Monday, June 26, 2017

Bite: CriMemoir by Elka Ray

Today Canadian crime writer Elka Ray, author of Saigon Dark, Hanoi Jane and What You Don't Know, brings us a story of street crime in Vietnam. Take a quick tour of her neighborhood and then be sure to check out her website and follow her on Twitter at @ElkaRay.

Bite: CriMemoir by Elka Ray

I'm sitting in the back of a battered taxi in Ho Chi Minh City's nascent backpacker ghetto in the mid '90s. The street caters to late night partiers and is just starting to wake up - an army of pretty young female street sweepers scraping their brooms through the gutters, guys dressed in boxer shorts dragging knee-high tables and stools onto the sidewalks.

It's about six a.m. but already hot. My taxi doesn't have aircon. All the windows are rolled right down. I've landed an assignment to write about the new luxury resorts popping up along Vietnam's coast. I'm headed to the beach and want to get going. I'm waiting for someone - I can't recall who - and they're late. I'm not a morning person and am pissed. There's a long drive ahead. Highway 1 is a goat track. I call them on my new mobile phone - a novelty in Vietnam. Up until recently I had a pager. I'm listening to an error message when a kid reaches through the window and grabs my phone. I keep hold of it with one hand and grip his wrist with the other. We both pull.

He's in his late teens or early twenties, not much younger than me. He's skinny but strong, with not an ounce of fat on him. We stare at each other, our faces about two feet apart. I'm a young blonde in a linen dress, trying to look older and more professional than I am. He's got dusty black hair and the flat black eyes of a junkie. Eyes without hope. I've seen those eyes on accident victims going into shock and in photos of people captured by the Khmer Rouge, just before they were beaten to death. Ghost eyes.

His mouth twists with hatred. So does mine. I know I should let go. It's just a phone. But this little shit is trying to rip me off at six a.m., before I've had coffee.

In terms of violent crime, Vietnam's pretty safe. It's got the world's strictest gun laws: any private citizen caught with a gun goes to jail. Sure, there's petty theft - B&Es, purse snatching, hookers shaking down guys too dumb or wasted to know better. Domestics. Human trafficking. Once in a while a gold store gets done - an entire family's throats slit, or a drunk goes beserk in a karaoke bar.

Those stories don't make the English-language papers. But lethal crime against foreigners? I've lived here 22 years and can only recall one deadly case: a young Dutch woman stabbed by a junkie in a busy Saigon market in 1997. Just shy of six months later, her killer faced a firing squad. Drownings, home and workplace fuckups and traffic accidents are another story. The WHO estimates 14,000 people die on Vietnam's roads every year. Per capita, it's among the 25 most dangerous countries in which to drive. Most people ride motorbikes and even those driving cars, buses or trucks still act like they're on their first BMX. My personal tally of traffic loss is one friend (major brain damage), one dead colleague, and two friends' dead kids. Nobody recovers from the kids.

Does any of this go through my head as I'm arm-wrestling Ghost-eyes for my shitty Motorola? Not really. Well, a little. I know he's got nothing to lose. He could have a knife. Or a syringe. I should let go.

His wrist is right in front of my face. I look at it, then back at him. We both realize at the exact same second: I'm going to bite him. I open my mouth. Those blank eyes click like a doll's. He lets go and darts across the street, dodging cyclos and bikes before ducking into an alley. I push the car door open and jump out, yelling. I'm mad enough to go after him but there's no point. I've got my phone. Plus it's a warren back there - a maze of meter-wide alleys like something from the Middle Ages.

Would I really have bitten him?

Looking back, it seems crazy. His wrist was filthy. I haven't thought about that kid in years. What happened to him? Nothing good, I'll bet.

Once the light in your eyes dies, I can't see it coming back. Over the years, I've met plenty of kids with hard luck. Street kids. Hustlers. Abused and abusive. A few made it out - they retained some hope and innocence. They met some kindness.

