Paying for Pain

New Pulp Press + December 2015

The Vegas Strip at night . . . A beachfront resort in Puerto Vallarta . . . Miami in summer . . . San Francisco’s Mission District . . . A Newport mansion in misty moonlight.

Explore the geography of noir in four stories and a novella full of crime, murder and betrayal. Pick a town and take a darkside vacation. Or settle in for a bumpy night with the whole twisted travelog Paul McGoran has crafted for you in PAYING FOR PAIN.

“A can’t-put-it-down collection of noir mysteries that prove Paul McGoran a master of the genre. One could use it as a textbook on the subject of murder.”  Hollis George, editor and anthologist

Read a feature article about Paul and Paying for Pain in The Big Thrill  magazine at http://www.thebigthrill.org/2016/01/paying-for-pain-by-paul-mcgoran/

 Paying for Pain Excerpt:

Talley’s was the old-fashioned type of city bar Harold favored. It had a long, mahogany counter with a mirrored backdrop. A few dusty prints graced the splotchy plaster walls, and the smell of stale beer and spilled whiskey wafted up from the dirty oak floor.

Harold stood waiting near the door to the back room, a cold bottle of Sam Adams lager in hand, when two guys walked in off the sun-bleached street and took up stools at the middle of the bar. One was a hard case, the other maybe not so hard. The younger guy was yapping away, trying to make his buddy open up. But the hard man wasn’t having any.

“Do you believe in anything at all, Chaz? Do you believe in God?”

A pause. “Do you?”

“It don’t make sense to me.”

“No sense, huh?”

“Hell, no. I don’t believe in no God.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive.”

“Well, I do.”

“Sh-i-i-it! You gotta be kiddin’. Tell me about it. Who’s God, Chaz? Who’s the devil?”

Chaz turned on his stool and thrust his granite jaw right under his pal’s nose.

“Ask me who the devil is, I’ll tell ya,” he hissed. “The devil is every stinkin’ surprise that comes along to tweak your tits and grind you in the dirt.”

The younger man leaned back, eyes darting around to see was anybody listening.

But Chaz hadn’t finished.

“Did Daddy slide his big dick up an’ down the crack of your ass when you were little?” he laughed. “Some neighbor gal pushed your face in the snow? Does thinkin’ about it turn your face red, make your balls shrink up like raisins? That’s the devil pal. That’s Satan.”

Whoa, Harold thought.

The sidekick’s eyes bugged out and his chin fell. He tried to cover with a cynical laugh, but it came out lame. When he popped up to stuff quarters in the jukebox and nurse his ego, Harold sent a drink over to the hard guy. Bourbon straight up with a beer chaser.

Eddie Sanchez had told him he couldn’t miss the guy he came to see. Eddie was right.

***

They got settled in the back room at a torn-up card table with two rusty-metal folding chairs. Harold had no doubt he’d have to speak first. He figured this guy could stare him down with those agate eyes until he wept spontaneously. But the man surprised him.

“Thanks for the drink,” he whispered.

“Sure,” Harold said, probably too quickly. “I hope your friend isn’t put out that I didn’t ask him to tag along.”

He shrugged. “If you asked both of us, I wouldn’t be here now.”

“Strictly a solo act?”

“Depends.”

“Depends on . . . ?”

“The job. My contact said wet work. For wet work, I’m solo.”

“Hey . . . nothing’s that settled,” Harold said.

“No matter. You either want me to waste somebody or lean hard. One way or the other, you’re paying for pain. You don’t have the juice to do it yourself.”

Hard is one thing. Stone cold is another. Harold wasn’t sure this guy was right for the job. Where the hell did he get off making him feel like that?

***

Harold had grown up with Eddie Sanchez and kept in touch, even as he went to college and his friend wormed his way deeper into the local wiseguy scene. Eddie was the pal you couldn’t resist, full of jokes and stories about his sexual and criminal exploits. With him, you came to feel mob associate was a career choice like any other. Not for you maybe, not any more than your old man’s factory job was. But nothing out of the ordinary, either.

