Thriller Thursdays: HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN + Giveaway (part 2)

Welcome back to Thriller Thursdays! This week we’ll be continuing our House of the Rising Sun feature with a preview of chapter 2.

For those of you who tuned in last week for chapter 1, the action picks up right where it left off. This chapter is a bit longer, so a few of your lingering questions may be answered, but most of them won’t. Guess you’ll just have to stop by next week for the third and final chapter preview…

Next week will be your last chance to get entered into the drawing for a free trade paperback copy of House of the Rising Sun. Let us know what you think of chapter 2 in a comment thread for a chance to win!

CHAPTER TWO

“Are you fucking kiddin’ me?” Tony Zello screamed, nose to nose with Ray, spit spraying across Ray’s face.

They stood in the storeroom behind the second-floor bar. Tony and his boy Rocco had dragged Ray up the stairs and shoved him into the storeroom as soon as the four armed robbers left. Tony wanted to find out firsthand what had happened. So far he had not liked what he had heard.

“Let me get this straight,” Tony said. “Four guys waltz in here with guns, rob us blind, kill Vincent’s son, and all you did was lay down like a bitch?” Looking disgusted, Tony turned away and pressed the heels of both hands into his eyes as if he were trying to keep them from popping out.

Then he spun back around and threw a punch. Ray tried to duck but he wasn’t quick enough. Tony’s fist caught him just above the left eye and bounced his head off the wall.

Tony stared at Ray and flexed his right hand. “Is that how you acted when you was in the joint? I bet you just bent over and took it up the ass, didn’t you?”

Ray looked back and forth between Tony and Rocco, biting back the rage that welled up inside him. He wasn’t going to provoke Tony, not here. Tony stood in front of him in his charcoal gray, hand-stitched Italian silk suit, wearing it over a cream-colored shirt and burgundy tie, his feet encased in a soft pair of Bruno Magli loafers. The whole thing was worth an easy fifteen hundred bucks. Tony Zello, the man everybody called Tony Z. He was forty, just a couple years older than Ray, a real up-and-comer, the right-hand man to the guy who ran the House—Vinnie Messina.

Tony spit at Ray’s feet and turned away. Ray figured he was disappointed that Ray hadn’t tried to hit him back. Tony looked at Rocco. “You believe what a fucking pussy this guy is?”

Rocco just nodded. He was big and dumb and never said much. He had on a nice suit, too, but he couldn’t pull off the look the way Tony did. Rocco always looked like he had trouble stuffing himself into his clothes, like maybe they were a size too small. The two of them were always together, just in case Tony Z. needed someone’s leg broken or a skull cracked.

The storeroom door stood open and Ray could see a few employees milling around on the other side of the bar, peeking in and listening to what was going on. Tony liked to have an audience. Somebody called out. “Tony, the cops want you downstairs.”

Tony Z. nodded to Rocco. “Let’s go. This punk’s making me sick.”

Ray heard Tony tell everyone to go downstairs. After everybody left, Ray walked out of the storeroom. He found a towel behind the bar and wrapped some ice in it. His head had stopped bleeding, but he could feel his left eye starting to swell. The second-floor casino was deserted.

As soon as the gunmen had left and before anyone called the cops, Tony and Rocco had shown all the gamblers the back door and reminded them they were never here. Then they did the same thing on the third floor, except it had taken a little longer since a lot of the customers weren’t dressed. The girls had been told to stay in the rooms and keep quiet.

“Shane!” someone shouted from the stairwell. Ray walked over and looked down. Rocco stood halfway down the stairs, one hand on the rail, the other cupped next to his mouth.

“Yeah,” Ray said.

“They want to talk to you.”

“Who?”

Rocco took a couple of steps up. “The cops,” he whispered, but still loud enough for everyone to hear.

Ray followed the big moron downstairs. Cops were all over the first floor—uniformed officers, detectives, crime-scene techs, and a photographer. Near the front door, two coroner’s assistants leaned against a gurney. Their postures reminded Ray of a couple of vultures perched on a branch, waiting for the lions and hyenas to finish, waiting to pick up what was left of the body.

