HCC 115 - BorderlineLawrence Block
Raves For the Work of Lawrence Block!
Also by Lawrence Block
The Burning Fury
A Fire at Night
Stag Party Girl
Available now from Titan Books
Raves For the Work of LAWRENCE BLOCK!
“Reads like it’s been jolted by factory-fresh defibrillator pads.”
“A first-rate writer.”
“Block grabs you…and never lets go.”
“[The] one writer of mystery and detective fiction who comes close to replacing the irreplaceable John D. MacDonald.”
“The suspense mounts and mounts and mounts…very superior.”
—James M. Cain
“The narrative is layered with detail, the action is handled with Block’s distinctive clarity of style and the ending is a stunning tour de force.”
—New York Times
“Lawrence Block is a master of entertainment.”
“One of the very best writers now working the beat.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Stellar…a master storyteller in top form.”
“Brilliant…For clean, close-to-the-bone prose, the line goes from Dashiell Hammett to James M. Cain to Lawrence Block. He’s that good.”
—Martin Cruz Smith
“No one writes the hard-boiled thriller better than Lawrence Block.”
—San Diego Union
“Lawrence Block is a master of crime fiction.”
“Ratchets up the suspense with breathtaking results as only a skilled, inventive and talented writer can do.”
“Lawrence Block is addictive. Make room on your bookshelf.”
“Remarkable…The suspense is relentless.”
“Lawrence Block is America’s absolute Number One writer of mystery fiction.”
“The reader is riveted to the words, the action.”
“Block’s grasp of character is extraordinarily honest…his combining of the genre requirements has an expert touch.”
“Everything mystery readers love best.”
“If Lawrence Block writes it, I read it.”
“Marvelous…will hold readers gaga with suspense.”
—New York Newsday
“A superior storyteller.”
—San Antonio Express-News
“A smooth, chilling suspense novel that stretches nerves wire-tight before they snap.”
“Block knows how to pace a story and tighten the noose of suspense. He writes sharp dialogue and knows his mean streets.”
—San Francisco Examiner
“He is simply the best at what he does…If you haven’t read him before, you’ve wasted a lot of time. Begin now.”
El Paso was a daylight town, quiet at night, and he walked the streets alone without seeing a single person. He was used to the night, and to silent walks down silent streets. In Tulsa, before the killing, before the little girl who had been so foolish as to ask him the time, he had been essentially a creature of the night. A quiet man. He had no friends in Tulsa. He spoke to no one and no one spoke to him.
Weaver had been a nobody in Tulsa, a man who had never done a thing. Now, walking through El Paso by night, he was at least a somebody for once. He had done something. The something was a horrible thing, but he had done it, and they had put his picture in the newspapers and had broadcast his name over the radio. They called him Dracula, and they called him the Cannibal Killer, but now, for the first time, they knew who he was.
Better to be loathed as a fiend than to be thoroughly ignored, better to be hated than not to be known at all. One act of horror had given direction to his life, had elevated him from nobody to somebody.
He went on walking. He walked surely now, his stride powerful, his arms swinging easily at his side. He was the Angel of Death, he thought. His life had a mission, a strange and terrifying sense of purpose.
He thought of that little girl in Tulsa. Before, that girl had seemed to have been a dreadful mistake, an end. But she was not an end at all. She was a beginning. She was the first person he had killed.
She would not be the last…
OTHER HARD CASE CRIME BOOKS
BY LAWRENCE BLOCK:
A DIET OF TREACLE
THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART
LUCKY AT CARDS
SOME OTHER HARD CASE CRIME BOOKS
YOU WILL ENJOY:
MEMORY by Donald E. Westlake
NOBODY’S ANGEL by Jack Clark
MURDER IS MY BUSINESS by Brett Halliday
QUARRY’S EX by Max Allan Collins
THE CONSUMMATA by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
CHOKE HOLD by Christa Faust
THE COMEDY IS FINISHED by Donald E. Westlake
BLOOD ON THE MINK by Robert Silverberg
FALSE NEGATIVE by Joseph Koenig
THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH by Ariel S. Winter
THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS by James M. Cain
SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT by Max Allan Collins
WEB OF THE CITY by Harlan Ellison
JOYLAND by Stephen King
THE SECRET LIVES OF MARRIED WOMEN by Elissa Wald
THE WRONG QUARRY by Max Allan Collins
A HARD CASE CRIME BOOK
First Hard Case Crime edition: May 2014
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street London se1 0up
in collaboration with Winterfall LLC
Copyright © 1958, 1959, 1962, 1963 by Lawrence Block
Cover painting copyright © 2014 by Michael Koelsch
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Paperback Edition ISBN 978-1-78116-777-9
Hardcover Edition ISBN 978-1-78329-057-4
E-book ISBN 978-1-78116-778-6
The name “Hard Case Crime�
�� and the Hard Case Crime logo are trademarks of Winterfall LLC. Hard Case Crime books are selected and edited by Charles Ardai.
