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The Walls: An Original Short Story (Part II)

HypoNeedleWe are thrilled to present Part II of an original short story written by BLOODLINE author Mark Billingham titled “The Walls.” (Missed Part I? Start reading here.) To double the fun, we’ve also created an audio version of the story, read by Brad Negbaur (see below). BLOODLINE is also available as a downloadable audiobook read by Paul Thornley.

She and her mother were sharing a room, so we went to mine. There was not a great deal of choice in the mini-bar, but she didn’t seem too picky, so I told her to help herself. She took a beer and a bag of chips and we sat together on the bed with our feet on the quilt and our backs against the headboard.
The window was open a few inches and the traffic from I-45 was just a hum, like an insect coming close to the glass every so often and retreating again.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel,” she said.
“Afterwards?”
She nodded.
I remembered her face when she’d been talking in the bar. The way she’d talked about wanting it to hurt. “Pretty good, by the sound of it,” I said.
“Yeah, I’ll feel good…and relieved. I mean how I’m going to feel when I’m watching it happen, though. It’s not something everyone gets to see, is it?”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Probably something you never forget, right?”
She made it sound like she was going whale-watching. She slid down the bed a little and kept on closing her eyes for a few seconds at a time.
“You think you might feel guilty after?” I asked.
Her eyes stayed closed as she shook her head. “Not a chance.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Why the hell should I feel guilty when he never did?”
“You know that for sure?”
She opened her eyes. “Well it wasn’t like I was visiting him every week or nothing, but I don’t think a man like that has any normal human feelings.” She took a swig of beer, ignored the dribble that ran down her neck. “He wrote us a letter a month or so back and he said he was sorry, all that shit, but it’s easy to come out with that stuff when you know the needle’s just around the corner, right? Probably told to do it by his lawyer. So they’ve got something to show when they’re pushing for a stay, you know?” She tried to brush away the remains of the chips from her shirt. “Said he’d found God as well.”
“I think that happens a lot.”
“Yeah, well tomorrow he’ll get a lot closer to Him, right?”
“You religious?”
“Sure,” she said.
“So this isn’t a problem for you?”
“Why should it be?”
“What happened to ‘thou shalt not kill’?”
“Shame he never thought about that.”
“He obviously didn’t believe in anything back then,” I said.
She shook her head again and screwed her face up like she was getting irritated. “Look, it isn’t me that’s going to be doing the killing, is it?” She raised the bottle, then thought of something. “Okay, smart-ass, what about, ‘as you reap, you shall sow’? It’s something like that, right?”
I nodded. “Something like that, yeah.”
“Right.” She turned on to her side suddenly and leaned up on one elbow. She slid a leg across the bed and lifted it over mine. “Anyway, what the hell are we talking about this stuff for?”
“You were the one started talking about God,” I said.
“Yeah well there’s other things I’d rather be talking about.” She blinked slowly which she probably thought was sexy, but which made her seem even drunker, you know? “Other things I’d rather be doing.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Come on,” she said. “I know that’s what you want. I saw you looking in the restaurant.”
“Yeah, I was looking.”
“So?”
“You’ve had too much to drink.”
“I’ve had just enough.”
I smiled. “You won’t feel good about yourself tomorrow.”
“I’ve got more important things to worry about tomorrow,” she said. She put a hand between my legs. “Now are you going to get about your business, or what?”
I did what she was asking. It didn’t take long and it was pretty clear that she needed it a damn sight more than I did. She cried a little afterwards, but I just let her and I’m not sure which of us got to sleep first.

I left early without making any noise, and when I turned at the door to look at her wrapped up in the thin hotel sheet, I was thinking that, aside from the fact that I am crazy about nachos and salsa, almost everything I’d told her about myself had been a lie.

