John Wisniewski interviews Nick Kolakowski

Crime Fiction, Down and Out Books., Interviews, John Wisniewski, Nick Kolakowski, Shotgun Honey
  1. When did you begin writing, Nick?

I’ve always written. Like so many others, I had one of those cliché writer childhoods where I wrote and drew my own little books. I also had an intense interest in crime fiction from a young age, as well — when I was nine or ten, my dad gave me an old paperback copy of “Trouble Is My Business,” which kicked off a lifelong addiction to all things noir. But I didn’t start writing crime fiction in a serious way until my late 30s, after veering through everything else — journalism, nonfiction book-writing, copywriting, etc. Plunging into crime fiction, and finding the community that came with it, felt like coming home.

2. Any favorite crime authors?

Among contemporary authors, some of my most hardcore favorites include Steph Cha (whose “Your House Will Pay” was my favorite book last year; it’s an excellent, searing mystery), Sarah Jilek (who just published “Saint Catastrophe,” a wonderfully weird and sexy book about cults, biker gangs, MFAs, and violence), Sean Cosby (whose ” Blacktop Wasteland” is a hell of a masterpiece), and David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s “Winter Counts” (an incredible mystery set on a Native American reservation). All of them are pushing the boundaries of what crime fiction can be, especially as a lens for viewing some of the biggest issues hitting society at the moment.

3. What makes a good crime novel? How do you create suspense?

If you want to build great suspense, you have to delay gratification. All the common tools of suspense — the cliffhanger, etc. — stem from that simple principle. You delay and delay and delay, in a way that leaves the audience wanting more. When I’m reading a crime novel or short story, I know it’s failing when they’re relying too much on spectacle — when they overstuff it with events because they think those will hold the reader’s attention. That doesn’t do anything but wear the reader down. Teasing them along, though… that’s the magic.

4.Could you tell us about writing “Rattlesnake Rodeo“, one of your latest?

“Rattlesnake Rodeo” is the sequel to “Boise Longpig Hunting Club.” I never intended to write a sequel to “Boise,” but the characters kept speaking to me after I finished the book. Plus, if you’ve read “Boise,” you know that it ends with a lot of plot threads still unresolved. With “Rattlesnake Rodeo,” I wanted to raise the stakes by an insane degree, to put the characters in pretty much the worst type of situation you can imagine any noir characters being plunged into.

5.How did you create the Jake Halligan character?

Jake’s history as a bounty hunter and a former soldier comes from a few people in my life who were former bounty hunters and soldiers. I like the idea of a roughneck who cuffs people by day but comes home and reads a ton of books—there’s a dichotomy there that breaks a bunch of clichés.

Many characters in noir and hardboiled fiction are fundamentally immoral, because that’s how you drive the plot—they’re fighting their dark places. With Jake, I wanted to create a character who was fundamentally good but grappling with some broken pieces (many of those the result of his experiences during the Iraq War). Jake’s sister, Frankie, is the opposite—she’d be a complete psychopath except for whatever wiring in her brain allows her to love her friends and family intensely.

6. Tell us about the Love & Bullets series? How were those characters created?

With the Love & Bullets novellas (“A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps,” “Slaughterhouse Blues,” and “Main Bad Guy”), I wanted to create something that was action-heavy, funny, and extremely hyperactive. Bill and Fiona, the two main characters, aren’t quite as smart as they think they are, although they’re more than capable of surviving when they rip off their gangster bosses and try to escape to the Caribbean.

The novellas were originally published via Shotgun Honey, which specializes in noir novellas. Then a large German publisher bought and translated the novellas in one volume for the German and Swiss markets, which meant I needed to rewrite the books slightly, in order to ensure the narrative read smoothly as one giant novel as opposed to three shorter ones. Now Shotgun Honey is going to publish the novellas as a complete book in English, which gave me the opportunity to rewrite yet again—and add to it. It’s a rare gift to be able to rewrite and adjust your book repeatedly as times go on; I’ve used the opportunity to tweak issues, improve the plot, etc. So that’s been fun!

7. In another of your most recent novels “Boise Longpig Hunting Club”, Jake Halligan faces many dangers, in a novel full of action. Does this help to draw the reader in, to keep the reader guessing?

