I’m damn pleased to announce that the Crime Cafe podcast resumes soon! (I’m following Mark Twain’s edict that if you substitute “damn” for the word “very”, your writing will improve tremendously.) And I’m damn glad that we have author/journalist/screenwriter/graphic novelist Andy Raush as the first guest on Season Five of the podcast. He’s provided an excerpt from his novella Bloody Sheets for your amusement and he’s (of course) doing a giveaway!
Andy has damn kindly bundled his novella with the anthology he co-edited with Chris Roy, A Time For Violence, which as it happens I reviewed here. And he’s giving away bundles to five (5) lucky winners!
To enter the giveaway, just send Andy Rausch an email expressing your interest. Put “Crime Cafe giveaway” in the subject line, so he’ll know what it’s all about. Andy’s email is cruelkingdom[at]gmail[dot]com. Send your entry in by Tuesday, July 9, 2019.
And with that, let’s get to the good part!
The following excerpt is from my new novella Bloody Sheets. This section, which introduces us to the story’s protagonist, Coke, immediately follows the lynching of his son, Will. The Klansmen who committed the murder don’t know it yet, but things are about to get really bad for them rather quickly…
DeRay “Coke” Cokely was tired of a lot of things. He was tired of people assuming his nickname came from his having sold powder in the joint. He was tired of struggling to make his nut in the street working as an enforcer. He was tired of lots of things. But today he was mostly tired of having to hurt this no good fuck Turner. He’d already done a fair amount of damage to the man, but there was still so much more to be done. There had to be. The code of the streets insisted on it. Examples had to be made. Any dipshits who were considering following Turner’s lead and stealing from Mr. Porter had to be shown the error of their ways.
So here he was, breaking Turner’s fingers slowly, one after the other. The bone snapping sound was grotesque, even to Coke, who had done his fair share of hurting and killing between his time in Afghanistan, doing time in the pen, and busting heads for Mr. Porter. That’s how it was. Life was a motherfucker. But Coke couldn’t complain much, not really, because as hard as life may have been for him, it was about to be roughly a trillion and thirteen times harder for Turner. Lucky for Turner that life would be over soon.
Jimmy Vonn, another Porter goon, was holding Turner’s head down against the work bench as Coke twisted and snapped his fingers in ways fingers weren’t meant to twist and snap. Turner kept screaming, just as every other wannabe tough guy had screamed and cried as Coke had snapped their bones. It’s just the way it was. The sky was blue, water was wet, and nickel and dime street thugs cried like babies when Coke hurt them. It was the natural order of things.
As Turner screamed, Jimmy chuckled. Coke looked at him. “What the fuck you laughin’ at, man?”
Jimmy kept laughing as though he’d just heard the funniest joke Richard Pryor had ever told. “I’m laughing at this stupid motherfucker right here,” said Jimmy.
Turner looked at Jimmy through a blur of tears, momentarily crying but not screaming. Like Coke, Turner was trying to figure out exactly what was causing Jimmy to laugh so hard.
“Don’t get too distracted,” Coke told Turner, just as he twisted back Turner’s left ring finger, snapping it, bringing the current broken digits total to seven. Again there was the nasty snapping sound of breaking fingers. Coke thought back to when he’d first come to work for Mr. Porter, remembering how much the sound had once sickened him. But now it was a common everyday sound for him. It was still nasty, but it was manageable. It had become as normal a sound as the ticking of a clock or the electric hum of a refrigerator. For Coke, the sound was almost nothing, like the buzz of a muted television. Sure, he still heard it, and sure it was grotesque, but it was something he could now tune out a lot of the time.
“Please!” cried Turner. “Tell Mr. Porter I’ll do anything! Tell him I’m sorry!”
Coke grinned sadistically. “He already knows you’re sorry.”
“Yeah,” agreed Jimmy. “You’re a sorry fuck.”
