Adam Howe, author of the excellent collection, Black Cat Mojo has a new novella out today. Adam has kindly allowed Ginger Nuts of Horror to publish an exclusive extract of Gator Bait.
Adam Howe is a British writer of fiction and screenplays. Writing as Garrett Addams, his short story Jumper was chosen by Stephen King as the winner of the On Writing contest, and published in the paperback and eBook editions of King’s book. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in places like Nightmare Magazine, Thuglit, Mythic Delirium, and Horror Library 5. His first book, Black Cat Mojo (pub. Comet Press) is available now. His second book, Die Dog Or Eat The Hatchet (pub. Comet Press) will be published 03/11/15. He is currently working on his first novel, One Tough Bastard. Tweet him @Adam_G_Howe.
Prohibition-era 1930s… After an affair with the wrong man’s wife, seedy piano player Smitty Three Fingers flees the city and finds himself tinkling the ivories at a Louisiana honky-tonk owned by vicious bootlegger Horace Croker and his trophy wife, Grace. Folks come to The Grinnin’ Gator for the liquor and burlesque girls, but they keep coming back for Big George, the giant alligator Croker keeps in the pond out back. Croker is rumored to have fed ex-wives and enemies to his pet, so when Smitty and Grace embark on a torrid affair…what could possibly go wrong? Inspired by true events, Gator Bait mixes hardboiled crime (James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice) with creature horror (Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive) to create a riveting tale of suspense.
Adam Howe’s Gator Bait is a steamy, disquieting piece of bayou noir that you can’t help but eat all in one sitting. It won’t settle your stomach, but it will stay with you long after you’ve digested it.
The story is familiar enough to 1930’s noir fans: a down on his luck drifter finds himself in a rundown honky-tonk, trying to make enough money to skedaddle to greener pastures. Looming over the inevitable love triangle is the specter of Big George, a terrifying avatar of backwoods vengeance. Indeed, the theme of revenge is woven throughout the narrative, from the horrible violence that precipitates the protagonist’s journey to the brutal, disturbing ending that you hope against hope won’t come to pass.
There’s a sickening inevitability to the plot, but Howe takes us by the bloody, maimed hand and skillfully makes us care about what happens to all of the characters, even the villains. If this is indeed based on a true story like it’s touted, I’m staying out of the willywags no matter how good the firewater might be in the honky-tonks. Sit yourself down, grab a mason jar of hooch, and get reading. -- David Dubrow (Author, The Blessed Man and the Witch)
"Gator Bait is a fast-paced, cleverly-written truncheon of swampy, jet-black neo noir. Hard-hitting and gut-wrenching, resonating with bone-snapping action and filled with well-drawn, all-too-human characters, Gator Bait bites hard and fast--and leaves a mark." -- Walt Hicks (Author, Dirge of the Forgotten)
“Adam Howe writes dirty stories populated with characters working like hell to leave a scum ring around the tub while they circle the drain. Gator Bait starts with mutilation and murder then shoves a rocket up its ass and goes south from there. Sticky, icky, pure pulp fun.” -- Jedidiah Ayres (Author, Peckerwood)
GATOR BAIT BY ADAM HOWE
I fled the city: Two fingers short and sworn off dames for life.
The money I stole from the cuckold bought me a bus ticket out of town. When the ticket ran out, I kept running south, riding the rails and the thumb of my intact hand when I could, tramping by foot when I couldn’t, which is what I was doing when I came to that lonely swamp crossroads down Louisiana way.
The metaphor wasn’t lost on me.
Dense woods choked the crossroads; crickets chirred, frogs croaked and somewhere in the distance a bull gator growled for a mate. The cataract-eye of the moon glowered down through the clouds like a Cyclops swaddled in gauze. Mosquitoes swarmed around the bloody handkerchief bandaging what remained of my left hand. I might’ve swatted them, but the pain was sleeping and I was afraid to wake it.