With “Boise Longpig Hunting Club,” I was inspired by “The Most Dangerous Game” and other novels and movies over the past hundred years that have featured people hunting other people for sport. Given the political and cultural polarization in America, I thought it’d be interesting to revamp that story with a lot of contemporary subtext.

At the same time, I also wanted “Boise” to be something of a mystery, because that would keep the reader engaged until it was time for the big hunt to kick off. I was borrowing a little bit from the Lee Child playbook with that one—if you’ve read the Reacher novels, you know that Child is very good at weaving together mystery and action to keep you glued throughout the entire book.

8. What will your next book be about?

I’m actually working on *two* novels right now. One is an Agatha Christie-style locked-room mystery that takes place in a highly unusual time and location; the other is a ticking-clock mystery/action novel that goes in a really odd direction for its final act. I’ve been increasingly interested in what happens when you mix genres together—comedy and horror, mystery and horror, and so on. These two manuscripts are experiments in that vein, and we’ll just have to see how I do.

Pre-order RATTLESNAKE RODEO by Nick Kolakowski

Down and Out Books., Nick Kolakowski, Pulp, Shotgun Honey

PRE-ORDER NOW! Available 10/26/2020. RATTLESNAKE RODEO by Nick Kolakowski, A Boise Longpig Hunting Club Noir, 2nd in series (October 2020)

• Trade Paperback (ISBN-13: 978-1-64396-128-6) — $14.95 includes FREE digital formats!
• eBook Formats — $5.99 SPECIAL PRE-ORDER PRICING: $3.99

The download link for the ebook (as a .zip file with three popular digital formats) will be included in the customer receipt when the order is completed on or just prior to the publication date.

Also available from the following retailers …

• Amazon — Trade Paperback | eBook
• Amazon UK — Trade Paperback | eBook
• Barnes & Noble — Trade Paperback | eBook
• Kobo — eBook
• Play — eBook

The fiery sequel to Boise Longpig Hunting Club is here…

Three nights ago, Jake Halligan and his ultra-lethal sister Frankie were kidnapped by a sadistic billionaire with a vendetta against their family. That billionaire offered them a terrible deal: Spend the next 24 hours in the backwoods of Idaho, hunted by rich men with the latest in lethal weaponry. If Jake and Frankie survived, they’d go free; otherwise, nobody would ever find their bodies.

Jake and Frankie managed to escape that terrible game, but their problems are just beginning. They’re broke, on the run, and hunted by every cop between Oregon and Montana. If they’re going to make it through, they may need to strike a devil’s bargain—and carry out a seemingly impossible crime.

Rattlesnake Rodeo is a neo-Western noir filled with incredible twists. If you want true justice against the greedy and powerful, sometimes you have no choice but to rely on the worst people…

Praise for RATTLESNAKE RODEO:

“Nick Kolakowski is known for his insightful essays on complex social issues and controversies within the world of crime fiction but, for those unfamiliar with his fiction, Rattlesnake Rodeo (and its fantastic predecessor, Boise Longpig Hunting Club) are terrific starting points. At turns ruthless and intimate, but always with a touch of humor, Rodeo takes readers on a violent, memorable journey through the new American West and the dark violence plaguing his characters’ souls.” —E.A. Aymar, author of The Unrepentant

MAXINE UNLEASHES DOOMSDAY by Nick Kolakowski (Excerpt)

Crime Fiction, Down and Out Books., Fiction, Nick Kolakowski, Punk Noir Magazine, Sci Fi

File 2.78.93821.2

Date: 5/29/2110

 

Recovered from the hard drive of a Winpple Laptop Series 5, the last generation of that device line to enter the consumer market. Although the drive was heavily damaged (REF: Midtown EMP, “Big Guy War,” Final Stage), our machine-learning algorithms managed to extrapolate most of the missing text using contextual data. Nonetheless, there are still some breaks, which are clearly delineated for your researching pleasure.

This document is particularly interesting as it provides a glimpse into conditions in Manhattan immediately following the Collapse. Those scholars of the life of Maxine Hardwater will find some brief observations of her character during her “terminal” stage.

 

[Begin Recovered Text]

 

Baby, I crashed the sailboat.

Its gleaming white bow crunched into the new oyster reefs off Governors Island, the ones planted by the Revival Brigade to blunt the higher tides, and splintered like a cheap toy. Two months of sanding and painting and caulking and then puzzling out how to rig a sail, reduced in three minutes to fiberglass chunks and slithering nylon rope and bits of foam bobbing in the harbor’s toxic stew.

