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First pages

Chapter 1

Spring, 2003

Weaving through the crowd, I passed my exhausted coworkers, their faces gaunt and ghostly pale in the fluorescent lighting. All of them were salivating before the punch-out clock like a pack of ravenous hounds eager to tear into the flesh of that Friday night. They leaned from one leg to the other, purses in hand, sunglasses dangling from open collars. The din of conversation lessened as I neared the clock, and all eyes were cast upon me.

They were thinking, “Is he really going to do it? Is Powers leaving early?

Stephanie’s sharp stare nearly stopped me in my tracks, her eyes burning with scorn. But I ignored her gaze and approached the clock. My time card was in my hand, ‘Evan Powers’ scribbled hastily on top. The paper glided effortlessly through the punch-out machine, making a slight mechanical noise as it stamped out the time, 4:47. The clicking noise echoed in the now-silent room, and I hightailed it to the door, daring my eager coworkers to follow.

Warm air cloaked me in all of its glory as I flung the door open. My flesh tingled—honest to God, tingled—like the sun was drawing out some poison from the office’s artificial cold air.

As I crossed the parking lot toward my car, I resisted turning to look through the wall-length window of the manager’s office. Kim would be staring up from a stack of papers on her desk, watching me in disbelief as she checked the time on her watch. No one left before the clock struck five. No one.

Yeah, I did it. I left early. But fuck it—I quit. So there’s that.

The well-traveled engine of my Buick rumbled to life, sputtering out clouds of grey exhaust. I backed out, put the car in drive, and sped the hell out of there.

A cigar was waiting for me in the glove box, and I clamped it between my teeth as I loosened the collar of my button-up shirt.

I laughed out loud, feeling a bit like a madman who laughs alone at the world, thinking, “I’m free, you fuckers—I’m free!” A cloud of cigar smoke was sucked out the window, replaced by the clean springtime breeze.

Traffic was already forming on the highway, but I had managed to beat the mass of cars that would stretch on for miles only minutes after five o’clock. The landscape gradually changed to an immense array of blossoming trees and flat wilderness as I distanced myself from town, driving deeper into the heart of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. My housemate Nick and I rented a nice piece of property: three acres of trees and land, with many more acres of wilderness in every direction. Our nearest neighbor was old Mr. Patrick, or Grandpa, and we didn’t cross paths with the man too often. We invited him over whenever we had parties, but Grandpa rarely showed up and never stayed for long. He was cool with us, but when our parties got going, and a handful of ragged hippies turned into twenty, thirty, forty, sixty—whatever—he would take off. Not before schooling us all in a game of horseshoes, of course, and drinking about a six-pack of beer. The man could put them away.

I drove past Grandpa’s mailbox and our driveway soon appeared. Nick’s work truck came into view as I pulled in, and way out in the back of the yard I spotted him standing beside our massive garden. Nick had been living in the rental house for nearly fifteen years. We had had another housemate for the past five years, named Darin Long, but due to his mother recently discovering that she had cancer, he had moved back home to Montana. Now it was only the two of us, all alone in that low ranch in the middle of the woods.

Hippie Nick, he was sometimes called, or more recently, The Old Man. It was a term of endearment. The guy had lived through the cultural revolution of the ’60s and ’70s, which meant that for most of our friends, myself included, Nick Grady was the closest thing to a legitimate hippie that we would ever encounter. The guy followed the Dead, marched at civil rights protests, and did all of that fun stuff that made him practically a sage in the eyes of my stoner friends.

I got out of the car and passed Nick’s work van on the way to the house. The G and R in Grady Construction and Repair on the side of his van were barely legible, faded with time.

Our front door was unlocked, and I went straight to the kitchen. We had a strict nonsmoking rule indoors, for everything other than herb, so I had to be quick with my still-burning cigar. I grabbed two beers from the fridge and went out the kitchen door to the backyard. Immediately, music washed over me. Nick was under the apple tree next to the garden, swaying with a beer in hand. The Dead blared from his portable CD player, the extension cord trailing all the way back to the house, lost like a snake in the grass.

