While Hap, a former 60s activist and self-proclaimed white trash rebel, is recovering from a life-threatening stab wound, Louise Elton comes into Hap and Leonard’s PI office to tell him that the police have killed her son, Jamar.
Months earlier, a bully cop pulled over and sexually harassed Jamar’s sister, Charm. The officer followed Charm over the course of the next couple of months, leading Jamar to videotape and take notes on the cop and his partner. The next thing Louise hears, Jamar got in a fight and is killed in the projects by local hoods. It doesn’t add up: he was a straight A student, destined for better things, until he began to ask too many questions about the racist police force.
Leonard, a tough black gay Vietnam vet and Republican, joins Hap in the investigation, and they stumble upon the racial divides that have shaped their Eastern Texas town. But if anyone can navigate these pitfalls and bring the killers to justice, it’s Hap and Leonard.
Filled with Lansdale’s trademark whip-smart dialogue, colorful characters, and relentless pacing, Rusty Puppy is Joe Lansdale at his page-turning best.
Release date: February 21, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 288
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Joe R. Lansdale
I was still getting over being dead, and let me tell you, that’s a comeback.
I died twice in the hospital after being stabbed, and the last thing I remember before I awoke from death was Leonard being there, shoveling vanilla cookies into his face, waiting for me to wake up. Actually, I was awake, but I couldn’t fully open my eyes other than just enough to see him. I repeatedly felt as if I were drifting away on a slow boat to nowhere with a stick up my weenie. That turned out to be a catheter, but it felt like a stick. A big one.
Doctors and nurses saved me from the big, dark plunge, and I didn’t thank Jesus when I came around. I thanked the medical staff, their years of schooling, their tremendous skills. I always figured if I was a doctor and I saved some person’s life, and the first thing they said when they came around was “Thank Jesus,” I would have wanted to stick a pair of forceps up their ass and tell them to see if Jesus could yank those out for them.
Bottom line was, I was back. It took me a few months to pull it together, but finally I was out and about regularly, and on this day I was totally on my own. I had lost a few pounds while being on the tube-down-your-throat diet (not the same tube as the one in my pecker, I hasten to add) but as of recent, my strength was back. I felt like I could bench-press two-fifty and beat an angry gorilla’s ass, but maybe not in a fair fight.
That said, I also had days when I would weep uncontrollably and had the concentration of a squirrel. Doctors told me there would be days like that, days when I not only knew I was mortal, but had come smack up against the concept. Watching cartoons helped. I came around pretty quick, and the doctors were amazed that I didn’t have any real posttraumatic stress. I didn’t mention it to them, but I thought, No, I only have that when I kill people, and I’d learned to live with that stress as if it were merely a quarrelsome comrade. I had plenty of practice there, having known Leonard much of my life. But as far as quick recovery went, I’ve always been like that. Recuperation skills and a hard head have served me well in life.
So there I was, doing better, back to work, feeling mostly normal, only having brief visitations from the mortality fairy and a now-and-then concern about the eventual heat death of the solar system from the inevitability of the exploding sun. I’m something of a worrier.
On this day I had office duty at Brett Sawyer Investigations, where I worked for my girlfriend, Brett, worked with my best friend, Leonard. I was sitting with my feet on the desk, noticing my socks didn’t match, feeling like a classic private eye, though my detective skills were right up there with my mathematical ability, which means you shouldn’t ask me to do your taxes. But I’m persistent. That’s another good trait you can add to quick recuperation time and a hard head. When I was sixteen my dad got me a job with a fellow who had me help him haul brush and tear down old houses he had bought to sell for scrap lumber. My dad said to him on my first day at work, “He might fuck up a lot, but he’s no quitter.”
That was kind of my motto.
I was at the office alone because no one else could be there that morning. Leonard was in Houston having sex with some guy he met on the Internet, which made me nervous for both of them, and Brett was nursing a cold. She shared her cold with a young woman named Chance who had turned out to be my daughter. DNA tests proved it, and I was damn happy about it. I had only known about her a short time, but she meshed with my family of Brett and Leonard and Buffy the dog as if she had been with us since birth.
