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Richard Lord, a writer and one with extensive experience inside the publishing business, once told me that, in the world of publishing, "Sex sells, but crime pays." Crime always interested me as a topic, but there was enough on my plate already. And the genre seems well stocked. What could I add? And then I read something about a writer who was inviting other writers to create ebooks based on the fictional crossover concept, or IP weaving. Mashups, in other words. I enjoy collaborations and in this case the potential collaborator seemed to have a successful franchise. I wrote something... Long story short: I still hope to collaborate with the right person. For now I am happy to introduce Book Merah's newest team member: Lucas County. Lucas specializes in crime and we are very excited about his Verry Larch mystery series. Here's a sample.
Division StreetA Verry Larch Mystery by Lucas County During Prohibition, Lulu's Rear End was "da speakeasy at de enda da block." The two story building had later been a brothel, a tap room with five families upstairs, a Polish social club and a strip bar. After surviving the race riots of the Sixties and the arson epidemics of the Seventies, Lulu's became the Redeeming Light Gospel Center. Then, the headquarters of the Poor Handmaidens of Jesus Christ. A Puerto Rican community center, an organic something or another, a wedding hall. Boarded up again. A blues joint. A punk club. Deserted again. A crack house. Then, Daniel bought it. The woman walking down Division Street hadn't seen all of these reincarnations, of course. She'd only been inside once. She'd learned its history from bits and pieces. Every now and then Daniel shared his research with her, fun things like Sammy Davis Junior playing drums at Lulu's! We gotta picture! Color! or things more serious: detectives once found almost a pound of heroin in the freezer! Can you imagine that? Almost a pound! At the precinct, once in a while someone would say something vague but comical about the "old days at Lulu's". Stinkin' fish and coffee... The magic dust of gentrification hadn't been sprinkled on Division Street equally. A guy, probably Puerto Rican, unloads groceries from his car. Beneath the crisp blue September sky and lambwhite clouds he and his new house look like an advertisement. On the beaten house next door, the windows are scarred from fires. Scaffolding here, piles of concrete blocks there. A pair of bicycles, bright red and delicately thin, locked together on a newly painted porch. A lot full of weeds and trash. A young nicely dressed woman, walking on the north side of the street. Two African-American girls in fast food restaurant uniforms, sitting on the curb. A new Buick parked too close to a fire hydrant. She watches the cars run over the long shadows of trees and houses and remembers when every porch had a radio. Elvis, The Supremes, the Beatles... Frank Sinatra. The Bears, the Cubs and especially the White Sox. Harry Caray singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". The excitement of birthday dinners on Polish Broadway. She passes the alley shortcut she used to take to school. The woman remembers the winters and how, sometimes, it became dark so early. After she started working here, things changed: neighbors became residents, witnesses or suspects. She drove her patrol car where she and her childhood friends had ridden bicycles. That night at St. Elizabeth's, the intensive care unit: Byron close to death as she looked outside and saw squad cars and firetrucks rushing towards her childhood home. "C'mon man, Benjamin, take it... all that rehearsing. You've earned it. You nailed it!" " No, no, no... Daniel, I can't take money for this. Now, thanks to you, I've got the most perfect little piece to present at auditions. Not to mention that fabulous VHS recording. What's most important is that she likes it." "She'll love it. Barney Miller's the only cop show she'll watch for more than ten seconds. And, she loves musicals. Now c'mon and take this." "I can't. Really, I shouldn't." "You have to...I want a dedication." Benjamin Goodman looked at Daniel and took the money. "Let me guess who you're dedicating this to..." "No names, they'll be embarrassed. Just say something like, 'here's something for our unsung heroes.' " "That's it?" "That's it... Start when we come in from the patio." This was the first time she'd seen the changes up close."Daniel's committed," she thought. New siding, a cute little lawn and the beautifully restored sign for Lulu's Rear End. At night, in blue neon, the same sign spelled out 'LuLu Read'. She steps in, makes a mental map: back door, payphone, light switches and restrooms. She counts the pool sticks and ignores the sock puppets singing on the card table beside her. She makes eye contact with one of the men in the kitchen and approaches him, studying the cash register, the anemic bartender, the few people in the audience and the couple at the far end of the long wooden bar. "Daniel, I know I'm late... we were out of cat food... I mean I was out of cat food. I mean the cat needed food." Her words are apologetic