A different change of pace for a Friday.

Today I’m going to post the first chapter of my crime novel SEND HIM ROUND. Briefly: it’s about a professional punching bag, called a “Brick” (as in “Brick Shithouse”) named Sam Bird.

This is the story that my manager likened to Elmore Leonard, but funnier (his words, not mine). I’ve gotten some pretty good feedback on this, and seeing as this is my forum to talk all about me, I figured I’d post it. I hope you actually read it, because I genuinely think it’s pretty good. Ignore any typos and stuff. Just because.

Here goes.

Send Him Round

By Mark Bertolini

August 10, 2012 –

Part One: Wolf Tickets

1.

I was about to get punched in the face.

            I wanted to duck, but ducking was no longer an option, as my arms were being held out to either side by the Sweaty Guy and the Beardy Guy, which made maneuvering my head and shoulders next to impossible.

            Plus, let’s not discount the fact that Sweaty and Beardy had already worked over my ribcage pretty good, and I’d taken a boot to the side of the head, so my neck was pretty bunged up too. I didn’t have much wiggle room, and what room I had, I was unable to capitalize on.

            So basically, I was about to get punched in the face, and could do nothing to stop it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been punched in the face plenty of times. Usually the guy throwing the punch (in my experience) really doesn’t know what he’s doing. The punch is weak, the fist isn’t fully closed, or they manage to hit you in the forehead or cheekbone, which, in the realm of getting punched in the face, isn’t all that bad.

            This guy, though. Sweaty and Beardy’s buddy, who I’ll call Lanky, knew how to punch. He was tall and skinny, but his hands looked like fucking baseball gloves. Like he’d swapped hands with a gorilla. Those were the kinds of hands made for punching. And he knew how to use all of them. The first punch caught me just below my right eye, and it felt like a brick had cranked my eye socket. The whole world spun lazily for a second, but I couldn’t spin, not in the grip of Sweaty and Beardy, who clenched in tighter and propped me back up for Lanky’s second fist, which caught me expertly on the edge of my jaw, and this time my eyes filled with grey.

            I was brought back by a hand slapping the side of my face, the right side, where the eye socket was already swelling. The only good thing about this whole mess was that they hadn’t broken my nose. It still wasn’t fully healed from the last time.

            Lanky, who also doubled as the slapper (those fucking hands, Jesus Christ, they looked so odd on the ends of his skinny arms), gave me a second cuff and I slowly raised my head.

            “So I’m going to ask you again,” said the fourth man, who stood casually behind Lanky, who graciously stepped to the side to allow me to see the speaker. “Where is Morgan Bennett?”

            My right eye was swollen almost shut by this point, so I peered at the man with my left. Dressed nicely, simple suit under a dark overcoat. No tie. I found that strange. You go to all the trouble of getting dressed up nicely, usually you put on a tie. Unless, that is, you expect to get beat to shit at some point, and then you don’t want to bleed all over your nice clothes. I’m going to use that as my excuse. That’s the reason I was dressed in faded cords, a basic blue workshirt, and my favorite fake leather coat that I’d had for going on nine years. So yeah, nothing too classy, so bleeding all over everything was perfectly acceptable.

            “I dunno,” I said, the words feeling all mushy in my mouth after the shot I’d taken off the jaw. I worked a couple of teeth with my tongue. Definitely loose.

            The well dressed man stepped forward, clearly not happy with my answer. “Morgan Bennett. Owes me a significant amount of money. If something has happened to him, if you’ve done something to him, then guess what?”

            I tried to guess, but I was still pretty foggy upstairs. “Capricorn?”

            The well dressed man pursed his lips and gave Lanky a little nod, and the giant hand came flashing out and the slap impacted hard enough on my face that I could just have the cops dust my cheek for prints when this was over.

            Which, I decided, was going to be in about five minutes, give or take.

            I spit blood (more blood, to be specific) and looked up at the well-dressed man not wearing a tie. I’ll call him Tieless. I said “I don’t know. I saw him. Last night. Don’t know where he went.” This response earned me another slap, this one slightly higher up on the side of my head towards my temple. I would have pitched to the side, but my buddies back there, Sweaty (who had some really big sweat stains in the armpits of his t-shirt. A guy like that should definitely not wear grey) and Beardy (no joke, this guy’s beard was enormous, it hung down over the collar of his shirt and I think there was food and birds nesting in it. He was also wearing a red headband, because he had a mane of hair that matched the beard. I should have called him Hairy. Ah well, too late now) still had my arms pinned tightly, enough that I had lost all feeling in them. I’d have to do something about that, soon.