Chance was staying at our house and working part-time at the local newspaper as a proofreader, looking for full-time employment. She had a journalism degree, which is kind of like a degree in Latin. The uses are small.
Like Brett, Chance was off work, home with her cold, resting on the couch. I figured I was next to get the bug, but so far I felt tip-top. After being stabbed in the stomach and dying for a while, coughs and sniffles could kiss my ass.
Buffy, the German shepherd Leonard rescued from an asshole who was kicking her, was with me at the office, lying on the sofa. She was remarkably well mannered, and much better housebroken than I was. Ask Brett. She’ll tell you.
It was a pleasant morning, sitting there in the office wearing a pair of new blue jeans that my lady Brett said for once fit me in the ass, and I had on some new tan shoes that Buffy had chewed only slightly. I had on a nice green pullover shirt without food stains. My underwear was clean. My thinning hair was combed, and I had a cup of coffee with real cream in it and one package of Sweet’N Low. I had an open bag of Leonard’s vanilla cookies that he had hidden behind our office refrigerator, and they were so good. Not only because of the taste, but because Leonard thought they were well concealed. I planned to eat them all and put the empty bag back behind the fridge. I might even put a note in there that said Cookie Fairy was here. Fuck you. You didn’t share at the hospital.
As I sat there, contemplating on my return from the dead, I think I was starting to catch on to something about that whole nature-of-the-universe thing, bordering on some incredibly brilliant revelation that might be written up into some kind of philosophical paper, when the door opened and a black lady came in.
She was well groomed, overweight, wearing red stretch pants, a loose green top, and pink house shoes. All she needed was a church-lady hat with a fishing lure and a golf ball sewn onto it. She was carrying a purse about the size of an overnight bag. She could have been forty. She could have been fifty. She was certainly tired-looking.
I took my feet off the desk.
She said, “You the only one here?”
“Where’s that black one?”
“Leonard or Marvin?”
Marvin was no longer there. He had sold the business to Brett, but I thought she still might be referring to him.
“They black?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am. All the time.”
“They both work here?”
“Actually, only one of them does. Like me, he’s a worker bee.”
“Which one of them black fellows looks like he’s pissed off?”
“That would be both of them. One is stocky and sometimes carries a cane, and he’s maybe five or six years older than me. He’s no longer here. The other one is muscular and my age and likes vanilla cookies. Just like these.”
I patted the bag.
“I guess it’s the muscular one I saw.”
“Now that I think about it, they’re both muscular. But one is older and heavier, like a bear that was trained to wear clothes.”
She was studying me hard.
“As you can see,” I said, “I’m not either of the black ones.”
“I was just thinking I can’t tell how old you are. White people, they’re hard to judge. Can I have a cookie?”
“Take two. Would you like coffee?”
“You got a clean cup?”
“You bet I do.”
She told me how she liked it. I got up and fixed her a cup. No artificial sweetener for her; she took four packages of sugar, stirred it with one of our plastic spoons, tasted it, asked for one more package, and I gave it to her. While she drank her coffee, she dunked one of her cookies in it and nibbled. She knew what was up.
“I guess it don’t matter which one it is. I seen him come up the stairs and go down, so I figured he worked here, and him being black, I thought I’d want to talk to him.”
“Some of us white folks talk and investigate pretty good.”
“I guess so.”
“How’d you see him?”
“What do you mean?”
“The black guy, Leonard. I assume you weren’t in the tree by the parking lot with a pair of binoculars.”
“Are you being a smartass?”
“Only a little.”
“I live across the street, Master Detective. That’s why I’m here in my house shoes. I sort of put on what was in front of me.”
“I guessed that.”
“No you didn’t,” she said.
“All right, I didn’t.”
“I got some money. I don’t want anything for free.”
“I’ve offered nothing for free.”
