The Great Gatsby may be the bar by which Great American Novels are measured, but at its heart it’s a mystery novel, with all the psychological twists and plot unwindings we love about the genre. In his new book Such Great Heights, Chris Cole puts a millennial wardrobe on the Jazz Age classic, mashing up the styles and imagery of Brett Easton Ellis, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Green–it’s Gatsby by way of “The Social Network” and Less Than Zero. It’s also a mystery novel for the Instagram generation, for whom nostalgia is a stylish accessory and instant messages are sacred texts. Blurbed by Lana del Rey, Michael David Lukas and Frances Lefkowitz, it’s racking up the five-star reviews. Find it here.
June 13, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
Over at Eric Beetner’s excellent blog, Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts sit down to chat about books, crime, writing, and a whole lot else. Beetner asks some great questions, and gets some great answers. 3/4 of the way through, Joe and Tom give a nice shout-out to Ro Cuzon. We pull that quote below, but the whole conversation with these three excellent writers is worth the time. You can find it here.
What do you think about some of the ex-junkie fiction out there like William Burroughs or Donald Goines? Does it capture the truth of it?J: We all love William Burroughs, the man. But did anybody really enjoy Naked Lunch? Cool guy. I’ve just never been sold on Burroughs the writer. Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight was pretty spot-on, although the writing didn’t hold up for me in subsequent readings. Which isn’t much of a knock. Like I said, my favorite writer is still Kerouac, and I can’t read him anymore either. There’s Ro Cuzon, another ex-junkie noir guy. I recently read hisUnder the Dixie Moon, which uses dope in the peripheral, and I think he nails it. But, again, it’s fiction, so you have some leeway. I suppose Jesus’ Son is fiction too, but it doesn’t read that way.T: No shit. Good call on Burroughs. Junkie is his most readable book. He’s one of many who I realize I like the idea of better than the work of. Denis Johnson? I can appreciate Jesus’ Son, but it doesn’t compare to a master work like Tree of Smoke. But, really, the book I like best by Johnson is Nobody Move. It’s his take on noir and it’s great. His fans hated it, but it’s a clean, tight crime tale that’s worth picking up. I concur with Joe on Ro Cuzon’s book too. When I read Dixie I was amazed at how it kept getting better and better and better. The plot thickened to the point where I thought I was on the brink of its climax for three-quarters of the book.
June 5, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
There may be more talented crime fiction authors working today than at any time in history, and I enjoy reading the great varieties of books they produce. Much too rarely, though, do I stumble upon that novel which seems to have been written especially for me. Stories where Voice, Character, Plot, and Setting, all combine to create a perfect, elating cocktail that instantly catapults me to the white-hot center of the narrative, messing with my mind and body as if I was personally involved in the events on the page, triggering heart palpitations, dry mouth, clammy hands, etc.
These novels all tend to be about criminals or people who have committed a crime (there’s a difference, I think), and the intensity of my reactions to their protagonists’ predicaments is always directly related to one thing: the degree of realism that the authors bring to their stories.
Enter Angel Baby by Richard Lange.
Read the entire review at mulhollandbooks.com
June 4, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
The Great Gatsby may be the bar by which Great American Novels are measured, but at its heart it’s a mystery novel, with all the psychological twists and plot unwindings we love about the genre. In his new book Such Great Heights, Chris Cole puts a millennial wardrobe on the Jazz Age classic, mashing up the styles and imagery of Brett Easton Ellis, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Green–it’s Gatsby by way of “The Social Network” and Less Than Zero. It’s also a mystery novel for the Instagram generation, for whom nostalgia is a stylish accessory and instant messages are sacred texts.
Here’s what Litseen.com had to say: “Chris Cole has written a pop novel that moves about as fast as America crumbles, or: this book starts off with a gunshot and accelerates until its bloody climax… All the lessons we can learn from The Great Gatsby are here. But we’re riding backseat in a Maybach listening to Kanye and Jay-Z… Thrilling, real and yet utterly fantastic, Such Great Heights is as profound as it is entertaining and easy to understand.”
June 1, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
International Crime Month may sound like it’s a celebration of global criminal syndicates, but it’s actually all about fiction. Four of America’s most influential independent publishers—Grove Atlantic, Akashic Books, Melville House, and Europa Editions—have joined forces to promote one of the most vital and socially significant fiction genres of our time: crime fiction. Starting at the end of May and running for the entire month of June, International Crime Month features acclaimed crime fiction authors, editors, critics, and publishers appearing together in a series of readings, panels, and discussions. Learn more here.