Water droplets rained down from the sprinkler over the budding tomato plants, zucchinis, peppers, and everything else we’d planted only a few weeks ago. The corn stalks were already about two feet tall.

Nick swayed to the music, barefoot, with his wrapped hemp necklaces and beadwork bouncing on his grey-haired chest. When he saw me approaching he nodded. The only article of clothing the guy ever wore at home was a pair of cutoff jean shorts.

“Hey there,” I said.

Nick smiled a crooked smile, a rubber band stuck between his lips as he pulled his long hair out of his face. A cooler was out there next to the few battered Adirondack chairs, and I could tell by the look in Nick’s eyes that he was already a few beers in. I handed him the beer I had brought from the kitchen anyway. Sierra Nevada, always Sierra Nevada. It was the only beer the guy would drink if given a choice. However, if he didn’t have a choice, he’d drink most anything. Especially bourbon. We went through the stuff like it was water.

The song ended and he called, “Yo, Powers! What’s up man?” He was evidently in a great mood.

“Nothing, Nick.” I tried to be nonchalant, but my lips cracked into a smile. “I did it.”

His eyes lit up. “You quit?”

I nodded.

“Ha!” He bounced over on quick feet and hugged me with his strong, skinny arms. “I’m so happy for you, brother. I know that job was dragging you down.”

“Thanks, man.”

“Want to call some people up, get the bonfire going?”

I shrugged. “I wouldn’t mind having a few beers.”

His face was radiant, and I knew he was swallowing back the question he’d been asking me for years now. The words were trying to burst free from his mouth, but I was going to wait a little while longer before letting him know that I would work for him full time. And I’m not talking about his handyman service; as good as he was at repairing cabinets, replacing shingles, and even doing some landscaping for a handful of local Pineys. I’m talking about his other job. His real job.

“You doing some shooting?” I nodded towards the small arsenal on the coffee table: his old western style six-shooters. They were a hobby of sorts, first for him, and then for me. After all, we did live in the middle of the woods. Not to mention that the house one over from old Mr. Grandpa’s was the fire chief’s, and the man was a regular at our parties—as clean cut as he was—and he kept an eye on the police radio for call-ins about noise. I consider myself clean cut as well, in comparison to most of the transients who pass through our doors. My hair is short, I usually wear nice pants and shirts, and I keep myself in decent shape. Ever since I met Nick, I’ve been trying to get the guy to go running with me, or use the weight bench in the basement. But he always declines. “Look at me,” he says. “I’m skinny enough. There won’t be nothing left of me.” It was true. The guy was a rail: skinny and strong. A lifetime's worth of hard labor made it impossible for him to ever be a pound over weight.

Nick looked to the black powder pistols. “Knock yourself out,” he said, and went back to swaying with the music, mumbling along with the words while looking out over the sea of vegetables glistening from the sprinkler water.

As the sun began to set and the beer in the cooler dwindled, we loaded and fired the six shooters at a wide tree stump across the yard. The process of loading a black powder revolver is tedious, but that made shooting them all the more enjoyable. We had to work for our fun.

While we were shooting, the house phone rang several times, and soon our driveway became illuminated by headlights. A few people showed up with more beer, weed, and various low-grade narcotics and hallucinogens. Ritalin, Adderall—that sort of thing. Most everyone, myself excepted, got stoned the minute they crossed onto our property. Weed was never my thing. I rarely smoked, which was in contrast to the company I kept.

This guy named Mario showed up tripping on mushrooms, sitting a foot away from the blazing flames in the fire pit, his bright orange hair seeming to glow in the flickering light. I thought about asking him for a few caps, but decided against it. Ever since Darin moved out, Nick and I had to be on the lookout for people fucked up on the more serious drugs, like cocaine, heroin, and even speed. That was a big no-no at our home. Darin used to be our enforcer of sorts. He was a strong guy, although his short and stout build made him appear youthful, especially with his long dark hair kept up in a ponytail. Ex Army, believe it or not. But that life wasn’t for him. Darin was a feel-good stoner who liked lounging around the house shirtless, just like Nick.

