Joe Crow celebrates his thirty-third birthday in his patrol car, watching for speeders and sniffing fat lines of cocaine. A depressed cop with a faltering marriage, a rotten stomach, and an increasingly expensive drug habit, Crow is just looking for a drink and a poker game when he steps into Birdy’s. Instead, he meets a man who might be able to save his life—or destroy it. He first notices Dr. Nelson Bellwether when the liposuction expert has a chair smashed over his head. A surgeon with a big mouth, a gambler’s personality, and some serious debt to the IRS, he’s on his way to deep trouble, and he’s going to bring Crow along for the ride. Dr. Bellwether needs a bodyguard, and Crow is his man. Pretty soon, this small town cop will wish he had a bodyguard of his own.
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About the Author
Pete Hautman (b. 1952) is an American novelist. Born in Berkeley, California, Hautman moved to Minnesota when he was six. He attended college at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the University of Minnesota, and went on to work in marketing and graphic design. Dissatisfied with his work, Hautman turned to fiction, writing his first novel, Drawing Dead, in 1993. A rollicking story of an ex-cop whose gambling gets him into trouble, it was the first of five novels starring Joe Crow, Sam O'Gara, and Axel Speeter. Besides writing mysteries, Hautman has had success writing young adult and middle school fiction. In 2004, he won the National Book Award for Godless, a young adult novel about a pair of teens who start a religion based on worshipping a local water tower. Hautman’s recent novels include Blank Confession (2010), The Big Crunch (2011), and What Boys Really Want (2012).
Read an Excerpt
By Pete Hautman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Peter Hautman
All rights reserved.
You have lunch with a guy, that's good. You do a round of golf with him, that's even better—long as you don't make him look bad. But you go hunting with a guy, get out there and kill something with him, man, he's yours forever.
—RICH WICKY, DISCUSSING CLIENT RELATIONS WITH A REGISTERED REPRESENTATIVE
The open-top hummer climbed out of the dry creekbed onto the bank, turned its blocky nose to the north, and growled up the steep side of the coulee, seeking gaps between the larger trees, rolling over the smaller saplings and herbaceous plants, flattening the mat of autumn leaves. The two men riding in the back seats gripped the padded roll bar. The Hummer lurched over a log, crushing rotted wood with its thirty-seven-inch tires.
"Feels like we're gonna tip over, Doc," said the young man in the insulated camouflage coveralls. His name was Steve Anderson, an appellation that perfectly matched his unremarkable Nordic features.
Dr. Nelson Bellweather, a pudgy, mild-looking, soft-featured, small-eyed man with thin, pale hair and smooth, polished cheeks, laughed. He wore a pink western-style shirt with silver snaps and collar points, Ralph Lauren dungarees, and ostrich-hide cowboy boots by Lucchese. His tenor laugh was practiced and frequent.
The Hummer suddenly lost purchase, skidded five feet back down the forty-five-degree slope, and stopped with its back bumper jammed against the trunk of a twisted basswood, precipitating a shower of yellow and brown leaves.
"Holy shit," said Anderson. He was sweating profusely. His new coveralls, designed to be comfortable down to zero degrees Fahrenheit, were overbuilt for this sunny October afternoon.
The doctor laughed again and brushed leaves from his lap. "Don't worry about it, Stevie. These Murphys know their business." The doctor leaned toward the front of the vehicle. "Isn't that right, Shawn?"
Shawn Murphy, the chubby ten-year-old boy in the front passenger seat, said, "Yup! We know our business, don't we, Unc?"
The driver, his narrow head in the grip of a worn, mouse-gray Stetson, nodded. He twisted the steering wheel to the right and attacked the incline from another angle. The powerful fuel-injected diesel rotated the big wheels; the Hummer resumed its climb up the leaf-littered slope. The sound of the diesel intensified with the pitch of the landscape. Anderson clung to the roll bar, staring back down the precipitous slope at a swath of crushed vegetation. The Hummer growled, lurched, and crackled its way to the ridge. At the crest, they turned onto a narrow but clearly defined track and came to a halt. The engine subsided to an almost subsonic rumble. Ricky Murphy turned to his passengers and raised a thin blond eyebrow. His sun-toasted face, framed by the worn Stetson, made him look like a famished version of the Marlboro Man.
