Even a desert metropolis has its share of cold-blooded criminals. Along with suburban sprawl, Phoenix is home to shady developers, police corruption, and organized crime. Being close to the country’s southern border makes it a hot spot for trafficking humans, guns, and drugs. Though known as the Valley of the Sun, Phoenix exists under a long shadow.
In Phoenix Noir, you’ll find stories from powerhouse authors Diana Gabaldon, Lee Child, James Sallis, Luis Alberto Urrea, Jon Talton, Megan Abbott, Charles Kelly, Robert Anglen, Patrick Millikin, Laura Tohe, Kurt Reichenbaugh, Gary Phillips, David Corbett, Don Winslow, Dogo Barry Graham, and Stella Pope Duarte.
“Patrick Millikin . . . as if to prove his witty claim that ‘sunshine is the new noir,’ offers one superb specimen, ‘Whiteout on Van Buren,’ in which [author] Don Winslow makes skillful use of a city street at high noon to provide the perfect metaphor for life and death.” —The New York Times Book Review
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BULL by Jon TaltonDowntown
I should have been suspicious when Logan said it was a routine job. It wasn't that there were no routine jobs, only that Logan lied routinely. He was a short man with toad lips and a head that was bald and blotched except for a small tuft of dark hair just above his forehead. Always sitting behind his desk made him appear even shorter.
"Get out to Twenty-seventh Avenue, know where it is?"
He knew I did. I was one of the few people who had actually been born in Phoenix. I tamped out my Lucky Strike in the big ashtray on his desk. "It's just fields out there."
"Yeah, well, they found a foot at milepost 903."
That sounded pretty routine. People fell under trains and lost things. It had been a lot worse a few years ago, during the Depression, with all the bums and alkie stiffs.
"The Golden State will drop you off."
My suspicion made me light up another cigarette. "The Golden State Limited is going to slow down to let a bull get off two miles from here?"
He pulled the cigar from his mouth. A string of saliva kept it tethered to his fat lips.
"Bull. I hate that shit. You're a special agent for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Have some pride."
I took a drag and drew it down to my shoelaces. I walked to my desk, opened the drawer, and pulled out my Colt .45 automatic, taking my time about slipping on the shoulder holster and replacing the jacket.
"Go, you son of a bitch!" he hollered, spitting tiny tobacco leaves across the room. At the door, I heard his voice again: "And be on good behavior for a change. Got it?"
I got it, all right. I took the back stairs out of Union Station, avoiding the mob of young guys in uniform in the waiting room. I crossed the brickwork of the platform and made it to one of the dark green Pullmans on the Golden State just as the whistle screamed highball and the big wheels under the cars started moving. I flashed my badge at the conductor and he let me on, giving me a vinegar look. He didn't want to be slowing down for any damned bull. I let him brush past me and I stayed in the vestibule. It wouldn't be a long ride. The town passed by out the door. Over the red tile roof of the Spanish-style station, the Luhrs Tower marked downtown. If I turned the other way I could have seen the shacks and outhouses south of the tracks. Warehouses and freight cars gradually gave way to open track.
Five minutes later, I dropped off the train into the rocky ballast and found my footing. The air tasted like dust and locomotive oil. There wasn't much out here: the single main line that ran through the desert to Yuma and Los Angeles, a few Mexican houses, the Jewish cemetery. Then there were the fields, regimented rows of green with lettuce, cabbage, and alfalfa running out along the table-flat ground until it met the mountains and the sky. Stands of cottonwood bordered the irrigation canals where I used to swim on the oveny summer days. Now, in January, the air was dry and cool and familiar. I couldn't believe it was already 1943.
The town was changing. It had slept through the Depression like a kid in a fever dream, but the new war had brought Air Corps training bases, a new aluminum plant a ways from town, a camp for Kraut POWs, and endless streams of troop trains. Patton had trained his tank corps down by Hyder. The paper said Phoenix's population was now an unbelievable 65,000. Out here Van Buren petered down into a two-lane road, concreted over by the WPA. I could see somebody had gotten past the shortages and rationing to throw up some temporary housing a little north of the tracks, ratty little one-story jobs made of cinder blocks. They would probably tear it all down once the war ended.
I adjusted my hat and tie and walked toward the crowd a hundred yards back down the tracks. It didn't look good. Too many suits, and not the Hanny's special I had on, but nice ones, and men in them who were all looking at me. Fifty feet away, on the other side of the track, stood a new Lincoln and, outside it, four tough-looking guys carrying Thompsons. Just a routine job. Before I got far, Joe Fisher walked up, moving fast on his wide, thick legs.
"Bull, what's all the company about?" He nodded toward the men in suits.
"Beats me, but looks like Espee brass."
