The beloved odd PI pair Hap Collins and Leonard Pine help a grandmother find her missing granddaughter.
The story starts simply enough when Hap, a former ’60s activist and self-proclaimed white trash rebel, and Leonard, a tough, black, gay Vietnam vet and Republican with an addiction to Dr. Pepper, are working a freelance surveillance job in East Texas. The uneventful stakeout is coming to an end when the pair witness a man abusing his dog. Leonard takes matters into his own fists, and now the bruised dog abuser wants to press charges.
One week later, a woman named Lilly Buckner drops by their new PI office with a proposition: find her missing granddaughter, or she’ll turn in a video of Leonard beating the dog abuser. The pair agrees to take on the cold case and soon discover that the used car dealership where her granddaughter worked is actually a front for a prostitution ring. The mystery of her disappearance only deepens from there.
Filled with Lansdale’s trademark whip-smart dialogue, relentless pacing, and unorthodox characters, Honky Tonk Samurai is a rambunctious thrill ride by one hell of a writer.
Release date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 352
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Honky Tonk Samurai
Joe R. Lansdale
I don’t think we ask for trouble, me and Leonard. It just finds us. It often starts casually, and then something comes loose and starts to rattle, like an unscrewed bolt on a carnival ride. No big thing at first, just a loose, rattling bolt, then the bolt slips completely free and flies out of place, the carnival ride groans and screeches, and it sags and tumbles into a messy mass of jagged parts and twisted metal and wads of bleeding human flesh.
I’m starting this at the point in the carnival ride when the bolt has started to come loose.
* * *
The truck windows were rolled down and the heat wasn’t quite unbearable yet, but the air had the smell toast gets as it begins to brown and you know the butter will spread clean. In less than a half an hour, about noon, my butt crack would be completely filled with sweat and breathing the air would be like swallowing fishhooks. I was already looking forward to loose clothes, a big glass of ice tea, and lots of air-conditioning.
We were sitting in Leonard’s new-to-him pickup truck. He traded a lot. So did I. I’m not sure why, but we were always getting a different car or truck, usually used. This one was a Dodge and it was silver, and it was only a few years old. We were two blocks down from the house we were watching.
The guy who lived in that house, the fellow we were waiting on, had a wife who thought he was cheating and had hired the Marvin Hanson Agency to find out if he was and who with. She was brokenhearted and wanted everything to be all right, and if it wasn’t she wanted to divorce him in a serious and financially lucrative way that would cause him to have to sell his balls for a place to sleep.
We weren’t full-time employees, but we worked for Marvin quite a bit, a lot more lately. Divorce work, or potential divorce work, however, was not my idea of a good time, but the lady had hired the agency for two weeks of surveillance. We were on the last day of the job, and what we had pretty well determined was her sixty-year-old husband wasn’t cheating on her at all, but he was going at odd hours to the gym, and we had a pretty good guess he didn’t want to tell her.
Leonard thought it was because the idea embarrassed him, having to work out, or wanting to. That seemed peculiar to me, but Leonard understands that kind of thinking more than I do. For a gay guy he’s much more tuned in to machismo than I am, so I guess he could be right. I figured the fellow was just going to surprise her with his new body, hoping one day she’d look up and say how good he looked. Maybe he kept going so much because she hadn’t said anything.
Irony was, we had noticed that even in the last two weeks he’d dropped some pounds and muscled up a bit, and she had noticed over the last few months the same thing, but hadn’t mentioned it to him because she thought he was dieting and buying new clothes because he had a chippie piece on the side. That’s how she said it. “I think he’s got a little chippie piece on the side.”
I hadn’t heard the word chippie used in many a moon, but the sad thing was I was old enough to remember when it was more common. I was starting to feel as if I were getting along in years and the recent ones were angry at me. By the time you’re fifty you start to realize just how much of your time on earth you’ve wasted.
Anyway, we were sitting there watching him come out of the house, ready to follow, knowing full well by this time he didn’t have a chippie piece on the side and that this was our last day so we would coast it on out for the dollar and give her our report. She had paid in advance and wanted two weeks, so I didn’t feel we were sucking money she didn’t want to spend.