Since the first floor of the House was mostly legit, the customers had been told to stay. The police had shoved a bunch of chairs into a corner to form a makeshift waiting area and herded the customers into it. A couple of detectives were making the rounds and taking preliminary statements.

Standing on the bottom step of the stairs, Ray peered over the top of the bar. Pete’s body still lay on the floor where it had fallen. The only thing different was the ring of crime-scene tape the cops had strung around the bar, three-inch wide, plastic yellow tape with big black letters that read police line – do not cross repeated over and over again.

Ray was always surprised at the chalky white color of fresh corpses. They looked fake, like wax dummies. The blast had caught Pete in the face and bowled him over onto his back. His legs were folded under him at crazy angles. Painful, if Pete had been in any condition to feel pain.

The short range hadn’t given the shot much time to scatter. The stripper onstage must have caught the one buckshot pellet that missed Pete. Instead of being peppered with individual holes, Pete’s face looked like it had been scooped out with a hand shovel. There was nothing left of it but a bloody crater that started just below one eyebrow, cut across mid-nose, down under the other eye—which was still in its socket—then back under the mouth, and up between the cheekbone and the ear. Ray remembered reading somewhere that an adult’s body held roughly a gallon of blood. If that was true, then most of Pete’s blood was on the floor, well on its way to congealing.

A loud voice said, “If it isn’t Ray Shane.”

Ray recognized the voice. He turned his head and saw Detective Carl Landry standing ten feet away, wearing a cheap, rumpled suit. It had to be Landry who caught the case, the last cop on earth Ray wanted to see.

Ray nodded to the detective. “What’s PIB doing here?” He knew the Public Integrity Bureau—the department’s name for Internal Affairs—only investigated cops.

“I’m not with PIB anymore,” Landry said.

“What happened?” Ray asked. “You got tired of bum-rapping policemen and putting them in jail?”

Landry ignored the jab. “I’m in Eighth District homicide now.”

Two more detectives walked over, young fresh-faced kids who looked to be straight out of a patrol car. Ray didn’t recognize either one. He pressed the bar rag ice pack more firmly against his eye.

With the two young detectives flanking him, Landry pulled a small pad and a pen from his inside jacket pocket. He aimed the pen at Ray. “I don’t know if you guys know Ray Shane here. He used to be a detective in Vice before he got sent to federal prison.”

Both detectives stared at him.

Landry clicked the ballpoint pen and looked down at his pad like he was about to start taking notes. Like an afterthought he added, “Ray just got home.” Landry looked up at him. “You’re on parole, right?”

Ray nodded. One condition of his parole—supervised release the feds called it—was that he cooperate with the police should they question him. It would be just like Landry to report him to his P.O. for failing to cooperate.

Landry wrinkled his forehead like he was trying hard to remember something. “What’d you get, five years?”

Ray nodded, knowing the former PIB man was trying hard to make him look like an asshole, playing to his two-man audience of rookie detectives. Ray also knew there was nothing he could do about it. “I did fifty-one months.”

Landry whistled. “That’s what, about four and a half years?”

“Just about,” Ray said.

“I guess it was pretty rough in there, huh? A skinny white boy like you. Guess you ended up as someone’s bitch.”

Ray was tired of this bullshit. “It wasn’t too bad, Carl. I had your dad to keep me company.”

Landry’s jaw went slack and his face burned bright red. He dropped his pen and pad and charged. Ray threw his hands up and bicycled backward. The last thing he wanted his P.O. to hear was that he got into a fight with a cop, but Landry got a hand around Ray’s throat. “Shut your filthy mouth, you piece of shit!” Landry shouted as he shoved Ray against the bar. Ray dropped his ice-filled towel and grabbed Landry’s wrist with both hands. As he tried to pry the detective’s fingers away from his throat, Landry hit him with an uppercut in the gut. Just as Ray doubled over, the two young detectives pulled Landry off him.

“It’s cool, I’m okay,” Carl Landry said, jerking his arms away from the two cops. Taking his time, he straightened out his suit and tie, then leaned over close to Ray and whispered in his ear, “You mention my father again, I’ll kill you.”

Ray put a hand on the bar to steady himself. Everyone in the room was staring at him, cops and customers. He took a couple of deep breaths and straightened up. He looked at Landry. “I tell you one thing.”

