Hap Collins and Leonard Pine return in a red-hot, mayhem-fueled thriller to face a vampire cult, the Dixie Mafia, and the deadliest assassin they’ve ever encountered—Devil Red.
When their friend Marvin asks Hap and Leonard to look into a cold-case double homicide, they’re more than happy to play private investigators: they like trouble, and they especially like getting paid to find it. It turns out that both of the victims were set to inherit serious money, and one of them ran with a vampire cult. The more closely Hap and Leonard look over the crime-scene photos, the more they see, including the image of a red devil’s head painted on a tree. A little research turns up a slew of murders with that same fiendish signature. And if that’s not enough, Leonard has taken to wearing a deerstalker cap . . . Will this be the case that finally sends Hap over the edge?
Full up with Lansdale’s trademark—whip-smart dialogue, relentless pacing, and unorthodox-to-say-the-least characters—Devil Red is one rambunctious thrill ride by one hell of a writer.
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Joe R. Lansdale is the author of more than a dozen novels, including Vanilla Ride, Leather Maiden, Sunset and Sawdust, and Lost Echoes. He has received the British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, the Edgar Award, the Grinzane Cavour Prize for Literature, and seven Bram Stoker Awards. He lives with his family in Nacogdoches, Texas.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
We were parked at the curb in Leonard’s car, sitting near a busted-out streetlight. We were looking at a house about a block up. It was a dark house on a dark street next to another dark house, and beyond that was an abandoned baseball field grown up with summer-burnt grass that had died two months back but was still standing, the tops curved over like bent sword tips. A fresh fall wind was bullying some dead leaves about and we had the windows rolled down and the air was cool and soothing. Beyond the baseball field it was dark too.
The whole area wasn’t exactly what you’d call a great place to hang out. You did, there was a chance they’d find you next morning in a ditch with your throat cut, your pockets turned inside out, and sperm in your ass, or perhaps a sharp instrument. It was the kind of place where the mice belonged to gangs.
But there we sat. Sacrifices to fate.
I said, “I feel like a hired leg breaker.”
“You are a hired leg breaker,” Leonard said.
“This is pretty mean.”
“He beat up an old woman, Hap. Took her money. That’s so mean the mean has to wear a hat and tie.”
“A hat and tie?”
“It’s an expression.”
“No it’s not.”
“All right. I made it up.”
“Of course you did.”
“Thing is,” Leonard said, “the cops didn’t do dick.”
“They took him in for questioning.”
“Whoop-te-doo,” Leonard said. “And it was Mrs. Johnson’s word against his and now he’s free and he’s sleeping in that house, him and his bud, and they got the old lady’s money.”
“The bud didn’t hit her,” I said.
“Yeah, well, the bud ought not to hang around with the wrong people.”
“I hang around with you.”
“But I’m charmin’,” Leonard said, cracking his knuckles. “You ready?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“What’s to think about? We took the job.”
“The money for one. Twenty-five dollars, to split. Really? That’s our payment?”
“Since when do you worry about money?”
“Since it’s twelve fifty.”
“It’ll pay us back for those cheap-ass baseball bats,” Leonard said.
“It will at that. We might even make a quarter or two when it’s all over.”
“So what are you complainin’ about? You’re comin’ out ahead.”
“We could go to jail. That’s one complaint. It could be me and you and Marvin and Mrs. Johnson, all of us sitting on a cot in a jail cell knitting sweaters with the words dumb ass across the front.”
Leonard sighed, leaned back in his seat, and adopted a tone akin to a father about to explain to a son why making bad grades in high school won’t get you far in life. “This douche bag ain’t gonna say squat. He’s got a badass reputation to maintain. Think he wants to say he got caught off guard and beat up by a worn-out honky and a handsome majestic queer with baseball bats?”
“Reputation? He beat up an old lady, what kind of reputation is that?”
“He probably doesn’t advertise that part, just the stuff about him being a big gangster and all. He’s a legend in his own mind. We’re just here to get Mrs. Johnson’s money back.”
“We’re going to rough somebody up for eighty-eight dollars?”
“And some change.”
“Yeah, don’t want to forget that, Leonard. He got another forty-five cents.”
“Forty-six. If you’re living on a fixed income, it matters. And, hey, we’re getting twenty-five dollars of it, and Marvin, he’s got a cut comin’.”
“You know we won’t take any of it, and he won’t either, and that this isn’t a real job. This is a favor. Marvin to her, us to him.”