I had been on a diet myself. I always exercised, and hard, and was usually in better shape than I looked, but lately I wanted to look it again, because Brett, my red-headed woman looked so good. I wanted to make my body more like the way I felt. But truth was, I had had to change my workout methods. I had dropped lifting heavy weights and gone to doing more reps with light weights. Jogging a little, but doing more walking than before. It seemed to be working. I was never going to be pretty, but I preferred not being able to rest a glass on my stomach when I was sitting down, as if it were an end table.
Even Leonard, who normally looked firm and ready for action all the time, had changed his eating and workout habits a little, because for the first time in a long time fat had crept in around his middle. He claimed it was protecting his gooey chocolate center. But since he was black as rich chocolate all over, I told him that seemed kind of redundant. And on top of that I didn’t want to know about his gooey chocolate center.
There we sat, me reflecting on these things and holding in a wheat-bread fart out of courtesy, when Leonard said, “What the hell?”
He was looking at a yard across the street from our car. A man had a dog on a leash and the dog was cowered on its belly and the man was kicking it, and I could hear him screaming at it. The dog yelped a couple of times after the kicks.
Leonard was already out of the car by this time and crossing the street.
I got out and went around and followed, heard Leonard yell, “Hey, motherfucker, how about you try kicking me?”
The man stopped his dog abuse and looked up.
I let the fart ease out. I did it quietly, not wanting to frighten the dog. I left the fart where I had laid it like a rotten egg and moved away from the smell.
“Who the hell are you?” the man said to Leonard.
“I’m the man fixing to put that leash on your neck and kick you all over this goddamn yard like a soccer ball.”
“You’re trespassing,” the man said.
“That’s just where I start,” Leonard said. “How about I put one of your goddamn eyes out?”
Appeared like a start to a fairly ordinary day for us.
I stayed at the curb while Leonard stood in the yard talking. I was waiting patiently, ready to stop Leonard from the death blow, which I was fairly certain might be coming.
“Take two of you to do it?” said the man, checking us both out. He was a pretty big guy, about Leonard’s height, wider than both of us, bigger belly than us put together. He had the air of someone who had once run with a football and thought that gave him an edge for life. Maybe he should get with his neighbor who went to the gym, get some diet and exercise tips. Still, he was big enough to cause problems, even if it was just falling on you.
“No,” Leonard said. “Just one of us.”
I said, “And you can choose which one. Just for the record, I can hit harder. But I was thinking I’d rather not get all worked up. The heat, you know.”
“He can’t hit harder,” Leonard said. “Faster, but I actually hit a little harder.”
“He’s a braggart,” I said. “We both know I can hit harder, and I’m faster, too.”
“You don’t neither one of you look so tough to me,” he said.
“Why don’t you show us how tough you are?” Leonard said. “You do pretty good with a defenseless dog wants to please you, but we don’t want to please you. Right, Hap?“
“Right,” I said.
“Tell him again.”
“Right. Not in the pleasing mood.”
“Tell you what, ass wipe,” Leonard said. “Give me the dog, let me take it with me, and we’ll call it a day, and you get to keep your face like it is. With a nose on it and everything. Without me punching a fucking hole in it.”
The guy laughed. “You are nuts. Both of you.”
“That’s what I’m trying to warn you about,” Leonard said. “But I don’t think you’re listening.”
By this point I could tell the man was starting to worry a little. That was a good idea. Leonard might truly be nuts. Some people didn’t even think it was open to discussion.
“You want him, or should I go on and beat the shit out of him?” Leonard said to me.
“I’ll just be here to stop you should you go too far.”
“Hey, now,” the man said. “You’re in my yard. I’ll call the cops.”
“I don’t think you’ll make it to the door,” Leonard said. “Got a cell phone in your pocket, you won’t have time to punch in the numbers. I promise you that. And if you call afterward, it ain’t going to help you none. The deed will be done. And they might have a hard time understanding you, as you might be missing some teeth, trying to talk with your nose gone. They might have to read your fucking lips you still got any. Now apologize to the dog and give the poor thing to me.”
“Apologize to the dog?”
“I’m not apologizing to any goddamn dog.”
“I would if I were you,” I said. “He means it.”
“Fuck you. She’s my dog.”
“Not anymore,” I said.