“What’s that?” Landry asked, a challenge in his voice.

“Your dad sure does give good head.”

Landry rushed at him again, but this time the two young detectives caught him and held him back. One of the cops glanced over his shoulder at all the people in the room, then said to Landry, “Not here.”

Only after Landry stopped struggling did the detectives let him go. Still, he jabbed his finger at Ray. “We’ll finish this later.” Then he turned and walked away, the two junior cops trailing behind him.

—————————————————————————————————

By 5:30 am the police were almost finished. They had handled the customers first, getting names, addresses, and brief statements. Then they had gone to each employee. A detective—not Landry, thank God—asked Ray to handwrite a statement and sign it. As Ray gave the signed statement back to him, the detective asked, “Could you identify any of them?”

“They had masks on,” Ray said.

“You notice anything else about them?”

“Like what?”

“Marks, scars, tattoos.”

Ray hesitated, thinking about the spiderweb tattoo.

“Anything,” the detective asked, “anything at all.”

“No,” Ray said. “Nothing.”

The detective shrugged and walked away.

Ray stood alone by the stairs, watching as two coroner’s assistants zipped Peter Messina’s body into a black plastic bag. Then they slung him onto a gurney and wheeled him toward the front door.

“Are you okay?”

Ray jumped. He turned and found Jenny Porter standing next to him. Surprised, he stared at her for a couple of seconds, wondering how she had gotten so close without him noticing, wishing he had seen her coming so he could have walked away. That’s how much he wanted to see Jenny Porter. Still, he had to admit she looked good in her cocktail waitress uniform. It was a black one-piece with a short skirt, a sleeveless top with a plunging neckline, and a pair of high spiked “fuck me” pumps. She didn’t wear stockings, she didn’t need to. Her legs were tanned and smooth.

But seeing her made Ray feel like throwing up because he couldn’t look at her without thinking about her being shacked up with Tony Zello. As she reached a hand toward his swollen eye, Ray ducked.

“I heard you got hurt,” Jenny said.

“You talking about the guy in the mask pistol-whipping me, Tony slugging me in the eye, or Landry punching me in the stomach?”

She smiled. “I heard you had a rough night.”

“Good news travels fast.”

“I’m worried about you,” she said, the smile falling from her face.

“Don’t be,” he said. “You’re the last person in the world I want worrying about me.”

She looked hurt. “Why are you so hostile to me?”

“You know why.”

“What happened between you and Tony?”

“None of your business.”

“Ray,” she said, reaching to touch his arm.

He pulled away. “Your boyfriend is an asshole.” He said it loud.

Jenny glanced around, nervous. She kept her voice low. “Tony isn’t my boyfriend.”

“That’s not what I heard.” Keeping his voice loud.

“That’s over. It’s been over. I’ve told you that a dozen times.”

Ray didn’t say anything.

“Tell me what happened, Ray. Maybe I can help you.”

“I told you what happened. Tony was being an asshole.” He said it loud again.

Jenny looked around again. “Keep your voice down.”

“You afraid I’m going to reveal some big secret about Tony? I got news for you…” Ray raised his hands and faced the cops and crime-scene geeks who were still working and the few customers who hadn’t been cut loose yet. He shouted, “Everybody already knows that Tony Zello is an asshole!”

Jenny turned away and looked down, embarrassed.

After a moment she looked back at Ray. “Why is he pissed off at you?”

“He thinks I should have done more, somehow kept the retarded kid from getting his face blown off.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Don’t say what?”

“Don’t call him…don’t call Pete that.”

“Retarded?”

She nodded.

“Why not?” he said. “That’s the medical term for it, isn’t it, retarded?”

“He was your friend. He looked up to you.”

Ray shrugged. Truth was, Pete had been his friend, his only friend at the House, but that wasn’t the point of this conversation. This was about getting back at Jenny any way he could. “You want me to call him something more respectful,” Ray asked, “like mentally handicapped or IQ challenged?”

She stared at him without speaking.

“I don’t think Pete cares,” Ray said. “He’s dead. Besides, it’s a fact, isn’t it? He was retarded. If you’ve got a hundred and fifty IQ, you’re a genius. If you’ve got a room-temperature IQ, you’re a retard.”