"Your problem," Fisher smirked. His face wasn't built for it. It was thick and immovable, the color and texture of adobe.
"Who are the ones with the Tommy guns?" I asked.
"I was going to ask you that."
Fisher was a Phoenix homicide dick, and he wasn't a bad guy when you compared him to his pals, one of whom awkwardly crossed the tracks and poked me in the chest.
"Jimmy Darrow." He spoke my name accusingly. "This ain't a railroad problem. Take a powder."
Frenchy Navarre's coat was open so you could see the two revolvers he carried in shoulder holsters. He wanted you to see them. He had a failed boxer's face and a killer's heart. I'd seen a lot of guys like him in the war, the Great War. My war. I pushed his hand away just slowly enough, tossed aside my cigarette, and walked past him.
More railroad honchos than I'd ever seen in little Phoenix, Arizona, surrounded me. The introductions were perfunctory: the general manager, a vice president, the head of the mechanical department, and the chief special agent. Names I had only seen on company stationery and timetables.
The chief special agent did most of the talking. "Darrow, you need to work with these local officers to get this cleared up, and I mean soon."
"Sure," I said. Best behavior. "Any dope you can give me on this?"
Heads shook adamantly.
"Son, we need you to double-check everything on this line, make sure it's shipshape." This was the basso of the general manager.
"Yes, sir." I stood awkwardly, waiting to be dismissed.
The chief drew me aside. He had the type of kindly face that I had grown to hate on sight.
"It's wintertime, see, and all the bosses are here for the nice weather," he said conspiratorially. "So they have nothing to do but go out and do our jobs for us, get it?"
In a louder voice, he said, "We need to make sure this line is secure. I want a report by tonight. Let's make it 8 p.m. Sharp.
I'm at the Hotel Adams." I said my yessirs all over again. The chief took my arm. "Remember, serve in silence." I waited for them to climb into a shiny black Caddy, then I lit a Lucky.
Another train trundled slowly by, the big grimy 2-8-0 locomotive making the ground shake. Southern Pacific Lines, proclaimed the tender. It must have had twenty cars, old Harriman coaches, faded black from smoke. Through the open windows, I saw the passengers. Black and brown faces in olive green. Colored troops. They looked with curiosity at our little party. The locomotive smoke sent me into coughs that made my lungs feel like they were on fire. For a moment, I bent over with my hands on my pants legs while my head stopped spinning. I felt better when I took a drag on my cigarette. After the train passed, I crossed over to where Fisher and Navarre had parked their Ford.
"Here it is," Fisher said, standing by the open trunk.
He pointed to an old citrus crate. Big Town Oranges, the label said. Inside I found a bulging, bloodstained towel. They let me unwrap it.
"You find it this way?"
"No, genius," Frenchy said. "We gotta save it. Evidence.
You see that train, Fisher? More niggers than in Nigger Town and they're giving 'em guns." His small, dark eyes focused on me. "What the hell are you doing here, goddamned bull? Go roust some lowlifes down at the yards." He stalked off.
"It was found in the middle of the tracks, right back there." Fisher pointed to where the brass had been standing. "Cut off neat as can be. Mexican found it."
It had been a pretty foot once, pale, petite, with tiny well-shaped toes and the kind of ankle that gives men the shakes when it's attached to a live woman. It was held in a new strap-around black shoe, with a medium heel made of leather. And all had been sliced off at the shin. A railroad car will do that. This was no hobo.
"Where's the rest of her?"
Fisher spat into the dust. "Beats the hell out of me. We've been a mile up and down the tracks in either direction, looked in the ditches, nothing. There was blood on the tracks but no woman. Trail of blood didn't even go as far as the road." He pulled out a handkerchief and ran it over his forehead before replacing his fedora. "She musta been a looker."
The Westward Ho Hotel was the tallest building in Phoenix. It had sixteen stories and refrigeration. When I walked in a little after noon, the lobby was crowded with men in pricey suits and expensive cigar smoke. There wasn't a single uniform. You'd think the world was at peace and nice girls weren't getting their feet cut off by trains. Actually, I wasn't sure she was a nice girl, which was one reason I had come to the hotel. I crossed the lobby and told the elevator operator, an ancient colored man, to take me to the eighth floor. I walked down the hall past three doors on carpet so soft it massaged my feet through the soles of my shoes. I put my hat in my hand and knocked on the fourth door once.