Leonard crossed the yard then. He moved swiftly. It was like those old Dracula movies when the vampire glides over the earth with the ease of a windblown mist. The man let go of the dog’s leash. The dog, a young German shepherd mix, maybe a year old at the most, remained cowed. I hated to see that. I loved dogs. I loved animals. People I’m a little more mixed on, so I didn’t hate what was about to happen to the asshole in the yard, though I had to consider the cops might take a different view if the guy lived long enough and was strong enough to call them. Or maybe some neighbor looking out the window had already given them a call. Probably filming the whole thing on a cell phone.
The man put his hands up, clenched his fists in what he thought was a boxing position.
Shit, I could tell from the way he stood this wasn’t even going to be a good fight.
Leonard didn’t even put his hands up, just walked right up to the guy. The man threw a haymaker so slow and cumbersome we could have damn near driven home, had a cup of coffee, and come back before it landed.
Leonard looped his arm over the strike as he stepped in, most of the guy’s force going around Leonard’s back, the arm itself trapped to Leonard’s side. Leonard lunged forward and shot out a palm that caught the guy in the nose and knocked him to the ground, or as close to that as he could get with Leonard still clutching his arm, partially lifting the guy’s side off the ground.
The dog started to slink off on its belly like a soldier crawling in high grass. I went over and took the dog’s leash. When I did the dog winced.
“It’s okay, doggie,” I said. “Uncle Leonard is kicking the bad man’s ass.”
By this time Leonard had let go of the man’s arm and was kicking him sharply in the ribs, way that bastard had done the dog.
“How you like it?” Leonard said. “Enjoying that, asshole? Bark for me, cocksucker.”
The guy didn’t seem to be enjoying it. He started yelling, not barking. Hell, the dog had only yelped a little, this guy, you’d have thought was taking a real beating. And for him, I guess he was. Leonard actually seemed a little altruistic, I thought, considering it was all about animal mistreatment. Maybe he was getting old. Though actually he hadn’t had much breakfast, so it might have just been his blood sugar was down.
After a bit, I guess Leonard got tired, because he quit kicking the guy, bent down, and retied his shoe, the string having come loose. When that was done I thought he’d go back to it, but he didn’t.
The man, not learning his lesson, his face covered in blood from his nose to his chin, said, “That’s assault, nigger.”
“Couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?” I said.
Leonard had already grabbed him by the ears and was picking him up just enough to knee him in the face. Blood went everywhere, and the guy lay on the grass without moving. I hoped he had fallen in dog turds. I thought I saw one of his teeth gleaming wetly in the grass, like a cheap Cracker Jack prize.
Leonard came over to pet the dog. The dog let him. The dog seemed to know we were on her side. Leonard said to the dog, “When he wakes up I’ll get him to apologize and maybe lick your ass.”
“You didn’t kill him, did you?” I asked.
“No, but I wanted to.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “Me, too. But maybe it’s best not to.”
“Reckon so,” Leonard said. “Still, not nearly as satisfying. Goddamn, what’s that smell?”
“I’m having a little intestinal disturbance going on. My body does not deal well with wheat.”
“Quit eating it. God, man. That’s just foul and wrong. Let’s move to some other spot.”
I continued petting the dog, soothing it, and as dogs do, it stood up, wobbled, and licked my face. I think it would even have licked its crummy master’s face. It’s why I prefer dogs to cats. Cats aren’t independent, they’re just entitled assholes who want to be fed and do nothing. They’re your owners. A dog just loves you. It’s not about ownership or anything like that. They are sincere as death and taxes. They’re the best creatures on the earth. Still, had it been a cat being mistreated, the bastard would still have gotten his ass kicked. But I would have taken a moment to tell the cat how I felt about his species. Not that it would have been listening or interested in thanking me. It would already be making its plans for the day. Lie around and shit in a box, puke hairballs on the floor, scratch up the furniture, and expect a treat for the effort. All dogs go to heaven. All cats go to hell.
The cops pulled up. One car. We were a little surprised to see Marvin Hanson, our boss, get out of the passenger side and stroll across the yard, look down on the guy, and say, “He doesn’t look so bad.”
The officer got out of the car. I didn’t know his name, but I’d seen him around. Young guy. Leonard and I were no strangers to the police station. I tried not to worry too much about the cops’ names, since they came and went faster than a john on holiday in Amsterdam. The young cop came over. He said, “Lady across the street called, said a guy was kicking his dog and we ought to come get him for animal cruelty.”