Some years back I lived near a supermarket. The security guards would post photos of shoplifters up near the till. All the photos looked alike: men and women with the same stunned, scared and guilty look disguised as defiance. The worst photo I saw was of a woman and two little boys, maybe seven and nine years old. The terror and humiliation in those kids' eyes. I wanted to rip the photo down. I wanted to find those kids, to tell them it wasn't their fault. And then what? Instead, I just looked away. If you want to see the world in black and white don't live in a poor country. Poverty and dirt turn everything grey.

Elka Ray is a Canadian author, editor and illustrator who lives in Vietnam. She writes for children and adults. Elka is the author of one light romantic mystery - Hanoi Jane; a suspense novel - Saigon Dark; and a collection of short crime stories - What You Don't Know: Tales of Obsession, Mystery & Murder in Southeast Asia. When she's not writing, reading or drawing, Elka is in the ocean.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Let Me Make You a Peckerwood Movie

A couple years ago in one of the upcoming crime flick trailer roundups I posted the teaser for a movie called Let Make You a Martyr that had grabbed my attention. For a year and a half I checked in on the status of that one, I was intrigued the look and sound of the teaser.

It's finally out and available on DVD and streaming platforms, and I've got two bits of good news about that.

First. I've seen it and was super pleased with the delivered final product from first time feature co-writer/directors John Swab and Corey Asraf. It's a gothic-family-crime drama steeped in an atmosphere of doom and claustrophobic dread - a neat trick when a large portion of the visuals include lonely highways and wide open spaces.

Understandably grabbing the lion's share of the marketing attention for the ensemble cast is Marilyn Manson playing a killer for hire on the trail of our protagonists - Sam Quartin and Niko Nicotera as the star-crossed step-sibling lovers pitted against fate and the wrath of their backwood vice-lord father (the always on-point Mark Boone Jr.).

It's high-pulp tragedy shot and scored with art-house sensibilities and a seventies' vibe that I dug.

The other reason it's good news is that my novel Peckerwood has been optioned and the film version is in development with Let Me Make You a Martyr co-director Asraf set to direct. Scott Phillips and I have written a script we're pleased with and hope to see a kick-ass version of on screen soon.

Of course there are a million ways projects like this can go off the rails, but I'm super-psyched by the opportunity to work with Corey - an artist whose instincts and sensibilities seem to have a pretty fat nexus with mine - and I can't wait to see what he does with the material.

At the risk of predicting poultry a tad early - winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

One True Movie

The late eighties/early nineties VHS golden age of video stores was my window both to the wider world as well as the one within. I learned as much about the mysterious workings of my own gear box as I did exotic cultures near and far. The cable TV and direct to home video movie markets, (alongside the already operating arthouse / grindhouse independent film scenes) were exploding with content never intended for mass exposure and lavish marketing campaigns. Most of them weren't ever going to get (or go after) critical attention.

And while some B and C-list performers and directors became their own known off-brand of house of perhaps ill repute name (Sybil Danning, Jeff Wincott, Andy Sidaris) most were grist for the mill of disposable plop culture never to have a moment to themselves and quickly forgotten forever.

But as happens every time technology improves and becomes less expensive simultaneously some fringe visionaries sneak in and make a mark that remains. The pulps brought us Jim Thompson, William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick and the cheapie movie market brought us John Dahl, Nick Gomez and Steven Soderbergh (who straddled the genre-grinder and high-art worlds, belonging in conversations with Abel Ferrara and Quentin Tarantino as well as Hal Hartley and Jim Jarmusch).

Today S.A. Cosby is talking about one of the most precious gems to emerge from the era, Carl Franklin's Billy Bob Thornton scripted One False Move. If you've never seen it, give this piece a read and then correct that shit pronto.

by S.A. Cosby

I first watched One False Move as a high school senior in 1993. I was at our local video store and was spending another Friday night alone. I was torn between One False Move and a steaming pile of brain droppings called The Lawnmower Man.

“Definitely go with One False Move,” the video clerk suggested.

I'm so glad I did.

Made for just over 90k dollars OFM was the first script written by Billy Bob Thornton and his frequent collaborator Tom Epperson. Directed by Carl Franklin and starring the late, great Bill Paxton, Michael BeachCynda Williams and Billy Bob Thornton sporting possibly the most obnoxious pony tail in film history (Only rivaled by George Strait's faux pony tail in Pure Country). The film was marketed as a low-rate B movie action thriller. And it is that. But it so much more.