“Your crew shouldn’t have hijacked Mr. Porter’s trucks,” said Coke. “That was a no-no. A goddamn filthy no-no. So now you gotta pay, and there ain’t nothin’ you or I can do to stop that.”
Jimmy started laughing again, more of a belly laugh this time. Turner just lay there, unable to move, his busted fingers throbbing. All he could do was hurt and wait for even more hurt. That was it. Those were his options. Well, those and beg, which had pretty much the same effect.
“The stupid part is, you knew they were Mr. Porter’s trucks you were robbing,” said Coke. “That’s really fucking stupid.”
“So stupid,” agreed Jimmy.
“You know what Mr. Porter told me?” asked Coke.
The broken, crying man shook his head. “No,” Turner managed. “What did he say?”
Coke grinned. “He said to make you pay.”
Jimmy laughed again. Turner just wept.
Coke continued, “He said to hurt you real bad, Turner. Real, real bad, he said. He actually said both ‘reals’ there. You wanna know what he said next?”
Turner just stared at him, saying nothing.
“He said that after I had hurt you real, real bad,” said Coke, “ and that I should then hurt you more, even worse this time. I should increase the severity of the pain. You know what happens after that?”
Turner looked up at him, his eyes big and tearful, pleading. “You’ll let me go?”
Coke’s face lit up as he and Jimmy looked at one another.
“No, nigga,” said Coke. “That’s not a thing.”
“Not even a little bit,” said Jimmy. “Mr. Porter never says that.” He looked at Coke. “We been workin’ for Mr. Porter for a couple years now, right?”
Coke nodded. “About that.”
“How many times you ever heard the man say to let someone go?”
Both Coke and Jimmy laughed at this. Coke actually laughed hard enough that his eyes started to water. He wiped away the tears with his coat sleeve.
“Nah,” said Coke. “Mr. Porter doesn’t say that.”
“Not ever,” said Jimmy.
“I doubt those words are even in the man’s vocabulary,” said Coke. He looked down at Turner again, real serious now. “It’s time for a game, Turner. You like that? We gonna play us a game. You got any guesses what that game might be?”
Turner, still crying, shook his head, but said nothing.
Coke grabbed one of Turner’s remaining fingers, holding it up. “This little piggy,” he said. “You know that one, Turner?”
“Seriously, help me get out of this,” pleaded Turner.
Coke smiled a twisted, frightening smile. His handsome clean-cut good looks somehow made the sadistic smile more frightening.
Coke bent Turner’s finger. Snap! The finger broke cleanly. Coke bent it far enough that it seemed to make a sharp right turn in the middle, where fingers weren’t supposed to make turns.
“I’m getting tired of snapping all these fingers,” said Coke. “I wanna do something different. Switch it up. How ’bout you, Jimmy?”
“Oh yeah,” said Jimmy. “Breakin’ fingers gets old after awhile.” He looked at Turner, lying there in tears. “How about you, Turner? You gettin’ tired of all this finger-snapping?” Turner said nothing. “You know,” Jimmy began, “my man Coke here does more finger snapping than all them dudes in the Rat Pack put together.” Jimmy looked at Turner. “You like the Rat Pack?”
Turner glared at him. “What the fuck are you even talking about?”
This pissed Jimmy off. He stepped back and punched Turner in the face, knocking his head back against the work bench. Turner looked at Coke. “What now?”
Coke walked over to his Beamer, parked there beside them in the garage. He pulled out his Falcons key ring and used the keys to open the trunk. He reached in and grabbed a pair of yellow-handled pruning shears. He held them up to show Turner, who saw them and started to cry harder, causing Jimmy to punch him in the stomach.
“You’re such a little bitch,” said Jimmy. “It’s not a good look on you.”
Coke left the trunk open and approached Turner. “I got something that’ll help those broken fingers, Turner. This time you’re gonna hear an entirely different kind of snap. And when you do, you’ll have one less finger. And you’re gonna hear it a few times, and one by one you’re gonna be losing those fingers.”