Strawberry Sue might have struck you as the prettiest girl you'd ever seen, if you saw her from behind and the dress fit right — and maybe twenty years ago it would have been true from the front too. But the sun had ravaged her skin, leaving her face rough and cut with lines and creases. Her face looked like the desert. I thought her figure was nice, but it went out of style in the '20s. She was small, so thin I could almost touch my middle fingers if I wrapped my hands around her waist, and her hair was bright orange, worn unfashionably in a ponytail like the child of the ranch she was. Her real name was Ruby, but she hated it. The radio was talking about the big Allied landings in North Africa. I asked her to turn it off. She poured me a Scotch while I took off my shoes. As I sipped the drink, she pulled down her hair and took off my tie real slow.
Afterwards, we lay on the soft bed and I stroked her hair while she had her head in the notch where my neck met my shoulder. "My spot," she called it. She didn't seem to mind the scar there that looked exactly like the shape of the Grand Canyon. I had to smoke Chesterfields because that was what Sue smoked and I was out of my brand.
"You could fall asleep and get some rest, Stuck-On," she said. "I'd take care of you. You wouldn't have to be scared of nothing."
"I'm doing good, Sue." I let out a long blue plume of smoke and talked a little business.
"She doesn't sound like the kind of girl I associate with."
Sue was like that, using big words, reading books, trying to better herself. I admired it.
"She looked like she could have been a high-end call girl, from what I saw of her. Nice shoe. Pale, nice skin."
"Why would she end up under a train?"
"Maybe she steamed up a certain friend of yours."
She made a small, indeterminate sound.
"He's done it before, when a girl crossed him," I said.
She stroked the hair on my chest with her small hands. "Don't talk about that now, Stuck-On ... You know why I call you that?"
I knew why but just ran my hand against the softness of her red hair and tapped some ash in the direction of the ashtray.
"Cause I'm stuck on you, silly," she said. "Why don't you get a real job and we can run away?"
Instead of answering her, I climbed out of bed and walked to the window. It faced north and I studied the palm-lined streets below, where neat bungalows had crew-cut lawns. They gave way to citrus groves and fields, dairies and livestock, and finally the desert. Camelback Mountain was miles away but it looked like I could lean just a little out the window and touch it. Phoenix was an oasis. It was a shame, some of the people an oasis attracts.
"What about it, Sue?"
She lay there naked, her small arms wrapped around her smooth young-girl breasts. "I haven't heard anything, Stuck-On. Honest. I'd tell you. There's lots of new people in town. Maybe it was the Japs?"
I looked back out at the crisp blue sky. "Most of the Japs are gone, you know that. They sent 'em to the camps. Their land's just dying out there."
"Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with call girls, or him."
I used her fancy shower and felt better than I had in a month. Downstairs, I stopped at the smoke shop and nearly made it out the door. But he was fast for a fat man and suddenly his big saggy face was inches from mine.
"Well, Frank Darrow's son. How's Strawberry Sue this fine day?"
I moved back a step so I didn't have to smell his cologne. "I'm sure she's good."
He laughed, a disconcerting gurgling sound, and offered me a cigar. I shook my head. Duke Simms was in his fourth term as a Phoenix city commissioner, but he wore suits and smoked cigars that didn't come with a municipal paycheck. I wished I'd never met him.
"Who are all these people?" I indicated the crowded lobby.
"Businessmen, entrepreneurs. You know what that word means?"
"Friends of yours?"
"Yes, indeed. This is a business-friendly city, Jimmy."
"Why the hell aren't they in the service?"
"Now, don't be that way. They're supplying the air bases, building our defense plants." His chest swelled and he ran his stubby fingers down his lapels. "This town is changing, son. You're not even going to recognize it."
I shook my head and tried to walk past him, but he blocked my way.
"Come outside, son," he drawled, "I was just thinking of you." He wrapped an arm around me and steered me out onto the sidewalk, far enough away from the door to give us some privacy. Simms wore a bright red tie and had a matching handkerchief in his coat pocket. An American flag sprouted from his lapel. "What's going on down at the Espee these days?"
"What do you want, Simms?"
"Such a blunt young man, and after having had a good time just now."
My fingers ached from making a fist.
"I need a little reciprocity," he went on. "Just a little shipment coming to the freight station tonight."
"Things are different," I said. "It's wartime."
The gurgling came again from the back of his throat. "Is that why I had to pay to bring in thirty new clean girls from Texas and Oklahoma? Wartime, yes, indeed. Now, son, we have an understanding."
"Tell me about a girl who had her foot cut off by a train west of town."
He ignored me and put his hand on my bad shoulder, digging his fingers in. I set my face so the pain wouldn't show. "Our understanding is you get to be entertained by Miss Sue complimentary, and you do some things for me. It's worked out well. And it's not as if Strawberry Sue is a spring chicken. Get it? If you went back on our deal, who knows ...?"
He released my shoulder and the sensation of knitting needles probing somebody else's flesh replaced the pain. I managed, "You're a son of a bitch."
