Urban Life

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Carve the Heart

Carve the Heart

The Jack Palace Series
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : crime, noir, urban life
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Excerpt

Chapter 1

Real crime isn’t like it is in the movies. It’s not that glamorous. No one’s zipping around the Italian countryside in a little sports car loaded with gold. Real crime is stupid, ugly, and violent.

The man in the alley had a woman pinned against a jet-black Cadillac Escalade. There was another man in the driver’s seat. Both of the men had slicked-back dark hair that was shaved on the sides. The man pinning the woman was wearing a dark-blue track suit with white piping along the legs. He had a shitty goatee sprouting from his chin like moss. The woman was taller than the man. She was wearing a black leather skirt and a white jacket. Her brown hair was pulled back in a sleek, long ponytail. Her eyes were red like she’d been crying. The man was muttering something and she was shaking her head “no.” I saw the man’s face curdle. He raised his hand to slap her.

“Let her go.”

Startled, the man turned toward me. Then he turned back to the woman. “Denise, I’m sorry. Baby, come on. I’m sorry.”

Denise shook off the man and stepped away from the car. Her heels click-clacked on the concrete. She muttered, “Call the police,” as she walked away.

I kept my eyes on the man. I could see his buddy peering at me in the driver’s side mirror. The man with the mossy goatee tilted his chin at me. “You gonna call the cops?”

I nodded. “That’s what she asked me to do, so I’ll do it. But not just yet.”

The man smirked. I hit him so hard his head snapped back and cracked against the car window.

The guy in the driver’s seat fumbled with the door. I let him open it, then slammed it on him, hard. He yowled. I threw the door open and yanked the guy out. He blinked when he saw his buddy stretched out on the concrete. I hit him in the stomach and he doubled over, gasping.

“You watch for the cops while your buddy beats up women, is that it?”

The driver groaned, still doubled up. I could see a bald patch under his gel-slick hair. These guys were both wearing enough aftershave to start a small fire.

“Give me your wallet.”

“Come on, man.”

“Wallet.”

Coughing, the driver slapped his wallet into my hand. There was probably about three hundred bucks in crisp green twenties inside. I ignored the money and pulled out his driver’s licence. I made sure he saw me staring at his name, then I stuffed the licence back in the wallet and dropped it at his feet. “Well, Dimitri, now I know where you live. If you and Captain Asshole here” — I gave the man on the ground a nudge with the steel toe of my boot, making him grunt — “if you guys ever bother anyone else, I’ll come looking for you.” I reached into my jacket and pulled out a knife. I held it to Dimitri’s throat, the blade glittering in the light. “Understand?”

“Y-yes.”

I pointed to the man on the ground. “Go on, get your garbage and get the fuck out of here.”

I tucked the knife back into its sheath beneath my jacket and strode down the alley. I stood watching as the driver stuffed the short man with the mossy goatee into the back seat of the Escalade. Then the driver pulled himself back into the driver’s seat and the vehicle peeled out of the alley. All aboard the Douche Express, last stop: who the fuck cares?

A rusty door opened into the alley. My buddy Eddie Yao stood there in his charcoal-grey pinstripe suit, a chrome .45 in his hand. “All good?”

I shook my head. “Assholes like that don’t learn. Do me a favour, will ya? Give the cops a call.” Eddie blinked. “What?”

“She asked me to call.” I shrugged. “You still have a guy at the precinct, right?” Eddie nodded. “I’ll take care of it.” His eyes scanned the alley and then he beckoned me closer. “Come on down.”

“Another time. I got Melody upstairs.” Melody and I had been drinking and getting frisky when the Escalade bros started roughing up the woman. You never treat a woman like that, especially not in the alley behind my office.

Eddie tucked his .45 back into the shoulder holster beneath his suit jacket. He didn’t smile, but his eyes twinkled. “Trust me, Jack. You’re going to want to see this.”

I stepped through the doorway, and the heavy steel door slammed closed.