“Uh-huh,” she said. She removed a change purse from her very large handbag, which had enough room for an alternate universe, and probed around in it like she was digging for King Solomon’s gold. She took out a wad of bills that would have choked a dinosaur and slapped those on the desk, poured some coins on top of them.
She looked at me. I reached over and pulled the money close and counted it out. It was a big wad, but most of it was in small denominations. Forty dollars in ones, a five, a dog-eared twenty with a chewed corner, chewed by an actual dog, maybe. There was twenty-eight cents in change and a nice pile of lint and a round chunk of peppermint wrapped in plastic. She took the peppermint back and dropped it into her purse. I bet that peppermint is still falling.
“What’s that buy me?” she asked.
“Honestly? A cup of coffee, some of these cookies, and maybe you and me could go to the movies.”
“I don’t date white men.”
“I know how to show a lady a good time.”
“I ain’t prejudice, mind you. I just don’t deal with white people any more than I have to.”
“That’s kind of the definition of prejudice.”
“So that won’t get me nothing?”
“Tell me what’s going on, and maybe I can see what this will do for you. It might be a simple business that I can take care of quickly.”
“I need you to talk to a fellow.”
“I guess we’ll be talking about something specific?”
“What’s that mean?”
“Means you have a point to all this. You would want me, or the darker gentleman, to talk to him about something that’s on your mind, right?”
“I suppose you could say that,” she said. “I think my son was murdered.”
“Oh,” I said.
Now I was truly interested. I had feared this would be a lost-cat job, and though I’ve nothing against reuniting folks with their lost pets, most of the time a cat will just come home.
“I want the black man to do it ’cause he’s black.”
“You think that would help?”
“You might not fit into the projects in Camp Rapture.”
I nodded. “That could be true. Sounds to me like you need the police. I know a good cop that can help you.”
“I been to the cops. They say I need proof.”
“Yep. That’s the way it works.”
“This is in Camp Rapture,” she said.
“Ah,” I said. “The pit.”
“Shit hole is more like it,” she said.
“Cop I was talking about is one of the black men you saw here, Marvin Hanson, but he’s a LaBorde cop, not Camp Rapture.”
“Then get the other one,” she said. “I want the black man here to get proof. Dealing with cops makes my ass hurt and nothing gets done.”
“When I’m not toting a bale for them ole white masters or hoeing a row of cotton, I work here as well. And I gave you the vanilla cookies. Trust me, the black one, he wouldn’t have given you the crumbs in the bottom of the sack.”
“You ain’t never hoed no row of cotton.”
“And neither have you. Only cotton around here in the last fifty years is in an aspirin bottle.”
That made her grin.
I said, “I have done farmwork, though. Used to work in rose fields. I worked in an aluminum chair factory, had an unfortunate period of employment at the chicken plant—”
“You worked there?”
“I didn’t fit in. It was what you might call an unsuccessful period in my work history.”
“I worked there.”
She told me.
“I was there then,” I said.
“Say you was?”
“You remember that woman got attacked on the other side of the fence, and a white fellow climbed over it and saved her?”
“That was me.”
“No it wasn’t.”
“Yes it was.”
“You the one…you was thinner then, wasn’t you?”
“Thanks for noticing.”
I had just been congratulating myself on how much weight I had lost, and now she was telling me I was thinner then. Certainly I had been a bit more spry.
“I was right there in the crowd,” she said. “I didn’t know that was you.”
“Yep. I got a free vacation from the employer out of it. It wasn’t as refreshing as I would have hoped. But that’s neither here nor there.”
I didn’t mention the black man she wanted to take her case had gotten us left by a cruise ship, and then we had been attacked by thugs on a beach, and Leonard had gone around wearing an embarrassing hat and a bad wound. We got wounded a lot. We had a way of annoying people.
“Okay,” she said. “Okay. That’s good. You was the one, that’s good. You did good by that girl. Saving her like that. You’re hired.”
“Keep in mind I can only do so much for this amount of money.”
“You talk to this fellow seen the murder, that’s all I want. Start there.”
