Thursday, July 2, 2009

Excerpt from Vanilla Ride

Vanilla Ride

Big Guy said something and then two of his guys, one with the shotgun, the other with a pistol, went back toward where they had parked the Ford. Big Guy eased toward us slowly, and one of the other guys started around the cabin, toward the back.
“Who you want?” I asked.
“The big motherfucker,” Leonard said.
I hurried into the kitchen and stepped up on the counter that was near the door and pointed my weapon, waited. There was a slight sound at the back door, and then it was pushed back gently. I saw a hand with an automatic poke in, and then I heard a shot from the front of the cabin, Leonard or Big Guy’s weapon. I didn’t know for sure. And then the guy at the kitchen, perhaps smelling blood in the water, charged in and I shot him above the ear and he fell back against the wall and his head stayed propped against it while the rest of him spread out in that relaxed manner only the dead have. There was blood on the wall.
I jumped down and charged into the other room. Big Guy had Leonard by the neck and was lifting him off the floor with both hands. Leonard’s gun was on the floor between Big Guy’s legs, and Big Guy’s weapon was thrown up against the wall. I wasn’t sure how things had got that way, who had fired and who was hit, but before I could blow Big Guy’s brains out, I heard a shotgun blast outside, and then another, and then Leonard went sailing across the room, slammed onto the bed hard enough for the slats to break and the girl to scream from under there, and then Leonard was up and the kids were crawling out from under the bed, cowering in the corner.
I lifted up my .38 and shot Big Guy directly in the chest. He stepped across the room quickly and grabbed my gun hand, and slapped the hell out of me with the back of his other hand. I did a nice backwards roll, and when I got it together, Big Guy was firing at me with my .38.
Leonard leaped like a panther and hit big Guy above the knees with the side of his body, trying to clip him. Didn’t work. He bounced off.
I got the gun from the dead guy in the kitchen, a nine-mil, and went back to help Leonard. Leonard was grabbed again, and Big Guy was slinging him around like wet laundry. I couldn’t get a good aim.
All of this was going on at the same time there was a lot of racket outside. Gunfire, cursing, screams.
Finally Big Guy tired enough that Leonard, still hanging high while this guy choked him, was able to slap his hands over Big Guy’s ears. Big Guy dropped him. I tried to shoot Big Guy as he came rushing toward me, but the gun jammed.
He grabbed me around the waist and pushed me backwards and slammed me into the wall so that the back of my neck hit a bookshelf and the shelf came loose and fell and the one above it fell too, hitting me on top of the head dead center. At least the owner wasn’t a reader; no books fell on my head.
Next thing I knew I was pitched against the far wall next to the open front door. I got up and saw Leonard throw a right hook into Big Guy’s body and jerk his hand back with a sour look on his face.
I knew then why my bullet hadn’t hurt Big Guy. He was wearing a bulletproof vest.
The kids, both barefoot and Tim bare-chested, yanked a duffel bag out from under the ruins of the bed. They headed out the door before I could get off my ass, and when I did, the cabin felt as if it was moving.
I started to go after them, but when I looked back, Leonard was being slammed by a punch that might have killed a steer. My head was mostly back together, so I rushed the Big Guy and threw a hard round kick into his thigh. It was a perfect kick, hitting right on the nerve in the outer thigh, and I had used it before, dropping the leg right out from under strong men, but if it bothered Big Guy his expression didn’t show it. He came rushing at me, and without really knowing I was going to do it, I started backpedaling and went right out the front door.
A gun barked to my left and I saw one of Big Guy’s team on the ground and Jim Bob walking over. I got a glimpse of Tonto, but I didn’t see the other bad guy. The two kids and their duffel bag had disappeared.
Big Guy had lost his gourd, came charging out into the open, practically foaming at the mouth.
I’m a little ashamed to say I turned and bolted. I thought I was running like a goddamn deer on steroids, but Big Guy was tight on my ass as a dingleberry, and the next thing I knew he had me and we’re tumbling down the trail, rolling like a couple of doodlebugs. When we came to the bottom of the hill, I got hold of his ear with my teeth and bit as hard as I could, taking off a chunk big enough for a small sandwich.
He jerked his head up and came to his knees and let out a bellow. I tried to make a quick exit, stage right, spitting out the chunk of ear as I went, but he got hold of my rain slicker with one hand and hit me so hard with the other I thought I had accidentally stepped onto train tracks and been hit by a locomotive.
He was about to hit me again when I heard a grunt, and Leonard, doing a Superman, flew down the hill and hit Big Guy. The two of them went tumbling down some more, covered in mud, and ended up near the water’s edge. Big Guy came up on top and he was giving Leonard a pounding.
I ran down there and kicked Big Guy in the head. It was a pretty good shot, and it did more damage than the kick to the thigh. He was knocked over and into the water. He tried to get up and I kicked him again, but because I had to step out into the water to d it, it wasn’t as good a kick, and it only knocked him back. And then Leonard got hold of the minnow bucket and slammed it over Big Guy’s head. It was a tight fit. Leonard chopped Big Guy across the throat, twice in rapid succession. Big Guy stood up. Leonard slipped behind him with one smooth motion and tried to choke him with his forearm. The guy’s neck was like a tree, and Leonard might as well have been squeezing one. The guy shook like a dog and Leonard went into the water, scrambled up and out of it and onto the shore to meet me. We both stood there looking at the monster with the minnow bucket on his head. Big Guy clawed at the bucket, started pulling it loose. Leonard said, “Run like a motherfucker.”
And we did. We ran. We were like little girls being chased by the Big Bad Wolf.
Leonard said as we ran, “Where the fuck is that guy from?”
“Hell,” I said.
We were coming up on the boathouse. I said, “Goddamn it. Let’s take the boat and get away from that sonofabitch.”
Looking back, I saw Big Guy minus his bucket, and he was really coming. When we got to the boathouse the kids were there with the bag of money. They had the other rain slickers on and the towels over their shoulders. They were just standing on the platform looking at the boat as if they thought they might be magically transported into it. The rain was really coming down outside the boathouse, and it could be seen through the big opening at the back where the boats went out and came in, peppering the water like buckshot.
“What the hell are you waiting on?” Leonard said to the couple. “Get in the boat.”
“I’m scared of water,” the girl said.
“Something coming through that door you’re gonna be a lot more scared of,” Leonard said, and at that moment Big Guy came in, flinging the door back so hard it slammed against the wall.


  1. Thanks so much for the new Hap and Leonard book. I can't get enough of 'em (or, I guess, your books in general).

  2. Joe,

    Just finished VANILLA RIDE and really enjoyed it! One thing struck me weird: Why no mention of Charlie Blank, whose fate we learned of in CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS? It seems to me that Hap would have been thinking of Charlie, especially while spending so much time with Marvin Hanson.

    Just wondering. Can't wait for the next one!!

    Mark Allan Reynolds

  3. I just finished the book today and loved every word.


    My thoughts on it are here:

  4. Dear Joe,
    We met in Pordenone (two?) years ago during the "Pordenonelegge" fair. It was an awesome experience listening to you talking about your books! Vanilla ride (Sotto un Cielo Cremisi) is a gift I've been waiting for a long time! Thanks so much I've been missing these two crazy guys! I hope to see you in Italy soon!


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