May 17, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
Move over, Björk. With the blockbuster 2 Guns (Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg) set to explode across U.S. multiplexes this summer, renegade filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband) is about to become Iceland’s most popular cultural export. But first, the man once called the “Mayor of Reykjavik” has just released The Deep, an intimate, Icelandic film exploring survival, miracles and the perilous life of fishermen.
What constitutes a miracle?
This question runs through Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur’s most recent film, The Deep, which chronicles the life of Gulli (played pitch perfectly by Olafur Darri Olafsson), a simple man who survives a night in the frigid North Atlantic Ocean after his ship sinks.
The Deep is based on the true story of the trawler Breki that capsized in 1984 off the coast of Iceland’s Westman Islands. Doctors speculated that Gulli, the lone survivor, stayed alive because he was, metaphorically, part seal due to his rotund frame being insulated by a remarkable amount of body fat. An object of fascination to Icelanders, Gulli quickly became a national icon and the subject of intense scientific investigation into why he didn’t die.
In a nation where the economy is tied so heavily to the fishing industry, Gulli’s miraculous story still resonates, even more so now that the country has been forced to redefine its cultural identity since the banking and finance industries precipitated Iceland’s economic collapse in 2008.
“Bankers are not our heroes. They didn’t give birth to our nation. Our fathers and grandfathers aren’t businessmen,” said Kormakur, currently in Los Angeles wrapping up post production on the blockbuster film 2 Guns.
“Our true heroes wear fishing gear and raincoats.”
Observing his country transform from one rooted in the blue collar fishing industry to one dominated by runaway capitalism, Kormakur “felt we had lost our way, so I wanted to make a movie that reminded us of who we are.”
May 16, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
The next time you find yourself enjoying a finely crafted beer, you might want to ask yourself what it took to bring that drink to your lips. Tom Acitelli, author of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution (Chicago Review Press) did more than wonder about it: He went off across America in search of the stories behind the suds.
Acitelli, the founding editor of Curbed Boston, and a contributor to The New York Times and other publications, answered a few of our questions about where to find the best beers, how Europe is catching onto America’s craft movement, and what it’s like drinking brews infused with St. John’s Wort or hot peppers.
Here are some of his insights:
Where is the heart of the American craft brewing scene?
Tom Acitelli: There are now more than 2,300 breweries in the United States, the most since the 1880s, so pinpointing a definite geographic heart might be a tad difficult. Spiritually, however, the American craft beer movement indisputably pivots on Northern California—specifically, theSan Francisco Bay Area. The oldest craft brewery still in operation (Anchor Brewery, famous for its steam beer) is in an old coffee roastery in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. The first startup craft brewery since Prohibition (New Albion Brewery, which went out of business in 1983) was also nearby, in Sonoma County wine country; and the nation’s second- and third-oldest brewpubs, Mendocino Brewing and Buffalo Bill’s, started just outside of San Francisco.
If someone wanted to plan a vacation entirely around tasting craft beers, where would you recommend they go?
Wonderful idea! I would recommend three locales. The first would be the San Francisco Bay Area, because of the aforementioned history and the decent public transit within the metro region. The second would beAsheville, N.C., which has been called “San Francisco East,” in no small part due to the explosive growth in craft breweries—and many of these craft breweries are plucky startups that adore visitors. (I should note: most every craft brewery has samples for guests and they’re usually free.) The final one would be Vermont. There are 27 craft breweries in the state of barely 600,000 souls—small area, beautiful environment, lots of choices.
How many beers do you think you tasted during the course of writing this book? What was the strangest, what was the best?
Believe it or not, I stayed stone sober for large portions of researching and writing this book. Part of it was for energy and part of it was because I did not want to fall in love with a particular brewery’s beer and lose a sense of objectivity. I will say this, though: I gained a new appreciation for milder, lower-alcohol beers, the kinds you can sip largely without consequence. On the other hand, I encountered plenty of so-called “extreme beers,” which can be made from all sorts of ingredients beyond the traditional barley, yeast, water and hops (I had one made with St. John’s Wort, another with hot peppers, and one that had been aged in an oak barrel with several gallons of zinfandel wine)—and they pack a huge kick that can render the next morning rather unproductive.
May 11, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
Ralphie rode in the back of Pete’s Chevy Impala, while Pete steered, and Quentin sat in the front seat next to him. They drove up and down the streets of South Philly, slow, keeping an eye on things.