“That’s a good thing,” I said. “But we thought it might take a little while, so we made a citizen’s arrest.”
“And trespassed and committed assault,” Marvin said. His worn black face creased in a half smile. At least I think it was a smile. He might have been baring his teeth. I couldn’t quite tell the difference. Marvin is not what you would call a pretty man.
“If you want to be that technical,” Leonard said. “Sheesh.”
“What are you doing with the cops?” I said to Marvin.
“He doesn’t care what company he keeps,” said the officer. He was a little guy, fat-faced, with stubby arms and legs, dark-skinned. He looked like a gingerbread man made with the last of the dough.
“Yeah, if my wife asks who I was with,” Marvin said, turning to look at the cop, “for God’s sake tell her I was buying drugs and was with a male prostitute. Don’t mention the boys in blue.”
“Done,” the cop said.
“But between me and you,” I said, “I still got to ask. What are you doing with the pigs, as we old rebels used to call them?”
“That’s just mean,” said the cop.
I liked this guy. I looked at his name tag. He might be worth remembering. Carroll was his last name.
“I been meaning to tell you,” Marvin said. “ I got my old job back. Police chief.”
You could have knocked me over with a green pea. Before I could ask about the particulars, Marvin, who had recently abandoned his cane, though he had a slight limp if you knew to watch for it, strolled over and looked down at the guy, who was awake now and trying to sit up.
Marvin said, “Can you stand up?”
“I think so,” said the man.
“Why don’t you do that if you can?” Marvin said. “I’m with the cops.”
“He called me a nigger,” Leonard said.
“That’s a tiebreaker in this modern world unless you use it in a rap song,” Marvin said.
“I was just angry,” said the man.
The guy gradually got himself collected enough to get to his feet. Marvin put his left hand on the guy’s right shoulder, said, “Were you kicking this dog?”
“She kept pulling the leash,” the man said. “I was trying to teach her.”
“What were you teaching her?”
“To behave. To quit yanking me.”
“So you kicked her?” Marvin said. “That was your instruction?”
“Had it coming. Hell, it’s a dog. My dog.”
Marvin’s right hand moved then. It was quick, a slap to the guy’s bloody face, a back hand, another slap, a swift knee in the nuts, and the guy was on the ground again. Marvin looked at the officer. “Damn if I wasn’t just angry.”
“You were just trying to teach him,” Leonard said.
“I can’t believe that,” said the officer. “That son of a bitch tried to resist arrest. And to the brand-new police chief.”
“Yeah, ain’t that something?” Marvin said. “No respect for the goddamn law.”
“Sign of the times,” said the officer.
“Next the sun will go cold,” said Leonard.
“I hear you,” said the officer. “Just this morning, my coffee wasn’t quite right.”
“There you are,” Leonard said. “It’s already started. The end of the world as we know it. The goddamn fucking apocalypse.”
She’s got a busted rib—cracked, really. Nothing major. Used to wrap them up tight. Not the way it’s done anymore.” The vet, a stocky young lady who had thick shoulder-length blond hair slicked back with mousse, was telling us this as if we were potential interns.
“So she’ll be all right?” I asked.
“Long as she takes it easy,” she said.
“She will,” I said.
“I’d like to have the bastard did this right here on my table,” she said. “I’d cut his balls off with a dull scalpel.”
“And we’d hold him down,” Leonard said.
“When he came around, because he had a kind of accident and was out for a while, he apologized to the dog,” I said.
“Apologized?” she said.
“Leonard there actually put the words in his mouth and made him chew on them and like it,” I said. “But he had him say: I am sorry, little doggie, I am a shit-eating asshole and am not worthy to wear your dog collar. I have fleas.”
The vet smiled a little, nodded at Leonard.
Leonard was sitting in a chair by the wall. He nodded back. Marvin was leaning against the open door frame. Officer Carroll had taken the dog abuser in. The dog was on a table, lying on her side. She was very patient and even cooperative. I liked that dog.
Marvin had let us take the dog to the vet. I guess he would have some paperwork to lie about, about how that bastard had jumped Leonard, who was merely trying to stop animal abuse, and then had turned on Marvin when he came to investigate. It wasn’t legal, but it was justice. I could still visualize those slaps from Marvin. Marvin had fast hands.
