Suspense, 454 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans
Original design by DB Dakota
ISBN 978-1-61309-205-7 $4.99
The warlock, the foreman with the teen mistress, union honcho, pigheaded gambler … who's sabotaging, goofing off? Man by man the detective searches, fighting the main man's own superstition. Witchcraft trumps sweat anytime, and the wail of the banshee is the cue to knock off work.
Arriving home, Daphine found it odd the way the doorknob turned with her key. Should she get the manager to go in with her? After what Johnny told her about being stalked, that meant she was in danger too. She didn't appreciate that, and began to fume:
Why is he so nonchalant about the risk of handling all that payroll money? Why, he never balanced a checkbook before taking that job. Now he's got the mayhem of record keeping, which takes up all his time. He's in over his head, and one out-of-control chump.
And Brochimeer calls him Starch to goad him into-what, more spirit and persistence and endurance? I don't know how Johnny could have more; he wrote the book on guts.
The picture I have of Heego is that it's an insidious caldron of backwater with no substance and no commitments to improving the society there. Heegs with their scatterbrained ways are embodied in outrageous figures, masquerading as humans. They're tossing about in a Byzantine swirl, clashing against a world that's foreign to them. The vortex roars and tightens, and Johnny's there in the raging maelstrom about to be destroyed.
In Daphine's rhapsodic presumptions, and although she had yet to set foot in Heego, she had the people of the shadows all sorted out, and Johnny too. She felt better about that.
But Johnny was not unusual. Strong, loyal business champions always fought to keep their enterprises afloat in spite of bad eggs who tried to confound the mission. Johnny foresaw an outcome that others did not, the reason why he stuck with chaos. And the money was good, his income staggering, comparatively.
Quietly, Daphine let go of her key ring, left the key in the lock, finished turning the knob and eased the door open. A rush of air and a floor-squeak made by her presence woke Johnny. He had fallen asleep and the gun slipped from his grasp onto the couch.
He bolted upright and she rushed across to embrace him.
"Whatcha crying for, honey?" he murmured, squeezing her, purse, packages and all. She clasped his neck and snuggled her face against his chest and did not move.
After a moment she sobbed, "How delicious to find you here."
He sank his face into her auburn curls and clung to her. They broke; he kissed her eyes and spoke into them: "For a while I was pretty sure I'd never get to do this ever again."
He gripped her arms momentarily, strained to make an imitation smile and hastened to lock the apartment door. "But it's all in a day's work. Everything's fine now. Great to be home. One helluva day."
"Whose gun, honey?" she asked upon spotting the firearm. Still clutching her things, she lifted them to her face to hide from the ghastly weapon.
"Oh, it's mine, sort of."
"Where'd you get it? How long have you had it? What do you intend to do with it?"
"Aw, no big deal," he waved, put out that she had to find out about it.
"That's a handy article to have around when I'm handling the payroll. I'll unlock all the secrets for you, but if I don't get a drink-"
Quickly into the kitchen, he unscrewed a cap, not noticing what it was, and guzzled. He could count on one thing: He couldn't get drunk when he wanted to on purpose; his mind fought it. He'd give it one soaking try, though.
Daphine watched. Will he never stop swilling? So much drinking lately, so much. But don't lecture Johnny, she thought; oh, please, don't let him ruin himself.
"Okay, honey," Johnny announced, rummaging for the 7Up, intending to mix up something diluted, slower and more courtly. "Sitting down? I wanna tell you a wild tale about how the big operators operate."
He leaned against the kitchen doorway, figuring he'd better not alarm her. "I guess I need to sit down. See, that's Bonapa Toulec's pistol. He let me have it to scare heegs and troods off the money, which winds up his money. The charming Mr. Bo is now my step-boss.
"Coming up the stairs, I thought somebody like Farlone was following me. I figured I'd offer him a lead projectile to transport to the hospital. But his watchdog dozed off, ha, ha.
He briefed her on the colliery ownership change and the new bank, but withheld details about the return trip...and Feiner's probable setup.
Nor did he mention the thirty grand, which she had yet to notice in back of her chair. He wouldn't bother her with gun talk, how he had used it. He'd skip the arsenal in his office closet, how he had sprayed the weeds for the bomb prankster.
"Hell, woman, Heego is no-man's land. It's George Neccopolus and José Gallegos having it out over Necco's wife, or live-in Dorema right there in my lobby.
"First, I confess I decided not to warn José to make tracks out of town, like Necco wanted me to do. I was pretty close to dispatching that louse myself. I was itching for Necco himself to get it over with."
"Kill him! That, I didn't know about," she sighed, thinking that would make a meaty article.
"So there in the lobby it's about time for the slaughter. Necco's finally had it up to here with José, and draws a bead on him."
"With a gun?" she asked, wide-eyed and breathless.
"No, with a frog-sticker," Johnny chuckled. "José's there at my office window with his back to the entrance.
"I see Necco sneak in and up behind José, inching closer and closer. He throws his arms out and downward with his fists clinched, gripping that blade. He bends over and begins slow, heavy strides like a rhino waddling on hind legs. Necco mumbles, 'Hey, you no-good spic.' You can barely hear him in that rasping voice. 'See this?'