God only knows why they call it “The Walls”. They’re thick enough and tall enough for sure, but the men behind them have got a damn sight more to worry about than what’s keeping them inside.
The Huntsville Unit in particular.
One of the deputy wardens led me across the compound from the Visitor’s Waiting Area and in through a grey, metal door. They try to keep the families separate until the last possible moment, which is understandable I suppose and even though there was only me and some crazy woman who’d been writing to Anthony for the last few years, we had our own escort. The prison chaplain would be a ‘witness’ too of course, but I guessed he had no choice but to be kind of neutral about what was happening, so he didn’t really count.
The deputy warden’s highly polished shoes squeaked on the linoleum floor as we walked towards the room next to the execution chamber. Then he opened the door and politely stood aside as I walked in.
The place was pretty crowded.
I knew there would be a few State officials as well as representatives from the media, but I hadn’t figured on there being that many people and it took me a few seconds before I spotted her. She was sitting on the front row of plastic chairs, her mother on one side of her, the other older woman and her psycho brother on the other side. Like everyone else, she’d turned to look when the door opened and I saw the color drain from her face when I nodded to her. Her mother leaned close to whisper something, but she just shook her head and turned round again.
I walked towards the front of the room and took a seat on the end of the second row. We sat in silence for a few minutes, save for some coughing and the scrape of metal as chairs got shifted, then one of the officers ran through the procedure and raised the blind at the window.
Tony was already strapped to the gurney.
There were three men inside the chamber with him and one of them, who I figured was the Warden, asked Tony if he wanted to say anything. Tony nodded and one of the other men lowered a microphone in front of his face.
Tony turned his head as far as he was able and said how sorry he was. For what he’d done, and for all the shit he’d laid at his own family’s door down the years. He finished up by saying that he wasn’t afraid and that everyone on the other side of the glass should take a good look at his life and try to learn something. I’m not quite sure what he meant by that and, things being how they were, it wasn’t like I had the chance to ask him.
He closed his eyes, then the Warden gave the signal and everything went quiet.
Three drugs, one after the other: the sedative, the paralytic and the poison.
It took five minutes or so and Tony didn’t really react a great deal. I saw his lips start to go blue and from then until it was finished, I paid as much attention to her face as his. She knew I was watching her, I could tell that. That I was thinking about all the things she’d said, and the things she’d asked me to do to her the night before at the Huntsville Palms Hotel.
Wanting to see just how good she felt about herself the next day.
I left the room before she did, but I waited around just long enough to get one last look at her. Her face was the color of oatmeal and I couldn’t tell if her mother was holding on to her or if it was the other way around. I guessed she was right about one thing; that it would not be something she would forget.
I had to shield my eyes against the glare when I stepped back out into the courtyard and walked towards my car. I drove out through the gates and past a small group of protesters with placards and candles. A few of them were singing some hymn I couldn’t place and others were holding up Tony’s picture. Later on, I would be coming back to collect my brother’s body and make the arrangements, but until I did, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Right then, all I wanted was to get away from “The Walls” and drive south-west on I-45.
To get another look at that big beautiful lake in the daylight.

Mark Billingham worked as an actor, a TV writer and a stand-up comedian before becoming one of the most critically acclaimed crime novelists in the world. He lives in North London with his wife and two children. Learn more at http://www.markbillingham.com.

Continue Reading Duane Swierczynski’s FUN AND GAMES

In just ten short days, we’ll be publishing FUN AND GAMES, the kick-a$$ first book in the kick-a$$ Charlie Hardie series. Continue reading the novel Josh Bazell called “insanely entertaining,” and which Booklist called “so bloody satisfying.”

Missed Chapter 1? Read it here.

2

“California is a beautiful fraud.”—Marc Reisner

WHEELS WERE supposed to be up at 5:30 a.m., but by 5:55 it became clear that wasn’t gonna happen.

The captain told everyone it was just a little trouble with a valve. Once that was fixed and the paperwork was filed, they’d be taking off and headed to LAX. Fifteen minutes, tops. Half hour later, the captain more or less said he’d been full of shit, but really, honest, folks, now it was fixed, and they’d be taking off by 6:45. Thirty minutes later, the captain admitted he was pretty much yanking off / finger-fucking everyone in the airplane, and the likely departure time would be 8 a.m.—something about a sensor needing replacing. Nothing serious.

No, of course not. Continue reading “Continue Reading Duane Swierczynski’s FUN AND GAMES”

Chapter 3 of The Wreckage

In just a few weeks’ time, The Wreckage will be available in bookstores across the nation. Start reading the book that Booklist called (in a starred review), “Fine and ambitious with characters who are wonderfully human–smart, determined, decent, and flawed. Thoroughly compelling.”

Need to catch up? Read the Prologue and Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

3

LONDON

Sunshine crashes through the lace curtains. Ruiz opens one eye. The ceiling comes into focus, dead moths in the domed light fitting. His right nostril is grouted closed. His mouth tastes like a small animal has crawled inside and died. Continue reading “Chapter 3 of The Wreckage”

Start Reading Duane Swierczynski’s Fun and Games

In just a few short weeks, we’ll be publishing FUN AND GAMES, the kick-a$$ first book in the kick-a$$ Charlie Hardie series. Start reading the novel Josh Bazell called “insanely entertaining,” and which Booklist called “so bloody satisfying.”

