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This month, we have a sneak preview of CON MORTE by Axel Howerton:
A devious, dastardly, edge-of-sanity story of a man riding the razor’s edge as he tries to come to terms with a lifetime of evil, and a legacy of death. Equal parts pitch-black hardboiled crime and literary heart-breaker, CON MORTE will rip that pulsating muscle right out of your chest, and then snap it in two in front of you.
Go to the CON MORTE page, or read on after the excerpt to find out more.
Here’s a little sample from Chapter 16 of CON MORTE by Axel Howerton
I case Todd’s neighbourhood for a couple of hours in the rain, driving up and around, even pulling into the wide driveway to back out and turn around.
Most of the street is reasonably-sized houses, tall two, or three-story numbers built into the hill behind them. The kind of houses with steep driveways that lead into a walkout garage. Lots of wood and brick, and rock. Real rock. Not the facade veneer stuff like they use in the new areas. And there’s no siding like in the older middle-class places. This is where the upper-middle, and lower-upper class families moved to. An old neighbourhood with nice, big, fully-restored houses that cost three-quarters of a million, at least.
Not Nick the oilman, though. Oh no.
His house is the big daddy. Texas-sized. Sitting at the end of the lane, on top of the hill, looking down on everyone beneath him.
His house has a triple-garage, attached at an angle so that it’s almost parallel to the front of the house. The main entrance is flanked by two tall columns holding up the peaked gable over the front door. Not a thick oak door like the houses down the hill, but double white doors with huge ovals of stained glass, gold knobs, and a huge turret window above them, showing the top of the spiral staircase inside. Two other stone-laid walls edge out on the one side, with matching sets of huge bay windows upstairs and down. The rest of the house, big as three of the surrounding houses smashed together, seems to be carved from one single piece of stone. It’s a goddamned fortress. A mish-mashed mess of styles and substances. Overblown chaos in design. Exactly what you’d expect, and three times bigger than any other house in the area.
I sit and wait, parked on the edge of an open grass area a block down the hill.
Good ol’ boy Nick pulls up around nine in a jacked-up Hummer. It’s a ridiculous looking-thing with oversized tires that make it about seven feet tall. It barely slides in under the top edge of the garage door.
I try not to giggle watching him crawl out and drop down, like an old lady climbing out of a tank.
Once he’s on the ground, Nick checks himself in a little mirror he pulls from his pocket, rubbing at a spot behind his ear with one of his sleeves, then rubbing at the sleeve with his fingers, swearing the whole time. He hitches his pants, adjusts himself, and then swaggers to the front door, hollering as he steps over the threshold. He doesn’t stop yelling for the next three hours.
I know because I can still hear him, from a block away.
Inside the car.
In the rain.
Todd makes his appearance at eleven forty-five, growling up the hill in his red Escalade and screeching to a stop as the garage door opens, before he pulls in beside his old man’s Humvee.
I watch the kid spit at the windows of the bigger truck, then spin round once to check behind him as he dances up the steps and unlocks the gold-handled stained-glass door.
As soon as the door closes behind him I move up the hill, pulling the Mustang in to block the garage.
Then I walk up and kick in their pretty door.
The small, stern woman from Nick Corey’s pictures screams. She’s standing in the doorway to what I guess is the kitchen, twenty or thirty feet away. She’s backlit by a million watts of electric sunshine, but I can tell that she’s petite, yet fit, and blonde. Just like the receptionist. Nick certainly has a type. I’d seen the pictures though. This woman’s face was worn with misery, and lined with disappointment.
She stands there, stunned, which gives me just enough time to make the distance before she turns to run.
Nick comes hollering from upstairs, leaning over the bannister at the top of the spiral staircase.
“What the goddamn-Sam-fucking-hell is goin’ on down there, Judith?”
I drag his wife back the thirty feet to the front door, pulling her out into the light where he can see her. Where he can see the gun I have at her temple.
“Jackie-boy? What the fuck are you doin’ here?”
“Come on down here, Nick. Bring Todd with you.”
He doesn’t seem terribly surprised that I’m standing in his foyer.
“You sure got a goddamn death wish, don’t ya, Jackie-boy?”
“Come down here right now, and bring Todd, or I repaint your fucking kitchen with your wife’s pretty face.”
“Go right ahead.” He says, tinkling his glass at me. “Have at it, slick!”