Anderson said, "Damn, I thought we were going over backwards."
Ricky grinned. "Hell, that weren't nothin'. Didn' even need the winch." He pulled a bag of Red Man from his shirt pocket, extracted a stringy wad of tobacco, and pushed it into his mouth. He offered the bag to the boy, but when Shawn reached for it Ricky pulled it away, tucked the bag into his pocket. The boy pushed out his lower lip in an exaggerated pout, looked back at the doctor.
Dr. Bellweather grinned and gave the boy's crew cut a friendly rub.
Ricky said, "Whaddya say, Doc? You into a little cat action?"
The doctor looked at Anderson and winked. "That okay with you, Stevie? My cat first, then your buff?"
"Fine by me," Anderson said, his heart still pounding from the ascent. He'd never been hunting before. He hoped he wouldn't do something stupid. His boss at Litten Securities, Rich Wicky, had told him not to worry. "What, do you think he's gonna shoot you or something? The guy just lost a bundle; he needs some hand-holding is all. If he didn't like you he wouldn've invited you. Let him show off, whack a few beasties. Tell him he's hot shit."
Ricky dropped the Hummer into gear and followed the crest of the ridge.
Anderson's new Weatherby, which he had never fired, rested in its case in the back of the Hummer, bouncing every time Ricky hit a rock or rolled over a fallen log. He'd told the salesman at Big Don's Outfitters that he needed a buffalo gun.
"Now are you talking buffalo or bison?" the salesman had asked.
There was a difference?
"I don't know," Anderson had answered.
The salesman had sold him the Weatherby. Twenty-five hundred bucks, including the Leupold scope. The coveralls, boots, and safari hat had cost him another six bills. He hoped he could write it off.
A hundred yards up the ridge, the Hummer slowed to a crawl. "Hang on back there," Ricky said over his shoulder. He turned the wheel hard to the left, and the nose of the Hummer went down. Anderson clamped his arms around the roll bar. The hillside was no steeper than that which they had climbed, but it felt like they were going over the edge of a cliff. The Hummer bounced and skidded down the slope, taking out trees up to three inches in diameter, its tires leaving a pair of foot-wide gashes in the earth.
They landed at the edge of a flat clearing covered with the matted brown remains of the summer's vegetation. To their left, they could see the river through the trees; the land rose precipitously to their right. Anderson stood up, still keeping his grip on the roll bar. A narrow dirt road was visible at the far end of the clearing.
"How come we didn't use the road?" he asked.
Dr. Bellweather said, "The ride's part of the safari package, Stevie. This is what you call your total experience. Now you can say you rode up and down the side of a cliff in a ... what do you call this thing, Shawn?"
"Hummer!" said Shawn.
"Same as we used to kick Saddam and the rest a them sand niggers' asses," Ricky added. He rolled his jaw and expelled a brown amoeba of mucus. "I got your cat over t'other side there." He pointed across the clearing. The outlines of a molded tan plastic cage with metal mesh sides—about the size of a large dog carrier—stood out against a rocky wall.
Ricky reached under the front seat of the Hummer and pulled out a black case slightly longer and wider than a telephone directory. He opened the case and took out an oddly shaped object that, at first, Anderson did not recognize. It looked like a power tool. He looked closer, then realized with a jolt that Ricky was holding some kind of gun, a metal box eight and one-half inches long, a little more than an inch thick, and two inches high. A short metal handle was attached at right angles to the bottom of the box, a little toward the back, just behind an oversize trigger guard. Behind the handle, an elongated loop of quarter-inch-thick steel wire, both ends attached to a pivot, was bent up and over the top of the box. A two-inch-long threaded barrel jutted from the other end of the box.
The entire device was made from dead-black metal. Anderson stared. He had never seen such a thing outside of the movies.
Ricky rotated the wire loop back, then pulled it out from the body until it snapped into place, forming an eight-inch-long stock.
"You used this baby before, right, Doc?"
Bellweather nodded. He unfolded a pair of military aviator's sunglasses and installed them on his face. Ricky handed him the gun, then produced two twelve-inch-long rectangular clips. "Thirty rounds each. Cock it, then shove that clip right up the handle there. Push it in as far as it goes."