            The well-dressed man (Tieless, his name was Tieless) had seen a lot of gangster movies, I assumed, because he stepped right up into my face, confident his lackeys were more than capable of holding me back, and yelled. The yelling I didn’t mind, it’s happened before, it’ll happen again. But he spit when he yelled, and I didn’t care for that much at all.

            “Morgan fucking Bennett! You tell me where he is, or we’ll leave your body in a—“

            I never did get to hear where he was going to leave my body, because at that moment I snapped my head forward (my neck wasn’t really all that sore) and shattered his nose with my forehead. I have a big forehead. Not like, Cro-Magnon man big, but my hairline was receding, so my forehead just looked big. Bigger than normal anyway. Anyway, yeah, so I smacked my big forehead into his nose, which sort of exploded, and I got more blood on me (not that you could tell, really), and he shrieked, a high-pitched whistle-y noise, and clutched at his bloody, broken nose, stumbling back away from me.

            Lanky moved in, hands balled up into fists that looked like ten-pound bowling balls, and let me tell you, I’d had enough of those hands for one day. I pivoted my torso quickly, and pushed myself forward with my legs, and I came sliding right out of the fake leather jacket. Sweaty and Beardy were left holding the coat, and both looked down at it, trying to reconcile that it no longer held a person. Long enough for me to plant a fist (granted, not as big as Lanky’s) into Beardy’s stomach, doubling him over. I then spun Beardy around and half-threw/half-pushed him, head-first, into Sweaty’s stomach. Like a human cannonball. They went down in a heap, and I turned, narrowly stepping out of the way of Lanky’s fist, a haymaker that must have started down at his shoes.

            The momentum of the punch carried him halfway past me, and I turned my back to him and threw out a vicious elbow that caught him in the triceps and from the squeal he let out, I knew I’d hit my mark and that arm had just turned dead. I kept turning, following through, and drilled the first two fingers of my left hand into the spot on his neck just under his ear. Lanky’s eyes rolled up into his head and he pitched forward, made no move to protect himself, and smacked face first onto the concrete floor. Something made a soft breaking noise from the area of his face, and I figured his nose had let go. Two in one night, that’s not bad.

            Tieless, now covered in his own blood (see? Should have worn his grubbies) backed away from me, hands still plastered to his face, eyes wide. “Nugh,” he said, and since I didn’t quite understand that, I kept moving towards him. He glanced past me quickly, saw that his help was not going to be much help any more, and then turned to flee.

            I was quicker, and caught the back of his overcoat with one hand. He didn’t have the sense to try and wriggle out of it, and I pulled him backwards, sending him falling onto his ass. He let go of his nose to try and break his fall.

            I don’t want to say I enjoyed kicking him in the chest. But I did. I enjoyed it enough that I did it a second time, and then he was flat on his back. He was cringing, staring up at me, eyes showing me pure panic. His situation had changed dramatically in the span of about sixty seconds, and it still wasn’t computing with him.

            But it would. Soon.

            I unclipped a cheap flip phone from my belt, pressed one button and held it to my ear. I heard the line get picked up at the other end, but no one said anything.

            “Bird,” I said.

            “Yeah?” Said a gruff, Cockney-accented voice on the other end.

            “I’m done. Can Jerry come pick me up?”

            “On his way,” the Cockney voice said, and the line disconnected. I clipped the phone back to my belt and looked down at Tieless. A dark stain spread across his pants, and the sharp smell of urine hit my nose. “Christ, what’d you do that for?”

            “Pleghs,” he said, and tried to spit blood out of his mouth, hands up, pleading with me. “Pleghs,” he said a second time. I spit my own blood out of my mouth, and gave him a smile.

            “Not sure what you’re getting at, my friend. You’ll have to annunciate more clearly.”

            He pushed himself into a half-sitting position and tried to see if there was an available avenue of escape. I planted a foot on the coat, which was sprawled out beneath him, effectively trapping him, as he still hadn’t figured out that he should take it off.

            “So. You wanted to know about Morgan Bennett,” I said.

            He stopped trying to speak, but his eyes continued to plead.

            I shook my head. “Not gonna happen. You wanted this, right? This lifestyle? Wanted to be the gangster king, is that it?”

            He shook his head violently.

            “You never stopped to think about how one becomes a king, though, did you? To become the king, the old king has to die. And the old king is still alive. The old king paid me to find you,” I said. “Morgan Bennett was a decoy. Granted, he’s in a dumpster out in the valley now, but he wasn’t important.”

            I knelt down next to him, reached my hands for him. “You’re important. That’s a nice thought to go out on, isn’t it?”

            He only screamed for a minute.

There you have it. Chapter 1 of SEND HIM ROUND. I hope you dig. I’m taking the weekend off, but Monday I will have some more Instinct news.

Until then, do yourself a favor and go listen to “King of Jeans” by Pissed Jeans.

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