Here comes the author of the new book, HOTDOGGIN. Make room for it on your bookshelf next to last year's exciting YELLOW MEDICINE.
Take it away Neil Smith.
THREE WEEKS AGO…
He hoped she would show up. Things had gotten worse than he ever expected, but there was not a damned thing to do but play his part like a true Enforcer and hope this link to the outside world would keep him sane.
It was lucky she lived in Detroit, because that made it easier on Lafitte. He’d swore never to come back here again, but when the leader of the biker club who just saved your ass from starving said “Hey, we’ve got to make a Detroit run this weekend”, you mounted up and said, “How fast, sir?”
While the marathon dogfights raged, along with hogdogging--although Billy was disgusted enough by the latter, this weekend they were using basic farm pigs, not even boars, not even giving the pork a fighting chance--he slipped around the fringes waiting for Patti. They were supposed to have cleared out by two AM, the deal having been made and Steel God not up for the carnage, but he was tired. More tired than usual. He decided to let things go til morning.
She’d been a voice of reason before, telling him to ease up on the temper or take a chill pill before cracking skulls. Like the little voice that should be in his head instead of the bastard he was stuck with.
Then, as if in a dream, she stepped out of the fog, hands deep in her jacket pockets. He cringed at her expression, which told him he must look either bad or very different than last time. He turned off the motor but stay on the chopper, not sure how this would go.
She said, “What’s with all this cloak and dagger stuff?”
He shrugged. “Just felt like it. Kind of retro, don’t you think?”
“Tell me about it.” She rolled her eyes. “Like with my daughter, everything’s ‘1940’s this’ and ‘Mid Twentieth Century that’, as if anything past the Beatles is so unhip. Newsflash, kids. Obama won. The government isn’t listening to your cell phone calls anymore.”
“That’s pretty naïve.”
“Maybe, but it’s cozier.” Patti let out a big yawn. “Now get to it. Why am I out here at the break of day?”
Lafitte turned away from her, listened to the clanging and growling of the crowd. Then, “I’m not so sure I made the right choice this time.”
“You mean with your Halloween costume here? Is that even a real motorcycle? Jesus, Billy. Like you worried about your choices back in Minnesota.”
“I know, I know. That was then, that was Yellow Medicine County. Two people I cared about were killed over me. So you’d think I would’ve learned something.”
Patti tsk tsk-ed and shook her head. “Wow, you’re selfish even when talking about redemption, aren’t you?”
“Do you know how worried we all were about you? Leaving us hanging like that at the end of all that mess? I couldn’t believe it when you called. I thought you were dead.”
He let it drift in the air a moment before saying, “No you didn’t.”
She huffed, then grinned, embarrassed, maybe. “You didn’t seem the suicidal type, I have to say.”
Another roar from the crowd.
“How can you stand it around those people? They’re just killing poor dogs and pigs for fun over there.”
Lafitte said, “And money. That’s what it’s really about. Money. And pride. Guys take pride in their dogs.”
“By treating them like shit?”
“Sometimes…you know…I see it in their faces. It’s stupid, and it’s heartbreaking, I know, but, it’s hard to explain.”
He wagged a finger at her. “I didn’t say I approved. I’m just saying it’s complicated. When a dog dies, I hate it. Fucking hate it. But the owner hates it more. But then you have to ask, yeah, why train it to fight if it just breaks your heart? Right? But when I ask, they give you some bullshit like, ‘Well, if war comes, you’d hate for your kid to go off and fight, but you’d be proud’ or some shit. Nothing’s as easy as we want it to be.”
“You’re full of it. That’s garbage.”
He didn’t take the bait. “Could be worse. Could be in Federal prison. How’s that supposed to make me a better man?”
Patti crossed her arms, pouted her lips like she was thinking about it for a minute. Then she said, “I can’t tell you what you want to know.”
“And what’s that?”
“If there really is a chance you can fix what you’ve broken.”
He nodded. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
She reached over, laid her hand on his shoulder. “But as for these people…I would tell you to steer clear, but I know you won’t. So just roll with it. See what happens. And if you have the chance, make the best choice for yourself. Don’t leave us hanging again.”
