Publisher's Weekly, Starred Review
Rick Mofina's Books
Kate Page series
Jack Gannon series
The Panic Zone
Jason Wade series
The Dying Hour
No Way Back
Blood of Others
If Angels Fall
Winner of the 2006 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story.
Now available as an e-single!
May 29, 2011
Publisher: Carrick Publishing
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords
Read an excerpt below.
First featured in the anthology Murder in Vegas: New Crime Tales of Gambling and Desperation, Edited by Michael Connelly, Forge Books, 2005. Also featured in Deadly Bride and 21 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories, Edited by Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Forge Books
Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Forge Books
Jessie Scout tightened her grip on the wheel of the armored car when she spotted her crew members, Gask and Perez, emerging from the casino lobby. Their canvas bags were now empty of cash. Another delivery done.
Relax, she told herself.
Her utility belt and the holster cradling her Glock gave a leathery squeak as she ran a perimeter check of the mirrors around their truck. All clear. Wait. A stranger was getting way too close to her.
“Bobby? Hey Bob, check this out, buddy!” A man laughed.
Scout picked them up, distorted on the driver’s side convex mirror. A couple of all-night rollers. White guys. Forties. Mid-westerners. Mid-management. Suburban. Wife and kids back home. Skip the buffet, Skippy. Bloody Marys for breakfast. Riding higher than the morning desert sun. Don’t come near the truck. Don’t you dare.
“Hey Bob. Get this.” The first one is reaching into his pocket.
Scout’s right hand brushed the butt of her Glock. Her two crew members were still far off on her right side. They can’t see the guy or the flash of metal in his hand. He’s too close.
“What’s the pay off if I play a dollar here? Ha-ha.”
He starts to fiddle with a gunport. Jerk. Scout spanks the horn. He recoils, his reddening face contorting in anger aimed up at her as he passes by the front of the truck, hands up, palms open.
“What’s a matter? Can’t you take a joke?”
Scout eyeballs him hard and cold from behind her dark glasses.
He’s mesmerized. She’s a young goddess. Tanned, high cheek bones. Chestnut hair, long and braided. Her face betrays nothing. He concedes he is out of his league. No fun here. The rollers walk away.
She heard keys jingle then the tap of metal on the steel passenger door. It was Gask and Perez, their faces moist, their shirts darkened with sweat under their armpits. “C’mon, Scout, we’re cookin’ here,” Gask shouted over the idling motor, air conditioner and the truck’s sound-absorbing armor.
Scout unlocked the doors from the inside. Gask heaved himself into the passenger seat. Perez sprung up the step of the side delivery door, into the rear with the money. Both men locked their doors as Jessie eased the truck down the casino’s driveway and onto Las Vegas Boulevard.
“What’s the problem, you hittin’ the horn Scout?” Gask studied his clipboard, then shouted through the sliding viewer window of the steel security wall separating the cab and the rear of the truck. “Next drop is ATMS, Perez. Got it?”
“I asked you, what’s the problem, Scout?”
“I think you still don’t know what you’re doing do you?”
Scout didn’t answer. Gask’s face hardened.
“I swear to God, I don’t know why they hire you people.”
Scout said nothing.
“My last week on the job and this is what you give me?”
“I said it was no problem.”
“You sure? You seem a little tense today. Is it a woman thing?”
Scout rolled her eyes. What a pig. “A tourist was touching the truck. I scolded him. He backed off. No problem.”
“Fine. Put it in the log. Time. Place. Description. Incident. I’m retiring with a spotless record. Got it. Christ, you got a brain in there?”
“I know the procedure”
“As long as you’re sure,” he grunted. “Call in the drop.”
Scout grabbed the radio handset and said: “Ten sixty-five.”
“Go sixty-five,” the radio responded.
“Ten four, sixty-five.”
Gask shifted in his seat. “Damn gun, digging into me.” He removed his uniform cap and dragged the back of his hairy forearm over his forehead. “You got the AC on full, Scout? You got it up full?”
“You sure you know how to operate that thing. Might be complicated for someone like you.”
Scout concentrated on the road. Gask had been her crew chief since she was hired as a driver for U.S. Forged Armored Inc., four months ago. Today was his first day back from a vacation and he was bursting to tell her and Perez about it that morning at the terminal while downing his ritual breakfast of chocolate glazed donuts. They were finishing up coffee, ready to head out on deliveries.
“Know where I went, Scout?” he’d asked.
As if she cared.
“Aryanfest,” he sucked on his teeth, working them over with a toothpick. “Up north, near your old reserve. Pretty country. Lot’s of white. On the mountaintops. We burned a cross,” Gask smiled. “Once I punch out of this job, I’m going to buy me a lake cabin near the border.”