The sun sat on the horizon, below the row homes, casting deep shadows in the neighborhood.
“I need a refill,” said Ralphie, handing his empty glass to Quentin.
Quentin grabbed the bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the footwell and poured a double into Ralphie’s glass, and handed it back to him.
“I’m hungry,” said Pete. “You want to get a cheesesteak, Ralphie?”
“Not now,” said Ralphie.
“What kind of cheese do you like on your steak?” said Pete, looking at Ralphie in the rearview mirror. “Whiz, or provolone, or something else?”
“Don’t be stupid,” said Ralphie.
“Me, I love Whiz,” said Pete. “I won’t eat a steak any other way.”
“You know why they call it Whiz, don’t you?” said Ralphie.
Pete shook his head. “No, why?”
“’Cause it’s got piss in it.”
Quentin looked back at Ralphie over his shoulder, and Ralphie winked at him.
“What?” said Pete.
“Yeah,” said Ralphie. “You know when you want to take a piss, sometimes you say, I got to take a whiz? Well, that’s where they get the name from.”
“No, shit?” said Pete.
“Yeah, why do you think it’s so yellow?” said Quentin.
“Oh, man,” said Pete. “Well, I ain’t going to eat that no more!”
Ralphie and Quentin broke out laughing.
Pete started laughing with them.
“Goddamn,” said Quentin. “That’s the funniest thing I ever heard.”
“Yeah!” said Pete. “I ain’t going to eat it no more!”
Ralphie frowned. He reached forward and slapped Pete on the back of the head.
“You dimwit,” he said. “That’s not why we’re laughing.”
“It ain’t?” said Pete.
“No, you idiot,” said Ralphie. “We’re laughing ‘cause there ain’t no piss in Cheez Whiz.”
“I don’t get it,” said Pete.
Ralphie let out a sigh. “Just drive, will you?”
The car hit a bump, and whiskey splashed out of Ralphie’s glass and onto his pants.
“Jesus, Pete,” he said. “Watch where the fuck you’re going.”
“Sorry, Ralphie. I was just trying to avoid hitting a kid on a bike.”
“Well, fuck him,” said Ralphie. “You made me spill good whiskey.”
“Right,” said Pete. “Good whiskey.”
At the next corner on SouthFourth Street, a young guy in jeans and a black t-shirt flagged down the car. Pete pulled over.
“See what he wants,” said Ralphie.
Quentin rolled down his window.
“What do you want?” he said to the guy.
“I want to talk to Ralphie about a problem I got,” he said.
“Who is he?” said Ralphie.
“Tom from the neighborhood,” said Quentin. “I know him.”
Ralphie took a sip of Jack Daniel’s and rolled down his window. He waved to Tom, and Tom approached the rear door.
“What’s the problem?” said Ralphie.
“I got robbed,” said Tom. “Somebody broke into my house and stole all my money.”
“Why don’t you call the cops?”
“’Cause I stole it from somebody else,” said Tom.
Ralphie nodded. “So what do you want me to do about it?”
“Well, I know who done it,” said Tom. “Can you get the money back for me, and maybe, you know, beat the guy up some?”
Ralphie let out a sigh, thinking about it.
“You’d have to pay me in advance,” he said.
May 10, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
BY MARK T CONARD
Waking across the airport motel parking lot, Sheri-Lynn spotted two girls. She recognized them as Chrystal and Champagne, regulars at the motel. They both seemed like nice girls, Sheri-Lynn thought, even though Champagne was black.
Sheri-Lynn originally hailed from North Carolina, but she’d come up north six years ago. At the time, she thought it would be nice to have a change of scenery.
“Hi, Sheri-Lynn,” said the two girls.
They leaned up against an old Ford Escort, underneath a streetlamp. They looked sexy in their cut-off jeans and halter tops.
Sheri-Lynn said hi to them.
Chrystal said, “Where you been?”
“Oh, I had an office call,” said Sheri-Lynn. “You know that insurance salesman, the one with the funny hair, calls himself Snarky?”
“Ooh,” said Champagne, crinkling her nose. “He’s gross.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” said Sheri-Lynn.
“We were just going to have a little smoke,” said Chrystal, holding up a joint. “Care to join us?”
“Sure,” said Sheri-Lynn.
Champagne held out the lighter and lit the joint for Chrystal. She took a hit, and passed it to Champagne.
“How’ve things been around here?” said Sheri-Lynn.
