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Bareknuckles Pulp No. 1: Tourettes

Tough guy turned writer Les Edgerton has first crack in the Bareknuckles Pulp Department and he's not fucking around. Below is an excerpt from his as-yet unpublished black comedy crime novel, THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING. Think you'd have the balls of this NOLA contessa?

TOURETTES by Les Edgerton

Claude’s was the best place we could go, if we were gonna go out in public, Tommy explained, on the way over. “No honkies go in there hardly ever. Anybody recognizes us from the TV ain’t gonna give us up. They got that black code. Plus, we all look alike to the brothers.”

I wasn’t too sure about any black code, but what the hell.

When we went in, sure enough—there’s about twenty-five black brothers and the noise level went down appreciably the second we walked in. Tommy fetched us a couple of brewskies from the bartender while I used the coin phone in the back to call Cat and tell her where we were and invite her to join us, which she said she might, and we went on back to a booth. After a couple of minutes and some looks from the brothers I wasn’t crazy about, things seemed to go back to normal. Somebody played the juke box and B.B. King began to sing.

“Tommy,” I said. “I guess I’m with you on this deal—way I see it, I got no choice. But, I have to wonder if you’ve covered all the bases here. If you’ve told me everything, for instance.”

“What else would there be?” he said. “Have I ever held anything out on you in our partnership, Pete?”

“Well,” I said. “I wasn’t aware we had a partnership, but yeah, you have held stuff out on me before.” I leaned forward until my face was a foot from his. “Why the fuck didn’t you tell me ol’ Fred ran a Mafia laundering operation?”

“You think I knew that? I look stupid?”

I leaned back, turned my head like I was talking to the imaginary person sitting to my right. “This is too easy,” I said. “I’ll leave this one for an amateur.”

Tommy looked contrite. “Look,” he said. “I know I fucked up. But now I got the solution. Deneuvé.”

I was having second thoughts about that. No, make that third and fourth thoughts.

“Oh, that’s swell, Tommy. Now my mind is at ease. For a minute there, I thought I was a dead man.”

He flashed me a smile. “Only one thing is gonna get us out of this alive. My plan.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Or the Second Coming.”

We had us a second beer each—Tommy had to go up to the bar as it looked like the waitress was on break—and he laid out some of the other details. He was just finishing up with all that and the door opened and in sashayed Cat, hips swinging.

That got a reaction from the crowd. There was a hitch in the noise level and I could see the brothers stare and the sisters dig elbows into their dates. Looked like we were really on the radar now.

“Hey, Cat,” Tommy said.

“Hey, Tommy. Hey Pete.” She slid in beside Tommy. So that’s the way it was going to be.

“What’s your pleasure, Miss?” It was the bartender. Come to wait on us.

She shined him all of her teeth. “You wouldn’t have Parfait Amore, would you, sugar?” she said. The only thing left off of her Scarlett O’Hara impression was batting her eyelashes. Pulling down her top a couple extra inches to show off her twins probably made up for that.

“Ah,” the barkeep said. “The Drink of Love. I’m sorry, no.”

“That’s all right,” Cat said. “I’ll have Black and White, neat, water back.”

“From my bottle to your glass,” said the bartender and whirled around like a matador and quickstepped back to behind the bar and began pouring.

I looked down at mine and Pete’s beers, both empty.

The bartender returned with Cat’s two glasses.

Tommy looked up at him and tried to match Cat’s smile. “Uh,” he said. “You suppose my friend and I could get a refill?”

The best way I could describe how the bartender looked at him was “frosty.” “I’m a bartender, not a waiter, Slick,” he said, and stalked away.

Tommy shot me a “fuck me” look and shook it off. “Look,” he said to me. “I’ve got some more stuff to do before tonight”—here he narrowed his eyes and furrowed his brow at me like I was supposed to pay special attention to what he was saying—”and I’ll see you back at ‘the place’ at six, Pete. Six. O’clock. Got it?”

He stood there waiting until I repeated his instructions.

“Yeah, Tommy. Six o’clock. I’ll set my alarm.”

He nodded, gave Cat a little salute, and walked to the door and out.

Cat smiled. “When Tommy told me about you, he said you used to play baseball, Pete. Did you ever meet Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth?”

I guess this was her version of chit-chat and socializing.