Scout and Perez looked at each other, saying nothing. Gask did not keep his beliefs secret. Experience taught them to avoid trigger topics like Martin Luthur King, the Pope, Waco, Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma City, or civil rights. Scout could deal with his insults but despised the way Gask treated Perez, who had three years with the company.
Gil Perez was a quiet, soft-spoken father of two little girls. He was loyal, honest. Hard working. Dreamed of starting his own car wash business, but one day he made the mistake of telling Gask, who’d spit on his dream every chance he could.
“Ain’t gonna happen for you, Re-Fried. You just don’t have what it takes. Trust me. I know you, your abilities. It exceeds the reach of your people. Scout’s too. In both cases, your folks generally lack the motivation, the dedication, the drive of red-blooded Americans like me to succeed. You’d best invest all your energy in your job here and maybe one day, if you’re real lucky, which I doubt, but maybe one day, you’ll have your own crew like me.”
Scout shuddered at the notion of anyone making themselves in the image of Elmer Gask, Forged’s most senior guard and legendary asshole. According to the dinosaurs who knew Gask’s story, Elmer was Mississippi white trash, who’s family moved in the night to avoid debts. Gask’s granddaddy was a Grand Dragon who oversaw the fire-bombing of churches before he died of complications arising from syphilis. Gask was a former bull with the Nevada State prison system, fired for severely beating a black con.
Then he was hired at U.S. Forged where he earned mythic status. Over his twenty-two years on the job, Gask safely moved up to $20 million daily among the casinos and banks of Las Vegas without a single dollar loss. Not a cent. There had been attempts. Three men had died in botched hits on Gask’s watch. Two drifters from Minnesota in ‘88 when they jumped him and his partner making a $2-million drop at the Nugget. In 1983, Gask shot dead a 24-year-old Brit named Fitz-something, who was AWOL and wired on LSD when he tried to run off with two bags of newly-minted $100 bills outside Ceasars.
No one had, or would, win against Gask. He was the money mover king of Las Vegas. He kept the casinos lubricated, kept things humming. In this town, where every move was a gamble, Gask had the edge and he enlightened every newcomer that his greatness was the reason U.S. Forged entrusted him with the heaviest deliveries and rookie staff. He knew the business and its vulnerabilities, how to inventory a casino during a drop. How to scan faces and sense trouble like a county sheriff’s bloodhound. Gask had no family. No wife. No kids. He was the job. U.S. Forged profited by his intense dedication and bigoted intimidation. All packaged in a six-foot-two-inch, two-hundred-thirty-pound button-straining frame.
The cost: $33,500 per anum. With a $22,000 retirement bonus coming his way for his twenty-two ‘loss-free’ years of service.
Moving north along The Strip, they stopped for a red light near the Hacienda. Gask scanned his clipboard. “We gotta load six ATMs at the next drop. Best use the dolly Re-Fried.”
Perez’s face appeared at the viewer window.
“Don’t call me Re-Fried, Elmer, please.”
Gask’s eyebrows ascended. “Why’s that?”
“Because I don’t like it.”
“You don’t like it?” Gask watched the casinos roll by.
“Call me Gil, or Perez, please.”
“Or what? You gonna complain to the ACLU?” Gask bit hard on his toothpick. “You forget who you’re talking to?”
“I’m just making a respectful request.”
Gask sucked on his teeth. The muscles of his lower jaw pulsated.
“Well, well, well,” he said as they passed the mammoth Excalibur with its fairytale turrets. “Here I am in 1993, crew chief of ‘Gil please don’t call me Re-Fried Perez and Pocahontas.’ Ain’t America the land of equal opportunity. This is what I get for my last week on the job? Attitude from the two of you.” Gask shook his head. “And I get this shit-hole truck today, a heavy day. Still no transmitter. How many times have I told Rat to fix the goddammed transmitter in this one? Today I get the bottom of the heap.”
Gask had deliberately not mentioned that Scout had alerted him to the fact they were skedded to have this truck weeks ago. He couldn’t stomach anyone telling him anything, let alone a woman. Even worse, a Native American woman. He ignored her. The truck they had was a far cry from the war wagons they usually used. Today they had the company’s ten-year-old armor-plated Econoline van. The back up. Each crew used it for one shift every second week while the new trucks were serviced. But Scout thought it best not to debate facts. Let him rant.
“Nothing better happen today on my goddamn watch, right Scout?”
She didn’t answer.
He looked at her. “What’s with you?”
“Nothing? I don’t think so.”
Gask sensed something wasn’t right. He was sniffing at something, Something about her was eating at him, something he couldn’t quite figure. She was as indifferent as she was on every shift. Maybe it was because he’d been away a week? He kept staring.
“Aren’t you embarrassed riding in this tin can today, Scout?”
“I’m embarrassed riding with you today, yes.”