“Slow,” said Chrystal, letting out the smoke. “Real slow. Some college boys wanted to pull a train, and then Mr. Allen, works for the Eagles—you know him?”
Sheri-Lynn nodded, taking the joint from Champagne.
“He had me come to his office once, after hours,” said Sheri-Lynn. “It was pretty neat being there, but the place was kind of spooky when it was deserted, and he wanted to do it on the desk. That was uncomfortable. His stapler kept poking me in the butt.”
“You have such a cute accent—‘it was pretty neat being there’,” Chrystal said, trying to imitate Sheri-Lynn.
She and Champagne laughed.
Sheri-Lynn shrugged. “I guess. I know I don’t talk like you city girls.”
“Anyways, that’s all we seen tonight,” said Chrystal. “Hardly worth leaving the house for. Might as well have stayed home and watched the Home Shopping Network.”
“Me, I like game shows,” said Sheri-Lynn.
She took a hit of the reefer, then passed it back to Chrystal.
Breathing out the smoke, Sheri-Lynn said, “Wheel—Of—Fortune!”
Champagne laughed and said, “We were talking earlier about how we got started in this business. How’d you get into it, Sheri-Lynn?”
Sheri-Lynn shrugged again. “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I was just born for it.”
“Why don’t you quit and do something else?” said Chrystal.
“I guess I just don’t know what else to do with myself. I don’t really have no ambitions to do anything in particular, so I might as well do this. Better than nothing, I guess.”
“You could be a waitress, or maybe even a hostess at a restaurant,” said Chrystal.
“Oh, shoot, I don’t think I could do anything like that,” said Sheri-Lynn.
“Maybe you could get Vanna White’s job turning letters.”
The three of them started laughing, and Sheri-Lynn blushed.
Champagne said, “Did your father love you?”
“He sure did,” said Sheri-Lynn. “He was a good Christian and tried to make me into a good Christian, so he beat me something awful, on account of my bad disposition. He beat me, and I pretended like I didn’t care any when I was younger, but I really hated it. He even broke my arm this one time. I understand now why he did it. He loved me, and there was just nothing else he could do with me. I mean, what do you do with a girl with a naturally bad disposition? You got to at least try to set her right. But, unfortunately, it didn’t take. I’ll never be a good Christian. I know that.”
“My father used to rape me,” said Champagne. “Then he’d give me presents afterwards, so I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“What kind of presents?”
“Oh, different things,” she said. “Cute little jewelry, or bags of candy. But one time he bought me a new bike.”
“Wow,” said Chrystal. “That must’ve been nice.”
“It was,” said Champagne. “It was really nice, but it turned out to be stolen, so the cops came and took it away.”
“Shoot!” said Sheri-Lynn. “Did your daddy get in trouble?”
“Oh, no. He just told the cops that I stole it. That was the first time I got arrested.”
“Too bad about the bike,” said Chrystal.
A car pulled into the parking lot, and its headlights lit up the three girls and the Escort. It was a newish-looking Buick with out of state license plates. It parked two spaces away from the Ford.
“I guess I’m up,” said Chrystal, and she walked over to the driver’s side of the car and bent down to talk to the man.
“Neat car,” said Sheri-Lynn. “I like the color—green.”
“Yeah, and from Jersey,” said Champagne.
They watched Chrystal nod, as the man pointed towards Sheri-Lynn. Chrystal walked back to them.
“He wants you,” she said to Sheri-Lynn. “Partial to blonds, I guess.”
Sheri-Lynn walked to the car and bent down to get a look at the guy. She took him for a businessman on a trip. In his thirties, he wore glasses, had a round face, and looked nervous, like this might’ve been his first time.
“Hi, honey,” said Sheri-Lynn. “What’s your name?”
“John,” he said.
She snickered. “Well, that works out, now, don’t it?”
“No, it really is my name,” he said, trying to smile.
“Well, relax. You don’t need to be scared. What can I do for you tonight?”
“Well,” he said, lowering his voice. “I…”
“C’mon, now, don’t be shy,” she said. “You want the whole works? You want something fancy? You just want a header?”
He started nodding. “Yeah…Yeah, that’s what I want!”
“Okay, no problem at all,” she said. “That’ll cost you twenty—that okay with you?”
Normally, she’d only charge ten, but since he was out of state and probably didn’t know any better, she thought she’d see if he’d go for more.
“Oh, yeah, that’s…that’s terrific,” he said, hunching up to pull out his wallet. He handed her a twenty-dollar bill.
She put it into the little black purse she carried.
“Now scoot on over,” she said, opening the car door.
