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.
I knew Breit hated to be awakened before nine, so I
phoned him at 8:30 from the lobby of the City‑County Building. The hawwnkks and brakkk‑k‑k‑s from his end could have been a walrus receiving
the Heimlich maneuver.
"Detectives in Denver are unlicensed," I
said. "Anyone can be one. Even an ex‑felon illiterate oaf like me. They
were going to start licensing them a couple years ago but the state board that
controls licensing said detectives were not important enough, at least not as
important as beauticians, so they didn't." It had taken me about fifteen
minutes to learn this as I wandered from office to office. "But if you're
going to take clients and accept checks, you have to register a trade name, and
now that I've been around here asking, the tax guys know you're out there. I
thought Nasty John's Detective Agency didn't have a real good salesy ring to
it, know what I'm saying?"
"Yeah." Hrawk‑bbb‑hrawk‑k‑k. "Yeah. All right, well, give us a name, list
yourself as fifty percent owner. Some name someone your age would like."
"Beer and Chicks Detective Agency."
"You know what I mean."
I did, so I called Leigh, since she's my consultant
on what's cool. It was also my chance to make sure she was on her way to
school, which she was.
"Something that comes off 'private eye',"
she said. "With like a real good positive word. Mad Sick Eye."
"Sounds like an ophthalmologist."
"Then you think of something, and I'll tell you why it's lame."
"Maybe Chillin' Eyes?" I ventured.
"Cause all God's chilluns gots eyes?"
I laughed. "Educate me."
"Chill is over. Chillin' is so over the preps and the Jesusoids use it. Chill
Eyes would be okay on your tax documents, as long as you don't say it out in
"Deal," I said. "Thanks. Consider
yourself patted on the head and told to stay in school because you're a good
"Momster already did that this morning. Now I
got to get back with my girls."
A voice in the background shrieked, "Tell him
he's cute," just before Leigh added, "So fuck off," and hung up.
I love my little sister.
Tax registration for Chill Eyes was a state thing
so I had to go a few blocks east to the office buildings by the Capitol to do
that, but it was really pretty simple. Just as I finished the phone rang, and
it was Breit. "Hey," he said, "I made some phone calls. You're
right, there's no detective licensing in Colorado."
"Wow, I sure lucked out making that one up, hunh?"
Hrawk‑ftooth. "The last time I talked to a detective I know here in Denver—he
has a big agency and a lot of good ex‑cop connections, and he and I go way
back—" There was about two minutes of Breit jabbering about the guy's
cousins and connections and friends before he said, "So I thought he'd
gotten licensing through but it turned out he didn't."
At thirty‑five an hour, he could read me the phone
book and I'd agree with him. When I was sure he was done, I told him we were
now Chill Eyes.
"Good. Now about the gun permit, I thought
since I screwed things up so badly with sending you after the detective permit
that doesn't exist, I'd straighten things out on the gun thing by making some
calls." A short burst of snotty noise segued into a gasp followed by Fuck! He'd awakened enough to blow his nose.
While he was talking and I was all unh‑hunh I'm
listening, I'd gotten into my old
p.o.s Cutlass, backed it out, and steered back into the Golden Triangle, that
impossible tangle of streets just across Colfax from the south end of downtown,
where the streets are all fucked up into short blocks among busy streets
meeting at weird angles.
As I drove around looking for an open meter, Breit
told me the names of like six people I should talk to, and everything he knew
about their cousins, and several important legal principles, and a couple
stories about the detective business, and for all I know, since I paid no
attention, probably his mommy's recipe for lemon meringue pie. I thanked him
and told him I'd sure try that, just about the time I finally parked way the
fuck down on Eleventh Avenue, near Speer.
It was five blocks back but not a bad walk today;
that warm-November weather was still hanging on, the bright sun gleaming on all
those government buildings and business towers. Lots of snow on the mountains
in the distance, but here among the red and gold trees, nobody was wearing a
coat, and even the middle‑aged office ladies were bravely making do with just
After I cleared the metal detector at the Sheriff's
office, I took a number, snagged a brochure from the rack, sat in a corner
close to the counter, read the brochure with a tenth of my brain and listened
hard with the rest. Very politely, the brochure said that "You have to
have all this crap in order and then we can just say no anyway just because we
feel like acting retarded."
I heard one Denver deputy turned down a vet just
back from someplace in the Middle East, on grounds that he'd only used a gun in
the army and hadn't ever had an NRA course.
Then a woman deputy told this tiny little woman,
whose husband had beat her with a bat, that it was "not in the public
interest" for her to get a permit, and kept trying to give her the number
for a shelter, and wouldn't listen at all when the woman tried to say, But
it's my house. I paid for it. He moved into it and now he's
hitting me, stealing from me, I'm afraid he's going to hurt my kids. It's my house, and when I tell him to leave, I want
to have a gun handy.