OFM is a movie that manages to talk about violence, race relations and class disparity all at the same time while still a tense and suspenseful crime drama. Opening with scenes of extreme violence the movie shifts gears halfway through as the action moves from the technicolor dreamscapes of LA to the pastoral and peaceful back roads of Arkansas.

Upon first viewing I was blown away by OFM and Billy Bob's incredible script. At the time it was released Carl Franklin's direction was justifiably praised. He would go on to direct a faithful adaptation of Walter Mosley’s masterpiece Devil in a Blue Dress but OFM is a film that succeeds mainly because of the complexity and nuance of it's script. The fact that Franklin has produced little of note sense Devil in a Blue Dress seems to validate that contention. Hell I could have directed this movie and it might have survived. Billy Bob, a country boy at heart, has an innate understanding of the sometimes strained relationships between blacks and whites in the rural south where the poor are poor regardless of the color of their skin. His script draws us in to those relationships that sometimes exist in the darkness of lonely country roads and the bed of rusty pick-up trucks. The interplay between Paxton's character and Cynda Williams “Fantasia” is searing.  Paxton plays these scenes with such palatable regret and wistfulness it makes me sad that we will not be blessed with any more performances from this master of his craft.

The script also tackles the gulf between urban and rural realities. The barely hidden contempt that oozes from the detectives from LA as they deal with Bill Paxton's over exuberant sheriff Dale “Hurricane” Dixon says more about the disparity between the classes and their vastly different socioeconomic standing than an hour of talking heads yelling at each other on a cable news program.

You would think after writing such a masterful script Billy Bob would possibly mail in his performance as Ray, the incredibly sleazy drug dealer who is the epicenter for most of the carnage in the film. But he doesn't. He gives Ray such a desperate demeanor that you imagine he would come back in his next life as a harbor rat.

Michael Beach delivers a stand-out performance as Pluto a killer as cold as his namesake who prefers a knife to get the job done. At one point he holds a victim close puts a pillow case over their head and methodically stabs them slowly over and over again. A chilling scene made even more so by his natural charisma. You can imagine this character doing your books if he wasn't busy slinging weight and murdering people.

OFM is a movie that surprised me as the story wound it's way along those dusty back country roads. Just when I thought I knew where the action was headed I found myself astonished at the twists and turns both subtle and epic. As the film builds to its realistic and brutal finale you find yourself taken to places you never thought you would go in a cheap little crime flick. As the closing scene fades to black OFM forces you to ruminate on issues that are integral to our American psyche.

Whenever I sit in front of the computer to tell a story I'm always aiming for the high bar set by OFM. It's a classic depiction of rural crime that mines the same territory as films like Hell or High Water or Winter's Bone but with the added punch of confronting the four hundred year old elephant in the room of racial politics in a way that doesn't seem preachy or saccharine. Do yourself a favor and find this film. Sit back and sip on something that ain't water and enjoy this walk through the wild countryside.

S.A.Cosby is a writer from southeastern Virginia. He has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies including Thuglit, Shakespeare Goes Punk and The Age of Rococco. His fantasy novel Brotherhood of the Blade was published by HCS Publishing. He recently completed his first full length crime novel My Darkest Prayer. Follow him on Twitter at @blacklionking73

Hey - My Darkest Prayer is now available! get on that shit

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Shotgun Weather and a Giveaway

I like it when people I respect post reading recommendations and I like it even more when they include my own work in there, so I'd like to toot my own horn a bit and point out that David Whish-Wilson took a minute on FB to call out "the last ten kick-arse 5-star crime books I've read."

In order of recentness those were:

Reconciliation for the Dead by Paul Hardisty
Marlborough Man by Alan Carter
Dirty Girl by Juliet Wills
Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayres (!)
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
The Worst Woman in Sydney by Leigh Straw
The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Darktown by Thomas Mullen
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry.

Fucking thanks, a bunch, David. That's two I owe you after the generous blurb you gave Fierce Bitches.