“No!” he said, pulling the door closed again. “Not here! Not out here! I paid for a room!”
She frowned. “Well, you didn’t have to go and do that. I could’ve taken care of you right here and saved you the money.”
“Well, it’s already paid for,” he said, showing her the key with the green plastic diamond attached to it. The plastic diamond read ‘10’ in white numerals.
“Ten’s right over here,” said Sheri-Lynn, pointing over her shoulder. “So just shut off your car and come with me.”
May 9, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
Late on a Saturday afternoon, Ralphie and Quentin sat in a back booth at Johnny’s Place in South Philly, drinking whiskey out of straight glasses. They’d had to move to the back, since more and more the boozehounds who always hung around the bar had started to bug Ralphie and ask him for favors.
For a few minutes, Quentin had been trying to convince Ralphie of the superiority of the Beatles over the Rolling Stones.
“I really don’t give a shit,” said Ralphie.
“Both Lennon and McCartney were great songwriters,” said Quentin. “Either one of them could write a great tune, a great lyric, and it would be a hit song.”
“So the fuck what?”
“So what? So, I’ll tell you so what—the Stones are a one note band. All their songs sound the same—it’s fucking Mick Jagger prancing around, pretending like he’s some nigger, pouting his huge ugly lips, and whining.”
Ralphie sighed and took another drink of straight whiskey.
“I keep telling you,” he said, “I don’t give a fuck. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the fucking Beach Boys, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass for any of them. They all mean shit to me.”
Quentin winced like he’d tasted something terrible. “The Beach Boys? Are you kidding me? We’re talking about the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones. The Beach Boys don’t even enter the picture.”
“Let me make it plain,” said Ralphie. “I don’t give a shit.”
Quentin frowned and took a drink of whiskey. “You’re funny, Ralphie, you know it? You don’t like any of the things everybody else likes. You know what I was thinking? That you’re sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, only without the Dr. Jekyll part.”
“You say some stupid shit sometimes,” said Ralphie. “We’ve been friends a long time, but once in a while I just want to beat your fucking head in with a baseball bat.”
Quentin nodded. “Yeah, that’s kind of what I was talking about just now.”
Ralphie looked over to see a blond girl with whorish make up staring at him from across the room. She wore a jean skirt and a black tube top. Ralphie frowned.
“Who’s that?” he said to Quentin.
Quentin shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Why’s she staring at me?”
“I don’t know that either,” said Quentin.
Ralphie waved to her to come over to the table. The girl looked around, then pointed to herself. Ralphie nodded, and the girl started across the room.
“What’s your name?” said Ralphie, as she stepped up to them.
“Sheri-Lynn,” she said, and she had a cute Southern accent.
“Where you from?” said Quentin. “Delaware?”
She shook her head. “I was born and raised in North Carolina,” she said. “I been here a few years now.”
“What do you want?” said Ralphie.
“Well,” she said. “I heard you’re the guy to come to around here, you know, when you can’t go to the cops.”
Ralphie grinned and nodded and leaned back in the seat. “What if I am?” he said.
“I was kind of wondering,” she said, looking at the floor.
“Wondering what?” said Ralphie. “Spit it out.”
“I was wondering if you wanted to be my manager.”
“You know, my pimp,” she said, glancing around.
“Shit,” said Ralphie, grinning wider. He looked at Quentin. “You imagine that? Me, a pimp?”
Quentin laughed. “Hell, yeah, you’d make a great pimp! Why don’t you do it, Ralphie?”
Ralphie looked back at the girl. “I don’t know anything about pimping.”
“There really ain’t nothing to it,” said the girl. “You just got to look out for me and make sure nobody takes advantage of me or hurts me, that kind of thing, and I give you a cut of my earnings.”
“Yeah?” said Ralphie. “How much?”
“That’d be up to you, but it’s usually about half.”
“Hey, that ain’t bad,” said Quentin.
“Plus, you get to fuck me whenever you want,” said the girl.
Ralphie looked her up and down. “Yeah, I don’t know.”
“And you can beat me if I get out of line,” she said.
“Yeah?” said Ralphie. “That’s part of the arrangement?”
She nodded. “Sure is. It’s part of the pimp/whore relationship. Has been for ages.”
“That sounds pretty good,” said Quentin.
“It’s tempting,” said Ralphie. “But I don’t think so. I got too much other shit to do right now.”
“Okay,” said the girl, hanging her head.
Ralphie let out a sigh, looking at her. “Tell you what.”