THE PIERCING screech of tires on asphalt.

The screams—

His.

Your own.

And then—

1

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. —Popular saying

SHE DISCOVERED Decker Canyon Road by accident, not long after she moved to L.A. A random turn off the PCH near Malibu shot her up the side of the mountain, followed by twelve miles of stomach-flipping twists and hairpin turns all the way to Westlake Village. And she loved it, hands gripping the wheel of the sports car she’d bought with her first real movie check—because that’s what you were supposed to do, right? Blow some of that money on an overpriced, overmuscled convertible coupe that popped a spoiler when you topped 75. She never cared she was going thirty miles faster than any sane driver would attempt on this road. She loved the ocean air smashing into her face, the feel of the tires beneath as they struggled to cling to the asphalt, the hum of the machine surrounding her body, the knowledge that one twitch to the left or right at the wrong moment meant her brand-new car, along with her brand-new life, would end up at the bottom of a ravine, and maybe years later people would ask: Whatever happened to that cute actress who was in those funny romantic comedies a few years ago? Back then, she loved to drive Decker Canyon Road because it blasted all of the clutter out of her mind. Life was reduced to a simple exhilarating yes or no, zero or one, live or die.

But now she was speeding up Decker Canyon Road because she didn’t want to die.

And the headlights were gaining on her. Continue reading “Start Reading Duane Swierczynski’s Fun and Games”

Start reading Thomas Mullen’s THE REVISIONISTS

Galleys of Thomas Mullen’s incredible, genre-defying new novel THE REVISIONISTS are being given away at BEA first-thing tomorrow morning! Couldn’t make it out to BEA this year? Just don’t think you’ll hit the floor in time? Fret not! Start reading Mullen’s book right here on the Mulholland website–and the first twenty comments about it will receive a galley in the mail! (US and CA only, please.)

Z.

A trio of bulbous black SUVs passes sleekly by, gliding through their world like seals. The city shines liquidly off their tinted windows, the yellow lights from the towers and the white lights from the street and the red lights they ignore as they cruise through the intersection with a honk and a flash of their own beams. People on the sidewalk barely give them a glance.

I cross the street, which is empty in their wake. Most of the National Press Building’s lights are still on, as reporters for outlets across the globe type away to beat their deadlines. Editors are waiting in Tokyo, the masses are curious in Mumbai, the public has a right to know in London. The sheer volume of information being churned out of that building is unfathomable to me, the weight of it, and also the waste. As if people needed it. Continue reading “Start reading Thomas Mullen’s THE REVISIONISTS”

Let’s Get Lost: A Matthew Scudder Story (Part II)

In our ongoing celebration of the publication of A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, which has been called “the perfect introduction to Scudder’s shadow-strewn world and the pleasures of Block’s crisp yet brooding prose” (Time), “a book right up there with Mr. Block’s best” (Wall Street Journal) and “as rich and rewarding as it is devastating” (Pulp Serenade). To read an interview with the man himself, visit Ransom Notes.  we present part two of a Matthew Scudder short story by the Grandmaster himself. (If you missed Part I, start reading here.)

“There are a couple of problems,” I told them.  “A couple of things that could pop up like a red flag for a responding officer or a medical examiner.”

“Like. . .”

“Like the knife,” I said.  “Phil opened the door and the killer stabbed him once and left, was out the door and down the stairs before the body hit the carpet.”

“Maybe not that fast,” one of them said, “but it was pretty quick.  Before we knew what had happened, certainly.”

“I appreciate that,” I said, “but the thing is it’s an unusual MO.  The killer didn’t take time to make sure his victim was dead, and you can’t take that for granted when you stick a knife in someone.  And he left the knife in the wound.”

“He wouldn’t do that?”

“Well, it might be traced to him.  All he has to do to avoid that chance is take it away with him.  Besides, it’s a weapon. 
Suppose someone comes chasing after him?  He might need that knife again.”

“Maybe he panicked.”

“Maybe he did,” I agreed.  “There’s another thing, and a medical examiner would notice this if a reporting officer didn’t.  The body’s been moved.”

Interesting the way their eyes jumped all over the place.  They looked at each other, they looked at me, they looked at Phil on the floor.

“Blood pools in a  corpse,” I said.  “Lividity’s the word they use for it.  It looks to me as though Phil fell forward andTeeth wound up face downward.  He probably fell against the door as it was closing, and slid down and wound up on his face.  So you couldn’t get the door open, and you needed to, so eventually you moved him.”

Eyes darted.  The host, the one in the blazer, said, “We knew you’d have to come in.”