but emotionless. She looks over the other man and the knives hanging nearby. She shoots her eyes into Daniel's. "You two look busy and I see Veronica's in back... " "Yep! Grab a seat, Mrs. Kocinski. I'll be right there." "Daniel, We've discussed this. Been over this many times. Call me what you like. It's not against the law to call me mom." Benjamin waits til she leaves, then looks at Daniel and rolls his eyes. "Well... isn't she all business! Daniel, if she doesn't like my performance, is she going to arrest us?" "What do you mean, "arrest us"? This was all your idea! You're the perp!" "Oh, Daniel, you treacherous traitor! Go! Go out there and join your fabulous wife and, and...Officer Mother Inlaw!" Another doorway, another brief pause. An alley, an unlocked gate. Wooden fences on three sides, one side open to Division. The grey skyline of Chicago behind the houses of Wicker Park. A few customers having lunch and three guys looking through scrapbooks. She moves towards the back corner. "Veronica! You look like a million bucks. Is that a new blouse?" "Yep! On top of everything else, I went shopping while Daniel did a little writing." "On top of everything else?" "Yeah...on top of everything else." Their eyes are the same shade of brown and the sounds of their laughter are similar. Greyish brown hair, glasses, a bit of extra weight and a sense of toughness on the one; auburn hair, thin legs and a honeymooner's glow on the other. "So you had a good time?" "A great time! On top of everything else, this was 80% off! Anne Klein!" Mom feels the material and smiles at her daughter. "Beautiful and on sale... on top of everything else." "Ladies! What can I get you? I've ordered a plate of wings. You want anything else to eat, just tell me. M-m-m-mom, what can I get you?". "Daniel stop stuttering. Sit down and relax. We're not your customers." "Right! Um...OK. But, I gotta tell ya... there's a few things I totally cannot ignore right now. But... at 6 we've got reservations at Lucia's. I've got two bottles of Chianti in the cooler. Tonight I will do nothing but enjoy the company of the two most beautiful women in Chicago." "OK, Daniel... Bring Veronica another coffee, please, and I'll have an iced tea. Also bring back a couple of shovels wouldya? Bullpuckey's getting pretty deep in here." Daniel laughs so loudly the other customers look at him. "Bullpuckey! Mrs.... Mom... you're too much!" "Daniel thinks you're the one who should write a book. He's trying to get up the courage to ask you about being one of the first women cops and all that stuff. " "Me? Interview? Let him watch Charlie the Angel or that Miami Vice show. Law and Order! That's how it is. Just look serious and yell 'freeze' all the time. Police Woman! There you go! That's me. I punch in and go work as a go go girl undercover cop. Pepper Anderson! What a ridiculous name. Almost as bad as yours." "Verry Larch isn't that bad. I could be called worse." "You will be." Daniel pops back onto the patio and heads towards their table, stopping first to crush a cigarette into an ashtray. "He was doing OK, until we ran out of the nicotine patches..." " I can hold my tongue, don't worry. Daniel wants to ruin his lungs and die before my grandkids grow up, who am I to stop him..." "Mom!" A tall young blonde man stands up in front of Daniel. "Dude...just need a second." He points to a table covered with photos, posters, VHS tapes and cassettes. The tall guy's wearing a black T-shirt for a band called Asia. Asia's logo is obliterated by six words written in cracked white housepaint: Geffen Records Recording Artists Sonic Youth. A grainy, contrasty black and white 8 x 10 photo is thrust before Daniel. "Is that Parry Dice before he shaved his head? Nelson says there was an all ages show with the Great Pumpkins..." "Yeah, Check with a guy named Merle at The End Gallery. That was an art opening or something." The guy with the mohawk and a Big Black T-shirt passes Daniel a sheet full of slides and a magnifying loupe. "Check it out, man. Does. Not. Get. Any. Cooler..." Daniel holds the slides up towards the sun and moves the loupe around. He strikes a rockstar pose and punches the air. "Freaking AWESOME! Buddy Guy and Iggy Pop underneath the sign. Amazing! Effin' amazing.I am so psyched! This is gonna be awesome. Denzel...we're on schedule, right?" Denzel doesn't look up from his computer. "We're getting there." Daniel sits down and grabs a chicken wing."We're making a CD-ROM". "A seedy what? Seedy rom? Sounds like a new street drug." Daniel snorts so loudly that customers look at him."Mom, you're too much..." He puts down a chicken wing bone and carefully cleans his hands with a napkin.He jumps up and grabs an envelope from the table of the CD-ROM crew. He opens the envelope and pulls out two photos, both wrapped in plastic. "Are you producing evidence?" "Daniel, Mom's joking...relax." One photo is a Polaroid of Veronica and Daniel making a toast with coffee cups held in gloved hands. "That was taken over there, on the day we got six inches of snow. Supposed to be the first day for the electricians. They didn't show up." Daniel pointed to the other photo."This was taken