Cold in july, p.1
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       Cold in July, p.1

           Joe R. Lansdale
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Cold in July


  COLD IN JULY

  Joe R. Lansdale

  Flyboy707 eBooks

  Flyboy707 eBooks

  No copyright 2011 by Flyboy707

  No rights reserved. All part of this book may be reproduced in any form and by any means without the prior written consent of anyone.

  Preface

  Acknowledgments

  Part One

  Part Two

  Part Three

  About the Author

  Also by Joe R. Lansdale

  Copyright Information

  This novel is dedicated with great love and respect to the memory of my good friend and agent, Ray Puechner.

  He was one of a very special kind, and he will be missed.

  Preface

  This is one of my favorite novels, hands down.

  It is also one of the most important ones I’ve written.

  Important for me as a writer. Important for my career.

  It was my entry into the hardboiled, or noir, or dark crime field. I don’t know if any of those labels quite fit, but that’s as close as I can define it, and frankly, all that label stuff is so much BS.

  But I will say this. I grew as a great fan of the Gold Medal crime novel, exemplified by such fine writers as John D. McDonald, Charles Williams, and many others. I also read a lot of other crime novels by a variety of writers from a variety of publishing houses, but Gold Medal was special. I wanted to write something in that vein, long after its heyday had passed. A contract with Bantam Books gave me that opportunity.

  This novel was written quickly, in about two and half months. I had just come off writing The Drive In in about the same time, but though The Drive In came out to be what I like to think of as a good book, and an influential one for many writers, it was at the time, no fun to write. This one was a delight. It was the kind of book I had wanted to do for a while. It came from a true-life experience that became a dream.

  My wife and I were shopping for houses, and we were shown one out by Lake Nacogdoches that had a bullet hole in the ceiling. No explanation was offered by the realtor, and it wasn’t a house we liked enough to buy, but by the time I got home that bullet hole seemed to be more in my head than in the ceiling of that house. It was widening, and by the time I went to bed that night, it was a chasm.

  I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream, got up, went to the bathroom and washed my face, went back to bed, dreamed some more, got up, washed my face some more.

  When I woke up the next morning I told the dream to my wife, and she said, “That’s a story.”

  I thought it might be. It was rare for me to have the plot of a story before I started writing. Usually, the plot develops as I go, but this time, it was laid out for me and the idea was a feverish one.

  As circumstances were, a friend of mine, and an editor at that time for Bantam, a very nice man named Greg Tobin, came to visit. My wife, always one to push the opportunity for me to sell a story or book, said, “Tell Greg about your dream.”

  Reluctantly, I did. I told it from beginning to end.

  Greg said, “I’ll buy that.”

  And that’s how it came about that I wrote the novel. It was at that time my largest advance. It got good reviews, got optioned for film, and I wrote the screenplay. This gave our life an infusion of more money than we had ever had before, and though I was already full-time, it shortly solidified the situation so that my wife could quit her job and go to work for me. I had been publishing for quite a while before that, and had been full-time for several years, but from that point on neither my wife nor myself have worked for anyone else, at least not in matters unrelated to my writing career.

  The film wasn’t made, though it was under option for quite some time. The book came back into print at Mysterious Press, and then, fell out of print. It was picked up again for film, and right now, it looks as if it just might happen.

  That would be nice.

  But the book is the book is the book, and I think it still stands well on its own two feet, and is a kind of period piece of the early nineties. It had, as much of my work does, ties to my own life. Not always direct ties, but there were strings nonetheless.

  I’m excited for it to be back out there for readers to enjoy.

  So, please do.

  —Joe R. Lansdale

  July 2011

  Acknowledgments

  I’d like to thank Gary L. Brittain, David G. Porter and Bob LaBorde for their advice on certain technical matters in this novel.

  Cold in July

  Joe R. Lansdale

  Whoever fights monsters, should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.

  —Nietzsche

  Part One

  1

  That night, Ann heard the noise first.

  I was asleep. I hadn’t slept well in a while due to some problems at work, and the fact that our four-year-old son, Jordan, had been sick the previous two nights, coughing, vomiting, getting us up at all hours. But tonight he was sleeping soundly and I was out cold.

  I came awake with Ann’s elbow in my rib and her whisper, “Did you hear that?” I hadn’t, but the tone of her voice assured me she had certainly heard something, and it wasn’t just a night bird calling or a dog working the trash cans out back; Ann wasn’t the frighty type, and she had incredible hearing, perhaps to compensate for her bad eyesight.

  Rolling onto my back, I listened. A moment later I heard a noise. It was the glass door at the back of the house leading into the living room; it was cautiously being slid back. Most likely, what Ann had heard originally was the lock being jimmied. I thought about Jordan asleep in the room across the hall and gooseflesh rolled across me in a cold tide that ebbed at the top of my skull.