Well, it's summatime summatime, sum-sum-summatime and I get more reading done this time of year while I'm poolside - I'll embrace the cliche. I take those recs seriously and will give a few of my own here (Old Scores and the other Frank Swann titles should go without saying).

First I savored Donald Ray Pollock's The Heavenly Table. Writing this fine just needs to be chewed well and I took my time with every page. Not nearly as dark and ominous as The Devil All the Time this one draws favorable comparison to Patrick deWitt or Charles Portis with its humor and heart and just damn - so grim, so gross - it's laugh or cry time.

Next I got to Kieran Shea's Off Rock which I touched on last week. Shea's three for three with this smart-ass sci-fi adventure pulp. Remember when he wrote crime fiction? Did you dig it? You'll like this too.

Melissa Ginsburg's Sunset City had been on my radar for years. Like a few years before it was published. I'd heard of this sun-bleached tale of pornography and murder in Houston, Texas (which, excuses me, sounds sleazy even without pornography and murder). I enjoyed the tour of the glitz, gilt and grit of that locale.

Stories too. You know I love short stories. Been dipping my toes into the upcoming Hard Sentences - Alcatraz stories from editors David James Keaton and Joe Clifford. More thoughts on that one when it lands, but I'm also working through The Redemption of Galen Pike, a collection of short fiction by Carys Davies. Not straight-up crime, but many of them have a noirish sensibility - darkness blacker upon reflection than a first-reading may suggest. I've re-read several of the (very) short stories and I dig 'em.

Also just fucking love Jake Hinkson's collected essays on film noir: The Blind Alley. You know I love his novels, but put this up there with Barry Gifford's The Devil Thumbs a Ride, Eddie Muller's Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir and hey even Stephen Hunter's Violent Screen (I like novelists writing about film apparently). You don't have to have a deep knowledge or scholarly interest in film or film noir to appreciate and enjoy Hinkson's insights and observations.

The Colombian Mule is the first in the Alligator books by Massimo Carlotto I've read - after loving the hell out of his Pellegrini books (The Goodbye Kiss and At the End of Dull Day) I'm happy to report that his eye for international criminality remains unflinchingly vicious and bleakly hilarious in this series as well.

Now that it's out I can finally say Jordan Harper's She Rides Shotgun is something you should put your mitts upon right the fuck now. This one delivers on the promise of his short fiction - as good a pummeling about the head and gut as you're bound to enjoy this year.

Released on the same day as Shotgun, Nik Korpon's The Rebellion's Last Traitor which is related to his novella By the Nails of the Warpriest in a way yet to be determined by this sharp tack. Also Joe Clifford's third Jay Porter book Give Up the Dead came out this week - shit, that's a lotta flavor for one week.

My plans for the rest of the summer include ingesting some classics I've recently put my paws upon: Don Carpenter's Hard Rain Falling and Earl Thompson's Tattoo. Plus, how could I not read more Denis Johnson? Fuck, what a loss. So long and thanks for all the books, man.
As well as new books like Court Merrigan's The Broken Country, Thomas Pluck's Bad Boy Boogie, Steph Post's Lightwood, Iain Ryan's The Student, Harry Hunsicker's The Devil's Country and Johnny Shaw's third Jimmy Veeder Fiasco Imperial Valley.

Another new one I've already pleasured myself with? Clayton Lindemuth's Solomon Bull. Lindemuth's is a name I'm surprised I still have to introduce people to. He's got a strong voice and something to say. Something bloody.

So, here's the giveaway opportunity. I'd love to put Clayton's backwood moonshine making, dog-fighting and other violent doings novel My Brother's Destroyer in your hands. You want one, just let me know - I'll mail it to your domicile for free.

For free - c'mon, take me up on it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Z'Darry 'Bout That

Yesterday I watched Tango & Cash featuring Robert Z'Dar.

Then I watched him pop up again in Cherry 2000.

Cherry 2000 starred Melanie Griffith.

And I followed it with another viewing of Mulholland Falls in which she co-stars

alongside Chris Penn and Michael Madsen who play tough guys in a gang -

which of course they also did in Reservoir Dogs.