“Yeah?” she said, looking up at him.
“If anybody bothers you, just let me know. Maybe I’ll run them off for you.”
“Oh, thanks, Ralphie. Thanks.”
She hurried back to the front bar.
“I really think you ought to go into pimping,” said Quentin. “I’d give you a hand with it. I know Pete would love to help out, too.”
“Nah,” said Ralphie, waving his hand. “Too much trouble.”
“Uh-oh,” said Quentin, looking across the room. “Look who’s here.”
Ralphie glanced over to see a guy they grew up with, Sam, standing in the same spot the prostitute had been standing in, scanning the room. As soon as he spotted Ralphie, he came hurrying over.
May 8, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
On Friday night at Johnny’s Place, the usual drunks stood at the bar, both the after work part-timers, and the career boozehounds—the used up whores begging for somebody to buy them a shot, and the old guys with the yellowed skin and the rotten livers who’d sell their kids’ toys for a pint of whiskey. Sister Rachel Armageddon, a young nun from the local parish, made the rounds and gave them sermons about Jesus and God and why it’s a sin to masturbate and use contraception.
Ralphie and Marcie walked into the bar and looked around, surprised at the crowd. Ralphie spotted Quentin and Pete in a corner booth and nodded to them. He didn’t want to sit with them because he noticed that they acted stupid around Marcie. Pete always acted stupid, that’s the way he was. Ralphie figured his parents must have dropped him on his head when he was a kid, or maybe his mother had smoked a lot of crack when she was pregnant. But for some reason Quentin also acted funny whenever Marcie was around.
Ralphie directed Marcie to the end of the bar, as far away from Sister Rachel as he could manage, so that he wouldn’t have to listen to her Catholic bullshit. He called to Charlie the bartender to bring them some drinks.
Marcie wore a black skirt, black stockings, and a white shirt that was open a few buttons, so that it showed off her tits. She’d just had her hair dyed a deep red color like cooked cherries, and that pissed off Ralphie when he first saw it. She had naturally pretty chestnut brown hair, so he didn’t understand why she’d want to go and ruin it like that.
Charlie the bartender sat the drinks in front of them, and they clinked glasses like they wanted to toast something.
“Why’s she do that?” said Marcie, raising her voice, so she could be heard over the crowd.
“Who?” said Ralphie.
“The nun,” she said, nodding at Sister Rachel.
“Fuck if I know.”
“Doesn’t she know those people? Pat and Al, and Dickie—they’ll never change.”
“Wouldn’t if they could,” Ralphie said.
“That’s what I mean,” she said, almost yelling. “I’m not sure anybody can change what they really are, you know, deep inside. Those three sure can’t, so she’s wasting her time.”
“Just makes the situation worse,” said Ralphie.
“You’re right! If they can’t help being who they are, then she’s just making them feel bad by harping at them.”
Ralphie felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see Quentin grinning like an idiot. Ralphie and Quentin had been friends since grade school, when Ralphie beat the hell out of him in a schoolyard fight and knocked out three of his teeth.
“I was hoping you guys would show up,” Quentin said.
Ralphie rolled his eyes. Quentin would never say stupid shit like that when Marcie wasn’t around.
“Hi Quentin,” said Marcie, turning to him.
“Hi Marcie. Where’d you guys eat?”
“We ate at the Oregon Diner. Ralphie got mustard on his shirt.”
She reached over and scratched at the yellow stain.
“Have anything good?” Quentin asked.
“Vichyssoise and pâté,” Ralphie said, feeling himself getting angry. “What the fuck does it matter?”
“Don’t be so grumpy,” said Marcie. “I had chicken pot pie, and it wasn’t bad. Ralphie had the chopped steak.”
Ralphie glanced at his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar and straightened his tie. The mirror was cracked and cloudy, and it distorted his reflection. He felt vaguely sick looking at himself.
“You guys want to come over and sit with us?” said Quentin, motioning towards the table.
“Maybe later,” Ralphie said.
Quentin shrugged, and turned like he was going back to the booth, but stopped. “I forgot—your father was in here earlier.”
“What?” said Ralphie.
He hadn’t seen his father in three years. He couldn’t believe that the old man would just show up like that, just appear in the neighborhood, without warning.
“Yeah,” said Quentin. “He was in here with some woman, and he asked about you.”
May 11, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
By MARK T CONARD Ralphie rode in the back of Pete’s Chevy Impala, while Pete steered, and Quentin sat in the front seat next to …
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