  I put my lips to Ann’s ear and whispered, “Shhhh.” Easing out of bed, I grabbed my robe off the bedpost and slipped it on out of habit. Our night-light in the backyard was slicing through a split in the curtains, and I could see well enough to go over to the closet, open the door and pull a shoe box down from the top shelf. I put the shoe box on the bed and opened it. Inside was a .38 snub-nose and a box of shells. I loaded the gun quickly by feel. When I was finished, I felt light-headed and realized I had been holding my breath.

  Since Jordan had been sick, we had gotten in the habit of leaving our bedroom door open so we could hear him should he call out in the night. That made it easy for me to step into the hallway holding the .38 against my leg. In that moment, I wished we lived back in town, instead of here off the lake road on our five-acre plot. We weren’t exactly isolated, but in a situation like this, we might as well have been. Our nearest neighbor was a quarter mile away and our house was surrounded by thick pine forest and squatty brush that captured shadows.

  It was strange, but stepping into the hall, I was very much aware of the walls of the house, how narrow the hallway really was. Even the ceiling seemed low and suffocating, and I could feel the nap of the carpet between my toes, and it seemed sharp as needles. I wondered absently if it were deep enough to hide in.

  I could see the flashlight beam playing across the living room, flitting here and there like a moth trying to escape from a jar, and I could hear shoes sliding gently across the carpet.

  I tried to swallow the grapefruit in my throat as I inched forward and stepped gingerly around the corner into the living room.

  The burglar’s back was to me. The night-light in the backyard shone through the glass door and framed the man. He was tall and thin, wearing dark clothes and a dark wool cap. He was shining his light at a painting on the wall, probably deciding if it was worth stealing or not.

  It wasn’t. It was a cheapo landscape from the county fair. Ann and I knew the artist and that was the reason we bought it. It covered that part of the wal
l as well as a Picasso.

  The burglar came to the same conclusion about its worth, or lack of, because he turned from the painting, and as he did, his light fell on me.

  For a moment we both stood like fence posts, then his light wavered and he reached to his belt with his free hand, and instinctively I knew he was reaching for a gun. But I couldn’t move. It was as if concrete had been p toe had bumped into my veins and pores and had instantly hardened.

  He brought the gun out of his belt and fired. The bullet snapped past my head and punched the wall behind me. Without really thinking about it, I jerked up the .38 and pulled the trigger.

  His head whipped back, then forward. The wool cap nodded to one side but didn’t come off. He stepped back stiffly and sat down on the couch as if very tired. His revolver fell to the floor, then the flashlight dropped from the other hand.

  I didn’t want to take my eyes off the man, but I found I was tracking the progress of the flashlight as if hypnotized by it. It whirled halfway across the floor toward me, stopped, rolled back a pace, quit moving, its beam pooled at my feet like watery honey.

  Suddenly I realized my ears were ringing with the sound of gunfire, and that the concrete had gone out of me. I was shaking, still pointing the gun in the direction of the burglar, who seemed to be doing nothing more than lounging on the couch.

  I took a deep breath and started forward.

  “Is he dead?”

  I damn near jumped a foot. It was Ann behind me.

  “Goddamn,” I said. “I don’t know. Turn on the light.”

  “You okay?”

  “Except for shitting myself, fine. Turn on the light.”

  Ann flicked the switch and I edged forward, holding the gun in front of me, half-expecting him to jump off the couch and grab me.

  But he didn’t move. He just sat there, looking very composed and very alive.

  Except for his right eye. That spoiled the lifelike effect. The eye was gone. There was just a dark, wet hole where it used to be. Blood welled at the corners, spilled out, and ran down his cheek like scarlet tears.

  I found myself staring at his good eye. It was still shiny, but going dull. It looked as soft and brown as a doe’s.

  I glanced away, only to find something equally awful. On the wall above the couch, partially splashed on the cheap landscape, I could see squirts of blood, brains and little white fragments that might have been bone splinters. I thought of what the exit wound at the back of the man’s head would look like. I’d read somewhere that the bullet going out made a hole many times bigger than the one it made going in. I wondered in a lightning flash of insanity if I could stick my fist in there and stir it around.

  It wasn’t something I really wanted to know.

  I put the revolver in the pocket of my robe, wavered. The room got hot, seemed to melt like wax and me with it. I went down and my hands went out. I grabbed at the dead man’s knees so I wouldn’t go to the floor; I could feel the fading warmth of his flesh through his pants.

  “Don’t look at him,” Ann said.

  “God, his goddamn brains are all over the fucking wall.”

  Then Ann became sick. She fell down beside me, her arm around my shoulders, and like monks before a shrine, we dipped our heads. But instead of prayers flying out of our mouths, it was vomit, splattering the carpet and the dead man’s shoes.

  Jordan slept through it all.

  2

  The cops were nice. Real nice. There were ten of them. Six in uniform, the others plainclothes detectives. The detectives weren’t anything like the television cops I expected. No frumpy guys in open trench coats dripping chili dogs down their ties. They even wore nice suits. No bad manners. Very polite. No suspicions. They took in what had happened easily and surely.