I leaned forward, put my head in my hands. “Mantle and Ruth? Oh, yeah. We was all teammates. Back when baseball was fun.” With Tommy gone, I was starting to have buyer’s remorse about this kidnap plan. “Right now,” I went on, more to me than to her, “I’m in a rundown between third and home. You got any idea what Tommy’s brilliant scheme is that we’re supposed to do?”

She gave me a coy little smile and stirred her drink. “I think so,” she said. “He’s grabbed some rich dude. Tommy’s a smart guy. We’re all gonna be rich.”

We? Tommy had neglected to fill me in on the part where Cat was involved in his plan. I was just about to quiz her on that, in a particularly witty and cutting way, when the front door of the bar opened, letting in a shaft of brilliant New Orlean’s afternoon sun.

And Sam Capelli.

At first, I didn’t realize it was him, not paying strict attention like I shoulda been. He was halfway back before it dawned on me who it was. I flopped down below the table, like I had dropped my change, going down quicker’n vanilla ice cream off a sugar cone in August.

“What?” said Cat, and I yanked on her Capris, and whispered, “It’s Sam. Capelli. You know him, you said. He sees me, the only thing left to do is make the funeral arrangements. What the hell’s he doin’ here? They don’t serve no pasta here. God! Let me know what he does.”

What he does is plunk his large ass in the booth right next to ours. Cat don’t hafta tell me. When he plopped his butt on the seat, he did it with such force the edge of my seat smacked me on the head so hard I saw stars. I almost yelped, but kept it in by biting my lip in half. I sat there with blood running down my chin and tears in my eyes from the pain.

Now I was in it but good. I’m sitting on the floor under the table in a booth in a black bar with a hooker the only thing between me and Doctor Death. There was other places I would rather be at, just then. I couldn’t stay down there for the rest of my life; somebody was sure to take note of the honky on the floor, that is, if Cat didn’t blow the whistle first, to save her own ass.

Just then, she leaned over with an evil leer and whisper, “I shouldn’t do this, asswipe, but I feel sorry for you. I’ll get you out of here.”

“How?” I whispered back. If she had an idea could spring me out of this jam, I’d go pick out the ring tomorrow, order the tux.

“I’ll create a diversion. When I do, you slip out the back, get my car and park up the block. I’ll be along presently.” She reached into her purse and took something out and handed it to me. Car keys. “It’s the red Buick convertible.”

What was she going to do, I wondered. Take her clothes off? I couldn’t think of much else she could do to not only get Sam but the other twenty-five black guys not to notice me go out the back.

What she did do, I wouldn’t have guessed in a thousand years.

She didn’t take her clothes off.

She stood up and she threw a fit.

I mean, she threw a fit.

She starts yelling and screeching and wandering around the bar, and screaming out all kinds of derogatory things about our black brethren. Like, she said the N word. A bunch of times. “Cocksucker!” she yelled. “Mufucker! N-nigger! F-Fuck. Mutha, mutha, mutha . . . fuck! Nigger! Whoop!”

You coulda drove a fork lift into my mouth, it was that far open.

“Pussy, pussy, pussy! Whoop! Whoop, whoop, whoop! N-nigger! Shit! Fuck!”

She was in high gear now. All I could see from the floor was black guys moving toward her from all corners.

She kind of staggers up toward the front door, giving out with the insults, and it ain’t two seconds before she’s drawn a major crowd around her. From under the booth I see a dozen or more black dudes, most of whom have things flashing in their hands, like razors and knives and other sharp and dangerous objects. It appears as if we’re about to have a honky woman massacre. The booth shoots back again as Sam gets up and catches me up alongside the head again, and I chomp half my tongue off this time, but keep the sound effects down, just barely. It probably don’t matter; there is so much noise and babble up at the front of the bar by now nobody woulda heard me anyway, everybody present with the same fierce desire to be the first to smack Cat, separate her from her gizzard.

Then, I caught on, almost too late. This was the diversion she was talking about, giving me a chance to slip away out the back door. I couldn’t figure out how she planned to walk away from this, being as how she was using every racial epithet any cracker had ever thought up. I hoped she knew what she was doing, but it sure looked like a suicide mission from where I was. Might as well one of us get out alive, I thought, and crawled out fast. Nobody paid me any attention, they was all up front, trying t’get at Cat and rip her apart, I figured, and I silently wished her luck and made for the back door. As I was going out, I heard her voice above the murmur of the men, and she was screeching, “Tourette’s; I got Tourette’s. It’s a disease.” I shoulda split, soon as I was clear of that door, but I hung around a minute and listened.