right here. Verry's study corner. "He moved his finger back and forth between the two pictures. I need to pick one for the CD-ROM." "These used to be on our fridge." "My hair's frizzy and the books make look like a nerd. I go with the one in the snow." "Veronica, the winter picture makes you look fat. The books make you look smart." The waitress brings the bill to the couple at the next table.. The Asian woman with lime green hair and helicopters tattooed on her arms reaches for it. The sunburnt man across from her grunts and tries to scrub spilled cappuccino out of his yellow Bad Brains tanktop. On the table is a TV Guide with the Olsen twins on the cover, both wearing business suits. Mom sees a Wisconsin driver's license in the woman's wallet. Mom looks towards Division Street. She'd never told the two that she'd been here once before, when the streets were soft with slush and the snow crunched with every footstep. That night, fourteen years ago, Mom and Byron walked into the lightless hell that was Lulu's. It smelled like urine and smoke. They moved their flashlight beams over syringe wrappers, blackened spoons and a stainless steel sink full of ashes. Graffiti on the oak panelling and snow beneath the broken windows. The only sounds were walkie talkie static and the bored drone of the dispatcher. Lulu's had no wiring left, no pipes; nothing related to normal life. Mom and Byron had stepped out here with brooms in their hands.This wasn't a patio then. Starting by the door, they swept snow until they found the body. An hour later, Mom used a Spanish-English dictionary to ask the mother to come to the morgue. The deceased girl was seventeen years old. "Well, this is really something. A beautiful sunset, my daughter, my new son-in-law, and a plate of chicken wings with blue cheese dip! Mom wiggles out of her windbreaker, then neatly folds it . She makes a bib of her napkin and discretely slips off her shoes. Daniel uses a chicken wing like a pointer. "OK, a question for you two police officers... OK. Ya got occupations like the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. Ya got farmers, jugglers...tuba players...these make sense. I'm a writer because I write. Jeff's tends to the bar, so he's a bartender. But 'officer'? C'mon...how does that work?. You guys hate offices. Am I missing something or what, OFFICERS? And, now that I think of it, what does a butcher do? The sun strikes Veronica's hair as she laughs. Mom is happy for her daughter, happy for the two of them. Inside, very loud metallic crack!. Mom drops her chicken wing, feels her purse and focuses on the door. Veronica calmly sips her tea. Daniel sighs. "Guys come in and start playing with the sound board and the next thing you know the whole thing's goofed up. Probably blew another fuse or something. Be right back. Hopefully. " Mom picks up her chicken wing and acts as if she was amused at Daniel's joke. "Oh yes...we are officers... How does that work?" "So, Officer Kocinski..."Veronica, is no longer a carefree newlywed: she's a serious cop."How's the parking at the 26th?" "There's no space with your name on it, that's for sure. Get there an hour early, bring a book and wait in the car. Somebody somewhere's gonna give you a hard time, even for showing up very early on your first day. By the way, my dear daughter... as a rookie cop, you don't need any advice. But, you're a beginner and, just like any beginner on any job anywhere in the world, the best thing you can do is keep your eyes and ears open..." "...and my mouth shut. I know, I know." "And don't say 'I know' if someone tells you something!" Daniel plops another bowl of blue cheese dressing on the table.. "Well that was a surprise. Sound guy actually knows what he's doing. It was the guy from last night that messed things up." Still standing, he stretches his suspenders and takes a deep breath. "Chicago actually smells pretty nice today." "Daniel, what's going in there? The singing socks kinda lost me." Daniel picks up the program and begins reading in a serious voice. "...by using sock puppets to subvert racial and gender-based hegemony, the artists explore and reinvent paradigms that .... "Wo, wo, wo...Daniel, that's enough..." Daniel nods and sits down. The Coppatone Cabaret was his idea, a way to get people in on Sunday afternoons. His embarrassment disappears as he loads another chicken wing with dip. "I never read these artists' Statements... some people who are just plain nuts. Last week a group performed Baywatch with life-size inflatable sex dolls." He stretches to look inside. "Chordelia. Last week she sang 'Indiana Wants Me'...made me cry. OK..I've got exactly five o'clock. Chordelia's on for 20 minutes...and then Benjamin Goodman's up. Amazing. The guy's amazing"! A mournful version of "Stop in the Name of Love" made its way to the patio. Mom again looked over Division,.noticing the nicely dressed young woman she'd seen before. Probably in college and selling something door to door. Maybe insurance, maybe roofing. Cosmetics or magazines. Gotta be a tough doing door to door. No dispatcher, no partner, no backup. You succeed or you do not. On your own. Always. "So, Mom...waddya