I followed Eddie down a set of dingy stairs. It looked like the beginning of every horror movie ever. All it needed was a few bloody handprints on the wall. At the bottom was another door. Standing in front of the door was Eddie’s guy Josh, wearing a black suit that seemed to blend into the shadows. Josh nodded his head and opened the door.

Once we passed through, the whole horror-show vibe disappeared. This was Eddie’s basement casino, and it was classy, man, classy. Deep-maroon walls and polished oak chairs. Croupiers and dealers in maroon vests and black bowties. The gamblers were a different story. Eddie’s place attracted them all: the whales, the sharks, the donkeys, and the grinders. Everyone was trying to turn cards into money. An acne-scarred man with mirrored sunglasses and a straw cowboy hat tapped the felt at one of the blackjack tables, calling for one more card. As Eddie and I walked past the tables, no one looked up.

Eddie opened the door to his office and grinned. “After you.”

“I hate it when you’re all mysterious and shit.”

Eddie’s eyes twinkled again. He gestured toward the open door.

I stepped inside and froze. There was a beautiful woman sitting behind Eddie’s desk. She had pale skin, almond eyes, and jet-black hair. She was wearing a black turtleneck and a light-grey blazer. Her silver earrings caught the light as she turned toward the door. We made eye contact. She didn’t smile.

“Jack.”

“Cassandra.”

I hadn’t seen her in years — ten, to be exact. We dated, I loved her, she left me. It wasn’t quite that simple, but that was the gist of it.

Eddie gave the red leather chair in front of his desk a tug and a pat. “Have a seat, Jack. Can I get you guys anything? Cassie, another Scotch?”

She nodded. I sat down in the chair. The cushion deflated under my weight. “I’ll have a Scotch, too.” I stared at Eddie, trying to beam thoughts into his brain. Goddamn, Eddie. Warn a fella, would ya? Eddie just smiled and walked out the door.

Cassandra stared at me from across Eddie’s desk. I stared back. The clock on the wall tick-tocked. Finally, she sighed. “I’ll get right to it. Jack, I need your help.”

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The Far Himalaya
Excerpt

"We'll walk past your carwash?" she said. "Yes, definitely," he said. "You should see it, already. It's been a long time since we came this way together." At College they walked the one block east to Spadina. At the corner, a few skids stood against the white cliff-like wall of the bank, or headed towards the Scott Mission, just to the north on Spadina, for the 11 o'clock sitting. "The Mission is just up this way, isn't it?" said Aditi. "Can we just go up, for five minutes? I want to see it again." They strolled north, past the Waverley Hotel, once the boozy home of Ben's early hero, the skid row poet Milton Acorn, and now a drug and prostitution den owned and operated by a family of Punjabis like Aditi, where in the early days of his job at the carwash, before he had met Aditi, he would splurge from time to time, and blow several days' pay on a room for a week of relatively spa-like rest and relaxation. The air was already heavy with the Mission's characteristic atmosphere of bad cooking and stinking human bodies. Still linked to Aditi, Ben paused in front of the Silver Dollar Room to read the names of upcoming bands on the poster board, as skids young and old, mostly male but some of them female, stood around or moved about. The two of them moved on, past the Mission's mirrored windows, towards its main entrance. Ben was uncomfortable with the idea of looking. "Is that ... Moksha?" Aditi asked. Ben looked up to see Moksha hurrying across the street from the large circular island of manicured land to the Mission's north, the grounds of an impressive old university building round which the avenue parted and flowed as Spadina Circle, joining again to the north of it. Approaching the Mission's entrance, Moksha recognized Ben. "Oh, hello," he said, with the usual friendly upturn of his voice at the end of hello, pausing to stand in front of Ben and Aditi, nodding genteelly to Aditi. Ben recognized in his voice the characteristic tone of his sobriety, a reserved cordiality thinly covering a crackling potential irritation. "Hello, Moksha," said Aditi with genuine friendliness. "It's been a while since we last met." "Yes," said Moksha, who almost certainly did not remember the last time they had met, all three of them: a pleasant evening last September in Philosopher's Walk, when Moksha had been smashed but charming, a miraculously unlikely combination owed, no doubt, to a tenuous foothold on good sense that made him anxious to avoid outraging Ben by directly exposing Aditi to his usual envious salaciousness. "Yes, it's been a while. Ben should bring you over to the Walk one of these evenings, so we can all catch up. But ... I've got to move or I'll be late for the 11 o'clock." He bowed slightly to Aditi, smiling with mouth closed, glanced up at Ben with a sharp and mysteriously significant eye, then hurried past them towards the Mission doors. Ben and Aditi turned and began to stroll back south. A few of the skids who were lounging and smoking on the Mission's rail-enclosed porch looked curiously at Ben, possibly recognizing him, possibly marvelling a little that this aloof, pretty youth whom no one really knew was, after all, heterosexual, and had somehow managed to score this gorgeous, respectable looking brown chick. As they passed the Silver Dollar again, a man Ben knew slightly, a wiry, rather neanderthalic but intelligent chap of about his age, walked past and shouted, using the title with which he always hailed him, "Hey Pro-fess-or! Got a girlfriend!" Aditi giggled and tightened her grip on his arm. Then she said thoughtfully, "You really are at home in this world." "It must seem so," Ben replied. "It's probably truer than I want to realize."