“You’re an even bigger asshole than Tony.”

“It’s touching that you stand up for your boyfriend like that. It really is.”

She stamped her foot and shouted, “He’s not my goddamn boyfriend!”

“You were fucking him the whole time I was in prison.”

She didn’t walk away, she didn’t even look pissed off, she just looked disappointed. “It wasn’t like that.”

Ray’s head throbbed. He probed his scalp with his fingertips, feeling the lump from the pistol. “I’m just going by what I heard.”

Jenny’s bottom lip quivered.

Ray was waiting on the tears, thinking if she started crying, he might feel better.

Then all of a sudden, Jenny didn’t look like she was going to cry. Instead, she looked defiant. “You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. You never did. If I were you, I wouldn’t brag about that.”

If she wanted to be a bitch. Fine, he could play that game, too. He looked at her legs, eyes lingering on her smooth thighs. He did it slowly, making sure she noticed. Then, when she started to look uncomfortable, he said, “Why don’t you go back upstairs where you belong?”

She spun around on one spiked heel and stomped off. Over her shoulder, she said, “You’re an asshole, Raymond.”

“Don’t call me Raymond,” he shouted at her back as he watched her go.

—————————————————————————————————-

Jenny Porter wasn’t about to let an asshole like Ray Shane see her cry. It took everything she had, but she kept her emotions bottled up until she made it to the bathroom. As she slammed the door shut behind her, it all came out. Six months’ worth of tears.

When she finished, she looked at herself in the mirror, at her bloodshot eyes, at the twin rivers of mascara flowing down her face, and at the snot running from her nose. She filled the sink with hot water, soaked a tissue, and began to wipe.

Ray had been home from prison for six months, and he had been working at the House for six months. But in all that time he had spoken to her only once, nothing but cruel words in the parking lot. It was like they didn’t know each other. No, it was worse than that. Men she didn’t know talked to her all the time. It was as if Ray didn’t want to know her, as if he were disgusted by her.

Every night Ray sat next to the downstairs bar, and every night she passed him a dozen times going up and down the stairs. He always looked away. When other men looked at her, it was like they were undressing her, some like they were raping her. When Ray looked at her, it was like he had coughed something up from the back of his throat and needed to spit it out.

She knew he wasn’t normally a cruel person, at least he hadn’t been before he went to prison. When he had first come back, she ran to him, wanting to explain what had happened. She needed to explain about Tony, but he had pushed her away.

“I know you need some time to sort things out,” she had told him, saying she would wait until he got adjusted to being back in the real world, then they could talk, then she could explain. But it never happened. She waited, but they never talked. When she tried, he walked away. When she called him, he hung up.

Six o’clock one morning, two months after Ray was released. The Rising Sun had just closed. She waited for him in the parking lot on Decatur, two blocks from the House, determined to have it out with him. She had only seen him once that night. Around midnight he had been standing by the counting room when she walked down from the third floor. He had looked at her, giving her nothing but a hard, hateful stare. She could tell from that stare that he knew she had been upstairs with a customer.

In the parking lot she tried to tell him what had happened after he got sent to prison. She told him how her mother got sick. How the cancer got so bad she had needed a nurse twenty-four hours a day and $2,000 worth of prescription medications a month. Then finally—before the end came—how her mother had spent eight weeks in the hospital. There was no insurance. Did he know how much that kind of medical care cost?

“Did you get a lot of use out of my apartment?” Ray had asked, his blue eyes so cold they made her shiver. “Was that where you and Tony shacked up? Or did you go to his place? Maybe slip into his bed while his wife was out shopping?”

They had ended up screaming at each other. What the hell did he expect? she asked him. Instead of being there for her when she really needed him, he was serving five years in fucking prison. There had been no way to earn the kind of money her mother needed by serving drinks at a French Quarter tourist bar. So she quit and went to work at the House, knowing what that job meant, but also knowing it meant she could take care of her mother.

“She’s dead, so why are you still here?” he had asked.

Looking in the mirror now, Jenny remembered that early morning argument so clearly, so vividly, like it had just happened yesterday instead of four months ago. She had tears in her eyes then, too. Debts, she had told him. Her mom died but her debts lived on. Jenny had made her mother as comfortable as possible, but she was still paying for that comfort.