“All right. Tell me what it is me and this fellow will be talking about. Besides murder, I mean. I’m going to need details. I’ll want to visit with the cops too.”
She shook her head. “I don’t like that. I said I talked to them. Shit. I’m pretty sure they was the ones done it.”
Her name was Louise Elton, and she had a hell of a story. When she finished giving me all her details, I called Leonard. He didn’t pick up, so I left a message. I’d hoped he might be back in town but didn’t expect him to be. He and John, his longtime lover, were still broken up, something they did about as often as cows went to pasture, and Leonard had decided to play the field. That’s how he met the guy on the Internet.
Louise’s son’s name was Jamar. There wasn’t any proof the cops killed him, except there was a guy who claimed to have seen it. But there were problems with his story, or at least that’s how the cops saw it. She was convinced this guy had information I could use.
I thought I could at least talk to him and get a read. His name was Timpson Weed. The projects in Camp Rapture were where Timpson hung his hat, if he wore one. It was not a nice place and white people were still considered the enemy down there. Thing was, though, I was bored, and Leonard wasn’t around, and I had a number for the apartment.
After having a lunch of some very bad soup I heated in the office microwave, I gave Buffy a pat, got my coat, and drove over to Camp Rapture. It was a fairly short drive from LaBorde, and the projects looked like a place where dreams went to commit suicide and hope got screwed in the ass.
It was a cold day, and my breath came out white when I got out of the car. I pulled my coat tighter around me, started walking along the cracked sidewalk toward a row of apartments. They looked rough. The bricks were chipped, the walls were painted with graffiti, sweet nothings like I FUCKED YO MAMA AND HER PUSSY STANK.
There were similar remarks here and there, names plastered on the wall with what the police liked to call gang signs. Sometimes, if the same signs were on an underpass, they claimed they were satanic. They liked to keep it simple. Whatever they wanted them to be, they became.
Cops in Camp Rapture had really gotten a bad rap of late, though for that matter, they had always had a bad rap, and there was some evidence it was deserved. Not six months ago, they had “discovered” a car thief in a ditch near the car he had stolen, and he’d been shot in the back of the head five times. He was written down as a suicide. That didn’t hold up, of course, but I think they thought it might, which gives you some idea of their level of professionalism.
I saw a group of young black men moving in my direction. Late teens and twenties. They were walking that kind of tough-guy walk where one leg seems to drag behind the other. They had their hands in their pockets and there might have been something other than hands in those pockets. Not expecting a shoot-out, I hadn’t brought my gun with me. I hated how it was for them, young men without jobs or much in the way of future plans, but mostly I hated there were five of them and there was one of me.
“How are you gentlemen?” I said as they gathered around.
“We fine,” said one of them. He was a tall kid with long, lean muscles and a red shower cap on his head. I’ve never quite understood that fashion statement, but I will say this: If it rained or he decided on a quick shower, he was ready.
“What you want?” said the one with the shower cap.
“Money and fame, of course.”
“You a smartass?” said Shower Cap. This question came up frequently.
“You won’t be so smart with your teeth on the ground and your ass kicked up around your neck.”
“I would neither be smart nor happy if that were to happen,” I said. “I’m looking for a fella. You might know him. I have an apartment number.”
“We know him, you can bet your white ass we won’t be pointing him out,” Shower Cap said.
“Well, as I prefer not to bet my white ass, thank you for your time,” I said.
I walked through a gap in the near circle they had made and didn’t look back. When it came to young men with nothing to do and chips on their shoulder, you handled it the way you handled junkyard dogs. Show no fear, don’t make eye contact, and walk away slowly and hope they don’t bite you on the ass.
I walked toward where I thought the number of the apartment might be but wasn’t. The numbers were wonky. I went around the other side of the apartment. There were a bunch of kids playing on that side, boys and girls, eleven years old or so, kicking a ball around.
They stopped as I came around the corner. White-man sightings were as rare as Bigfoot in those parts. One of the little girls said, “What you doing around here?”
She was rough-looking, had her hair in cornrows, and was wearing. . .
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