The gang in Reservoir Dogs also included Edward Bunker

who appeared in Tango & Cash

with Robert Z'Dar.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Tough Guys Always Live With Mom: CriMemoir by Jonathan Ashley

Jonathan Ashley writes tough, vulnerable and funny fiction about criminals and outlaws of various stripes and I very much enjoyed getting to know him personally around a N@B event in St. Louis last year. During that time he talked some about his own brushes with crime and punishment and that made him a natural go-to for me while I was doing Man Out of Prison Month. He responded to my imploring with a piece I thought better fit the CriMemoir series.

Ashley's first two novels are victims of the 280 Steps implosion, but his new book South of Cincinnati is coming this summer from Down & Out Books (hopefully with reprints of The Cost of Doing Business and Out of Mercy soon to follow).

If you live on the East Coast you may have been lucky enough to catch him during the N@B Crawl that took place May 19-21 in Richamond, Washington D.C. and Baltimore hosted by Eryk Pruitt, E. A. Aymar and Nik Korpon respectively. For those of us who couldn't be there Reverend Eryk put together this video of his experience.
Alright, Jon, the floor is yours.

Tough Guys Always Live with Mom
By Jonathan Ashley

I will warn you in advance, I am not a tough guy.

Most ex-cons like to pride themselves on their grit and tolerance for pain, perhaps the few morsels of character and integrity that the system, in all its heinous asininity and various guises (orphanages, prisons, DOC compliant rehabilitation facilities) cannot easily steal from you. There is obviously no shortage of psychological dividends to be proffered, if  a man can still preserve even the most superficial sense of identity once he has been leveled spiritually and financially as most prisoners find themselves when cut off from society for an indefinite amount of days or years. I sometimes regret not trying harder to assimilate into the jail milieu of urban enthusiasm and ultra-violence, but, if I'm being honest, I was scared shitless. I was terrified of jail and all the possibilities that I faced now that I was living in a cell the size of a gutted meth trailer with eleven other men, ages varying from 18 to 70, their crimes unconfirmable; unless someone got real creative and asked a loved one over the phone to do some digging, a convict couldn’t be sure if he was sleeping two feet from a drunk driver or a habitual sex offender.

I learned quickly to keep to myself, and to read the worst westerns and romances ever committed to pulpy paper. If I had my head stuck in a book, a lot of my peers forgot about me. It was a good thing. too. Because the few times anyone tried me, I either backed down or went for a weapon. And backing down from a fight follows you in jail. If you blink when a man clenches his fists, everyone else knows you’re a pushover and will steal you blind and, depending on the facility, fuck you silly.

I was a coward from the first shot of heroin I mainlined to the last day of my four month incarceration, when a woman who loved me very much got up at five AM and poured herself into a one of the most gorgeous black dresses I've ever seen to come retrieve her deadbeat paramour from the Fayette County Detention Center. How did I repay this lovely woman who'd gone to such pains to welcome me back to the world my first day as a free man? Within half an hour, I abandoned her at her house to go score. I'll never forget her crying, sitting on the bedside, pretending like she believed me when I said I was going out for cigarettes, despite the full pack she'd bought me on her way to the jail.

I was a coward when, during visits from my mother - she'd paid a friend to drive her half an hour to see me twice a week and donated a large percent of her retirement and social security checks to my commissary books - I'd promise that I'd finally surrendered, that I was done with drugs and alcohol and everything that accompanied substance abuse. Even as the woeful words would leave my mouth, sitting across from the woman who carried me in her womb for nine months and now wept over what had resulted, i knew the first chance I got, I would get high again.

There is so little romance in the bent life that, often, I curse films and novels that try to get it right. While there are moments in Breaking Bad and Orange is the New Black that do sufficient justice to those of us who've taken the low roads of petty crime and narcotic self-immolation, auteurs rarely capture the daily malaise of petty criminal existence, the sadly predictable disappointments, the nearly unbelievably trite disagreements that result in disfiguring or fatal conflict. However, one novel, the only book I’ve read as many times as Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, paints so accurate a portrait of the kind of life I’d shortly led, and the lucid nightmares to which so many of my now absent friends so easily and sadly resigned themselves.

