Friday, July 22, 2016

Excerpt from My Bad: A Mile High Noir

My Bad: A Mile High Noir will be published by Arte Público Press at the end of September, 2016.  I just finished going through my final nit-picky editing of the galleys. The next step, after we decide on a cover, will be for the Press to send the book to the printer. Yahoo!

This book picks up where Desperado: A Mile High Noir ended. Gus Corral, the Northside vato introduced in Desperado, returns to the streets of Denver along with his sisters Corrine and Max, and his edgy friends.  This time around he's working for the lawyer Luis Móntez and almost immediately he finds himself on a wild, twisting ride that starts as a mundane investigation of a bad debt case but ends up in blood for Gus and danger for his friends, all against a background of an icy Colorado blizzard. A rogue Mexican cop, a missing client, and pirates in the Sea of Cortez add up to trouble for Gus and Luis, both of whom narrate the story as it unfolds. In the following excerpt, told by Gus, Gus has been tasked by Luis to  carry out surveillance of a man named Valdez. He uses the office carsharing account to drive to the target address ...


Excerpt from My Bad: A Mile High Noir
© Manuel Ramos 2016


Colorado Winter Sky

The rental was a blue and white toy, almost too small for me, but Luis told me the rates were cheap and I could park it almost anywhere without worrying about meters, tickets or gas. As I drove south on always-busy I-25 from the Northside to the Westwood neighborhood, I felt exposed, vulnerable, silly. The car was smaller than Corrine’s Kia. If any other car or truck hit me, my ride would crumble into a tiny ball of smashed metal and plastic, with me jellied in the middle of the ball.

I knew how I looked to all the drivers who passed me, some honking their horns even though I was in the slow lane. In the tiny car I came off as a brown-skinned, muscle-bound hulk pressed up against the steering wheel of a car that had no business carrying me.

Westwood was one of the few remaining neighborhoods in the Denver city limits where the word “barrio” still fit. Working families who’d been residents for decades, damaged but proud houses and small shops that dealt in everything from motorcycle repairs to marijuana cookies, all mixed together in a crooked rectangle bordered by Alameda, Mississippi, Federal and Sheridan. Tattoo artists collected books for neighborhood kids, Mexican taquerías sprung up and died like mushrooms, while the public art of Chicano artist Carlos Frésquez welcomed visitors to the community at Morrison Road, the diagonal street that cut through the heart of Westwood.

I drove past the address. Valdez lived in a gray aging house that must have had all of four rooms. The dirt yard had no plant life. No life period. I parked the car several blocks from his house, locked it up and electronically closed the account. I walked back to Valdez’s house. The lights were on but I didn’t see anyone. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, or what Móntez expected from me. He’d simply said, “Watch him.”

I stood in darkness under a tall pine tree with rough branches and hoped that I would stay awake. I made myself as comfortable as possible. I bent my knees and squeezed into the darkness of the tree. From where I stood I could see the front and a side door, and a large dirty picture window covered with dark blinds or curtains.

The night was filled with throbbing noise. Thumping bass rhythms mixed with barking dogs, ambulance sirens and hollering children. Screen doors slammed, water flowed along the curb and traffic moved on the major streets in a constant hum. 

I watched and waited and managed to stay awake until midnight, but I drifted in and out of awareness. Then I must have dozed off because I jerked against the tree when I heard a distant car alarm.

A pickup truck painted primer gray sat on the gravel driveway that ran along the side of the house. It looked like a late 1970s Ford.

The lights were still on in the house but there was no movement, no sign of any life.

I wrote down the New Mexico license plate number hanging on the back of the pickup. I thought I could check that out back at the office and then Móntez could decide how he wanted to use the information, if it mattered at all. I hadn’t expected much, so even a license plate number struck me as worthwhile.

I turned to walk to the rental car when headlights lit up my side of the street and I jumped back in the shadows. A dark, late model Camry pulled to a stop in front of the house. For almost five minutes nothing happened. The driver’s door opened and a woman stepped out. I couldn’t see her face because of the scarf wrapped around her head. She carried a large handbag. She rushed to the side door and tapped on the cracked wood. Light from the house surrounded her when the door opened. A man grabbed her arm and pulled her inside. The door slammed shut. 

I walked around the tree and looked for a way that I could approach the house without being seen. Such a route did not exist. As soon as I entered the street I would be exposed and in clear view from the picture window.

I stood where I was and waited. 

Fifteen minutes. The side door opened abruptly. The woman emerged wrapping the scarf across her forehead. She ran out of the house, looked over her shoulder, then jumped in her car. She sped away almost immediately. 

Two minutes. A tall man wearing a dark hoody slipped out of the house and climbed in the pickup truck. He backed out of the yard and drove down the street in the opposite direction from the woman. The lights in the house remained on. 

I looked up and down the street. I saw no one, not a kid on a bike or an old-timer out for a walk. It was late, I reminded myself. I ran across the street and peered in through the side door window. A man lay on the kitchen floor. He looked unconscious or dead. Then I saw the blood seeping out of a gaping wound on his right temple. I backed away from the door, checked the street again, then ran to my tree and called Móntez.

“Get out of there and meet me at the office,” he said.

“Shouldn’t I call the cops?”

“I’m calling my client first. I’ll see you in about twenty minutes. You sure he’s dead?”

“Yeah. That hole in his head is too big.”

“Get out of there,” he repeated.

For an instant I toyed with the idea that no matter what Móntez said, I should report what I’d seen. But that old feeling crept up my spine and I reacted as I always had. I didn’t want to connect with the police right then. I jogged through the Westwood night back to the car, away from the bloody scene. I felt like the kid who was blamed for everything—the sucker, the punk, the kid who never knew what hit him. I couldn’t shake the feeling.

Colorado Winter Sky 2

I have several events lined up for the rest of this year, including a few for the new book. Hope to see you at one. I'll post the details here on La Bloga in the coming weeks.


Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles.  His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award.  My Bad: A Mile High Noir is scheduled for publication by Arte Público Press in September, 2016.

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