Visit us on the web at www.HardCaseCrime.com
Marty let up on the gas about fifty yards from the Customs shed. He put the clutch on the floor, ground the gears slightly, dropping the big Olds into second. Then his foot eased down on the brake and the car pulled up where it was supposed to. He rolled down his window and let his face relax into an automatic smile.
The guy on duty was a Texas redneck with a hawk nose and a pronounced Adam’s apple. He grinned in recognition. “Anything to declare?”
“There’s two cases of tequila in the trunk,” Marty said. “And a hundred pounds of marijuana under the back seat. That’s about it.”
“Well, hell,” the Customs man said. “Just so you ain’t bringing back a dose or nothing. Go on.”
The Customs shed was just an extra checkpoint, and the men on duty there didn’t knock themselves out. There are, actually, two borders between the United States and Mexico. The official border is easily passable, and no passports or cards of identification are required. The working border is about sixty miles within Mexico, and that is where tourist cards are required and the Customs check is fairly rigorous. The reason for all this is a simple one. The border towns—Juarez and Tijuana and Nueva Laredo and Matamoros—thrive on American commerce. They operate under Mexican law and Mexican laissez-faire, yet they are easily accessible without a scrutinization or a host of red tape.
Marty smiled a final smile at the redneck, dropped the Olds down into first, gunned the motor and popped the clutch. The Olds shot forward, six years old and still the fastest piece of iron on the road. Marty was in Texas now. El Paso. Ciudad Juarez was behind him, behind the Customs shed, on the other side of the border.
He drove along Crescent, took a left at Brantwood, turned right again on Coronado Avenue. He pulled up alongside a parking meter, got out of the car. Someone had left five minutes on the meter for him. But it would take more than five minutes to eat, even in a greasy spoon. Hell, it took five minutes before coffee got cool enough for him to drink it. He dug a nickel out of a pocket of his gray gabardine slacks, stuck it into the meter’s hungry mouth, and crossed the street to the diner.
It had Formica counters, bare hanging light bulbs, a floor of cracked linoleum. A pair of truckers sat at the far end of the counter. One of them, the heavier one, was joking with the waitress. She had big breasts and a pair of washed-out eyes, and she laughed at everything the trucker said. The other trucker wasn’t saying anything. He had his eyes on the girl’s breasts, and you could read his thoughts without half-trying.
Otherwise, the place was empty. Marty found a stool at the other end of the counter from the truckers. He reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a pack of Luckies with two bent cigarettes left in it. He selected one, straightened it out, lodged it between his lips. He left the cigarette pack on the counter and dug a Zippo lighter out of his back pocket. The chrome plating had worn off the lighter. It was a few years older than the Olds parked outside, and, like the Olds, it still worked perfectly. He thumbed the wheel and lit the cigarette. He inhaled, held the strong smoke in his lungs for a few seconds, then blew it at the ceiling.
By this time the waitress realized he was alive. She left the truckers reluctantly, scampered over to Marty. “Morning,” she said. “The usual?”
She smiled when he called her by name. That was silly—everybody called her by name, because her name was embroidered on her white uniform just above her left breast, which was where everybody looked sooner or later. She went over to the window and told the cook she wanted ham and eggs, with the eggs sunny side up. She came back to Marty and leaned on the counter with her elbows. Her mouth was curved in a smile, and her breasts hung over the counter like ripe fruit from a tree.
“You weren’t here yesterday,” she said.
“I was across the border. In Juarez.”
“All day and all night.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “You’re a bad boy,” she said playfully. “Those Mexican girls can give you a disease.”
“I wasn’t with a girl.”
“Then why stay all night? You coulda driven back and slept at your own place. Why stay over?”
“I had business,” he said. He wished she would shut up. Usually she made small talk without making a pest of herself. But right now she was getting on his nerves. She was asking questions, and he didn’t feel like being grilled. He felt like eating a plate of ham and eggs and drinking a cup of coffee.
“Coffee,” he said. “Want to bring it now?”
“Oh, sure. Just a minute.”
She went to the coffee urn and drew a mugful for him. She set it on a saucer, put the saucer in front of him. “Black,” she said. “No cream and no sugar. Right?”