Scout knew what Gask was thinking, that she was playing with him and he liked it. She was a challenge to him, an enigma. He knew virtually nothing about her. She said little and rarely smiled. But she knew men like Gask. Knew what they wanted. They told her with their eyes. She knew Gask enjoyed looking at her. Especially now. His eyes had lit on her uniform where a button had come undone offering a glimpse of her ample breast. Firm and dark, bouncing in her bra until she caught him staring and without a hint of shame, buttoned her shirt. Gask sucked on his teeth.
“You got a boyfriend, Scout?”
“I don’t need one.”
“Maybe you don’t know what you need.”
She said nothing and gazed beyond the glitz of The Strip west to the Spring Mountains, searching for answers. The meaning of her life. Jessica Mary Scout. Born in Browning, Montana. Her mother, Angela Scout, was Blackfoot. Her father was German, a philosophy student on exchange at MSU. He was conducting field research on Native American mysticism at the reserve when he met Angela. He was going to marry her and take her to Berlin. The day Jessie was born he borrowed a truck and was driving to the hospital. He swerved to miss a rabbit, the truck rolled. He was killed. Jessie’s mother was never the same. Her heart was broken and she had buried a piece of it with the man she loved.
Jessie had grown up accepting her life had brought death.
One of the old women called it the black wind, the bringer of misfortune. And when Jessie was ten, the old woman told her that it would never leave her until the Lightning Rider came for her.
“Grandmother, how will I know him?”
“You will see with your eyes and know in your heart, child.”
Until that time, the black wind would always be with her. Whispering. Laughing. Jessie began seeing it. Straw in a black wind. Hearing it in a crow’s cry. Felt its presence. She was its harbinger. This was her destiny. Did the mountains know, she wondered, for they reached back to her home.
Jessie had lived most of her life in Browning with her mother. She missed her. Ached for her sad sweet smile, her fragrance, her gentle hands, the way she filled their house with the aroma of bannock. She missed her voice. Was it out there in the mountains? She listened for it, but heard nothing. Jessie yearned at this moment to be with her mother. To ask her. Would it always be true, what the old woman said? Don’t think about it. But the black wind was kicking up, making her remember other times.
Several years after her father’s death, Jessie’s mother had a second child. A baby girl she’d named, Olivia. The father was an alcoholic trucker Angela had met at a bar in Shelby. When Angela was in the hospital having Olivia, the trucker raped Jessie. After he finished, he threatened to kill them all if she told. Jessie was eleven. She didn’t tell. Then one winter day, they got word his rig had crashed near Standoff. He was dead. Angela locked herself away to mourn him as the cold winds blew down from the Bitteroot mountains.
As the armored car passed The Stardust, Jessie tried to drive the memories back. It was futile. Even now, a world away in Las Vegas. Please Olivia. Please . . . the wind . . the black wind was there . . scattering the snow. Blinding. Biting. The black wind was pushing her, punching her. Jessie was walking as fast as she could. The wind was stealing her breath. Snow melted in her eyes, blurring her vision. Faster. Walk faster. Holding her baby sister to her chest. Olivia naked against her skin. Feeling her tiny warmth. Growing colder. Wrapped in her shirt, worn coat, old blankets. Icy wind jabbing at Olivia through the holes. The halo of the car’s lights. Snow crunching under its tires as it crept beside her. Warmth spilling from it when the window dropped. “Where you going, there?” asked the Montana Highway Patrol officer. Jessie’s face was numb. “My sister’s sick.” The car squeaked to a halt. The door opened. “You got a baby under there! Let me see. Jesus! Get in. I’ll take you to the hospital in Cut Bank!” He was a young cop. Concern on his face. The rhythm of the wipers. He said things into his radio. The smell of his cologne. Her skin thawing, tingling and itching. Olivia is blue. Her eyes are wide open. She does not move. She does not breathe. The black wind is blowing and the siren was screaming and screaming.
The armored car passed The Mirage. Jessie liked the way it caught the sun. She shrugged Gask off. People like Gask didn’t intimidate her. She feared no one. For the knowledge she possessed could not be measured by the twenty six years of her life, a life steeped in pain, a life broiling with cosmic forces and ancient truths. Her heart had travelled to regions few could conjure in dreams. It was reflected in her photo ID card clipped to her chest. Her pretty face was a mystery. A glint of arrogance in her eyes that squinted slightly to offer a smile. Or was it a sneer, one that revealed to people like Gask a hard fact they couldn’t bear: They were insignificant. Jessie’s face was a manifestation of righteous contempt for every injustice that had befallen her. It held a vengeful calm. Because she had purchased secrets. Paid in full with her tears. Her blood. Her life. She had come to Las Vegas, a city of risk, not to gamble.
But to collect.