As they got louder, the parking lot attendant came over. Ray didn’t say anything, just glared at him. The little old man shuffled off.

In the end, Ray had balled up his fist like he was going to hit her, but Ray had never hit her before, and he didn’t hit her that night. Instead he did something worse. “You’re a whore,” he said. Then he got in his car and drove away. They hadn’t spoken since, until tonight, and he had come close to saying the same thing.

—————————————————————————————————-

Ray stood at the edge of the roof, facing east. The first pink rays of the morning sun were visible coming up over the treetops on Esplanade Avenue. He liked it up here. It made him feel clean. He didn’t know why, didn’t know if it was the crisp morning air, the sunrise, or something else. Whatever it was, he liked it, and because he liked it, he climbed up here almost every morning.

He tapped a Lucky Strike from his nearly empty pack and stuck it between his lips. Then he flicked his beat-up Zippo a couple of times. Damn thing wouldn’t work. He had to flick it half a dozen more times before finally getting a dribble of flame.

The smoke he sucked into his lungs triggered a coughing fit that almost pitched him over the foot-high parapet at the edge of the roof. A lucky grab at one of the guy wires for the satellite dish was all that kept him from doing a four-story nosedive. Fucking smoking. They say it’ll kill you.

Looking down to where he had almost fallen, Ray saw the filthy alley that ran between the House and the building next door. Two bums lay on cardboard pallets beside a dumpster. He took a deep breath and smelled the stink rising from the alley. It reminded him that the brief feeling of cleanliness he had up here was nothing but an illusion, because even up here, he was still surrounded by shit.

Illusion or not, this brief moment of solitude was something he looked forward to each morning, and in order to enjoy it on this really fucked-up morning, he pushed everything out of his mind—Pete Messina, Tony Zello, Carl Landry, Jenny Porter, the two bums lying on the ground four stories below—and let the crisp air wash over him as the sun peeked over the treetops and painted the clouds crimson. The scene before him brought back a childhood memory, back before his mother died, before his father sank into a bottle. It reminded him of something his dad told him one morning. How did that go…mornings red sky… No, that wasn’t it. He thought hard for a minute. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Yeah, that was it. Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. With the sun halfway above the trees, the sky was bloodred. Rain was coming.

That fucking Jenny. What nerve. Coming up, asking if he was all right. Acting like she was worried about a bump on his head and a black eye. Why would she care about that after she drove a dagger into my heart? Well, fuck her, fuck everybody. He didn’t need her sympathy. He didn’t need her at all. He didn’t need anybody.

Ray took a deep drag on his cigarette as he looked down at the two winos sleeping on their cardboard beds. He flicked his butt over the edge of the roof at them, watching it spin in a lazy arc toward the alley, trailing hot ashes in the air.

He missed, but not by much. The cigarette hit the side of the dumpster, glanced off, and settled on the ground about four feet from one of the sleeping bums. Looking up at the sky, at the clouds that were forming, Ray thought about the soaking the two derelicts would get when the rain came.

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3 Responses to Thriller Thursdays: HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN + Giveaway (part 2)

  1. sewcraftyme says:

    I didn’t think it could be better than last week but I’m really hanging here. I’m having a lot of feelings for Ray also. He seems to give as good as he gets but he’s carrying around a lot of pain, anger and a whole lot of payback for someone. Why didn’t he mention that tattoo? Revenge on his own for Pete? I don’t think so and I can’t wait to see if I’m right. I don’t care so much for Jenny, he’s gone for 5 years and she don’t know how to send him a letter letting him know her Mom is dying and how tough things are? Something wrong there. And why doesn’t he notice her Mom is gone? Things to think about. Ila in Maine

  2. Yvonne B. says:

    Nice

  3. HANNAH WOLFSON, MARKETING AND PROMOTIONS COORDINATOR says:

    Thanks for your contributions to our HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN preview series! I hope you enjoyed what you read.

    Although the winner of the trade paperback copy has been chosen and contacted, remember that HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN is now available in eBook (and trade to follow July 15th)! http://www.dorchesterpub.com/store/product.aspx?ProductID=1801.

    Cheers,
    Hannah

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