A novel in progress by John Barnes. Roughly 2000 word chunks posted every Tuesday. Aggregated into chapters now and then for the convenience of people joining later. Since it's a blog, start reading with the oldest posts first.
Genre is hardboiled mystery,language and subject matter not kid-suitable.
Just when the calculus was getting exciting and
they were about to prove to me that trig functions were infinitely
differentiable, which I'd been worrying about since I was a little bastard,
Breit came in. The top of his head was a slightly different shade of brick red
because he'd been out in the sun. He looked way too fucking cheerful.
Megan said, "Too big to be a space station,
Luke," and I looked down for a second because she'd nearly made me crack
up, and if she had, he'd've insisted on having us explain the joke, because no
matter what Breit claimed, he had no sense of humor about himself at all.
Behind his thick hornrims, John Breit had baggy
eyes that wouldn't have been out of place on a basset hound, and his face was
covered with big brown freckles all the way up to that brick-red patch of scalp
nested in his messy gray hair. His squidgy, fleshy nose flowed almost down to
his thick liver lips. A row of proto-chins hung from his usually-sorta-shaved
jaw. He must have had some serious muscle once -- biceps, triceps, and quads
stuck out of all that lard—but nowadays his high pants made him look like a
cinched-in beach ball.
He stopped to chat with Lang, who for some
inexplicable reason liked Breit. They traded a couple obscure jokes (I couldn't
hear them, but all their jokes to each other were obscure), laughed, and shook
hands about something or other.
Breit waddled on up to the counter. "Take the
counter, Megan. Dim, you and I need to talk. "
I trailed after him into the back room. Like I said,
he's an asshole, and you'll flap your arms and fly to the moon before you ever
hear him say please or thank you. That Dim nickname is his idea, too. Okay, I'm
Harold Henry Dimmesdale, and Harold and Henry aren't common names for people my
age, but Hal is a nickname for either one. So is Harry, and that would be fine
Instead, I am called "Dim" by the man who
insists on making people order Hot Wet Redheads and Peter Yankers.
Did I mention he's so ugly his mirror goes blue
screen when it hears him coming?
When I first got out of Cañon, I didn't know a
thing about Breit except that Coach Park had talked him into giving me this
job; I was prepared to love the guy, and it took almost a week for me to begin
to despise him.
In the backroom he handed me a printed list of
#1. Obtain a Denver Private Investigator's License.
Draw from 1919 account.
#2. Obtain a concealed carry permit for Denver. Draw
from 1919 account.
#3. Prepare list of persons who pose obstacles to
this process for Mr. Breit.
I asked, "What's this 1919 account?"
He handed me a checkbook and an ATM Visa. "The
account number ends in 1919. Here's the paperwork; I'll take it in first thing
tomorrow morning. I'm setting you up to be a cosigner—you can write checks, use
the ATM or the card as needed—'as needed' is defined by 'Would John Breit want
me to do this?' If you're not sure, spend it and we'll square it later. I don't
want a case going south because you were worried about getting a cab or a hotel
room or taking a source to a pricey lunch. I know you're not stupid or
dishonest enough to abuse this."
See, even when he was paying a compliment, he had
to do it like that, instead of saying something normal like I trust you. Asshole.
But. Oh. Well. I asked, "All right, what's the
"Start on it first thing tomorrow and it's
okay to be late for your shift to get it done, I can cover. Keep track of your
time to the quarter hour. Don't exploit me and don't stint yourself. On this I
pay thirty-five an hour plus expenses."
He had definitely gotten my attention. "Okay," I said, "next
question, what's up with number three here on the list?"
"I still have a fair bit of juice in this
town," he said, "and you can figure the Denver Sheriff will kick up a
fuss about a felon picking up a detective's license and a concealed carry
permit, because he's a tight-ass who doesn't really believe in the Second—well,
in a better world."
was a relief. I had been thinking oh jesus fuck, I'm in for ten minutes of his
anti-gun-control lecture. But In a better world was the sound Breit emitted when he caught himself
before a tirade. For the first month I'd known him I'd wanted to scream
"In a better world what?!" but nowadays it was my favorite phrase of his, since it meant he was
leaving some topic alone.
He groaned and stretched, or at least he put his
arms over his head and sort of flailed backwards like a gigantic baby, and I
was guessing that somewhere under all that lard, his spine was decompressing a
little. "Christ, I'm old and fat."
I never argue when people are right.