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Falconi's Tractor
Excerpt

Dom knocked on my door and asked me to come downstairs. It was the first time I'd heard him speak that day. He led me downstairs to the showroom, but I almost tripped on the last stair because the overhead lights had been turned off; only the red tractor in the window had light on it (and I noticed that the blinds had been drawn, something I'd never seen before) and there was candlelight coming from the middle of the showroom. Both desks had been pushed to the walls to make room for the four of us to gather around the candles. I thought we were going to say some prayers for mom, but that's not what happened."Dom and Gina, you already know about this, but Freddy, we wanted you to be part of this ceremony too," Small Carm said, his voice steady despite the flickering light giving him two sets of fish-lips. "Well, it was Dom, actually, who said you are old enough to take part and understand how serious this is." Dom nodded gently, like he was in church. "Today has been a real test for our family," he continued, "but I know we are strong enough to get through it." He then pulled out four items: a pin, a small paring knife, a wooden handle with three beaded strings attached to it, and an odd, rawhide necklace with two brown squares on either end. One square had old-looking script on it, and the other had a picture of what looked like a saint. He placed the necklace around himself so that one square was on his chest and the other was on his back, and then said to me: "You ever have a friend that you liked so much you pricked each other's fingers and became blood brothers, Freddy? Well that's what we're going to do here, and then we're going to promise something to each other, okay?"I just nodded dumbly.He then took the paring knife and cut X's into the palms of both his hands. He flinched but didn't say anything. Almost immediately, a little string of red pearls appeared on the clean tile floor, which soon turned into a puddle. Dom then held out his hands, but Small Carm cut an X into only one of his palms. He must've gone deeper, however, since Dom quickly sucked in some air as he watched the blood quickly curl around his forearm. Before I could protest on Gina's behalf, Small Carm switched to the pin and produced a tiny dome of red on one of her palms. He did the same to me: one little prick right in the centre."Now hold hands, everyone," he said, scanning all of our faces. He took Dom's bloody hand with his dripping right hand, and Dom took Gina's, and Gina took mine, but it was what he did with his left that was really weird. He picked up the wooden handle with the beaded strings and began striking himself on the back with quite a bit of force. Droplets of blood from his open wound were flinging through the air, hitting walls, windows and furniture."Our mother, Rosabella Falconi, is gone," he said in the same kind of tone I'd seen in horror movie séances. "But her love lives inside all of us, and we must protect and cherish that love. There has been scandal, and disrespect, but we must protect our proud family name. FALCONI."Thankfully, his voice then changed back to something more normal. "And the way to do this is by keeping her death a secret. Dom, Gina, again you already know this," he said, then turned his gaze to me, "Freddy, if anyone asks about our mother, you tell them that she has gone missing, and we are doing everything we can to find her....capisce?"

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