“Man, I hearda that,” a man’s voice said. “It was on TV,” said another. “Oprah, I think.” “Yeah, poor bitch can’t help herself,” said still another, and another voice, I could swear it was Sam, said, “My brother-in-law has that, always yelling cusswords and stuff when he gets an attack,” and then I was gone, whipping out through the back parking lot, knocking over a couple of garbage cans I didn’t stay around to pick up. I ran the whole way till I got to the car, grabbed the keys out of my pocket, jumped in, and started it up.

I did like she said, pulled past the bar and parked about half a block up.

The door of Claude’s burst open and a wave of black humanity poured out. Black except for the white hooker and Sam The Bam, who were way in the back taking up the rear of the mob.

Then, the damnedest thing happened. Three or four black dudes were around Cat, and it looked like they were slapping her on the back and hugging her. No, they must be stabbing her. No; by golly, they were patting her on the back and hugging her! I put the car in reverse and rolled toward her. When I got close, I leaned over and opened her door and pushed it out, trying to keep the car in the middle of the street, and just as I came abreast of her, I honked the horn and yelled, “Hit it, Cat! Jump in!”

She waved at me and took a bottle of beer a smiling brother handed her and just sauntered over to me. She climbed in the car and just as she gets in, I hear a voice I don’t wanna never hear again in my life, yelling. It was Sam. He was trying to knock guys down and they were turning when he elbowed them but then got polite and got out of his way when they saw his gun.

“Better kick it, slick,” Cat said.

I was half a beat ahead of her, the car already leaving rubber and fishtailing as I floored it.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

I look in the rearview mirror and see Sam standing in the street, a two-handed grip on his piece just like Dirty Harry.

A slug hit the rear window and it shattered just before I turned the corner on two wheels. I flew through a stop sign and we almost got broadsided by a huge, oncoming garbage truck, but I drove around him and got clear.

“How . . . how the hell . . .” I couldn’t get the words together.

Cat was laughing so hard she started to choke. She wiped tears from her eyes. “I always wanted to try that!” she said.

“Try what?” I said. “What in holy hell was all that back there?”

I went up Terpsichore, went under the Ponchartrain Express and turned left on Thalia, taking that on up to Magazine. I turned left onto the Street of Dreams.

I looked over at Cat, trying to spot bruises, contusions, slash marks, but she’s clean as a newborn, not a scratch on her.

“What happened, Cat?” I said, and she starts laughing so hard I thought she’d bust her bra.

“I saw Digger O’Henry do that one time in a bar over on Camp Street,” she said. “He bet a bunch of other hillbillies he could go into this black bar and call ‘em all niggers and they’d end up buying him a drink. He done just what I did; went in this joint and starts yelling out all kinda names that black folks don’t normally go for, and then goes into this ‘Tourette’s’ thing. I’ll be damned if don’t everybody believe him and they end up buying him drinks and wanting to know where they can send money for the Tourette’s fund.”

“I’ll be damned,” I said. “They went for that lame shit?”

“Well . . . not really,” she said. “I think they was just playing along with a good-looking woman. I figure they just played along ‘cause I showed some balls.”

“Fuck me,” I said. “Just, fuck me. I am a dead man no matter what I do.”

“You’re the ‘glass is half-empty’ type, aren’t you?” she said, her smile fading. “Your song is already getting old. Turn left here.”

Les Edgerton is an ex-con, matriculating at Pendleton Reformatory in the sixties for burglary (plea-bargained down from multiple counts of burglary, armed robbery, strong-armed robbery and possession with intent). He’s since taken a vow of poverty (became a writer) with 14 books in print. After making parole, he went to college and got a B.A. from Indiana University and an MFA from Vermont College. Recent novels of his include THE BITCH and JUST LIKE THAT and his next novel, THE RAPIST is forthcoming from New Pulp Press. He is the editor-at-large for Noir Nation. Stories of his have appeared in Murdaland, Flatmancrooked, Noir Nation, South Carolina Review, and Best American Mystery Stories, among others. He writes because he hates... a lot... and hard. Injustice and bullying are what he hates the most. He can be found at