But Darin was gone, so it was up to Nick and I to watch over our guests. Just last party I found a guy taking a line of coke in our bathroom. He was so strung out that he forgot to lock the handle, and when I told him to get rid of the shit he started spewing vulgarities at me through his clattering jaw. Before his erratic mind thought it was a good idea to throw a swing, Nick and I had his arm behind his back, and we did the old heave-ho out the door, holding the back of his belt and his collar. I learned long ago in my bartending days to never let the other guy swing first. Unless of course the other guy was so fucked up that he couldn’t hit the side of a wall. Or if the guy was a lawyer. Never hit a lawyer first. But back at my old bar, the local clientele were far from lawyers.

Lucky for us, the crowd was mellow as the alcohol and marijuana flowed. At some point the fire chief showed up, wearing a big grin. He disappeared with Nick inside the house, and when he came back out, he was baked out of his mind.

“Hey, Powers,” he said, his red eyes sparkling.

“What’s up?”

“Check this out.”

The fire chief swung a canvas duffel bag around from his shoulder and opened the zipper. A copious amount of fireworks lay inside.

“Cool, huh?”

“Yeah,” I smiled. “Cool.”

The night wore on and the fireworks were ignited to thunderous ovation from the enamored crowd. The fire chief kept his radio turned up in case the noise got called into the cops.

Maybe fifteen people were gathered in the backyard when I saw headlights approach from down the driveway and stop short of the house. I checked the time on my watch. It was impossible to see in the darkness, but I knew the headlights belonged to the black car that had been arriving at our house at that same time every week, for years now. It was an older Plymouth Fury Gran Coupe from the seventies or so, and it still looked immaculate. I looked for Nick in the crowd and spotted him by the fire.

“Hey,” I said, approaching.

When Nick looked at me, I tapped my watch and nodded toward the car. His face soured.

“Motherfucker,” he muttered, and swilled back his beer.

Nick went to the house, and a moment later he emerged from the front, walking toward the car. He opened the passenger door, momentarily illuminating the car’s interior before stepping inside.

It wasn’t long until the passenger door opened again and Nick got out. The Plymouth reversed out of the driveway, not bothering to swing around the circle. Nick had told me in the past that the man didn’t like it when strangers were at our house during his stops. But then he had gone on, “If he makes his stops on a Friday, it can’t be avoided. Fuck him.”

When Nick got close, I handed him a beer. His face was set in the same crazed anger that always overtook him after leaving the man in the Plymouth. I silently prayed that he wouldn’t start hitting the bottle hard, like he often did after the man’s visits, and go off on one of his insane rambles. Not now, not tonight. Tonight, I was celebrating my new life. My new path, as twisted as it might become.

“You okay?” I asked.

Nick took the beer and our eyes met. His face softened. “Yeah, man.” He patted me on the shoulder, and we walked into the yard to join the circle of people watching the fire chief light off the last of his fireworks.

And there was Becka. Her fair complexion illuminated in bouncing shadows from the fire, her dark, somewhat curly hair pure black in the night.

“Hey,” I said, walking up to her. “When’d you get here?”

She turned and smiled at the sound of my voice. “Hey, Powers. Just a minute ago. I was looking for you.”

She patted the grass beside her and I took a seat, making it a point for our thighs to touch.

“I did it,” I told her. “I quit.”

“The office?”

“The office.”

“Powers,” she exclaimed. “That’s wonderful, man!”

She reached over and wrapped her arms around me, burying her face in my chest.