He sighed. "Anyway, anyone tries to roadblock
you, call me, I'll make a few calls and teach a new generation of bureaucrats
not to fuck with me."
"Sounds good. So—um, we're going into the
detective business?" I tried to keep from noticing this was at least not dull and pretty
damn cool. Me, a detective, like in the movies. Instead of me, a fucked up
ex-con small-college jock, like in real life.
"You're going in, Dim, I'm getting back in. I'm actually licensed in Cali, New York, New Jersey, and Penn. It
used to be the main thing I did." He grinned, showing his great big yellow
Bucky Beaver teeth. "I need one good guy I can trust to follow my
instructions intelligently—or not
follow them when that's the
intelligent thing to do." Breit's smile signaled ask about this, this
is cool, so I shut up and didn't
let him catch me looking interested.
I was home just when I said I'd be, which was good
because Leigh was defending my dinner. My kid sister had made up two family
size boxes of mac and cheese, stirred it up with shredded mozzarella, and
thrown in a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, a package of dry onion soup, and a
big pack of that fake crab meat that is actually Orange Roughy a la Lawnmower,
and had it baking in the oven for an hour, so the whole place smelled good and
like regular people food. Now she was standing in front of the oven yelling at
Momster that there wasn't fucking time! and anyway nobody shouldn't have to eat none of that organic shit! (She doesn't really talk like that except when
she's being the leader of her pack, except when it will piss off Momster, which
was what it was doing now).
Momster had gotten it into her head to throw out
all that good casserole and serve me up some organic tofu straight from the
fridge, on top of a pile of wilted vegetables she'd been meaning to do
something with, and pour some weird green glop from the health food store over
I said, "Leigh and me are going to have that
great casserole she's fixed, because one, I'm hungry, two, Leigh is right and I
don't have time, and three, she's
a great cook and I want to eat her
Momster went off to her bedroom to throw things
around and yell. Leigh threw three big ladles of that wonderful orangey glop
onto my plate and two onto hers while I poured us some orange juice from the
fridge. Then she smeared the casserole around a bit so it would cool faster,
tossed some Chung King crispy noodles on top and added a generous sprinkling of
For a few minutes we just shoveled it in. Momster
eventually returned silently, got a plate, dished up some of her
tofu-and-green-slime salad, and picked at it for a bit; then she took a scoop
of the casserole, glaring at it but eating it.
"This is really good," I said, so my
sister shot me the finger. She hates me, but if I tell her I like something she
cooked, she'll make more of it.
Momster had seconds on the casserole, and so did I.
Leigh said, "Momster, tell Mister Jailbird I need nineteen dollars for
school art supplies and you didn't have the cash on hand because there was a
deal on beer at Scooter's."
I pulled out my wallet and slipped out a twenty; it
had been what I'd been planning to eat on the next day, but that's what ATMs
are for, and payday was Friday anyway. I slid it across the table to Leigh
without looking at her.
"Oh, and Momster, you can also tell Mister
Jailbird that I'll be out a little late because I have a rehearsal for the
school dance concert."
"Would it be all right for me to attend
it?" I said, trying to keep it sounding casual. "I mean, in your opinion, Momster, the concert, not the rehearsal,
do you think I could get away with going to it?"
"Oh, good, Mister Jailbird gets a chance to
check out the nubile jailbait," Leigh said, "On November 19th at
"I'll never remember," Momster said,
"they always want me to remember all these dates and times, so fascist.
Just tell me on the day."
"That's okay," Leigh said. " Mister
Jailbird will get you there. It's part of being the dad he thinks Dad should
have been." She shot me the finger again, so I resolved I'd get there—and
make Momster come—no matter what.
"You sound very bitchy and harsh and
judgmental," Momster said to Leigh.
"She is very bitchy and harsh and judgmental, Momster," I said, and
leaned forward to load more delicious orange glop onto the plate. "Also a
great cook, and I'm guessing a better than decent dancer. I'm proud as all shit
of the evil little bitch."
"Ouch, ouch," Momster said.
"Language like that just makes the world harsher."
Leigh was smiling.
I grabbed up my backpack. "Leigh, thanks for
telling me you'd be late, and why, and thanks a million for that dinner."
Not wanting to stick around after I'd said anything nice to her, and risk her
throwing something, I was out the door, across the porch, and down into the old
lumpy brown Olds Cutlass Supreme that Breit had advanced me the cash for. I'd
thought about getting a DON'T LAUGH IT'S PAID FOR bumper sticker, but I wasn't
sure the rusty bumper was strong enough to hold it.