Little Miss Deputyette Fucktard just kept talking
about how the people at the shelter were wonderful and telling the tiny little
lady how much she cared, and trying to hug her and be all supportive. It was
like something my mother would do—useless, but she wanted credit for it.
Obviously Denver didn't want to give out any
If I gave a shit, I'd have to agree with Breit
about guns, and I'm careful never to agree with Breit, so I don't give a shit.
I just told the guard I needed to go home for more paperwork, handed him my
little number back, and got my quiet polite ass out of there.
I'd found a great big loophole in that brochure.
Momster owned a little piece of worthless property up in Larimer County, in a
bend of the Big Thomson River. She'd been in on a plan with five friends to
start a commune back around the time I was born, and originally they'd bought
About half the property was pretty much vertical,
cliffs and bluff faces and breaking‑away redrock, and the rest divided between
bare redrock and sandy bottomland that flooded in every rainstorm. That had
been why it was so cheap for Momster and her friends to buy it back then, and
it was also why, over the years since, it had been cheap for her to buy out her
friends' shares, sometimes for cash, sometimes for a dollar over the table and
a pile of weed under. Now she was sole owner of some rocks and sand and a few
pathetic aspens and cottonwoods, a patch of dirt that nobody could build on
But that land was there, in Larimer County, right
up near the Wyoming state line, at the corner of Way Out and Too Far you might
say, and she'd kept the taxes up, and the Colorado rules said I could get a
permit in any county where my immediate family owned property. I had a feeling
the sheriff'd be a little friendlier up there, even though Fort Collins, the
county seat, was a fairly liberal college town.
I also needed proof that I'd completed a firearms
course, so when I swung by the house for the tax record on Momster's Folly, I
picked up my certificates and merit badge sash from the Boy Scouts; I'd had the
merit badges for Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting.
Then I caught Santa Fe north to 25, and 25 right up
to Fort Collins, maybe fifty miles in about forty minutes, a gorgeous drive on
a nice fall day, with the harvest all in, the mountains shining in the west,
and not a statey in sight.
At Larimer County Sheriff's Office, the property
tax receipt and my merit badge sheets were all it took to get a concealed carry
permit, at least when the clerk on duty was this thirty‑something bleached
blonde in a stretchy pink top who also told me where her six favorite bars were
in Fort Collins, and that Fort Collins might look kind of small‑town but it
partied real crazy, and about how she was just too alive to go out for coffee
and dinner with old men because she liked to dance and have a good time. I
smiled a lot, and it was a slow Wednesday, and my permit went right through. I
managed not to think thank god it's easy go get a gun up here, they've got a
serious cougar problem until I was
actually back in my Olds p.o.s.
I checked the clock; 11:42 a.m. Breit had said he
wanted a progress report by one. I called him and told him what I'd done. He
laughed, and though he didn't say "thanks" or "good job,"
which might have made his dick fall off, he did tell me to fill up my tank on
the 1919 account debit card.
I walked into Nasty John's half an hour early for
my shift. Breit and Megan were at the counter, talking to what seemed to be a
pretty girl, till she turned around and I saw it was my sister.
I'd come bounding through the door in a real good
mood, but when I saw that it was Leigh I slowed way down. Serious trouble at
But then Megan hit the big piece of paper between
them with the APPROVED stamp, and I saw it was a poster for Fall Dance Concert, Englewood High School.
"Impressive poster," I said.
"Definitely," Leigh said.
"Understandable by a primitive man such as yourself, and brilliantly
"Meaning you designed it?"
"I had to. Who else was going to do any kind
of job? I mean, it's fucking high school, the teacher wanted a picture of
dancing pirates, to show our old Pirate spirit, you know? So in a school full
of fucktards, who else was going to do it?"
"It's very cool and elegant and looks
professional as all shit," Megan said, "and don't let your brother
spoil that for you."
"Hey, I think it looks good too—"
"Not even when he says that."
"Really?" Leigh asked, ignoring me.
"You think it looks good?"
Megan nodded emphatically. "Really. Better
than half the things in my advertising class. Not to mention so well done even
Hal can see that it's well done."
"Hey," I said, feebly. They ignored that
Leigh was obviously excited that Megan had said she
liked it. "I scared them all, told them I was going to headline it NUBILE JAILBAIT IN LEOTARDS, DIRTY OLD MEN
WELCOME, so they were so relieved to see what I actually did do, they didn't fuck around with it
Breit laughed. "Hal, we need a full‑time evil
person on the staff, so let me know when Leigh's old enough to work full time.
Meanwhile I need you for about five minutes in the back room."
His back, visible around and through his hot pink
wifebeater (2XL, according to the tag that stuck out), looked like shag carpet
over lumpy linoleum, and his ass looked like two pigs fighting in a sack. He
closed the door and said, "What you did to get your carry permit was what
I mean about intelligently not following orders. You have $175 coming for the
morning's work, and I'll have more instructions for you soon. Something more
interesting I hope." He stuck out his hand, and, what the fuck, I shook
it. Didn't even wipe my own hand on my pants till he'd left the room.