"I know, I know." Bellweather took the clips and climbed out of the vehicle. He pulled back a knob on top of the gun, then inserted one of the long clips into the base of the handle, his manicured hands moving with precise, graceful, economical motions. Surgeon's hands. Anderson could feel his heart taking off. Was this hunting? Bellweather looked at him and grinned, his eyes obscured by dark lenses. He lifted the gun, displaying it proudly. "You ever see one of these, Stevie?"
Anderson shook his head.
"MAC-10. Forty-five caliber, full auto. George lets his best clients use it." He turned and started across the clearing, using slippery clumps of dead grass as stepping-stones.
Ricky strapped on a belt holster containing a long-barreled, large-caliber revolver. The gun looked enormous on his narrow hip. The heavy brass belt buckle, an oval four inches across, carried an inscription in raised letters: Cowboys Do It in .45 Caliber.
"You stay here," he said to Shawn. Ricky headed directly for the cage, his lanky body gliding easily across the uneven ground. The boy stood up and sat on the back of his seat, his arms resting along the roll bar. Anderson opened the case and took out his Weatherby. Just in case.
"Are you gonna shoot too?" Shawn asked.
Anderson shrugged. He didn't know what the hell he was going to do. This was Bellweather's scene; he was just following his client's lead.
"I shot a pheasant last month," the boy said. "Me and my dad."
"That's great," said Anderson. He wished the kid hadn't come along. He felt self-conscious playing the great white hunter. Having a ten-year-old audience made it worse. But Bellweather seemed to like the kid, and it was his show. He wondered what it would be like to grow up in a place like this, with all the guns and wild animals. The kid seemed happy enough.
Anderson shouldered his rifle and followed the doctor across the lumpy, spongy surface of the clearing. The peaty soil made sucking sounds under his new boots. A few yards from the cage, the land rose slightly. Ricky motioned for them to stop.
"You see her?"
A motionless patch of tawny fur lay flat on the floor of the container.
"How you want to do this?" Ricky asked.
"Fair chase," said the doctor. "Let it loose."
"She comes out, you want to take her right away, Doc. She gets in them woods, we're gonna have to go get the dogs."
"Don't worry about it," said Bellweather. "Everything's under control."
Anderson stepped back. His heart was hammering; he couldn't quite get a good breath. Ricky walked the final twenty paces to the cage, peered in at the captive animal. With one hand on the grip of his revolver, he unlatched the door and stepped quickly back. The cougar twisted its body around. They could see its face now, blinking yellow eyes.
The men waited.
"Might take her a minute to figure out she's cut loose," Ricky said. "She's been in there awhile, maybe got used to it."
Bellweather held the gun with both hands now, the short stock hard against his shoulder, aiming at the open end of the cage. "Come on out, kitty cat," he called.
"She's a mean one," Ricky said. He was holding his revolver loosely at his side, grinning but alert. "Eat you alive," he added.
It occurred to Anderson that he was the only one there without a loaded weapon. He fumbled with the Weatherby, then realized he had left his shells back in the Hummer.
"Kitty cat," Bellweather called. He took a few steps toward the cage. "Kitty cat!" No response. "Hey, you want to get the damn thing to come out where I can see it?"
Ricky bent forward, picked up a clod of grass and peat, hurled it at the side of the cage. It hit the wire mesh and disintegrated. The cat hissed and pressed itself against the far side of the cage.
"Shit. You want to move off to the side there, Doc. Get so she can't see you so good."
They shifted over a few yards, Bellweather keeping the MAC trained on the cage. Ricky kicked some grass aside and found a rock about the size of an egg. He drew back his arm and hurled it at the back of the cage. The stone struck with a solid thwack; the startled cougar crashed into the unlatched door and was suddenly in the open, belly to the ground, pressed against the limestone wall less than twenty yards away, black-tipped tail lashing.
Anderson stopped breathing.
The cougar hissed, ears flat. It reached out a paw and took a slow step, its side dragging against the rock wall.
"She's all yours, Doc," Ricky said, his voice low. The cougar took a step, low to the ground, moving away from the three men. "Better go for it, Doc."