“Nicolas!” The wife screeches. “Call the police!”
He laughs. “Well, I would, honey. But Jackie here’s already cut the phone lines, I bet. He is a professional, after all.”
“Use your cellphone!”
“He stole that out of my pocket this afternoon,” He tells her, raising his glass to me again. “Didn’t ya, sport? Gave me a good goddamn workout too. Gonna have to get me a new security company. Them fellas weren’t for shit.”
I twist her blonde hair in my hand, force her head down as I put the silencer into the nape of her neck.
“Last chance, Nick.” I shout over her screams.
He leans on the railing as if we’re talking about the weather.
“Nah.” He says. “Guess you’ll have to kill the bitch.”
There’s two little pops and she screams again as the bannister explodes just under Nick Corey’s face.
He disappears into the dust, but it doesn’t stop the laughing.
I drag Judith back to the kitchen, taking in my surroundings as we go. A nice, open floor plan, no big surprises. There’s a big pantry in the back corner of the kitchen.
“Where’s your cell phone?” I ask her. She weeps. She begs.
“Where?” I demand, pushing the silencer deep into the hollow of her cheek. She still doesn’t say, but her eyes dart towards the marble countertop of the long island that runs the length of the kitchen.
I shove her back into the pantry and shut the door.
“No, please! Amy!” She’s pounding fists against the door as I prop a chair under the handle and kick the legs in tight. I’m not sure who Amy is, but I hope, for her sake, that she’s not home.
“You still down there, Jackie-boy?” Nick Corey hollers from upstairs.
“Why don’t you come down and find out.” I offer. “Bring Todd with you. We can have a talk.”
“Now why’re you so interested in Todd?” He asks. I can tell by the acoustics that he’s creeping around the staircase, making his way down. If he’s confident enough to try it, knowing that I have a gun, means he’s got one too. Him being a Texan, I’m picturing something as ridiculous and over-compensating as this house, or the tank in his driveway.
He doesn’t disappoint.
The echo is like a thunderclap inside the room, as one of the French doors to the patio explode.
Of course. He has a .357 magnum. Thinks he’s Dirty Harry.
Doesn’t matter to men like Nick Corey that handguns are illegal around here. Especially hand-cannons that make holes the size of a fist.
“Maybe I can’t phone the police,” He shouts, “But I’m bettin’ it ain’t gonna take ’em long to find us with all this racket.”
“I’m betting the neighbours are used to you by now.”
“That’s funny.” He says, closer now, just around the corner. “Let’s see if you’re that funny with my six-gun jammed up your Eye-talian ass, you cocksucker!”
He jumps into it.
He thinks he has the element of surprise, but I’m waiting behind the wall. All I have to do is throw my gun hand out as he leaps in. I twist to catch him right across the bridge of the nose with the butt of the handle. There’s a crack of metal on snapping cartilage, then another clap of thunder as his pistol goes off, and white plaster rains down from the ceiling as he hits the floor. The big gun falls like an anchor beside him.
Before he opens his eyes, I have one foot on his chest, the silencer rested between his eyebrows.
“Todd.” I say for the umpteenth time. “Where is he.”
Nick Corey spits blood onto my boot, looks up through watery eyes.
“Fuck you, ya goddamn wop!”
“I’m not Italian.”
He spits again.
“Whatever you is, you can tell that boss of yours that he can suck my big ol’ left nut. I ain’t afraid of you asshole gangsters. And you ain’t gonna get anything out of me by kidnapping my boy, neither.”
I snicker. Shake my head.
“This isn’t about you, Nick.”
I can see the universe swirling inside of his rapidly swelling eyes. He wants to get up, he wants to keep fighting. He’s going to push me until everyone in this house is swallowed up by the chaos, until his whole castle burns to the ground, until everyone dies screaming.
“Dad? What the fuck?”
Todd is standing five feet away, oblivious to the world, big can-style wireless headphones clamped over his ears. He’s staring at the hole where the patio door used to be.
He turns and sees me, and he runs.
One hard kick to the side of Nick Corey’s obnoxious head and he’s out. I scoop up the Magnum and shove it in the back of my waistband, where it sears the small of my back.