think of Lulu's Rear End? Full of history, right?" Daniel was becoming comfortable saying 'mom'. "Impressive. You've done a lot of work." "Oh, gees...a lot of work is right. Termites and all kinds of crap. Fire damage. Unbelievable. And then the permits. Gut rehab. You know how much they want for just that one piece of paper? Zoning stuff! Meeting after meeting...Daniel paused a beat. "Mon, everywhere you look, dere's always dat stinkin fish and coffee." He smiled cautiously. Mom's first partner was a Jamaican named Byron who kept his ancestry to himself, with one exception. After certain meetings or newspaper articles, he'd shake his head and look you straight in the eye. Then, he'd open his mouth and out would come a Jamaican accent as strong and rich as sugarcane rum, "Mon, everywhere you look, dere's always dat stinkin' fish and coffee." Veronica was now married; family jokes and intimacies were no longer absolutely secret. It worked both ways: Daniel probably didn't know that that she'd seen parts of a letter he'd once sent to Veronica. Fountain pen, flowing penmanship, parchment, envelope sealed with wax: Veronica had been ecstatic. Veronica. The only child of a single cop. When Marple, her cat had died, Veronica calmly asked her mother to "come and ID the body." Veronica. Always, she slept by the door, the phone nearby and the police radio on. Veronica. Tomorrow she would go out into the world wearing a blue uniform with a star on the front and a target on the back. She'd long ago stopped wondering why her daughter wanted to be a cop. Being a cop was a loser's game. Unappreciated, underpayed and outnumbered. Survive until retirement and you might look back and think you made the world a better place. Or, you'd wonder why the system had played you for a fool. Mom stirred her coffee while they decided whose alarm clock to use. Tonight would be one of Veronica's last peaceful nights. After they'd softly decided to use Daniel's clock, Mom cleared her throat. "Daniel, I'm going to tell Veronica something I don't think she's heard before. I'd like you to hear it too. Anything you need to do in the next five minutes?" "No." "OK..." Mom swirled her ice tea one last time. "I'm on duty my first day. We get a call requesting back up at Rush and Division. It's 1 in the afternoon and in a place like that you figure it's usually something like a wife joining a husband-secretary three martini lunch. Maybe an ex-employee with a baseball bat collecting his salary. Stuff like that. But when we roll up things seem like they've already been resolved. Great! The suspects were drunk Russian businessmen who just happened to have a handful of stolen credit cards. Things had gotten rough and they called for backup. But we get there and the two bad guys are cuffed and on the ground. Unhappy but quiet. The arresting officer is bleeding and one of his eyes is swollen shut. He'd caught a bottle with his forehead. Long story short: I get to transport the suspects. Again with the woman driver jokes and the one about Paulina, Melvina and Lunt." Daniel smiled. Veronica didn't move. "So we take off and they just sit there. Well! It's my first day and I'm driving a police car with two criminals in the back. Justice is being served! The good guys are ahead! And then I remember... The siren! I wasn't gonna do anything outrageous, wasn't even gonna start speeding... no, I was just gonna make my delivery a little special. So I flick on the siren and the light..." Goodman poked his head out onto the patio one last time. The audience was getting restless. He began. Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. My name is Benjamin Goodman. Thank you for coming down to Lulu's this afternoon. Perhaps some of you may remember a television program called Barney Miller. I will now perform a reenactment from an outstanding episode entitled The Escape Artist. I will be portraying Roland Gusik, an inventor with a passion for flying. The role was first performed by Leonard Frey, a distinguished actor whose career included nominations for both an Oscar and a Tony award. As you will see, I also very briefly enact the role of Captain Barney Miller, the lead character made famous by Hal Holbrook. The Escape Artist was directed by Noam Pitlik who worked from a script written by Howard Leeds, Danny Arnold and Chris Howard. The performance begins with Mr. Gusik being brought into the station after he was apprehended while attempting to fly. Ladies and gentleman, may I introduce you to.....Roland Gusik. Goodman steps back and closes his eyes. He becomes Gusick. "I'd have made it across the river if you had minded your own business!" "You also could have gotten killed!" "Death has never been a deterrent. What's your name?" "Miller. Captain Miller." "Obscurity is more terrifying than death, Captain Miller. Accomplishments are what's important. If I die in an attempt to accomplish something, who's the sufferer?" "You are." "So?" "Self destruction happens to be against the law in this state, Mr. Gusick." Mom looks around and takes a breath."The minute the flasher and the siren start, boom! One of the guys goes ballistic. Zero to sixty in two