By the way, the Revival Brigade’s motto is “The Big Apple! Glorious Once Again!” They believe the first Flood was Special Delivery from the Almighty himself. And with enough prayer and repair work on our part, they think He might deign to spare us a second bath. Good luck with that one, I say.

I strapped on my life preserver, offered the dying ship a quick middle-finger salute, and leapt overboard. It took an hour to kick my way back to shore, where I swallowed two handfuls of antibiotics to kill any of those newfangled super-bugs in my bloodstream. The pills went down easy with my weekly ration of Jim Beam.

Do you remember a book on my shelf in the home office, J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World? It turned out to be a remarkably prescient novel: global warming, rising water levels, a little bit of social chaos to keep things interesting. Its hero, a scientist named Keran, ends up wandering south (“Like a second Adam”) into the blooming jungles.

I was taking the opposite path: due north, toward you. By sailing, I would have avoided the crumbling highways, the dead towns and ports stripped of food and gasoline, and New England’s warring clans: the New Iroquois, the Battling Irish, and—just when you think the human race has exhausted its capacity for corny nicknames—King Tut and the Beatdown Seven.

“Love you,” was the last thing you said over the phone, from Halifax, before the connection went dead. I want to believe that Nova Scotia fared better than everything south. Given the rising temperatures, they say, Canada will soon become the breadbasket of the world. Once that happens, they’ll likely demand a stop to any jokes about moose and ending sentences with “Eh.”

Lower Manhattan now looks like Venice with a couple added skyscrapers. Half of Brooklyn is out to sea on a tide of PBR cans and fake hipster moustaches. The latter case demonstrates, yet again, that every bad situation has a silver lining.

In the first hours of our watery doom, when the tide rushed in and the news screamed about the barriers and floodgates finally giving way, I splashed my way uptown past bellowing cops and tiny skiffs from which street capitalists, who only a month before had been shilling Gucci knockoffs, hawked everything from swim trunks to scuba gear. The Bluetooth in my ear connected to the broker in Shanghai.

Don’t roll your eyes: For once, I wasn’t just working the numbers. Remember that Shanghai survived its own deluge, at great cost: thousands of casualties before they erected those concrete barriers and flood channels.

“How did you make it through?” I asked the broker, whose clipped and pleasant voice bore the faintest trace of an Oxford accent. By this time, I had huddled in the vestibule of an apartment building on Park, after slipping the excitable doorman a crisp fifty and waving him away. Screaming crowds and water churned past.

“I stayed in my condo, near the top of a skyscraper,” she said. “I drank beer for weeks, because it was cleaner than the water from the taps. The ones with money survived. The ones with money always survive.”

Considering our three-story brownstone in Brooklyn, the advice about skyscrapers helped me not one bit. “Thanks so much. Let’s short my entire U.S. stock portfolio,” I said, then tapped my jaw three times to end the call.

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

I start off every morning with a watery cup of instant coffee and three painkillers. Depending on the weekly rations, lunch and dinner are some combination of energy bars, noodles, and jerky. People around here would massacre a dozen nuns for a bag of fresh apples, but nobody dares touch the fish eating our wreckage.

I call it the “End of the World Diet,” and let me tell you, there is no better way to erase those love handles.

Two weeks after I crashed the sailboat, I awoke and rose and swiped the moisture from the bedroom window and stared out at a world of gray water needled by soft rain. The tide seemed higher than ever, the roofs of parked cars like flat pond stones. Above the white-noise hiss of weather, I could hear Brooklyn settling on its rotted joints: the low growl of crumbling concrete, broken by the occasional shriek of steel on steel. In a few thousand years they might whisper legends about this place, the same way Victorian people once wondered about Atlantis.

“Jake!”

The voice sliced sharp and high through the rain. On instinct, I ducked back and flattened myself against the wall, then peeked around the windowsill. But I knew the figure rowing down my street: skin red and craggy as something left in a smokehouse for a month, the face of a pugilist with no knack for defense. He wore an enormous tri-corner hat, a knee-length brown coat splattered with paint, and a truly impressive cutlass on his belt.

