course is exclusively there already, but what with your Thuglits and Crime Factories, your Beat to a Pulps, your Out of the Gutters and your Shotgun Honeys you've got some pretty boss options. And we can't leave out All Due Respect, now can we? Nope. 'Specially when their latest issue features fiction by badass names like Jake Hinkson, Patti Abbott, Rob Hart, Jen Conley, Mike McCrary, Alec Cizak, Angel Luis Colon, Chris Leek and Jessica Adams. Toss in interviews with Hinkson and David Cranmer and yep, it's going to the top of the to-be-recommended pile. As if that weren't enough, ADR offers fiction reviews with Chris Rhatigan, Mike Monson, David Bishop, Craig McNeely, Bruce Harris and Lawrence Maddox as well. Those guys are looking at books by Hinkson, David James Keaton, Eryk Pruitt, Jack Clarke, Tom Pitts, Max Booth III, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Paul D. Marks aaaaaaand... lookit that, Rhatigan is even saying things about Peckerwood. What's he got to say?

"Ayres... takes himself too seriously... Petty criminal and all-around shitbird... who also happens to cruise gay bars... there are a number of storylines that... don't appear to be related... Ayres manages to take... my money... and... much more than that... He's also just a... certifiable sociopath... By the end of the book I... was rooting for... the law to punish... severely."

Thanks, Chris!

Seriously, though, big heartfelt thanks to everybody who's been reading my stuff and then saying so. It means a lot. Looking at you, Christa, Brad, Sandi, Joey, Eryk, Rory, Joe, Sammy, James, John, R.P., Stuart, Don, Bob, Jason, Ian, Luke, Adam, Mike and Vincent - right back atcha.

If I weren't going to be fast asleep at noon today, I'd be heading down to Star Clipper for the Cullen Bunn event wherefore he signs copies of his book The Empty Man, but tonight rest assured I'm gonna go check out Megan Abbott, Reed Farrel Coleman, Ridley Pearson, Tom Schreck and Marcia Clark at the St. Louis County Library headquarters.

For those of you not living in the general vicinity, you might check out the Books and Booze Live! event on Saturday in Louisville, KY with David James Keaton, Rob Hart, Amanda Gowin, Leah Rhyne and Patrick Wensynk, (hosted by Jessica Leonard). If there's karaoke afterward, watch that Keaton doesn't do the entire Billy Squier discography.

Unfortunately I couldn't make Noir at the Bar in Vancouver last night where I trust Owen Laukkanen, ER Brown, Dietrich Kalteis, Linda L. Richards, Robin Spano and Sam Wiebe threw down bad advice for good people in the form of oh so cleverly disguised as fiction 'entertainments.'

And I won't the fuck be able to attend N@B-NC on June 19 when Eryk Pruitt burns the town down with the help of Steve Weddle, Grant Jerkins, Peter Farris, Charles Dodd White, Chad Rohrbacher and Phillip Thompson.

But that's because I'll be doing my best to remain upright in the company of Benedicts, Laura and Pinckeny, maestro of mayhem Scott Phillips, one-percenter Jason Stuart and local heroes Matthew McBride, Clayton Lindemuth and Jack Ryan... Plus, I hear rumors that attendees may include N@B alum David James Keaton, Fred Venturini, Tawny Leech and Josh Woods. WTactualF? I'ma need to get limber first.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Faust Ball Right Down the Middle

Saw a just about perfect film last night, E.L. Katz's black comedy Cheap Thrills. It's about the way money is a lens that you see your moral universe through, how it changes everything from the way you feel about your friends, enemies and your own value. Mostly it's about economic exploitation. Its metaphoric precision could be off-putting in the hands of lesser talents, but the cast (including the stepping-assuredly-out-of-his-typical-broadly-comic-role David Koechner, the surprise!-he's-actually-pretty-great Ethan Embry and almost the entire center of Ti West's The Innkeepers, Sara Paxton and the always compelling Pat Healy) is uniformly on point and it's a remarkably controlled bit of cinema for a first-time feature director. It's manipulation of rhythms for maximum humor, horror and suspense are pretty fucking rock solid.

Yeah, Jed, but is it a crime movie? It is. And a pretty great one. It centers around a desperate everyman and his low-places pal whose lives are invaded by the devil in the form of an obscenely rich couple who want to get some kicks by playing a game. This game goes dark fast and deep - like to the core of these guys' senses of self - mercilessly.

And this is at the heart of another current high-quality film-type pleasure of mine - Fargo on FX. Dunno what I expected from this show - maybe a serialized re-telling of the the story from the feature film? - but, um, no... it's not that. Yeah, it's funny, it's got the accents and the 99% front and center, but it's a completely new creature. My God. It's dark. It's brutal. It's perhaps going to be my new favorite thing on TV (Boardwalk Empire wraps this year after all). And you know a big important ingredient in making something so dark-so effective? One that gets left out too often? It's got some fucking human warmth, some heart. Nobody feels it when hard hearts get broken. Nope, it only really hits home when there's still something sticky and vaguely liquid in there.

And there is... Just. So. Much. Blood.
Buuuuut what I was gonna say was that Fargo is using the same device - the devil shows up and takes your most petty, reckless, irresponsible impulses and makes them reality, leaving you to deal with the consequences - that Cheap Thrills did (what do the fancy people call that, Faustian?) for fanfuckingtastic results.