This was good. This is what I needed. I needed Becka, her arms holding me tight all night long. When was the last time we’d hooked up? A week ago? Maybe more. Nick jokingly referred to Becka as my girlfriend, but we were nothing like that. Just friends. Two people in their mid-thirties who had been in terrible relationships, much like all the other loners out there who find themselves still single past their twenties. We just wanted to keep things cool. Sure, we liked each other, but we didn’t want to make our relationship something more than it needed to be. For her birthday last year I bought her a small oval locket. Nothing fancy or expensive. I immediately regretted giving it to her when I saw the surprise and uncertainty on her face. She did wear it, though, up until recently. She said she misplaced it, put it down somewhere, and that it’s got to be around. Probably at home. Probably fell from the kitchen sink. She’d find it, she told me.

But who knows.

Becka had been friends with Nick for years longer than I’d known either of them. I originally thought that Nick and Becka had a romantic past, but Darin later set me straight. Besides, their ages are decades apart ... not that that would stop either of them.

As the last explosion filled the air, the fire chief turned to the crowd. “That’s it,” he said, displaying his empty duffel bag. “That’s all she wrote.”

Nick stood a few feet away from the crowd and we caught each other’s eyes.

“Hey, Becka, you gonna be here for a few minutes?”

She looked up at me with a smile and then back to the fire. “I’m not going anywhere.”

I hugged her shoulder and stood. “Be right back.”

“Hey, grab me a beer while you’re at it?” She displayed her near-empty bottle, the light from the fire making it transparent.

“Of course.” I smiled, walking towards Nick. “Be right back.”

Nick and I stood apart from the group as the fire chief shook out a few stray firecrackers into the fire, turning the duffel bag upside down and shaking it out.

“Hey,” Nick shouted over the roar of our friends laughing and jumping away from this madman dumping explosives over the open flame. “I got something serious I want to talk to you about.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

“You give my proposition some thought?”

I nodded, not that he could see me with his eyes transfixed on the fire. With Darin gone, Nick was shorthanded. He’d been asking me to work full time at his operation for years, but I always declined. I was too clean-cut for that life, I always thought. I was better off as a part time employee. But after spending three years stuck at a cubicle in the stalest environment that I could possibly imagine, wasting away the best and most productive time of the day—between nine and five, when the human mind and body is at its best—I was starting to see things in a different light. Plus, he was offering me more than just hours—he was offering me a management position. Small responsibilities at first, but they would grow over time. But the real benefit, I thought, was that Becka and I would be spending more time together.

“Yeah, Nick, I’ve given your proposition a lot of thought. I’m in. I’m all aboard.”

He turned to me. “Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

He extended a hand, smiling like a little boy. “Oh, brother, you are most needed!”

We shook, and then of course he hugged me.

“Man, this is going to be great!” he shouted, arms out in the air, holding his beer aloft to the night sky. The light from the fire flickered dancing shadows all over his body.

“We’ll start tomorrow,” he said, taking a swig of beer and bouncing on his toes.

I smiled.

He tossed the empty straight into the roaring flame, and grabbed two cold beers from the cooler. He popped the caps and handed one to me.

“Cheers, brother,” he said.

We clinked glasses.

“Cheers.”

He took a long pull, and I again prayed to myself that he wouldn’t get too fucked up. I didn’t need him screaming crazy shit at our guests, crying, sobbing, and making no sense at all.

“I think it will be best if we start late,” he said after a burp.

“Agreed.”

Sipping my beer, I watched Becka transfixed on the fire, a smile on her radiant face as she swayed slightly to the music. As much of a free spirit as she was, Becka had something about her. She had class, and an amazing mind that I wanted to keep discovering. She wasn’t the type of person to lay her cards out on the table; I had to keep guessing what was in her hand. Her beauty was the type that tongue-tied men, but there was more between us than sheer attraction. We had a chemistry that couldn’t be put into words, but only be felt. It was a throbbing heat in my chest. It was intrigue that kept me coming back for more; it was her quiet, pondering eyes that displayed indecipherable emotion. Simple words from her lips carried the weight of the world and affected me like I imagine poetry inspires minds greater than my own.

Her shadowy form beckoned me to approach and sit with her on that lush field of grass for as long as eternity would allow.