“Right.”

“And we couldn’t have him lying against the door.”

“Of course not,” I agreed.  “But all of that’s going to be hard to explain.  You didn’t call the cops right away, and you did move the body.  They’ll have some questions for you.”

Continue reading “Let’s Get Lost: A Matthew Scudder Story (Part II)”

Let’s Get Lost: A Matthew Scudder Story (Part I)

J. W. Dant Whiskey BottleIn our ongoing celebration of the publication of A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, we present a Matthew Scudder short story by the Grandmaster himself.

When the phone call came I was parked in front of the television set in the front room, nursing a glass of bourbon and watching the Yankees.  It’s funny what you remember and what you don’t.  I remember that Thurman Munson had just hit a long foul that missed being a home run by no more than a foot, but I don’t remember who they were playing, or even what kind of a season they had that year.

I remember that the bourbon was J. W. Dant, and that I was drinking it on the rocks, but of course I would remember that.  I always remembered what I was drinking, though I didn’t always remember why.

The boys had stayed up to watch the opening innings with me, but tomorrow was a school day, and Anita took them upstairs and tucked them in while I freshened my drink and sat down again.  The ice was mostly melted by the time Munson hit his long foul, and I was still shaking my head at that when the phone rang.  I let it ring, and Anita answered it and came in to tell me it was for me.  Somebody’s secretary, she said.

I picked up the phone, and a woman’s voice, crisply professional, said, “Mr. Scudder, I’m calling for Mr. Alan Herdig of Herdig and Crowell.”

“I see,” I said, and listened while she elaborated, and estimated just how much time it would take me to get to their offices.  I hung up and made a face.

“You have to go in?”

I nodded.  “It’s about time we had a break in this one,” I said.  “I don’t expect to get much sleep tonight, and I’ve got a court appearance tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll get you a clean shirt.  Sit down.  You’ve got time to finish your drink, don’t you?”

I always had time for that.

Continue reading “Let’s Get Lost: A Matthew Scudder Story (Part I)”

Chapter 1 of A Drop of the Hard Stuff

Continue reading A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF which hits bookstores on May 12th. Missed the Prologue? Start reading here.

I

I COULDN’T TELL YOU the first time I saw Jack Ellery, but it would have to have been during the couple of years I spent in the Bronx. We were a class apart at the same grammar school, so I’d have seen him in the halls or outside at recess, or playing stickball or stoopball after school let out. We got to know each other well enough to call each other by our last names, in the curious manner of boys. If you’d asked me then about Jack Ellery, I’d have said he was all right, and I suppose he’d have said the same about me. But that’s as much as either of us would have been likely to say, because that’s as well as we knew each other.

Then my father’s business tailed off and he closed the store and we moved, and I didn’t see Jack Ellery again for more than twenty years. I thought he looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him right away. I don’t know whether he would have recognized me, because he didn’t get to see me. I was looking at him through one-way glass.

This would have been in 1970 or ’71. I’d had my gold shield for a couple of years, and I was a detective assigned to the Sixth Precinct in Greenwich Village when the prewar building on Charles Street still served as the station house. It wasn’t long after that they moved us to new quarters on West Tenth, and some enterprising fellow bought our old house and turned it into a co-op or condo, and tipped his hat to history by calling it Le Gendarme.

Years later, when One Police Plaza went up, they did essentially the same thing with the old police headquarters on Centre Street.

Continue reading “Chapter 1 of A Drop of the Hard Stuff”

Start reading A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

Next month we are publishing A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block, the newest installment in the celebrated Matthew Scudder series. Start here with the prologue to the novel Booklist, in a starred review, called: “Genius…the prose, as always, is like the club soda Scudder sips in the opening pages: cool, fizzy, and completely refreshing.”

LATE ONE NIGHT . . .

“I’ve often wondered,” Mick Ballou said, ” how it would all have gone if I’d taken a different turn.”

We were at Grogan’s Open House, the Hell’s Kitchen saloon he’s owned and operated for years. The gentrification of the neighborhood has had its effect on Grogan’s, although the bar hasn’t changed much inside or out. But the local hard cases have mostly died or moved on, and the crowd these days is a gentler and more refined bunch. There’s Guinness on draft, and a good selection of single-malt Scotches and other premium whiskeys. But it’s the joint’s raffish reputation that draws them. They get to point out the bullet holes in the walls, and tell stories about the notorious past of the bar’s owner. Some of the stories are true.