Jimmy looked at him, smiling from ear to ear. “That’s a lot of fingers.”
Coke nodded. “A whole bunch of ’em.”
“No,” said Turner, resuming the whole begging routine. “I promise I won’t do it again—”
“Oh, I know,” said Coke. “I’m well aware that you’ll never do it again.”
“You remember the pain you felt before?” asked Jimmy. He stared at Turner, waiting for an answer. When none came, Jimmy finished his thought. “That was dog shit next to the pain you’re about to feel. This is gonna be some pain that’s on a whole other level. This is gonna be some King fuckin’ Kong pain right here.”
Coke didn’t know what the fuck that King Kong shit was supposed to mean, but he laughed, partly because it sounded kind of cool and partly because it was so stupid. But that was Jimmy, simultaneously funny and stupid.
Jimmy looked at Coke, now standing beside him. “Ain’t that right, Coke?”
“You betcha. King Kong and all that.”
Coke started to lean in towards Turner. Turner tried to sit up, but Jimmy slammed him back, pinning him down against the table. Coke looked down at Turner’s twisted fingers, pointing willy-nilly in different directions. “Which piggie should we start with?”
Jimmy held up Turner’s left pinky finger. “I know,” he said. “How about this little fucker here? It’s the last of the Mohicans. The only pussy-poker still intact.”
“You know what?” said Jimmy.
Both Coke and Turner looked at him.
“Fuck it,” Jimmy said, snapping that last finger, turning it sharply to the right like an arm on a swastika. Turner cried out in agony.
“That hurt?” asked Coke. “Guess what? I got something that’s gonna take away the pain.”
Jimmy laughed. “It’s like when you punch yourself in the jaw to take away the pain from your stubbed toe. They both hurt, but it’s two completely different kinds of pain.”
“But,” said Coke, “this one’s gonna hurt a whole hell of a lot worse.”
“And those fingers are gonna be gone with the wind,” added Jimmy.
“But who gives a shit, right?” asked Coke. “Like Prince said, forever’s a mighty long time. And you ain’t got forever, Turner.” He looked at Jimmy. “What do you think? You think he got forever?”
“Nah, bruh,” said Jimmy. “He sure don’t. He got like, I don’t know, maybe fifteen minutes?”
Coke shrugged. “Maybe.”
Turner started bawling now, really laying on the waterworks.
“Gimme a finger,” said Coke.
Jimmy obliged, holding up Turner’s busted right pointer finger. Coke held the pruning shears out towards it, sliding the finger into the tool’s hungry mouth. The metal blades touched the sides of Turner’s fat finger. Coke pretended like he was gonna squeeze. “Snip-snip, motherfucker,” said Coke, laughing. This caused Turner to wail even louder. Jimmy slapped the shit out of him. “Stop whining, bitch!”
Coke clamped the pruning shears shut, slicing off the digit, but a tiny flap of skin remained intact, and the finger dangled from the stump, swaying there. Jimmy laughed, reaching out and yanking the finger clean off. Of course Turner was crying his ass off throughout all of this.
Coke held the shears up, admiring them. “I just got this pair,” he said. “The old ones were starting to get gunky. Too much dried blood in the spring. But this new one, she’s a fuckin’ beaut, huh? I can’t believe how she just cuts through the bone, easy like Sunday morning.”
Turner kept wailing, oblivious to everything Coke was saying. Jimmy reached out and slapped him across his face again. “Goddammit,” said Jimmy. “You listen when Coke speaks to you.”
Coke moved on to the next finger. Snip-snip!
And the next. Snip-snip!
And the next. Snip-snip!
And so on.
Finally, once Coke had removed all ten fingers from Turner’s dick-beaters, he wiped the pruning shears off on Turner’s shirt. Turner was worn out, lying there limply. He was trembling in silence, somehow now disconnected from the trauma occurring to his body. Coke thought the guy might be in shock. He remembered seeing a battle buddy in Afghanistan who’d gotten his legs blown off by a land mine and had gone into shock just before dying.