"I am," he agreed. "But you have to live with certain disagreeable realities." He smiled through yellow teeth. "Here's what I need."
I rode a crowded streetcar back downtown, then waited for a long string of boxcars to be pulled along Jackson Street before I could walk the block to the depot. They told of faraway places: Baltimore and Ohio, New York Central, Pennsylvania, Frisco, Missouri Pacific, Burlington, Denver, and Rio Grande Western. Anywhere but here. The station sat at the end of the street, gracefully reigning over the surrounding hotels and warehouses. Mail and Railway Express Agency trucks crowded before the long building adjacent to the waiting room.
The Western Union sign hanging from one arch of the building was like a beacon for me. I wasn't sure what the hell the brass wanted me to do about the girl attached to the foot, but I could send wires to station agents east-and westbound from Phoenix. Had anyone reported a passenger who didn't arrive? Had any conductors noticed anything funny on their trains? Later, I'd take a car and check the rail yards, the Tovrea stockyards, Pacific Fruit Express icing docks, the bridge over the Salt River — make sure the line was secure, whatever the hell that meant. It didn't seem to have much connection with the severed foot. Logan was conveniently gone.
When I was finished, I walked back downstairs to the waiting room which was nearly deserted. Out on the tracks, a switch engine was moving baggage and mail cars, but the next passenger train wasn't due to depart until 4:30. The high ceiling of the room held a fog of cigarette smoke and dust, caught in the rays of the sunlight. Over by the newsstand, a couple of young GIs were horsing around, their uniforms new, their faces untouched by death. For just a second I saw myself in a magic mirror, May 1918, and my shoulder throbbed and everything in the world seemed broken. A bird colonel brushed past, glaring at me as if he expected to be saluted. The big wooden benches looked lonely. On one of them, a bum pretended to snooze under a sweat-stained Panama hat. One of the ticket agents watched me from under his eyeshade, then cocked his head as if he were trying to toss it as a shot put. From that direction, two women were coming my way.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Phoenix Noir"
Copyright © 2009 Akashic Books.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART I: THE BIG HEAT,
Jon Talton Downtown Bull,
Charles Kelly Hassayampa Valley The Eighth Deadly Sin,
Diana Gabaldon Desert Botanical Garden Dirty Scottsdale,
Robert Anglen Apache Junction Growing Back,
PART II: WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS,
Luis Alberto Urrea Paradise Valley Amapola,
Lee Child Chandler Public Transportation,
Patrick Millikin Tovrea Castle Devil Doll,
Laura Tohe Indian School Road Tom Snag,
PART III: A TOWN WITHOUT PITY,
James Sallis Glendale Others of My Kind,
Kurt Reichenbaugh Grand Avenue Valerie,
Gary Phillips South Phoenix Blazin' on Broadway,
Megan Abbott Scottsdale It's Like a Whisper,
PART IV: THE CRY OF THE CITY,
David Corbett Tempe Dead by Christmas,
Don Winslow Van Buren Strip Whiteout on Van Buren,
Dogo Barry Graham Christown By the Time He Got to Phoenix,
Stella Pope Duarte Harmon Park Confession,
About the Contributors,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Short stories by a slew of writers exploiting their individual views. I cannot agree with all of their viewpoints but do respect their right to express their opinions. Still an engaging book for residents and visitors alike! Apache Junction is a fantasticaly beautiful town. Do not be frightened away by this books description of it's under belly! However when the sun sets and the darkening shadows creep over Superstition Mountain---well just be careful.
After reading a description of Phoenix Noir (edited by Patrick Millikin), I was really looking forward to the book. It's a collection of murder mystery short stories set in the Phoenix Metro area. Being a resident of the Phoenix area and enjoying the works of Tony Hillerman and JA Jance whose mysteries are also set in the Southwest, I expected comparable writing. I was sorely disappointed. Half of the stories in this anthology were, in my opinion, at the level of a community college creative writing course. They lacked polish and a sense of completion. Murder mysteries provide authors the chance to use numerous literary devices through intricate plots, interesting characters and engaging dialogue. There were plenty of missed opportunities in this collection. ¿Dead by Christmas¿ by David Corbett was an exception and stood above the rest in its detail and craftsmanship. Done in the style of a police procedural, it kept my interest. ¿Public Transportation¿ by Lee Child deserves to be mentioned for its twist ending within the last few sentences of the story. This quick read is worthy of attention just to enjoy its use of an unreliable narrator. This implement was popular with Agatha Christie and it was refreshing to see its use in a modern tale.I haven¿t read any other anthologies in the Noir series offered by Akashic Books. It would be interesting to learn how the Phoenix edition compares to others in the line.
I've started several of these Noir books and I really like them....gives you the atmosphere of each location .