This was the old neighborhood, after all. Harold may have moved away, but he didn’t stay away. And he remembered all of it: the streets, pool halls, alleys, and dives—as well as the nightlife that nourished them. Or was it the other way around? The point is, he wasn’t a stranger. His family still lived at 556 West Hanover, second floor rear. He visited a couple of times a month. To make nice with the folks—and to see Eddie.

Sometimes he caught up with him at the garage where Eddie featherbeds on the city payroll, but mostly he called ahead to meet him at Talley’s for a beer.

When Harold complained about Carmella that night a few weeks back, Eddie was sympathetic. After all, he’d been married three times himself; he understood the problems a guy could have.

“She cheating on you, Harold?” he asked.

“Nah. Wouldn’t matter if she did, though. I could maybe prove it and get rid of her.”

Eddie paused. His mouth was wet with beer foam, and his eyes searched Harold’s.

“Do you . . . uh . . . realize you said ‘get rid of her’? That what you want?”

“C’mon, Eddie! I was talking about getting a divorce. You know?”

Hoisting his bottle off the bar, Eddie looked away and smiled.

“Sure . . . I know,” he said.

That’s how it started. Harold wasn’t thinking about offing Carmella until that moment. Afterwards, he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Now he wouldn’t want anybody to get the wrong idea about his wife. They had some good years. Back in the day, he thought they were made for each other. It’s just that her attitude had turned on him. She always had a ton of it, he even liked that about her, but not when it started coming his way. Which it did after she figured out the middle class was the furthest he’d ever take her. No fame and fortune, just an average life in suburbia.

Harold thought their sex life was still hot, even though she made him beg for it. He put up with that because he realized his torture was her foreplay. He would even get into it, crawling up on his hands and knees to lick her toes and sniff her thighs.

Although Harold’s chief complaint about Carmella was the disrespect, money had to be a close second. All he wanted was to keep ahead and maybe put a little by for retirement. But when it came to money, they didn’t have the same vocabulary. He thought in terms of investments and dividends; Carmella had a penchant for check writing and charge cards.

Eddie had got him thinking, all right. The next time they met, Harold knew he wanted to do something about it.

“Would it be much trouble to put me in touch with a guy if I should want to, uh . . . take somebody down a peg?” he asked.

“Take somebody down a peg? What the fuck does that mean?”

“Eddie, gimme a break. I just . . .”

“You could maybe hire Rex Reed to make a bitchy comment and snap his fingers in their face.”

Eddie laughed loud at his own joke, punching Harold’s shoulder and squinting at him.

Harold pushed him away. “Asshole,” he said. “I’m serious. I want to meet somebody . . . who’d do anything for money.”

Eddie’s eyes spread open. Harold could see the network of red veins at the inside corners.

“You are serious,” he whispered. “Jesus, you really wanna do it.”

“Do what, Eddie? You don’t know a thing, okay? Just put me in touch.”

“Sure, sure. I just never thought . . .”

“Don’t think.”

Eddie slid off his stool and wrapped his arm around Harold’s shoulders.

“I got two people in mind, pal. Wanna interview both of ‘em?”

***

The first interview was the hard guy. The second one was a week later. It was well past lunch, and Talley’s was deserted except for one old parboiled drunk. He sat propped up at the end of the bar where it curves round—so he couldn’t face himself in the mirror, Harold thought.

Like last time, he didn’t know a name, just a time to meet. Eddie had told him to look for a tall, good-looking woman in jeans and short brown hair.

“A woman, Eddie? What the hell, man!”

“Think about it Harold. If you was a broad an’ a guy comes up to you real friendly, what would you be thinkin’? Guy’s tryin’ to hit on you, right? Might be tough for him to get close, unless you’re in the mood.”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“But another broad comes up, admires your shoes, asks where you bought ‘em—that’s different, right?”

“Yeah, but . . .”