“Well,” his lips went all sheepish. “Not so sure I can deliver on that.”
“At least stay safe.”
He didn’t respond. Neither of them looked at the other. The crowd had quieted, began to disperse, and engines of all sizes from hogs, crotch rockets, and muscle cars roared to life, a better wake-up than coffee.
Patti said, “What’s next for you?”
“Steel God said something about putting on a motorcycle rally. That sounds fun.”
“Have you ever been to a biker rally?”
“No, but that’s what’s so fun about it. It’s better when you don’t know what’ll happen next.”
With that, he kick-started the chopper, gave it a good loud rush, then rolled off into the fog, leaving Patti shivering, wondering if she’d ever see him again.
Award Winning author Patricia Abbott is a short story machine, publishing over fifty now online and in print, everything from literary fiction to some pretty grim noir. And the connecting factor behind each one, to me, is the atmosphere she creates. She makes me feel that I already know her characters. And I feel bad for them when they fuck up.
At Plots with Guns, we have one of her pieces, “Like a Hawk Rising”, that roped me in from the beginning. Something about this couple’s bickering made me want to keep reading:
“I can think of a shitload of things you could be doin’ instead of that.” Marsha’s voice was a buzzing in Bernie’s ear and unconsciously he fanned her away without taking the binoculars from his eyes.
“You could fix the bathroom faucet. Or,” she paused, softening her voice, “you could come up with a plan to get us some cash. The balance in our check book is looking piss-poor.” He looked up in time to see her yank her hair back into a virtual ponytail and then release it, lowering her raised shoulders in a shrug.
He put down the binoculars. “Or maybe you could help us out.” His voice was even quieter than hers. Marsha didn’t flinch; the issue of her working had been laid to rest years ago.
“You oughta at least take up some kind of hobby till your knee heals—that’s all I’m saying.” They both looked down at his cast, one of those bumpy plaster ones from the middle of the last century. The doctor who’d fixed him up was from that time too.
Reminded me a bit of Ray Carver for some reason. But then the story twisted and wound its way around, full of surprises, making me smile over and over.
But then you read some of her other work, the smile disappears and you’re left with foreboding, like in the most classic noir. For example, in “The Instrument of Their Desire”, reading how Jim “rented out” his mentally-challenged older sister in 1931 in order to save the family home sets up the atmosphere for the rest of the story. How much worse can it get? How can these characters live with themselves?
And with my soft spot for creepy Southern religious stuff, Patti’s “Tongues” really got to me:
At Karin’s church, parishioners speak in tongues, give testimony and lay on hands. Karin likes to tell her personal salvation story. It happened in a Thunderbird on a country road as she was weighing the sin in letting her boyfriend unhook her bra.
Does everyone who speaks in tongues use the same language? Can they talk to each other? Were they born knowing “tongues” or did it come to them like a taste for artichokes came to my father months after he returned from Korea? I never find the right words to ask Karin this.
It’s spooky listening to her, knowing she’s pacing her cell-like room and talking gibberish for hours. The syllables seem to rush out of her mouth and bang up against the wallboard. If I put my palms on the wall, I can feel the vibrations.
So thanks, Patti, for all of this great work. I don’t know what to expect each time I read something by you, but I know that almost every time I’m going to feel the story close in around me like the fog I wrote about, and not let up until the story is over.
And where’s the one about the woman who took photos of the dead? I know I rejected it, but I still can’t stop thinking about it.
So, will Lafitte take Patti’s advice? You’ll have to pick up Hogdoggin’ to find out. June 1st, HOGDOGGIN’ MONDAY. Let’s make some big noise in bookstores (virtual and brick both, but especially all the indie stores I’m visiting in the next two weeks) so that no one has a “case of the Mondays”. Yuck.
Tomorrow…is that a Raven? A killer ape? A Black Cat? No, but it is Edward “Philly Poe Guy” Petit bringing the 19th Century to our modern day Rally.
On someone’s I-pod: Boomtown Rats, “Up All Night”