I walked downstairs and unbolted the seven locks on my steel-reinforced door and stepped onto the stoop that now doubled as a small dock. I had my double-barreled shotgun in my hand, out of habit. I said, “How goes it, Walter?”

The burnt man stood in his tiny rowboat and doffed his hat, revealing hair dry and tangled as a bird’s nest. “Dear me, that’s an impressive phallic symbol in your grip. Yet, as the Martians say, I come in peace.” He bowed. “I’m sorry about your sailboat.”

“You saw that?”

“A few uncharitable souls laughed. Not me, I hasten to add.” Walter rocked on his heels, almost stumbling. Bottles clinked along the rowboat’s bottom. “I come with a tale of woe, involving none other but our fearless leaders. Cheats and liars all, but what did we expect of democracy, where any moron can become a king, provided he purchases enough television ads in swing states…”

“You know you talk like a pirate when you’re trashed, right?” Walter served as the gopher for Brooklyn’s Operating Committee, and I suspect they paid him in top-shelf liquor. It seemed like he needed a quart of scotch a day to kill the demons from his tours in Afghanistan and Egypt.

“Doing my best to preserve the King’s.” He shook himself like a dog, scattering rainwater in a wide fan. “Listen, it’s the shipment.”

Ah, I knew it. Every Monday, twenty trucks rolled across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, loaded with everything from instant noodles to my good friend Jim Beam. For the first two months following the Flood, those supply boxes had “Property of U.S. Government” stamped on their sides—until a federal transport oh-so-mysteriously exploded in the harbor.

I always suspected The Big Guy had ordered that little escapade, from his Midtown skyscraper. If he wanted to keep outsiders away from his island kingdom, it worked. Now our supplies came courtesy of the Sovereign Nation of Manhattan, which in exchange wanted Brooklyn’s brains: our engineers, electricians, horticulturalists, gunsmiths, and the occasional pastry chef.

Investment bankers rank pretty low on that list, and for that I’m grateful: Rumors abound that The Big Guy likes hanging people for middling infractions. Such as speaking your mind.

You see why I want out of this whole mess?

This past Monday, though, the trucks had rumbled halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge—and stopped. Surrounded by men with guns, my buddy Marv told me over chess that afternoon. Add in some snipers on their side of the river. They’re taunting our little City-State here.

I stared at Walter floating off the coast of my front steps, like Blackbeard arriving to the party three centuries late, and wondered anew about the situation. “Last I heard, it was still on the bridge,” I said.

“Yes, yes,” Walter said, “and we need you to get it back for us.”

“Yeah? And how’ll I do that?” Manhattan’s fighters outnumbered ours by a ratio of three-to-one, thanks to its Jersey refugees, and while I can blast decent-sized holes in things with my trusty shotgun, I am not exactly Mad Max reincarnate.

“Because a former acquaintance of yours, one Charles Teague, is apparently The Big Guy’s Bridge Man.” Walter sighed. “We need to know what he wants.”

Teague had been a senior vice president at Goldman, the sort of plus-sized jackass who commissions a self-portrait and hangs it in the living room of his Park Avenue apartment. “He probably wants bottle service,” I said. “You know there’s only one reason The Big Guy put him in that position, right? What are you prepared to offer me for my help?”

Walter moaned. “How about civic duty, cur?”

“Teague likes 30-year-old Scotch and his strippers blonde,” I said.

“Huh?”

“I mean, I know how the man thinks.” Back when I did mergers and acquisitions, my firm and Teague’s targeted the same companies. He once mailed me a gutted trout wrapped in newspaper after I snatched a particularly rich biotech firm from his grasp. Sadly, that was not an unusual occurrence in my former line of work. “They probably have a couple RPGs aimed right at those trucks, you try and launch a raid or something.”

“Aye, we suspect so.”

I thought it over as Walter swayed like a metronome ticking off the seconds. “I’ll do it,” I said, “under one condition.” And I named it.

He shook his head. “Impossible.”

“Then good luck to you.” I turned for my door. From behind me came a furious splashing as Walter tried to dock with the front steps. That sort of action constitutes justifiable homicide these days, but I kept the 12-gauge lowered as I spun around again.

“We got sick people in the hospital,” Walter said, in his panic dropping the stupid pirate affectation. “Some sort of water parasite. Kids are getting it the worst. The drugs we need are on those trucks. How heartless can you be, man? Come on. We’ll work something out.”