The vet shaved some of the dog’s hair and wrapped her up, but not tight. Just a little something to keep the rib firmly in place. She said it probably didn’t need to stay but two or three days, and told us again about how it used to be done and how it wasn’t done like that anymore. I guess she was practicing a lecture she was going to give. I paid the bill out of some of the money we had gotten for watching the guy go to the gym, and we drove Marvin to his car at the cop shop. He said he wanted to talk to us, said he’d follow us back to my place, that he’d come in a little while, had a bit of cop work to do. We went ahead.
Leonard had recently found his own living arrangements, a shabby place downtown in an old building that had once been a candy factory but was later cut up into apartments. Before the apartment, Leonard owned a house, but he had left that to John, then John left it, and Leonard sold it. Leonard actually made a small profit. This was rare for either one of us. A profit. Though for the first time in both our lives we had a bit of money tucked away and were what you might call almost comfortable. Redneck jobs are frequently short on career potential. You do one till you tire or get fired, and then you move on. We had moved on a lot.
Leonard’s apartment was a kind of loft with a partition for the bedroom and the bathroom. The landlord was letting him build some new walls for some of the rent. Work he had to have done by a certain time. Leonard decided to hire someone to do it. It was not cheaper than the rent reduction, but it gave him a nicer place to live, and in time it would even out. There was talk of the landlord applying the rent toward a sale. The owner was old and tired of property and renters, and Leonard wanted to buy.
Leonard had been living there for only a short time, staying at our place a lot until some of the work on the place was done. Before that, he lived at our house full-time. We even had a room built onto it. I loved him—dearly—and so did Brett, but I must be honest: I was glad he wasn’t there all the time anymore. Brett and I were happy empty nesters. We could have more time to ourselves, and we didn’t have to be quiet when we were playing doctor, and my vanilla-cookie-and-Dr-Pepper budget would go down dramatically. This would also help Leonard’s waistline. He loved those vanilla cookies and Dr Peppers severely, but he loved them even more when he didn’t have to buy them. I think he saw eating my cookies and soft drinks as an accomplishment of great importance and took it as a matter of pride.
It had turned hot by the time we got out of the vet’s, and it was only ten thirty or so. The sun lay down on us like a coat of heated chain mail.
When we got to mine and Brett’s house and came in with the dog, Brett was home from her nursing job. She had quit nursing several times but was so good at what she did that she always got hired back. She looked tired but pretty, her red hair tied back in a ponytail. She said, nodding at the dog, “So we’re having company for dinner? And I don’t mean Leonard.”
“Hey. I make good company,” Leonard said. “What are we having?”
“Whatever you’re buying,” Brett said.
“Oh,” Leonard said. “That limits things.”
I looked down at the dog. “This is our true guest. This is … well, I don’t know who this is.”
“Follow you home?” she asked.
“Your new dog, Leonard?” she asked.
Leonard roved an eye my way. “Could be,” he said. “Could be yours.”
“Can I have her?” I said. I tried to sound winsome and wistful at the same time. Actually, I’m not sure which part of how I sounded was wistful and which part was winsome. Maybe you can’t do both at the same time. Maybe one sounds a lot like the other.
“Will you throw a hissy if the answer is no?” Brett said.
“Oh, he can throw a grown-up big-ass cracker-style hissy,” Leonard said. “I’ve seen him do it, and I got to tell you, I was embarrassed. It wasn’t very manly.”
“I can try throwing the hissy in a deep voice,” I said.
“Nope,” Leonard said. “That’s not how a hissy works.”
“First how about telling me how we’ve come by a dog?” Brett asked.
We all ended up around the table, the dog lying at my feet, and I told her while we all had glasses of ice tea.
“I can’t believe people like that,” Brett said. “This dog looks like a lover, not a biter.”
“I don’t think she’s old enough to know what she is,” I said.
“Well, I like dogs,” Brett said.
The doorbell rang. I answered it. It was Marvin Hanson.
“So,” I said as he came in. “Hello to the police chief who didn’t tell us he was the police chief.”
He sat at the table, and I sat down again. He leaned over to give the dog a pat on the head. “Nice dog.”