Turning, I grabbed two beers from the cooler. I was about to tell Nick that I would be back, but he had seen the rapture in my eyes and had already begun to drift away, chatting with the fire chief.

“Welcome back,” Becka said, looking up to me as I approached. There was longing in her eyes.

Feeling a bit drunk, I smiled coolly and took a seat beside her to watch the roaring flames.

Tomorrow, my life would change—for the better, I thought. I would be managing a productive and quite illegal drug operation. But now, in the present moment, I didn’t want to contemplate the future or lament the past. I wanted to stay stuck in time, right where I was.

Chapter 2

My head was spinning. The last time I looked at the clock it said 2:00 AM and Becka was giving me a goodbye kiss. Now, 10:45 AM blazed from the clock. I desperately wanted to sleep the day away, but there were two things that were driving me out of the bed:

1. I had to pee, excruciatingly bad.

2. I needed the largest and coldest glass of water that was possible.

Nick’s room was on the way to the bathroom, and his door was wide open. The bright sun shone through the American flag that he used as a curtain along with the dozen or so blue glass bottles that lined his windowsill, casting the room in varying shades of red and blue. Those colors in the morning had a strange effect on me that I wasn’t sure if I liked. They were somehow both agitating and soothing.

After my morning pee that seemed to never end, I stuck my head fully into Nick’s room, expecting to see him passed out on top of his blankets, probably still in his cutoff shorts.

But he wasn’t there.

As I walked into the kitchen the back door flew open, and in came Nick bouncing on his toes, holding a tall glass of something red with a green sprout sticking out.

“Hey, Powers, you’re up!”

He was wide wake, apparently.

I rubbed my eyes. “When’d you get up?”

He shrugged. “About an hour ago.”

The kitchen smelled of coffee, which was most welcoming. I poured myself a tall glass of water and a mug full of hot, black coffee and sat at the table.

“This is what you need, man, if you want to fly right.” Nick opened the refrigerator.

“A bloody Mary?” I was going to dismiss the idea of drinking anything alcoholic, but I had to admit, it sounded appealing.

Nick made a drink and put it on the table before me. He then went to the cabinet to remove two aspirin from the container, along with either a Ritalin or Adderall left over from a party, placing them all next to my drink. Then he went to the stove to scramble some eggs.

“You’re in a good mood,” I said, looking down at my variety of drinks and pills.

“Damn straight.” He cracked eggs into a bowl.

Suddenly, a flashback from last night passed through my memory: I saw Nick get in one of his dreaded drunken moods, nearly crying while crawling across the grass in inebriated delirium. It must have been around the time everyone left and my memory was becoming fuzzy. He was shouting the same fragmented statements, things he only ever brought up at the tail end of a serious bender. But he always cut himself short of fully explaining what he was talking about. He spoke as if battling some demon inside him, so all I would get is “It’s—they ... they’s took me, man—it was them. I only, didn’t want to do it, man,” and he would be crying. “I-I was a just a k-kid, man, those fucking-fucks, they-they took me, man!” Whatever he was talking about, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know. Occasionally, he would shout the same jumbled utterances while sleeping. I was warned a long time ago to never wake him up if I heard screaming in the middle of the night. So I never did. Darin had known Nick way longer than I had, so he was able to wake him out of those episodes without getting himself killed.

Nick put a plate of eggs before me along with a bottle of hot sauce.

“Eat up,” he said. “Then go take a shower. We’re leaving in half an hour.”

I nodded. I knew I had made an agreement, but I’d been half expecting Nick to be just as hung over as myself. Unfortunately, he wasn’t.

 

***

 

We took Nick’s van to the highway, and then drove south for about twenty minutes. He was taking me to two locations, both of which I had already seen. One was his office, since I was now expected to help keep tabs on the books. The building itself was tiny, an old one-car garage, the sliding door patched up with drywall and converted into a single office room with a bathroom in the back. A battered wooden sign read “Grady Construction and Repair” over the front door.

It was a mess.