I’m on Todd’s heels as he hits the front door. He knows he’s not going to make it. He dekes right and stumbles up the stairs, as I slam shoulder first into the door. He buys himself just enough time to get two steps ahead of me. He hits the top of the stairs and runs hard for the hallway, stopping just long enough to open a door and fall inside.
I’m right behind him, my shoulder splintering the door almost the same second it closes.
I drop, the gun up in my hand.
Todd Corey is backed against the wall, holding the little girl from his father’s pictures in front of him as a human shield. He has a pocket knife at her throat. A little Swiss Army pocket knife. I can see the symbol on the red plastic between his fingers.
“Back off, man! Back the fuck off!”
I stand slowly, put the gun back in the holster under my arm, and back into the hallway with my hands palm up in front of me.
“Is that your little sister, Todd?” I ask him.
“Shut the fuck up, man!” He barks at me.
The little girl is calm, and quiet, as if this happens all the time. She’s clutching a tiny square of blanket to her chest.
“Let her go, Todd. I just want to talk to you.”
“You.” He swings the knife towards me, then jabs it back at his sister’s throat. “You’re that fucking cop from the coffee shop!”
“Yeah. I’m looking for Alice. Do you know where she is?”
He knows what I’m asking. It’s somewhere in that dark abyss, swirling in his black eyes. He knows what I mean.
“You’re no cop.” He snarls. Calm now. Collected. Thinking he’s in charge.
“Let’s go downstairs and we can talk.” I suggest.
“How about you get the fuck out of here, before the real cops show up.”
I can see the same chaos behind his eyes as his daddy has. He doesn’t want me to leave. He wants to ramp the party up to eleven. Or thirteen. He wants to dance.
I let him have what he wants.
I pull the gun out of the holster and back up into the hallway.
He follows me out into the main room.
“I’m just going to put this down, and back away. Don’t hurt the girl.” This is the game he wants to play. As seen on television. He’s the evil genius, and I’m the soft-headed, big-hearted cop who doesn’t want anybody to get hurt.
Todd is smiling, a wide, toothy grin. The same one he had when he was shoving Alice across the room in the coffee shop. He’s the big man. He’s the boss. He’s in charge.
As soon as the pistol is on the ground, he forces me back further, pushing the knife at the girl’s throat, digging the point into the soft flesh of her neck, drawing a tiny trickle of blood.
She winces, but she doesn’t cry.
They keep moving forward until Todd is standing right on top of my gun.
That’s when he loses his upper hand.
Todd lets go of the girl, dropping down to scoop up the gun.
I reach out, pull her out of the way and drop with my elbow on the back of his head. He swings out with the pocket knife, glancing it off the outside of my forearm, right below the elbow. It slices a hole in my jacket, but misses the flesh.
The knife bounces away across the carpet as I land on top of him.
The girl watches quietly, then steps in behind us and picks up the gun.
“Don’t move.” She says.
I’m not sure which one of us she’s aiming at.
She pulls at the trigger, confused when it doesn’t move. She shakes it and tries again.
I reach out and take it away from her by the silencer on the barrel.
“Safety’s on.” I tell her, as I flip the little lever on the side and squeeze the trigger.
Another little pop and the light above us explodes, raining down a dusting of glass a few feet away from her.
I grab Todd in a headlock, muscle him to the stairs and throw him down.
We both watch him tumble to the bottom. I hold my hand out and she takes it.
Todd picks himself up off the floor and eyes the front door.
“I wouldn’t.” I tell him, as the girl and I walk down together.
I kick Todd towards the kitchen, planting my foot in the small of his back.
Judith is still hammering at the pantry door. The girl drops my hand and rushes to move the chair.
“Amy?” Her mother is screaming from behind the door. “Amy! Oh my god! Please! Don’t hurt her!”
It takes me a minute to find something to tie them up with. Best I can manage is some long zip ties, which I use to cinch Todd’s hands behind him on one of the tall bar chairs in front of the island. I do the same with his ankles, so that if he tries to move, he’ll just topple over onto the floor.
I let mom out of the pantry and do the same for her.
I leave Amy free on her own recognizance. We seem to have an understanding, though she gives me a hard look when her mom whimpers as I tighten the ties on her wrists around the back of the stool.
Nick is still out on the kitchen floor.
For some reason, I’m out of stools.
“It’s being re-postered.” Amy tells me.
I settle for strapping Nick to the taps on the sink, bent over the counter and vulnerable in a way I had a suspicion would really bother him.