  The man in charge of the investigation was a lieutenant named Price. He looked like a movie star. Must have been about thirty-five. Had perfectly combed hair and bright blue eyes that matched his expensive suit. He had such a shoe shine it jumped at you.

  He came over and touched me on the arm. “You doing okay, Mr. Dane?”

  “Yeah,” I said, still tasting the aftereffects of the vomit. “Peachy.”

  “You couldn’t have done much else. He shot at you first.”

  I nodded. I didn’t regret what I had done, just hated that I had been forced to do it.

  “I had to kill a man once,” Price said. “In the line of duty. But it was tough getting over. To be honest, you never quite get over it. If you’re human you shouldn’t. But you can’t blame yourself.”

  “I don’t. But it doesn’t make me feel any better.”

  Ann had gone into the bedroom with Jordan, who had finally awakened to the sounds of the police poking around. She was keeping him in the back so he wouldn’t have to see the dead man.

  Dead man.

  I glanced at the couch where the man had been sitting, at what I imagined was the indentation his body had made, but knew truthfully was a permanent impression formed by long wear and weak springs. There was a messy swipe of blood on the cushions to mark his passing, and the stuff on the wall and across the landscape looked in that odd moment like a wild abstract painting.

  I remembered how the justice of the peace had come in looking sleepy-eyed, wearing a pajama top and jeans with one pants leg stuck down in a cowboy boot, the other pulled over. He pronounced the man dead and grumbled about how even small towns should have coroners. He went away then, and the police checked the corpse over, took photographs, and two men from the funeral home carted off the body.

  I looked at the wall some more, and the blood mess no longer looked like a painting, but like someone had tossed some rotten tomatoes against it. That thought made me woozy, and I dry heaved because there was nothing left inside me to throw up.

  I took a deep breath, but that didn’t help. It contained the sour aroma of stale vomit and the coppery smell of blood.

  “Better sit down,” Price said.

  “I’m all right,” I said.

  “Sit down anyway.”

  I guess my face had gone white. Price helped me to a chair and squatted down beside me.

  “Should I get you some water?” he asked. “Something?”

  “I’m all right. Do you people know this man by any chance?”

  “Quite well. Name is Freddy Russel. Small-time guy. Did burglaries from time to time, mostly in this area, which is where he’s from, I’m sorry to say. Been in and out of the joint, just like his old man. You did the creep a favor.”

  “Sure.”

  “You’d be surprised. Sometimes guys like that get careless on purpose, just hoping to get caught, get back to the joint where it’s easier for them. Or maybe they hope for something a little more permanent. Like a bullet.”

  “He wasn’t trying to get killed when he took a shot at me.”

  Price smiled. “Good point. So much for backyard psychology.”

  “Thanks for trying to make me feel better. It’s decent of you.”

  “Like I said, I been through this. Listen, you think you could come down to the station? Let me get a formal statement? Won’t take long. Patrol car will take you and bring you back. We’ll leave a patrolman here with your wife and boy. She can come in tomorrow sometime to make her statement.”

  “All right,” I said. “Let me tell Ann and I’ll get dressed.”

  3

  It was easy. I told Price the same thing I told him at home, except it was more detached now, as if it had happened to someone else and I had witnessed it from a distance.

  The room where he took my statement smelled of stale cigarette smoke, but that was the only thing that fit my image of a police station. The room looked more like an insurance company office. I had seen too many damn television shows and movies, expected dust, cobwebs, empty coffee cups, half-eaten pizza and too much light.

  There wasn’t much in the room in the way of furniture or decoration. Some citations on the wall, a file cabinet, a neat desk, a typewriter,
paper in the roller, and Price behind the keys. In fact, Price and I were the only ones in the room.

  It took twenty minutes for me to tell it again, top to bottom.

  “What now?” I asked.

  “Not much,” Price said. “It’ll go to the grand jury. They’ll look over your statement, your wife’s, mine, then they’ll No Bill you. You won’t even have to go to court.”

  “You’re sure?”

  “Open-shut case of self-defense. He broke in with intent to rob, took a shot at you. Your gun was legal. He’s a known crook, you’re an upstanding citizen in the community. We haven’t any reason to suspect you of anything. It’s over. Except for your gun. We’ll keep it a while, until you get the No Bill, then we’ll return it. I’ll have an officer take you home.”

  · · ·

  When I got home the policeman who had stayed with Ann nodded at me and went away with the other officer. I sank down in the living room chair and looked at the couch. I didn’t think I could ever sit there again. I determined that tomorrow I would have it carried off and buy a new one. I wanted to get rid of that bloodied landscape too and have the wall repainted. Christ, I felt like moving, and would have if I could have afforded it.

  Ann sat on the edge of the chair and put her arm around me. “You okay?”

  “Okay as I get. Go to bed, honey. I’ll come along.”

  “I’m going to clean up a little… before Jordan gets up.”

  It occurred to me what she meant, the wall, couch and painting. She just couldn’t put it into words.

  “Is it all right if we do?” I asked. “Evidence and all. Won’t the police mind?”

 
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