Don Carpenter, the writer of Hard Rain Falling, like John Kennedy Toole, committed suicide, and one can almost see why after enduring the post-beat Californian’s honest rendition of street life and prison existence. I remember finishing the book on the Croton-Harmon line from New York City to Yonkers where, believe it or not, one of my oldest friends, a policeman, lived and semi-regularly sheltered me from the consequences of my intransigent lifestyle and the grim fates I’d always just barely escaped before calling him in desperation.

I wept openly at least three different times during my silent public readings of the urban masterpiece, in cabs, trains, on park benches. I must’ve looked like a complete whack job to passersby unfamiliar with untreated addiction and the post-traumatic stress of a lifetime of recurring institutionalization. I wept for Carpenter’s lost prisoners, currently incarcerated or struggling to reform on the outside. And I wept for all the tragedies I was forced to remember in reading of these small, disparate lives.

There is one memory which I believe Carpenter would’ve appreciated. A few summers prior to my last bender in New York and my first reading of Hard Rain Calling, I was dog sitting for my father in Lexington, Kentucky, high as groceries, not a care in the world nor a logical thought in my cranium. I received a phone call from one of my least favorite drug dealers. We’ll call him Patrick. Pat and I had met during my four month vacay at FCDC. He was serving a sanction for pissing dirty for the P.O. and I was serving out my misdemeanor time for the same infraction. We kept in touch. When Pat was released, he moved in with his mother. Pat was definitely an ex-con deeply devoted to the pathos of his chosen lifestyle. When we were cell mates, Pat liked to pick on this guy with a clearly undiagnosed mental illness. He’d also steal Ramen noodles from his bunk mate and punch anyone who so much as stared at him for a moment too long. He was tough, but he lived with mom. Now that I think about it, all the tough guys I met always seemed to live with mom.

“If you give me and my girl a ride to re-up, I’ll throw you a tenth of the girl and a tenth of the boy,” Pat said. The guy bore an uncanny resemblance to that British actor with the doghound countenance and boy-band hairdo who played the title role in Preacher. Pat had looks, muscles, charm, but an IQ so low, a medical professional would likely consider the young Caucasian hard-case legally retarded.

Tonight, Pat was offering me free heroin and crack for a six-mile drive and, so he said, maybe thirty minutes of my time. What he did not tell me, not until too late, was that, when we met the two dope importers off Leestown Road on a desolate stretch of suburbia in decline, he planned to approach the window of the white Cadillac, hurriedly hand the big black man a roll of money, and then sprint back to my truck and order me to floor it.

He’d handed his supplier a fifty wrapped around a bunch of ones, acting as if every bill in the wad was the same denomination. We’d just robbed a man whose name haunted the ghetto streets of central Kentucky, a man who’d murdered witnesses before they could testify against him and beaten junkies half to death over a twenty-five dollar debt.

And here he was calling my dealer’s cell phone repeatedly, texting threatening messages, promising to only murder the girlfriend and not rape her first if Pat had me turn the truck around now to return the dope.

“Fuck him,” Pat said. He snorted a line of the heroin off of one of my CD cases then handed the broken plastic, atop which he’d sat the two bags containing the crack and the H, to his smelly, greasy twenty-one-year-old girlfriend who’d been rambling incoherently and alternating between bouts of hysterical weeping and uncontrollable laughter that sounded like a mutilated Hyena howling at the unjust heavens.

I kind of blacked out at this point –I’d been heavily into my drug of choice for several days in a row and now had added crack cocaine and liquor to the mix. When I came to I was alone, spread across the love seat of the car. With my head hanging off the side of the seat and my face pointed out the open driver’s doorway, Pat and his stinky lady friend appeared upside down as they fought in the middle of a cul de sac that bookended some darkened suburban street. Homeowners had gathered near the sidewalk to observe the spectacle of the two crack heads breaking down like federal witnesses. I could see why such a show would be hard to miss. How often do we get to see people, drug addicts or tax-payers, surrender to public nervous breakdowns?

“Where’s my dope?” he asked her. Then he backhanded her and approached the driver’s seat, searching the floorboards frantically for anything that even remotely resembled the white and brown chunks with which so many people I had loved, over the years, used to kill themselves.

The girlfriend stepped behind Pat, massaging his shoulder for a moment and begging him to calm down.