The sound of thirty .45-caliber hardballs all firing within the space of two seconds sent a surge of adrenaline through Anderson's veins. For a moment, he thought the doctor's gun had exploded, but the cat went straight up, twisting in the air, a chain of red geysers erupting from its white underbelly. It hit the ground with an audible thud. Bellweather changed clips as he walked toward his prey.
Ricky said, "Hold up there, Doc. She ain't done yet."
The cat was convulsing, its tail lashing wildly. Bellweather slammed the new clip home and charged the dying cougar, firing short bursts as he ran. The sound was nothing like in the movies. Even through the ear-hammering roar of the exploding cartridges Anderson could hear the thut thut thut of fat leaden slugs slapping into the big cat's body. His ears rang, and the landscape seemed to be in motion.
The doctor stood over the motionless cougar, panting, the machine gun hanging empty from his hand. Ricky smiled with one side of his mouth and put his handgun away.
Anderson gulped a ragged breath, his first since the cougar had appeared. The sudden influx of oxygen hit him like a drug. He started to giggle.
Bellweather looked up, his face flushed, sun glancing off his sunglasses. "Goddamn cat almost got away," he said to Anderson. "You see it?"
Anderson nodded, a loose curve distorting his dry lips. His insides were bubbling. The Weatherby fell from his grasp. The end of the barrel dug into the muck, the rifle flopped over onto the ground.
"Kind of gets your heart going, don't it, Stevie?"
Anderson nodded, his mouth dry.
Shawn came running up to see the dead cougar. "Man oh man, you pulverized the sucker! Jeez!" Bellweather cupped a hand over the boy's shoulder.
Anderson looked down at the Weatherby, at the beautifully finished walnut stock, the four-hundred-dollar scope, the mud-covered barrel. He returned his eyes to the cougar, then to the MAC-10 in Bellweather's hand.
"Will that thing work on a buffalo?" he asked.
Two miles north of Talking Lake Ranch, Joe Crow was celebrating his thirty-third birthday sitting in one of Big River's four new Ford Crown Victoria patrol cars, parked behind a brush pile just off County Road 5. He popped open his second Leinenkugel and regarded the two fat white lines of cocaine decorating the black top of the police radio.
Thirty-three, he thought. Had he grown up yet? He didn't think so. He hadn't felt grown up at eighteen, or at twenty-one either. Real adults didn't drink beer while they were supposed to be working. Grown-ups did not spend their money on cocaine. Crow looked in the mirror, at the deep adult lines framing his mouth. Even when he pursed his wide lips, the lines were there. They would never heal. And he would never surpass his current five-foot-eight-inch height. In fact, he could probably look forward to getting shorter. Evidence of adulthood. He tore a page from a book of traffic citation blanks, rolled it into a tube, and snorted the coke into one nostril, then the other, one line for each side of his brain. He sat back and watched the early afternoon sunlight get brighter, listened to the birds singing louder, and felt like a boy again.
A car passed. His eyes flicked to the radar display. Sixty-eight. If some hot dog decided to challenge his authority by flying by at eighty-five or ninety per ... well, he would think about chasing him down. But first he had to decide what to do with the rest of his life. Officer Crow let his mind wander.
Shortly after noon, Crow decided to quit his job with the Big River police. It was a decision to which he had come many times before. He would open a rib joint. A really great place where you could go to get some really great ribs. Better yet, he would go to Montana and play poker for a living. Buy into one of the poker clubs in Billings. Buy himself a nightclub. In Jamaica, a really cool place with reggae music and Red Stripe beer. By two-seventeen he was seriously considering learning to play bass guitar and starting the ultimate rock band. He drained the sixth can of Leinenkugel. As he laid out the last two lines of coke, he heard, faintly, a rapid series of explosions. A short burst, then a longer one.
Crow frowned. The Murphys, running another hunt. None of his business what they did, but it pissed him off anyway, the untouchable Murphy brothers running their canned hunts, blowing away everything from antelope to zebra. He'd tried to convince his chief to have a talk with George Murphy about the machine guns. It just didn't seem sporting. Orlan Johnson had listened, then told him he had to learn to mind his own "got-damn beeswax."
Excerpted from Short Money by Pete Hautman. Copyright © 1995 Peter Hautman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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