That's not all the weird convergence though... From the start Fargo had a weird little Scott Phillips vibe going for me - mostly cause of the frozen heartland setting ala The Ice Harvest not to mention The Ice Harvest casting with Billy Bob Thornton and Oliver Platt, but most especially after the fourth episode connected Fargo the TV show absolutely to Fargo the movie in just about the exact same way Phillips's 'sequel' to The Ice Harvest, The Walkaway was connected to its predecessor... if you haven't read/seen what I'm talking about I'm not about to spoil that shit for you.

In other icy-hearted heartland news - I'm wrapping up Frank Wheeler Jr.'s The Good Life and just... holy shit, is it just a primer on the disposal of human remains. So glad I read this before the family reunion. Here's hoping that Paul von Stoetzel's short film Your Blind Spot (written by Frank) has just a touch of this here snippet from The Good Life...(names omitted to remain spoiler free).

I stand up and swing the shovel like a golf club right into his upper left arm. The shovelhead snaps his humerus. He screams and doubles over in the pit...

"Here's your fucking problem, cocksucker," I yell down at him. "You don't answer every one of my questions, then I'm gonna break your other arm, both legs, and a few other bones here'n there for good measure. We're gonna bury you alive with a garden hose taped in your mouth so you can breathe. Cuz, how long you figure it'd take a man to die that way?"

"Days probably," Eddie says.

I lean back in toward XXX who's on his knees in the pit.

"So we'll come back tomorrow and dig your faggot ass up. Break a few more bones, cause you have about two hundred - we're not gonna run out. Bury you again. Keep doing it till we get bored. And you know what? There sure ain't a lot else to do in Nebraska. You can only bowl so many nights a week."

If you dug The Wowzer, like I did, The Good Life is right up your dark little alley.

All this frozen heartland talk makes me wanna go read Scott Smith's A Simple Plan or John Rector's The Cold Kiss, Anthony Neil Smith's Yellow Medicine, Charlie Stella's Rough Riders Les Edgerton's The Bitch or Benjamin Whitmer's Pike again. Thanks a lot, Fargo.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The North

Alright all you smug Scandinavian crime fiction fans telling me to get on that shit, I may have just reached my tipping point. Henning Mankel, as revered as he is, still writes detective novels and, well, shit it's gonna take a pretty fucking special reason for me to pick up another detective novel (especially one in a series with more than three or four titles - see also Jo Nesbo - though the Headhunters movie did fucking rock). And Stieg Larsson... sorry, I've seen both movie versions of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and really just didn't give a shit. I know, don't judge books by their movies, but not-engaging movie plus obnoxiously big best-seller pretty much shoots that book dead for me. For at least a couple of decades.

B-b-b-b-but the Stockholm Noir Trilogy by Jens Lapidus (made up of the books Easy Money, Never Fuck Up and Life Deluxe) have been made into a trilogy of Swedish films in quick succession and... damn, they're some strong shit, yo.

How strong? Strong enough to make me really want to go back and check out the books even though I'll have a pretty good idea where they're headed. First off, they're not detective stories. Secondly, they're not serial killer stories. Thirdly, they're damn good criminal-underground stories that interweave and counter-invest and subvert your loyalties exactly the way material with this kind of scope and subject matter should. Films are almost always exercises in reduction when adapting books, but looking at what we end up with here, I'm guessing a big budget Hollywood version (which I believe is on the way) would reduce it even further to make one thread, one character stand way the hell out front... and that'd be a shame. Gonna go ahead and post the trailers here

Easy Money - Daniel Espinosa - yeah the director of the pretty terrific Safe House did this one and the trailer is a bit misleading - please give it a chance and then for heaven's sake pay the fuck attention. It's got a lot of moving parts, big dangerous clunking metal objects orbiting each other with scary velocity and when they collide it's gonna get bloody.

Easy Money: Hard to Kill - Babak Najafi - going from the perfectly perfect book title Aldrig Fucka Upp to one of the clumsiest english language sequel titles ever (the only way this could be cool is if Steven Seagal and Rodney Dangerfield could make a sequel-mashup Hard to Kill: Easy Money), this is still a really great hardcore street crime flick with heart. Again, forget the marketing of the only white guy's face you might recognize (and you should, Joel Kinnaman is going places) - it's much more than just his story.

Easy Money: Life Deluxe - Jens Jonsson - Haven't seen this one yet, but I'm waiting for it to be available. Can't wait to close out the trilogy. Looks strong.

But... how sweet a thing is it to have the cast back, and the productions strong and rolling? Why can't we get more serious treatments of crime sagas like this? I'd love to see more stuff in the vein of the Michael Winterbottom produced, Tony Grisoni penned, David Peace adaptations, the Red Riding Trilogy or Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher Trilogy. Ambitious, high quality sequels that bolster and enrich the vision of the first - making it a chapter in a whole, rather than trotting out the same old scenarios and characters not evolving.

Perhaps with its single writer and single director per mini-series/season Nic Pizzolatto's True Detective can achieve something like this in a couple of years. That'd be welcome.

Speaking of Pizzolatto and Kinnaman, y'know they worked together on the first season of The Killing, and speaking of Kinnaman and Espinosa, they're working together now on the feature film (Richard Price penned!) adaptation of Tom Robb Smith's Child 44. Outside of James Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy or Philip Kerr's original Berlin Noir trilogy, (I know, I know - now I'm recommending a detective series - what a hypocrite) Smith's Leo Demidov trilogy might be my choice to see get the big ambitious film series treatment. And with Espinosa and Price on board and with Tom Hardy in the lead role... I'd say that's a promising beginning.