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

I left my shotgun behind.

As I passed through the crowd on our side of the Brooklyn Bridge, hands reached out to shake mine. Others slapped me on the back. Funny how much people start loving you when they need something. It was three minutes to noon and the rainclouds had burned away, revealing a nuclear sun that glinted and sparked on the span’s suspension wires and the water below.

Before I stepped onto the Bridge, I turned to Walter, who had rowed us from my house to Brooklyn Heights’ drier land. “We have a deal,” I told him.

He nodded, and I started up the slope toward Manhattan. The crowd applauded, a tiny sound against the vastness of the East River, the towers of ruined steel and concrete. After a few moments, it stopped. Nobody wants to celebrate at a funeral.

The sunlight glared off the windshields of twenty battered trucks, parked midway down the Bridge’s three Brooklyn-bound lanes. Dozens of men stood atop their roofs, bulky and spiny with weapons: AK-47s, riot pump-actions, antique rifles, machetes, and a few long spears.

I stopped fifteen yards from the first truck, climbed atop a convenient pile of rubble, and yelled: “I’m here for my buddy Teague.”

I never saw the meteor. It rocketed out of the throbbing blue sky and smashed into my chest, hurling me backward—

No still alive still alive it’s only pain stop screaming—

I blinked. Coughing blood, yes, but alive. On the pavement near my twitching hand, a stubby blue beanbag round, loved by riot cops the world over for its crowd-suppression abilities. That’s okay, I thought. I came with a little weaponry of my own.

The sun went dark, eclipsed by a man. “Small world, huh?” The square-jawed face, once moisturized and exfoliated to a polished sheen, seemed gaunt as a skull. The gray-speckled beard hacked in a ragged line below the chin. He wore a pair of brown coveralls dusted white at the elbows and knees.

“What?” I gasped. “No tailored suit?”

“Real workers don’t wear suits.” Teague glanced toward the trucks and waved. A guard by the outer rail waggled a stubby black launcher, probably the very one whose beanbag destroyed my ribs. “You’re a little far from the boardroom, kid.”

“Remember…DynMed?” My strength was returning, along with my voice.

He cocked his head, confused. “Um, yeah. You lying bastards stole that one from us. Little backroom dealing.”

“What we did,” I said, “was save you…a twenty-million-dollar bath when their HIV vaccine didn’t pan out. Well, it’s…payback time.”

“You’re a funny guy.” Teague knelt on cracking knees, and his scabbed hands circled my wrists, patted my hips and legs, felt along my spine for any weapons. He rifled through my pockets, removing my battered wallet and a silver pen and tossing them on the concrete. “You know why these trucks haven’t moved? Your masters forgot to send our tribute.”

“Teague. Don’t be a douche,” I said. “Those trucks are carrying medicine.”

“You think I don’t know that? Spare me the do-gooder crap,” he said. “They’re giving you something to do this, aren’t they? Maybe if you cut me in, we can do some business.”

“What’s The Big Guy want?”

“Oh, every one of your mechanical engineers.” Teague jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, toward Manhattan shimmering in the heat. “We lost a whole bunch the other night—maybe you saw the smoke? Big accident. I’m surprised Penn Station’s still standing after that, frankly.”

“And if I say no?” I anticipated the creative litany of threats: pulled apart by revving motorboats, perhaps, or fed piece by quivering piece to the fishes.

“Simple. Your sick people die. We shoot you.”

Ah, that golden oldie: a bullet through the frontal lobe.

“I have an alternate proposal.” Reaching out very carefully, I took the pen and lifted it so Teague could see the hinge beneath the clip. “How about your men drive those trucks over to our side of the bridge while I go on my merry way?”

I pressed the hinge, flipping it open to reveal a bright red button.

Teague chuckled, his eyes wary. “What’s that, some kind of toy?”

“It’s a bomb,” I said. “Six ounces of C-4, enough to turn both you and me into a red jelly with bone bits mixed in.” Walter may have pickled his brains in single malt, but I suspect you never really forget how to rig ways to vaporize people.

To his infinite credit, Teague managed some outward cool. “Liar, there’s no bomb on you,” he said slowly. His knees cracked again as he leaned backward. “You always were a bad bluff.”