They were all gone now. The barman had closed up, and the chairs were on top of the tables so they’d be out of the way when the kid came in at daybreak to sweep up and mop the floor. The door was locked, and all the lights out but the leaded-glass fixture over the table where we sat with our Waterford tumblers. There was whiskey in Mick’s, club soda in mine. Continue reading “Start reading A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block”

Casting Light On Shade: A Conversation with Daniel Woodrell

This week, we celebrate the release of The Bayou Trilogy by Daniel Woodrell.

Daniel Woodrell grew up in the Ozarks, far from any literary scene. The high school dropout lived a kind of gypsy existence for many years, drifting around the country and settling here and there for a year or two before moving on again.

At age 17, Woodrell (pronounced Wood-RELL) enlisted in the Marine Corps during the height of the Vietnam War. The Marines helped Daniel further his educational studies and put him on a path to an eventual college degree.

Fortunately, Woodrell was bounced out of the service before having to serve “in country,” and eventually found his way, like James Crumley before him, to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

He made the literary scene in 1986 with the publication of Under the Bright Lights, the first novel that he, to use his word, “completed.”

Under the Bright Lights introduced detective Rene Shade, an ex-boxer-turned-cop…a man “about sixty stitches past good-looking.” He polices in a town where “girls acquired insurmountable local reputations” and where mistake prone, working-class criminals fret, “I hope to god the FBI ain’t buggin’ this house, Emil. They’ll ridicule us in court.”

Muscle for the Wing (1988) followed loosely in its predecessor’s path — just enough there to assuage publishers pushing for a mystery series, but already showing the traits of Woodrell’s late-1990s-vintage standalones.

And in Wing, Woodrell’s inimitable narrative voice was already firming:

“Beaurain measured five foot seven standing on your neck.”

Or, as an elderly matriarch with ankle-length hair observes, “He’s been mean ever since pantyhose ruined finger fuckin’.”

The novel opens with a bang: “Wishing to avoid any hint of a snub at the Hushed Hill Country Club, the first thing Emil Jadick shoved through the door was double-barreled and loaded.”

In 1992, Woodrell rounded off the Shade cycle with The Ones You Do, a book focused on Rene’s pool-hustling old man, John X. Shade. The trilogy is now being published in one volume by Mulholland Books with the title The Bayou Trilogy.

Daniel Woodrell granted the following interview in mid-June 2006. It appears online here for the first time. In 2006, Woodrell was anticipating the arrival of a Sundance-awarded director who had optioned his latest novel, Winter’s Bone, and was coming to town to get a feel for the region that provides the novel’s setting. The subsequent, critically acclaimed film became a multiple Oscar contender.

Interviewer Craig McDonald, author of the internationally acclaimed Hector Lassiter series, is an award-winning journalist, editor and fiction writer. His writing has earned him nominations for the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Gumshoe awards. His current novel is the literary thriller One True Sentence.

***

Your first three books came bang-bang-bang in ’86, ’87 and ’88. Was your output that fast at the time, or more an effect of stockpiling, so to speak?

The first one had been done for a couple of years before it sold. And I had assumed it wouldn’t sell, and I had assumed I wouldn’t be doing anymore of those, so I started writing Woe to Live On. I was about in the middle of that when I found out the first one had sold. But it was a two-book deal and so forth.

Under the Bright Lights was your first published novel. Was it also the first you wrote?

No — no completed ones before that. That was one of the reasons I was so glad to have tried that book. I did complete it and I thought it was good enough at the time and that was an important psychological thing.

Thirty-three is an evocative age at which to publish your first novel. Can you remember your reaction at the time?

Oh yeah: I was thrilled. I didn’t know writers or anything growing up. I’m not from a writerly milieu. So the idea that somebody from New York’s gonna pay you money and print it, hey, I had no second questions about that. At the time, I was just jumpin’.

Not to say you might be jaded, but is there a vast difference between your anticipation of a book’s release then and now?

There are certain experiences you’ve already had now. I remember once, a long time ago, Elmore Leonard saying he didn’t want just another book, he wanted a book that did what he wanted it to do, or something to that effect. That’s more of what I’m feeling now. I’m excited about publishing books that I think are going to give me the opportunity to publish more…more that maybe range more widely afield than this one. I’ll never be very far from dramatic criminal things, probably. But there are so many ways of getting at it, that’s what’s exciting about this world — call it crime writing or whatever you want to call it. I just call it dramatic writing now, because, who knows? I don’t ever seem to come up with an idea that doesn’t at some point have a crime in it.

Continue reading “Casting Light On Shade: A Conversation with Daniel Woodrell”