I stopped in the middle of the crossroads, looking around at the whole lot of nothing, trying to decide which way I should walk. I fished the cuck’s hipflask from my pocket. His wife had inscribed it in ornate script:
To my darling husband
I could almost hear the irony choking her voice.
As I uncapped the flask, the stumps of my fingers throbbed, and it crossed my mind to wonder what the cuck had done to his wife. I shoved the thought away. Worrying about Laura wasn’t going to help. Booze might. I drained the dregs from the flask and then shook it above my upturned mouth trying to magic out a few more drops. I screwed the cap back on, crouched down stiffly in the middle of the crossroads, set the empty flask on its side on the blacktop, and then gave it a spin, leaving my fate to chance. When the flask stopped spinning, fate was pointing me south, and so that’s where I walked, without any idea just how far south I was heading.
The heat should’ve been a dead giveaway.
An hour later, maybe two, about dead on my feet, my cheap cotton suit was soaked through with sweat and clinging to my body like a cheaper suit. I heard an engine approaching. Headlights speared me. I raised my good hand to shield my eyes and saw a rattletrap pickup truck rumbling my way. Hiding my bloody paw inside my jacket, I plastered a grin on my mug and stuck out my thumb.
The truck driver slowed down to take a good look at me before stopping. He had a thatch of carroty hair, prominent yellow teeth like a prairie dog, a shit-eating grin I wasn’t crazy about, and no chin. He narrowed his eyes and sized me up, struggling to decide if I was a vagrant. Glancing down at my suit, I could see his dilemma.
“You lost, mister?” Rusty said.
“Damn car crapped out,” I said, scuffing the road with my foot like I was still hopping mad about it. “You probably passed the hunk of junk a few miles back?”
Rusty shook his head slowly.
I gave a grunt of surprise he hadn’t seen my non-existent car.
“Well,” I said, “I’d be grateful for a ride someplace to arrange for a tow.”
Rusty jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Climb in back with the niggers.”
I glanced at the crew of Negro workers slumped in the truck bed. Only the whites of their eyes were visible in the darkness. I glanced back at the empty passenger seat next to Rusty. He was smirking. But I wasn’t about to complain my way out of a ride, so I said “Obliged to you,” and then climbed on the back of the truck.
The coloreds shuffled down the truck bed to make room. As the truck pulled away, I heard Rusty laughing at my expense, and decided I preferred to be riding with the help. I’d never had no beef with coloreds, had even played with one or two in the speaks that allowed that kind of thing, and those boys could play. I noticed the man slumped beside me admiring my bandaged hand. “Cut myself shaving,” I told him, with a wry smile, and he just shook his head like I was crazy.
The truck pulled away and I slumped against the slatted sides of the bed and breathed a long sigh. Since leaving the city – less than a week ago, it just felt like forever – I couldn’t remember the last time I’d stopped moving, and a wave of exhaustion washed over me. As the truck rattled along the swampy backwoods roads, the rocking motion lulled me down into sleep like a babe in the cradle.
But even in dreams there was no peace for me.
I’d answered the knock at the door of my apartment, wearing a silk robe and a cocky grin, freshly showered and shaved, and stinking of the fancy French cologne Laura had bought me. Get-‘em-in-the-mood music was playing on the gramophone in the bedroom. The satin sheets and pillowslips on the bed were scattered with pink rose petals. An ice bucket of champagne sat chilling on the nightstand. Safe to say the last person I expected to see when I opened the door was Laura’s husband.
He was a little gray sadsack with bloodhound eyes, a drooping mustache and worry lines corrugating his forehead. He wore a funeral-black suit. Cobwebs of hair were pasted across his sweat-beaded baldpate. He daubed at the sweat with a handkerchief before returning it to the breast pocket of his tailored suit jacket.
He was the kind of guy you don’t give a second glance – especially when looming beside him was a rent-a-thug with a mug like a Universal monster.
The cuck sized me up with his sad puppy eyes and then nodded to the bruiser.
