In the Last Episode, we ventured into the dark cold basement of The Nerd of Noir’s Bar, trying to coax him out and into the light.
The first clue may have been the Harleys outside. Harleys that didn’t belong to any of the other clubs that had been trickling in all that day. The second thing Lafitte noticed that wasn’t what he would’ve expected from an indie genre bookstore was the giant warehouse next door full of immense machinery, the sort you build bridges and airplanes with. Three stories tall, two stories wide, and greased up to take on any army.
The guy leaning against the wall beside the front door sipped more of his coal-black coffee and watched, warily it seemed, as Lafitte loped up to the Central Crime Zone. He wondered if the Nerd of Noir was getting all his books from these guys.
Lafitte nodded. Coffee Man nodded back.
“The realization of my dreams, more like it.” Another sip. Coffee Man flicked his chin down towards where all the noise and smoke was coming from. “You with all that?”
Lafitte stared back down the road. Bikes lines the middle of the dusty road. Engine growls competed with heavy metal guitars. Luckily, he’d been able to head back to the Dive Bar and snag some chow before wandering off to the fringes again.
He answered, “More or less. Might if I take a look around?”
Coffee Man waved his free hand towards the door. “Mi casa, etc.” Then stuck it out for a shake. “Jon.”
Lafitte shook. “Billy.”
A gleam in Jon’s eye. Mischievous boy grin. “You ready to be surprised?”
Not that Lafitte was much of a reader, but the sheer height and breadth of the shelves was awe-inspiring.
Books. Comics. DVDs. Pulps. Posters. And an antique clawfoot tub full of the best beer selection he’d ever seen. It was like the Smithsonian of Genre. Left Lafitte slackjawed a moment. When he was outside, he just thought it was any old warehouse, but shit…
A woman sat behind the counter, watching him with raised eyebrows and a look on her face she’d read his tea leaves. Oh yeah, she had him pegged.
“Looking for something in particular?” She asked.
“He’s with the Rally. I think he rode in with the big guy, Ruth.”
Another woman cleared her throat several aisles down. Lafitte looked over. Sharp eyes under sharper bangs. She walked up to him, no fear, and grabbed his chin roughly, turned his head left and right like she was examining him. Then let go and took a step back.
“He’s spotty. I can’t a read on him.”
Lafitte thought he’d ended up in the Land of Oz all the sudden. “Can I just get some books? Some paperbacks?”
They all started talking at once.
Pretty soon Lafitte was shuffling through a pile they’d put together. Old stuff from Himes, Ball, and Whittington. New stuff from Guthrie, Azzarello, and Faust. More more more. A dude with a shaved head and a leather jacket snuck in some DVDs while no one was looking. Said to Lafitte, “Low budgets equal big imaginations. Check it out.”
Just as Lafitte was about to grab a couple and pay, some sort of alarm went off. Red strobe lights mounted on the ceiling came alive. The Central Crime team sprang into action, Jon stopped just a second to tell Lafite, “Sorry about this. Couldn’t have happened at a worse time.”
Lafitte watched as they all put on headsets and started talking, barking orders, things like, “Get the plane ready” and “International branches, roll call. This is not a drill.”
Several bookshelves rotated into the wall, revealing a giant monitor, satellite tracking station, and a shitload of military weapons--grenades, rocket launchers, assault rifles, .45s.
Jon and the one Lafitte assumed was his sister cowboyed up with ammo belts and double fisted AR-15s. The woman Jon called Ruth seemed to take charge of the main station, ordering minions around like a general.
And all Lafitte had wanted was something to read in the bathroom.
The whole team was geared to the max and ready to go. But right before they took off up the stairs that had somehow materialized up to the roof, where it sounded like a jet was waiting, Ruth stepped over to Lafitte and said, “Look, I wish I had time to explain, but…”
She snapped her fingers.
Lafitte was suddenly in the middle of the road outside of the Central Crime Zone Bookstore, a bag of 1960s paperbacks in his hand. Everything was a blur and he didn’t remember how he’d gotten here, where he was going, or what to do next. His mouth was dry and he really had to pee. All he knew is that something was tugging him back towards that bookstore. He had no idea what it was. But the CLOSED sign on the front door made him shrug and turn back towards the party, now in full swing even though the sun hadn’t even set on the horizon.
As he started walking, he heard and felt a sonic boom in his chest. Along with it came a reassuring feeling that everything would be just fine.
I can never say enough about my good friend Jon, Ruth, and Jennifer Jordan, plus everyone who works at Crimespree Magazine. They’ve been a pillar of support in my career for nearly ten years now, and their generosity knows no bounds (at least none I’ve seen so far). I’ve met almost as many writers in the crime fiction arena through these guys as I have through Plots with Guns, and that’s a crazy number. They’ve been the glue for our new community of crime writers, sometimes almost literary matchmakers in finding ways to have people work, read or sign together.
And don’t even get started about their HQ back in Milwaukee. Once you’ve been, you’ll want to go back just for that feeling of Hey, these people love books the same way I do. Like home away from home, if home is a cavernous warehouse kind of like an ancient castle.
Five years of Crimespree. Feels like it’s been longer. Like it’s always just been there. I hope it continues for many years into the future so that we may all at least once be able to contribute a recipe, or article of appreciation about our heroes, or an interview with a friend and fellow writer.
Plus they keep talking about this bookstore they want to open. I’m telling you, folks, live the dream. You know that place would be the epicenter of crime and comics in this country. Oh yeah. Forget either Coast. I’m talking Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mark my words.
Keep up with them at Central Crime Zone (if you can).
I hope that Hogdoggin’ passes the motorcycle test, which is important to Jon, as a big Harley enthusiast. I can’t say that I did that world the most justice, but as far as the hyper-fast, hyper-dangerous world Lafitte inhabits, this is the motorcycle club he deserves. There’s just something dangerous but alluring about those bikes and the people who saddle up on them. Goddamn, aren’t they the most free sons of bitches?
See if you agree by getting yourself a copy of Hogdoggin’, either by ordering it on June 1st, HOGDOGGIN’ MONDAY, wherever you can, or by picking it up at one of the stores I’m stopping by on the book tour. We’re going to make some noise
You can hear him singing before you can even hear the whine of the motor on his man scooter. It’s an Irish drinking song, and he’s got his third bottle of tequila for the day in one fist. Oh yes. http://kieranjamesshea.blogspot.com/2009/05/hogdoggin-virtual-motorcycle-rally-day.html.
On Stage Tonight: Early Man “Death is the Answer to My Prayers”