“Yeah, but we can pretend,” Leonard said. “It’s fun. Didn’t you ever play pretend?”
I gave Leonard a sour look. “While we’re pretending, guys in the house might be serious. And I’m tired of beating up people and getting beat up.”
“All right, then. I’ll do the hitting. You don’t break anything. Him or the furniture. We’ll just let him know we don’t like him doin’ what he’s been doin’, and I’ll hit him on the meaty parts.”
“You’re just saying that, aren’t you? You’re going to break something.”
Leonard was silent for a time. “He broke her hand, so I got to think maybe his hand has to get broken. But you don’t have to do dick in that department, brother. Just come and watch out for his friend. The big guy, Chunk. I might not want him runnin’ up my ass.”
“Isn’t the friend’s supposed to be pretty damn big,” I said.
“Would it put you in better spirits if you broke the guy’s hand and I watched for the big guy?”
“Hell, man. You get to choose. Which is it?”
I sighed. “You do the breaking.”
“So we’re on?”
“Yeah, but remember, when we’re doing a stretch at Huntsville, I didn’t like the idea.”
“Noted,” Leonard said. “I’ll even give you my bread in the prison cafeteria.”
“What’s this guy’s name again?”
“What’s it matter?”
“I like to know who I’m beating up.”
“Thomas Traney took the money. The big guy, he’s called Chunk, that’s all I know. You heard this already.”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t listening so good. I didn’t think we were really going to do it. Next we’ll be twisting grade-schooler’s wrists to find out who took whose lunch money. Or maybe we can take their lunch money ourselves, being tough guys and all.”
“You through bitchin’?” Leonard said, pulling on a pair of skintight gloves, then handing me a pair.
I nodded, put on the gloves, leaned over the seat and got the baseball bats, and handed one to Leonard.
We got out of the car and started across the dark yard, went over the dry grass, and up on the back porch. I looked back toward the baseball field and the dark there, just in case someone was watching.
Leonard leaned an ear against the door.
“Quieter than a politician’s brain,” Leonard said.
“We ought to leave it that way.”
Leonard touched the door and pushed gently. “This is a weak and shitty door,” he said.
I didn’t say anything this time. I knew it was too late. It was on.
Leonard stepped back and stomp-kicked the door hard. The door’s lock broke and there was a sound of splintered wood and the door swung wide and slammed against the wall, and we were in.
There was a hallway, and we went along that quick. There was a room to the left with the door open, and I looked in there. There was nothing but heaps of trash. I looked at Leonard and shook my head. The house stank of cigarettes.
Leonard went down the hall ahead of me, a man on a mission. I rushed to keep up. He boldly opened a door on the right and went in and I looked in after him. There was a mattress on the floor, and a woman on it, and there was a window to her right and a bit of moonlight coming through it. All I could tell about her was she was dark-skinned and her eyes were wide and she was nude from the waist up; the rest of her was covered in bedclothes. I knew from the way her head went a little to my left that she was watching someone in the corner, and I said, “Watch it!”
Leonard wheeled and a gun fired and everything went bright for a moment and a bullet whistled through the air and smacked into the wall. I saw Leonard move, and he was across the room fast as an arrow in fl ight. I could hear the air split as he swung the bat. The gun barked again from the shadows, and I jumped. I rushed inside the room, even though I wanted to do anything but that.
Leonard had someone on the floor in the corner and his bat went up and then down. The person on the fl oor screamed, and I heard something behind me. I turned in time to see a black giant in undershorts fill the doorway, then come into the room carrying
a cane knife, wearing a moonlit expression that wouldn’t pass for humor.
He cocked back the cane knife and I swung the bat at him, hit him in the shin. He barked and stumbled. I hit him again, this time in the side. I heard him grunt and he dropped the cane knife at my feet. I put one foot on it and pushed it back and away from me, into the shadows.
I heard Leonard’s bat come down hard, and I heard him say,
“How do you like it?”
But I had my own business. The giant tried to get up and I hit him across his broad back. He made with another grunt but got up, and I swung for his kneecap. He went down screaming, rolling on the floor, clutching at his knee. His shadow rolled and crawled along the wall with him.
Leonard said to his man, “You got some money?”
The guy on the fl oor, who I figured was Thomas, was only wearing undershorts. Just as a fashion note, his and Chunk’s shortsdid not match. He said, “You robbin’ me?”
“Nope,” Leonard said. “I’m takin’ back somethin’ you took that don’t belong to you. Where’s your wallet? And you better hope there’s money in it.”
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