Papers everywhere, filling cabinets overflowing with files, and Nick’s blue glass jars and bottles bordering every spare inch around the room’s two windows. On top of the cabinets was an assortment of rocks and crystals.

Nick read the expression on my face. “Don’t worry about all this.” His hands danced over the room. “We can clean up however you like. This,” he said, pointing to the corner of the room, “is where we keep the important stuff.” He grabbed the sides of a filing cabinet and slid it aside. Then he knelt down, feeling the edge of a strip of molding. He pulled, and the baseboard came free of the magnets keeping it in place. Nick put the molding aside, and reached into a cavity to remove several large ledgers, placing them each on the desk in turn.

“These are the books,” he said. “Expense reports. Payroll. A section of the wall pops free too. That’s where we hide the safe.”

“How are the books standing?” The random slips of papers jutting out from the pages answered my question. A few even fell out and drifted to the floor.

“Well,” Nick said, scratching the side of his face, “not as bad as they look, but I’m close to falling behind. I’m juggling too much at the moment.”

I nodded.

“All right then.” I started rolling up my sleeves. “Should we start?”

“Not yet.” Nick shook his head. “We’re going to the warehouse first. With Darin gone, I’m still shorthanded at the operation. I want to show you a few things. That’s actually where you’ll be needed the most.”

We had previously negotiated a salary on the way to the office, and had settled on a fair rate—more than fair. About twice of what cubicle-hell was paying me. I would do whatever was needed. There was no way I was going to fuck this up; it wasn’t like I could bounce around from job to job forever. This was it.

Nick put the ledgers back in the hole in the wall, replaced the molding, and moved the cabinet back in place. The little shiny rocks jittered on top.

Then he turned to the door, and I followed him out.

We drove to another part of town, closer to the shore. The area was mostly industrial, with large warehouses belonging to FedEx, UPS, as well as about a dozen or so smaller companies. Nick drove across a vast and vacant paved lot, and parked around the corner of a windowless rectangular building, all steel and metal. The wall approaching had a large faded mural of graffiti, which must have been vibrant, perhaps even nice when it was first spray-painted by whatever talented kids vandalized it. The graffiti had been painted over with a nearly transparent coating of white paint, but the colors showed through. This was the first time I was seeing it this early in the day, and the rainbow, cartoonish mural of a girl’s face along with some zigzag signatures were legible.

Nick parked next to a white sedan with several moving vans nearby. A dark blue Mercedes Benz sat a few spots down. The car was a little beat up, but still sharp looking.

My part time work for Nick had always been late at night when the other workers were long gone. It was Nick’s design that not all of his employees should meet and know each other. A good business model when you’re in his type of work. The only people I ever worked with in those long dark hours were Becka and a security guard named Jeff. But that guy didn’t talk much, just drank coffee and watched old movies on his portable television. That’s how I got to know Becka: at the warehouse. She’d been working for Nick ... I don’t know, maybe seven years longer than myself? Maybe more.

Nick got out, and I followed him to a side door. Earlier, he had given me his master code. I still had my own code, but along with my promotion came the responsibility of increased knowledge. Only myself, Nick, and one other employee had the master code. Nick entered it on a keypad and a little LED flashed from red to green. Inside, a large man stood up from a folding chair holding a crumpled crossword puzzle and a pencil.

“Nick,” the man said, nodding.
“Mark, brother, meet Powers.”

The day shift guard named Mark reached out and shook my hand. He stood a foot taller than the both of us, and his palm looked like an elephant stump coming out of his black leather jacket.

“My pleasure,” I said.

“Same.”

“That your Benz out there?”

He nodded.

“Nice car.”

“Thanks.” He sat back down, his attention going to the folded newspaper. “I’m looking to trade it in. You in the market, let me know.”

We walked directly across the hall, to a second door leading to a second warehouse. It was like those Russian Matryoshka dolls that get pulled apart to reveal smaller dolls nesting inside. A warehouse within a warehouse.

Nick took me to the door and knocked.