seconds. Throws himself against the divider and starts screaming in Russian. It's like he's gonna break the back of my seat. Fierce. Fierce and strong. Whatever I'm saying, the guys not having any of it. Slam, slam, slam against the seat. And then he stops and goes bug eyed. Stares at the roof with his veins popping out. Arches his neck. His face goes red. Then it's like a bomb goes off inside him. I'm thinkin' this guy's having a seizure. The other guy just stares. The seizure guy twists back and forth and... It's the cuffs! The handcuffs! Not a seizure;he's tryin' to break the cuffs! Then the seizure guys starts slamming his brother and screaming like you wouldn't believe. He starts headbutting and biting like he's a piranha. A piranha and a bull. "PCP," Veronica says. "His brother confirmed that later. PCP was not detected nor mentioned by the arresting officers at the time of the initial incident." Mom's eyes move from Division back to her coffee. Gusick looks at his imaginary jailers then slowly makes eye contact with everyone in the room. "What's the difference between mankind and animals?" Two people hold their drinks, waiting for the punchline. Goodman majestically positions his head so that he's in profile, looking directly into the spotlight. "Mankind aspires. Mankind reaches out to the stars." Goodman's voice becomes bold... "Mankind pursues impossible dreams!" Slowly and rhythmically, Gusick begins rattling the bars of his jail cell. He closes his eyes and begins singing "The Impossible Dream". Mom looks into Daniel's eyes "I love that song." She shifts and looks away, towards Division. "Blood's all over the one suspect's face and the psycho's getting even more aggravated. I still can't pull over but I get my mace. I spray'em. I get as much as they do. Worse, the guy's not even bothered. It's like I used a squirtgun." "Mace has no effect on someone high on PCP," Veronica says. "I finally can pull over. I open the trunk. Then it's like this: the traffic, me, the door, the helpless brother and the psycho. No time to think but I gotta do something. And then, surprise, surprise, the helpless guy stuns his brother with a headbutt! Even the guy's eyes are covered with blood, but he's cooperative. I get him out of the backseat and into the trunk.Then I hear crunches. The back window's getting kicked! The psycho shoots his hand through the broken glass. More blood. And he broke the cuffs! Gets the door open. A black Mercedes smacks into it, makes it spark and fly off into the grass. My cruiser jumps two feet into the traffic lane. I'm hoping someone somewhere is calling HPD, police, anyone. I draw my weapon. It's me and this monster. His eyes.They're calm. Greyish green. Pupils normal, like he's starting work after a cup of coffee. I tell myself, 'Don't turn around to check traffic. You get hit, you get hit.'" Mom finally looks at Veronica. "I shoot his right leg. Nothing. He lunges at me. My shot goes wild. He grabs my arm like, like... like a dinosaur biting. Slams me against the cruiser. I can smell bourbon, formaldehyde and vomit and I fire and I fire. He doesn't stop. Gets his arms like he's wrestling and starts trying to punch a hole in my ribs. Our friction's making the mace stronger. Moaning and growling; that's it. His sweat's soaking into me and I fire and he's got me so tight his muscles feel like mine and I fire again. I feel my bullet cracking his bones. I need air. We're so tight it's like I'm shooting myself. He grabs my throat. Mom glances at Division Street again. "I get my gun against his Adam's apple. Last bullet. I fire and cut his neck in half. Mom looks back at Veronica. "That's how I got that first cast. I wasn't bit by a mommy dog protecting her puppies." "And..." Veronica is guilty, sad and compassionate. "And...that's why you missed my class play." Daniel puts his arm on Veronica and wraps his hand around his mother-in-law's wrist. A sock puppet appears on the table. Veronica looks up at a young woman holding a cassette labelled Do You Think I'm Soxy? Daniel stretches back to see Goodman taking a bow. Mom looks at Division Street and stands up.
"Veronica! There's phone by the kitchen. Get ready to call 911 and tell them an officer needs backup at 732 Division. Two story house across from Lulu's Rear End, red Datsun in the driveway. Daniel, stand by the door so Veronica can see you. I saw a young woman selling door-to-door go in twenty-five minutes ago. If she's in there and it's legit, then I just say I'm lost, come back and we all go drink Chianti. But...If I raise my hand over my head, you signal Veronica to make that call. If the door opens and I go in, you count to ten. One thousand, two thousand, like that... If I'm not out by ten thousand, you signal Veronica...Questions?"Mom pulls her badge out of her purse. "Let's roll." Mom runs off. Daniel drops the napkin full of photos on the table next to Denzel. "Use the one with the books." Veronica checks the phone with one thought on her mind: Mom, you're not out in ten seconds, I'm comin' in. Beneath the big pink sign, Daniel watches Mom knock on the door. Mom rings the bell. Mom looks in the window. Mom's hand shoots up.