“You let me blame all my boys for stealing my shit all those times.” He turned to face her. “You even tried to blame Jon tonight.”

“He took it,” she wagged her index finger in Pat’s face, “not me.”

Pat hit her again, this time with a closed fist.

While she dropped to her knees, I sat upright and tried to, with what subterfuge a nodding-off junkie can possibly summon, slide toward the wheel and the keys still in the ignition.

More people had gathered outside. Some of them were on their cell phones.

I considered making a break for it, just abandoning Sid and Nancy to their own devices and the police that would surely arrive soon. But, Pat had been good to me, for a dope dealer, that is. “We gotta go,” I said. Pat was now under the car, feeling around for the dope he probably figured his girl had tossed the moment she saw how far off the deep end she’d driven her sugar daddy.

Pat rose and leaned into the car and hissed, “We ain’t going nowhere until I find my dope.”

The girl was still on her knees, crying, “I didn’t take it.”

“Shut up, whore,” he said, stepping toward her.

Before I had to watch him rough the girl up again and live with more of my own cowardice for not intervening, I got behind the wheel, started to turn the key in the ignition.

“Motherfucker,” Pat screamed, knocking me across the seat with one punch and retrieving the keys. He ordered the girlfriend to get in the car then jumped behind the wheel himself, gunning the engine and speeding away right as the sirens sounded in the distance. He turned down a few small streets before finding another cul-de-sac and parking. He hit her again. He hit me again. He told her to pull out her knife and to watch me. He demanded my wallet and I handed it over. He said, “You… Jon, you made me hit her. You took my dope and let her take a beating and now you’re gonna pay to set things right. Baby, you twist that knife into his stomach if he tries to drive off without us.”

“The girl’s been stealing from you ever since you started in with her.” I couldn’t hold my tongue. I’d been punched, threatened, and robbed, and now I’d be the soberest of our unwitting band of moronic rabble-rousers.

He hit me again. I clenched a fist to strike back but she placed the blade of the stiletto against my cheek.

Then came my saving grace. “Get behind the wheel and start the car,” he ordered me as he exited and counted the twenties he’d taken from my wallet. “Be ready when I come out.”

I did as I was told and watched him walk away. I turned to the girl in the passenger seat, her right leg hanging out of the truck. She stared at me with disinterested eyes and began to nod, or, perhaps, pass out from the blunt force trauma to the head she’d suffered. The knife fell from her grip and I immediately started the truck. As I edged along the dead end, she came to and screamed to her boyfriend, “He’s leaving.”

Pat turned from the door he’d been knocking on and begun running down the drive.

I floored it as I swung the wheel and she flew out of the open passenger doorway, slamming into the trunk of a parked Volkswagon. I laughed my ass off. It looked like something from the three stooges.

I didn’t look back. I heard Pat cursing me and threatening to kill me and I just kept laughing as I turned onto the first street I came to, gripping the knife in my hand and knowing that if they came to my place to exact any vengeance, neither would ever lay a hand on me again. I didn’t feel like such a coward, at least for a few moments, after besting the two junkie robbers.

Pat went to jail that night. His girlfriend called me the next morning, offering sexual favors for some drug money. I said, “I take it you didn’t break anything when I tossed you out of that moving vehicle,” then hung up.

I hear Pat’s finally getting out of jail again. After our mutual release date in March, when, laughingly, we’d walked together out of the Lexington jail off Old Frankfort Pike with its medieval stone fa├žade and sinister gothic steeples, he had only remained on the outside for a total of two months. I never went back. Partially because nearly killing that girl and nearly being murdered by her abusive boyfriend were enough, thus far, to shock me into the desire to live as square and straight a life as I can. Sometimes I wonder if Pat will come after me, then I remember that, more than likely, since the girl is now locked up in Ohio, he’ll focus more on replacing her and finding another heroin plug so he can get put back on and start slinging again.

I wonder if he’s going back to live with mom.

Jonathan Ashley is the author of The Cost of Doing Business, Out of Mercy. His latest novel South of Cincinnati will be out this summer from Down & Out Books. Follow him on Twitter at  @JonAshley_Books