The ape popped me with a stiff right to the kisser. I staggered back inside the apartment, blinded by tears and snorting blood. They entered my digs and the cuck closed the door quietly and chained the lock behind them.
I started babbling, “It’s not what it looks like, I was gonna end it—”
The cuck waved away my words like a bad smell.
The ape slugged me in the guts.
I hit my knees like a penitent, retching.
The cuck said, “I do apologize for intruding on the romantic evening you had planned with my wife, Mr. Hammond. Unfortunately Laura will not be joining you tonight.” A bugsy smile teased his lips. “Or any other night.”
I lay crumpled at his feet, gasping for breath.
“Well?” the cuck said. “Aren’t you going to ask me how she is? How I’ve punished her?”
Her, who? Even if I could speak, I’ll admit it, all I was thinking about was my own ass. Hell, Laura and me, it wasn’t even serious. She was just another floozy. Practically threw herself on me. You play piano as good as me, the dames can’t wait to find out if your magic fingers can tickle the ovaries like they tinkle the ivories.
The cuck shook his head in disappointment. “As I suspected…”
He glanced around my love nest. Through the open bedroom door he saw the freshly made bed, the rose petals scattered across the sheets and pillows, the bottle of champagne on the nightstand. “Well, Mr. Hammond. You certainly know how to treat a lady.” He glanced at his ape. “Charlie – bring Mr. Hammond through to the…” His upper lip curled in a sneer, “Boudoir.”
Dragging me to my feet, the bruiser wrenched my arms behind my back and then shoved me towards the bedroom, with a kick in the keister to hurry me along. The cuck turned up the music on the gramophone. I braced myself as he reached inside his jacket. But instead of a rod, he produced a cigar and a gold plated cigar cutter. He wafted the cigar under his nose, inhaling deeply to relish the aroma, before feeding the end through the cutter’s guillotine and looking me dead in the eye. “My wife was always a music lover,” he said, “like so many other silly little girls.” He decapitated the cigar. The severed end dropped to the floor and bounced off the toes of his shiny polished shoes. I shuddered.
His lips pursed in a tight, humorless smile. Then he said to Charlie, “The left pinkie, I think.” Like he was ordering from a bill of fare. “For starters.”
Charlie growled in my ear as I struggled. “Quit wrigglin’, lover boy, or I break the arm.” He wrenched my arm out in front of me, like a flatfoot fingerprinting a reluctant suspect. The cuck clutched my arm at the wrist, forcing my pinkie inside the cigar cutter, the guillotine blade shaving the hairs off my knuckles.
I cried, “Please!”
The blade crunched through flesh and bone with a sound like a chicken leg being torn from the carcass. My pinkie plopped to the carpet. Blood jetted from the stump. The cuck turned up the music, the crooner muffling my screams.
“Now the ring finger,” he said.
And then he took that one too; it landed right next to the pinkie.
The cuck snatched his handkerchief and daubed at his sweaty red face. My screams didn’t seem to satisfy him, and that worried the hell out of me; then he slowly teased open my robe, and that worried me even more, because I was naked as a jaybird underneath, I’d never felt more naked. He glanced down at me and clucked his tongue in disappointment. Given how scared I was, he must’ve wondered what his wife had ever seen in me. The good news for the cuck was that now, in my fear-shriveled state, I would fit inside the cigar cutter. Light glinted off the guillotine blade as he took me in his clammy hand.