“You should know.”
She was leaning forward now, again. He stirred his coffee with his spoon and tried not to look at her breasts. He couldn’t help it. They were hanging there, ripe fruit for plucking, and they were big and round, and they looked soft and touchable and—
Jesus, he thought, maybe I should have found a Mex girl, got some of it out of my system. Three bucks for a nice hot Mex girl, a wham and a bam and a thank you, Ma’am. But Betty had good breasts, big ones, and she stuck them out at you and you could see their outlines clearly through the uniform, could see the way they twisted the blouse of the uniform slightly out of shape. And she probably wasn’t even wearing a bra; the way she was leaning, the way the breasts looked, and, oh, man!
“Betty,” the trucker said, “c’mere.”
“He’s calling you,” Marty said.
“He can go to hell,” she said. “Those truck drivers. All they want to do is joke dirty and talk dirty and maybe touch you and proposition you. To hell with him.”
“And you don’t want to be touched.”
“Well,” she said.
He looked at her. There was a smile on her lips. She stuck out her tongue, licked her lips like a tiger after a good meal. Her eyes were not so washed-out now. They were a brighter blue, and her hair was spun gold, and her lips warm coral.
“Sometimes I want to be touched,” she said. “It depends who’s doing the touching. It makes a difference.”
The cook broke things up by ringing a little bell. Betty turned at the sound and Marty watched her walk to the window for his ham and eggs. The skirt of her uniform hugged her buttocks, and they swayed as she walked.
She’s doing that on purpose, he thought. Swinging the rump for the same reason she sticks the boobs out.
She brought him his food. The yellow yolks stood up like breasts on a girl, he thought. And he wished he could stop thinking about girls in general and breasts in particular. He took his silverware, wiped it with a paper napkin, attacked the food. Betty stood there and watched him eat. It was annoying. He looked up at her, letting part of the annoyance show in his eyes, and she turned away and walked back to the two truckers. They wanted more coffee, and they wanted to talk to Betty.
He was hungry and he ate in a hurry. The coffee was barely warm when he got around to it, and that was the way he liked it. Some men damn near burned their mouths with coffee. He liked it warm, but not hot. That way you got the flavor of it.
He needed a second cup of coffee. He cleared his throat, once, and Betty turned away from the truckers and hurried after him. She filled his cup and gave it back to him, her eyes wide, warm.
“You were in Juarez on business,” she said.
“What kind of business?”
He thought of telling her to go to hell. “Private business,” he said.
“You in business for yourself?”
He permitted himself to smile. “You could call it that.”
“What kind of business? Monkey business? S
ometimes that’s the best kind, you know.”
He took his last cigarette from the pack on the counter. He spun the wheel of the Zippo, lit the cigarette. “I’m a gambler,” he said. “I went to Juarez to play poker. I played until the game broke up. Then I came back to El Paso.”
“You’re a gambler?”
“You stayed there all that time for a poker game?”
He didn’t answer. He remembered the basement room at Navarro’s house, air-conditioned, plush chairs, a green-shaded light hanging from the ceiling. No clock on the wall. Chips on the table, chips that went back and forth. Now it was Friday morning. Around ten Wednesday night he had sat down at the table with five hundred dollars worth of chips. Two hours ago he had cashed in twenty-eight hundred dollars. Now it was in a money belt around his waist. He remembered hand after hand after hand, voices that said only the words needed to bet and raise and call and fold.
“I stayed there all that time,” he said. “For a poker game.”
“You usually win?”
“I’m a gambler,” he said, annoyed again, annoyed with the silly words and the big breasts and the thorough lack of subtlety. “Of course I usually win. Otherwise I’d do something else for a living.”
She digested this. He stood up, tired of the girl, tired of the diner, tired of the clothes he’d been wearing since Wednesday. He dug into a pants pocket, found a loose single to cover the food and coffee. He added a quarter for the girl.
“You’re a gambler,” she said.
He thought that if she leaned over any further, she was going to drill boob-shaped holes in the counter’s Formica top. He picked up his cigarette from the little glass ashtray and put it between his lips.
“You could gamble on me,” she said. “You could try your luck.”
He reached out a hand and touched her breast with it. The flesh was firm, unyielding. He wanted to squeeze, to caress it.
Instead, he let go.
“I’m a gambler,” he said. “But I never play sure things.”
He turned around and left the diner. She yelled something dirty after him, something dirty enough to make the truckers spin on their stools and laugh. Outside, he crossed the street to the Olds, opened the door and got behind the wheel. He put his key in the ignition, started the car, pulled away from the curb.