“Police chief?” Brett said.
“Yep,” Marvin said. “You know, that man might want this dog back, and I’m not sure how that will work out in court. He’s going to get a fine for animal abuse and resisting arrest, but he could still throw some stink around.”
“Give Hap some wheat bread,” Leonard said. “He’ll match him out, I bet you.”
“I’m serious,” Marvin said. “Could be some court stuff coming up.”
“I don’t know about court,” Leonard said, “but I know how it worked out on his lawn. Not too well.”
“We were bullies,” I said.
“No,” Marvin said. “We were the Fresh Fists of Vengeance.”
“To be precise,” Leonard said, “you were the Slap and Backhand of Vengeance.”
“Don’t forget the knee,” I said.
“Yeah, and the knee,” Leonard said. “But that lacks a certain ring.”
“What’s the legal damage?” I asked Marvin.
“For me or for you guys?” Marvin asked.
“Give us the whole package,” Leonard said.
“Well, the police officer saw him attack me,” Marvin said.
“Yeah, well, all right,” I said. “Should we say we saw him attack you, too?”
“That would be handy,” Marvin said. “But the lady next door saw it all happen, and she filmed it on her cell-phone camera. Got word of that on the way over. She called it in.”
“Of course she did,” I said, having expected just that sort of thing.
“But she said she didn’t film the part where Leonard knocked cheese dick around, and she didn’t film me slapping the poo out of him. She’s just got the part where he kicked the dog. Said she thought he looked as if he was going to attack you two, and then me, so she put the blame on him.”
“She’s such a sweet liar,” I said.
“Yeah,” Marvin said. “And she’s an old lady and looks very trustworthy, I hear. A little crusty, but all right, I think. I just got my description from Officer Curt Carroll, who had to drive back over there. He said the man who owned the dog was out on the lawn on his hands and knees looking for his missing teeth, thought maybe if he put them in ice they could be put back in. He’s one of those guys thinks he knows all manner of shit but couldn’t tell the difference between shit and wild honey.”
“Very convenient the old lady looks trustworthy,” Leonard said. “As for ass wipe, I hope he doesn’t find his teeth.”
“How many was he missing?” I said. “I only saw one.”
“Two, I think,” Marvin said. “Anyway, Gummy, as I like to think of him, isn’t pressing charges. He at first had a different point of view, but I pointed out you guys were just good Samaritans who saw an animal mistreated and went to help. I think he bought that. There’s some truth in it, but then there’s that whole lying part about how we were attacked.”
“He did swing at me,” Leonard said.
“We’ll let that count for something,” Marvin said. “Thing is, he’s done, you’re safe, so am I, and besides, I’m the police chief.”
“You were just trying to frighten us with that stuff about how he might want his dog back, weren’t you?”
“Just a little,” Marvin said. “I have to get my licks in on you guys somehow. You’ve certainly given me enough grief.”
“There’s a little something we’re all curious about,” I said. “How did that whole police chief thing happen? We work for you, you know—seems that would have come up.”
“Does, doesn’t it?” he said. “But it didn’t. And I’ll tell you why. I thought maybe I was being foolish, trying to get back on the cops. But now my leg’s healed up and I’m able to work and I had a good record there, and better yet, the city council came to me. Seems they can’t keep police chiefs or officers. They change all the time. They got a lot of quitters, one in jail for this or that. By the way, you know they painted the jail pink and make the convicts wear pink jumpsuits now?”
I held up my hand. “Been there, wore a jumpsuit.”
“Pink,” Hanson said.
“Yep, and a little loose-fitting, I thought, though more attractive than you might think. Comfortable because it was loose, I guess. The pink is supposed to be a deterrent to crime, embarrassing and all that.”
“Do you think it works?” Hanson said.
“Not so much.”
“Me, either. First thing I do next week is have all the jail cells repainted. They can keep the pink jumpsuits until they wear out. No. You know what? I’m ordering the standard orange ones right away. They can afford that. Can you believe that shit? People raping and murdering, and their conclusion is to paint the jail pink and have the shits wear pink jumpsuits. The goddamn death penalty doesn’t stop them, but they think butt-hole pink will.”
“It’s a mystery,” I said. “But I’m still more mystified that. . .
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