Now I’m a lover, not a fighter – that’s why I was in this mess – but for as long as I was intact, I was all man. With a desperate cry, I slammed the back of my skull into the bruiser’s face. Charlie’s nose exploded like a blood-filled balloon. He gave a nasal cry but didn’t let me go. Bracing myself against him, I lashed out with both feet, kicking the cuck clear across the bedroom. He thudded into the wall, denting the plaster and slumping to the floor. The cigar cutter flew from his hands. He doubled over and sucked for air. I jacked my heels into Charlie’s kneecap – the patella popped like a pistol shot – his legs buckled and we crumpled to the floor in a tangle of limbs. Thrashing free from his grip, before he could rise, I snatched the bottle of champagne from the ice bucket on the nightstand. Wielding the bottle by the neck, I clubbed him across the temple like I was launching a ship, and he dropped to the floor, out cold or dead, I didn’t care which. Gripping the jagged bottleneck, I turned towards the cuck. He gasped and begged and pleaded as I stalked slowly towards him; with the bottleneck lodged in his throat, he could only gargle blood, his final breath hissing like a punctured tire. I sank to my knees in front of him, watching and waiting for him to bleed out. As his pupils dilated, I studied my reflection in the black mirrors of his eyes. I’d always been a lady-killer. Now here I was murderer. But I didn’t look, or even feel, any different. Had this killer been inside me all along?
The stumps of my fingers were leaking like a faucet. Blood spattered the severed digits on the carpet. I considered putting them on ice in the champagne bucket till I could find a quack to patch me back up. Picturing myself fleeing the scene with the ice bucket tucked underarm like an urn, I gave a squawk of panicked laughter that flew about the room like a trapped bird. Keep it together… I didn’t, I’d be leaving my mind here along with my fingers.
I had to get out of there. Fast. At best, the neighbors would’ve complained to the super about the gramophone playing too loud; at worst, they’d already reported the screaming to the cops. I plucked the handkerchief from the cuck’s breast pocket and bandaged my mauled mitt. Then I threw on a change of clothes. Rifling the dead man’s pockets, I found a little cash money pinned together with a gold clip – enough to buy me a bus ticket out of town – and his hipflask, a gift from a cheating wife. I slugged from the flask and glanced about the room to see if I was forgetting anything – apart from my fingers. I was about to leave the apartment and hit the road, when the cuck lurched to life with a rattling gasp, his arm snaking towards me, his hand snatching my shoulder--
And I let out a cry and my eyes snapped open and I looked up in terror at the black faces peering down at me. I shrugged off the hand that was shaking my shoulder. “We stopped, suh,” said the colored fella who’d been riding in the truck bed beside me.
Blinking the sleep from my eyes, I looked to see where we were.
For a moment, I thought I was still dreaming.
The truck was parked outside a tumbledown tonk that squatted on stilts above a swampy pond. An electric sign towered on a pole over the parking lot. THE GRINNIN’ GATOR was branded on the night in red neon, replete with an alligator that snapped his jaws when the lights flashed. Moths haloed the sign. It looked like the alligator was hungrily snapping at them. The sign seemed pretty fancy for these parts. I was surprised they even had electricity way out here.
Rusty sprang from the truck like we’d just arrived at Shangri-La.
“Comin’ inside, mister?” he said to me. “Or you headed to dark town with your friends?” He was still laughing at that doozy as he pushed through the doors and went inside the tonk. Before the doors closed behind him, I heard a chorus of wolf whistles I guessed wasn’t for Rusty – who had the kind of face only a blind mother could love – and someone murdering a tune on the piano.
A drink sounded good to me. Anything to shake off the nightmare and dull the throbbing pain in my paw. I climbed down stiffly from the truck. The coloreds were already trudging away down the unlit, unpaved road towards dark town. Except for the fella who’d woken me. He’d lingered behind to light a hand-rolled cigarette. Shaking out his match, he glared up hatefully at the red neon gator.
“Something wrong?” I said.
He started, blinking the hate from his eyes. He glanced around the lot as if to make sure he wasn’t overhead. Then he said to me, “I was you, suh. Prone to accidents an’ all.” He nodded at my bandaged hand. “I’d jest keep walkin’.”
He tipped me a tired salute and started following his friends.
I watched him ghost away into the night. Then I turned and went inside the bar. When the hell had I ever taken good advice?
END OF EXTRACT
TO READ MORE…
Gator Bait is available in Epub and Mobi formats.
Published 03/08/15 by Comet Press