“Look at this place,” said Coke, admiring his handiwork. “There’s blood everywhere. It looks like the shower scene from Carrie, only without the pretty bitches.”
Jimmy smacked Turner in the face again. “No pretty bitches here,” he said. “Just this ugly motherfucker.”
Coke walked over to the open trunk of the Beamer. He tossed the finger-cutters back into it. He looked up at Turner, who still looked shell-shocked. “I got some more toys for us to play with,” said Coke. “I think you’re gonna like this…” He leaned into the trunk to get the item, but then popped back up empty-handed to look at Turner again. “I take that back. You most assuredly will not like this, son.” Coke then leaned back into the trunk again.
When Coke came up again, he was wielding a shiny Samurai sword. He held it horizontally in front of his face for effect. He looked at Turner. “You ever seen Kill Bill, nigga?”
Turner said nothing.
“Shit yeah,” said Jimmy. “Kill Bill is my shit. I’ve seen that motherfucker maybe thirty, forty times.”
Now Coke was moving towards the work bench, slowly swinging the sword around, slicing through the air for effect. “You remember that scene where the Chinese chick cuts off that dude’s head?”
“Oh yeah,” said Jimmy. “She cut that motherfucker’s head clean off!”
Coke held the sword out in front of him like a Samurai. “That’s what I’m gonna do to you,” Coke told Turner. “The good news is you’ll be dead soon. That’s good, right? But the bad news…”
Jimmy laughed, holding his hands in front of his mouth, feigning shock. “You mean there’s bad news, Coke?”
“Afraid so,” said Coke. “The bad news is Turner here’s gonna be playing the role of the Headless Horseman in tonight’s production.”
Coke and Jimmy both laughed. Turner continued heaving and whimpering. As they stared at him, the front of Turner’s beige shorts grew dark. “Ah shit!” said Jimmy. “This nigga done pissed hisself!”
“Hold him down,” instructed Coke, now deathly serious. As Jimmy held Turner down, Coke’s cell phone started to ring inside his pants pocket. The ringtone was “Evil Woman.” It was a ringtone Coke hadn’t heard before. It was one that only played when one person called, and she had never called before. It was his ex-wife, Deija. Coke pulled out his phone and pushed the button, silencing the song. He slid the phone back into his pocket.
He situated the Samurai sword in his hands again, preparing to chop Turner’s head off. He raised the blade into the air, up over his head. As he did, “Evil Woman” started playing again, throwing him off.
“Shit, Coke,” said Jimmy. “Turn that motherfucker on silent.”
Coke lowered the sword. Deija hadn’t called him once since he’d gotten out of prison three years before. He wondered if something was wrong.
“Hold up, dog,” said Coke. “I gotta take this.”
Jimmy threw up his hands, looking like he was about to throw a tantrum.
Coke was irritated. “We got time. This nigga ain’t goin’ nowhere.” He looked at Turner. “Don’t worry, dude. I’ma chop off your shit here in a minute.”
Turner just lay there, his eyes big and glassy, staring through him. He was heaving and whimpering, tears still running down the sides of his head, but he said nothing.
Coke answered the phone. He held it up to his ear.
“Coke,” said her familiar voice.
“Is everything okay?”
“No,” she said. She was sobbing.
“What is it?”
“It’s our son, Will.”
“What about him?”
“He’s dead,” said Deija. “ They…they killed him. And…”
After a moment of silence, Coke said, “And what?”
“I want you to go after the murderous sonsofbitches who killed him. I want you to make those motherfuckers pay. Every last one of them.”
Andy Rausch is a journalist and the author of nearly forty books, including non-fiction, novels, novellas, and short story collections. He is also a screenwriter and graphic novelist. He is the father of five kids and is a heart transplant recipient.