I take note that Amy doesn’t seem to mind.
“Now.” I said, finally having the undivided attention of the room. “Where’s Alice, Todd?”
“How the fuck should I know?” He spits at me.
“Please,” Judith begs me again. “Whatever Nicolas has done…”
“This isn’t about him.” I say again. “This is about Todd, and the girl he beat up. A girl that’s missing.”
Judith begins to weep again, her chin lolling against her chest.
Amy just looks angry. She doesn’t say a word. She just sits with her blanket and stares a hole through her big brother. The brother that just held a knife to her throat.
“Can I ask you something Amy?”
“Do you think people deserve a second chance? Like if they do something bad? If they hurt people? Innocent people?”
“What people?” She asks.
“Well,” I scratch at my chin. “Maybe somebody like you, Amy. A little girl, asleep in her room, her own brother comes in and pulls her out of bed, sticks a knife against her throat…”
I reach out a finger towards her neck. She leans back, but she doesn’t stop me as I swipe at the little spot of blood she has there.
“He’s only half a brother.” She corrects. “His mom is different.”
The blood is almost dried, but fresh enough for my finger to come away with a spot of red.
I point it towards Todd. “This is what you’d do to a little girl, Todd? Your own sister.”
Judith thrashes against her chair.
“You little bastard!” She screams.
I wonder if I let her go, if she’d kill him for me.
“Where is Alice?” I ask again.
Nick groans into the drain.
“Gonna kill you, you wop sonofabitch.” He mumbles.
I turn to Amy again.
“What about your dad?” I ask her. “Is he nice to you?”
“Does he hurt you?”
I watch Judith staring at her husband bent over the sink. I understand the dynamic in an instant.
“Like he hurts your mom?” I add.
Amy shakes her head.
“Well, that’s good anyways. Right?”
Judith watches me with a mix of fury and desperation in her eyes.
“I don’t know what you want with us, what these two have done to deserve this,” She says through gritted teeth. “But Amy has done nothing wrong. She’s just a little girl. Just let her go, please.”
I pull Todd’s knife out of my pocket. It’s not as scary as mine. I step towards her, expecting her to pause, to waver, maybe to break down crying again, begging for her life. Begging for one of these two monsters to save her.
She just keeps her eyes trained on Amy the whole time.
“It’s going to be okay, baby. Everything is going to be okay.” She tells her daughter.
“Yes, it is.” I say as I slice the zip-ties from her wrists.
When she’s free, Judith scoops up her daughter and holds her tight. I watch Amy’s face brighten, and I wonder how that must feel – to have somebody hold you like you’re the only thing that matters.
“Run upstairs and get your shoes on.” Judith tells her.
When Amy is gone, Judith turns to Todd with more anger in her eyes than I’ve ever seen. There’s no monster there, no thing pulling strings and taking over for its own pleasure. Just pure, unbridled fury. That makes me wonder how terrible it must be to have something that matters so much to you. What it’s like to have it taken away.
Judith swings one small, pale hand, seemingly from across the room, slapping him so hard that he goes over, stool and all, landing face down on the parquet floor.
“You bitch!” Todd moans into the hardwood.
“What the hell’s goin’ on over there, goddammit?” Nick demands. His voice is tinny and nasal and strange, strangled by his swollen face and reverberating around him, up out of the sink basin.
Judith spits down at her stepson.
“Burn in hell, you little shit!”
“Goddammit, Judith! You can’t talk to him like that. You ain’t his mother, you little bitch!”
Judith hunches her small shoulders and circles around behind her husband, still face down in the sink.
“Fuck you!” She screams, bringing her knee up hard and fast between his legs. “You sonofabitch!”
Nick Corey makes a sound like a strangled yodel and slumps as far as his arms will allow him, bringing his knees together as he writhes against the counter.
“Thank you,” She says to me as she helps Amy stuff her arms into her coat.
She promises me the half hour it should take to walk with her daughter to the nearest payphone.
I promise not to leave any more of a mess in her house.
Amy squeezes my hand and follows her out into the night.
©2017 Axel Howerton – Reproduced by permission only – Coffin Hop Press LTD
CON MORTE launches 9/28/2017 at fine booksellers and ebook purveyors everywhere! Pre-orders available on Amazon and Kobo!
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