My previous work took place down the long hall to the left, in a room around the corner in the rear of the building, and I looked over my shoulder to where I normally worked with Becka. She was nowhere to be seen. Whatever Nick was about to show me was entirely new, but I had a very good idea of exactly what was behind that thick door.

A sliding viewing port opened, and a set of eyes looked out. The viewing port closed, and the sound of a heavy lock clacked from the hollows of the metal door. A moment later it opened and we stepped inside, shielding our eyes from the glaring light.

“Holy hell,” I muttered, stepping into the room. The temperature was hot in there, muggy, and my eyes were practically blinded from the succession of thousand-watt high pressure sodium light bulbs lining the ceiling. A sea of tall marijuana plants filled the room, all set in carefully arranged rows, some attached to an elaborate hydroponic system. The smell of fresh marijuana was as thick as soup. A silver tray holding orange slices and a knife sat on a table by the door.

“So.” I turned to Nick. “What exactly do you need me to do?”

Nick scratched the side of his temple. “A little bit of everything. We need a hand in the grow room here, that’s for sure. You’ll still be needed in the back, cutting, drying, and packaging the plants, like you’ve been doing. Maybe one day you’ll be doing deliveries, but we’ll see about that when the time comes.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding. This was a lot to take in, but I was happy to hear that my nightshifts with Becka were still in the picture. We were approaching our monthly custom of having a quickie on the break room table.

I was daydreaming of Becka’s silky thighs rubbing against my ribcage, wrapped around the small of my back, when Nick said, “Hey man, you look stressed. Don’t worry.”

He patted me on the shoulder, then picked up two orange slices from the silver plate, handing me one. “It’s good luck,” he said, tearing the juicy flesh from the rind. “Eat one coming in and one going out.” He tossed the rind in a drum of half decomposed mulch.

The tangy juice rushed into my mouth.

“It will be the same as hanging out in our garden,” he said. “Trust me.”

Chapter 3

Nick’s two black powder pistols were laid out on the table. One was a reproduction 1857 Colt Walker with blackened metal and dark wood grips. The other was a reproduction 1858 Remington New Army: stainless steel with similar dark wood grips. They were both bulky old six shooters, top of the line back in the mid 1800’s.

Guns weren’t something I had been into before meeting Nick—but damn, shooting those things sure was fun. Each pistol was nearly as long as my forearm, and they bucked strong when fired.

Nick and I filled the guns' chambers with powder and rammed the balls behind. We were getting ready to put a few more targets out on the stump when I asked him, “So, who is he?”

“Who’s who?” Nick was applying a layer of grease over each chamber of the rotating ammunition cylinder to prevent a chain fire—when the flame or spark of firing one bullet spreads to others in the neighboring chambers.

“The guy on payroll. Is he the same guy in the Plymouth?”

Nick’s expression went sour.

“Look,” I said, softening my tone. “You have me sorting payroll, so I think it’s safe to assume—”

“He’s my partner, okay?” Nick blurted out, concentrating on placing the firing caps firmly on the guns’ cylinder.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Brandon Zenner is an American fiction writer. His short fiction has been published in both print and online publications, the first being submitted when he was just 19 years old. THE EXPERIMENT OF DREAMS, his debut eBook thriller, has reached Amazon's top-ten charts within its genre many times. His categories of choice are thrillers, dystopian, crime, and science fiction.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
The first inkling of an idea for Whiskey Devils came about when I was in my early twenties, driving cross-country with two of my friends. The trip was so inspiring that I did it again a year later, by myself. The two main characters came clearly to mind, and I am sad now to see them go.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
Mostly, that writing a novel with a one year old at home is hard ... but achievable. This story has been in my thoughts for over a decade, so when it came time to sit and write it, the words came naturally. I enjoyed the style of writing that the characters allowed, which was laid back and fun.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
In my early teens. But I was nineteen when I first got serious, and even had a few words published. For many years after, I put it aside. Then in my late twenties, I made myself sit and bang out a 155,000 word novel, which was awful and I destroyed it ... and then I started it again from scratch.

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