“Plastic capsule, filled with explosive.” I lifted my left leg, making what my younger brother once called the Universal Fart Gesture. “Too bad you were never a prison guard. You would’ve remembered to check me in that one very special place. Hurt shoving it up there, but it was so very worth it to see the look on your face.”

I tried not to laugh, waggling that pen back and forth like an old-style hypnotist with a pendulum—and for the first time since you left on that business trip to the Great White North, I felt a little bit good. Nothing beats sticking it to a longtime rival, especially in the name of sick kids.

Teague’s eyes darted from mine to the pen. I struggled not to blink. My scalp itched with sweat, my stomach sizzling with acid. I was not ready to die. But if I learned anything in my years on Wall Street, it’s that you sell your story to the bitter end.

“Three trucks,” Teague licked his dry lips. “And I let you live.”

I shook my head. “No. All.”

“Ten. And you bring your own drivers here. We’re not doing it.”

I placed my thumb on the red button.

“We’re going to kill you,” Teague growled, very low. “Maybe not now, maybe not next week. Someday, we’re coming across this bridge.”

“Too bad you won’t see it,” I said, totally calm. We could have been negotiating over deal points, before taking our respective teams to dinner at a walnut-paneled steakhouse.

Teague blinked. I had him then. He knew it, and he knew I knew it. You can take away a man’s Kobe beef and in-office foot massages, but his outsized ego will still demand he pays any price—surrender principle, toss a baby to the alligators—so his precious self can survive to hump another day.

“Your funeral,” he said, raising a fist above his head. The first truck rumbled to life, spewing gritty black smoke, and the guard atop its roof leapt to the pavement. The second truck added its own roar, followed by the third and the fourth. The convoy inched forward, tires crunching gravel and glass, gaining speed as it climbed the grade toward Brooklyn.

I took a burning lungful of air, held it, and stumbled upright on quaking legs. The world reeled and tilted, its edges graying. You will not vomit, my inner drill sergeant yelled deep in my brain. You will not vomit, and you will not die. Take another breath.

I did, and my vision cleared. “You’re coming with me,” I told Teague, raising the pen, “as our very special guest. Or our future bargaining chip. Whichever term suits you best.”

He paled. “You’re sorely mistaken.”

“No, I’m not. You’re my hostage now, buddy.”

He gestured over his shoulder, toward the guards beginning to realize something was seriously amiss: questioning cries, stamping feet, the dry snap of a clip into a rifle. “What makes you think these men won’t just attack?” he asked. “Kill me along with you?”

“Maybe the fact The Big Guy’s your loving uncle, for starters.”

Teague said nothing. I took a slow step, and he matched it. We retreated across the Bridge—lagging too far behind the convoy for my taste—as Manhattan’s warriors circled behind us, wary as hyenas. The shoreline passed beneath our feet, the span sloping into the shadowy canyon of riverfront condos. Our own people had advanced to the exit lanes and pedestrian ramp, their rifles and blades at the ready, closing ranks in the wake of the last truck. My spine tingled, right where I expected the first spear tip or bullet to hit.

“Back in the day, we weren’t good people,” I told Teague. The words rolled out nice and strong, despite the deep throbbing in my chest. “But we were better than this. Call them off.”

Teague had no interest in dying in a crossfire hurricane, either. Turning in mid-stride, he raised his hands to his people, palms outward. They stopped; a few yelled incoherent threats in my direction. If you closed your eyes, they sounded like dogs. “Tell me something,” he said. “Were you bluffing?”

I stared at the exit ramp at the bottom of the Bridge (Welcome to Brooklyn, proclaimed the rusty sign above the turnoff to Middagh Street. How Sweet It Is!), and what seemed like half of Brooklyn swarming the stopped trucks: boxes torn apart, food and bottles disappearing among a forest of hands and heads.

“You’ll never know.” I smiled with bloody teeth.

I could only hope the medicine really made it to those kids.

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

That night, they came for Teague. Say what you will about The Big Guy, he obviously cared about his family. We knew something was wrong when the sentries on the bridge failed to radio their usual check-ins. By that point, of course, it was far too late. The only reason I’m alive to write this stupid letter (which, let’s admit it, you’ll likely never read) is because of Maxine.

If I’d been smart, I would have returned to my flooded abode immediately after saving the convoy. Instead, I stuck around for a drink—or five, if I’m being honest—with Walter and some other folks. I’d decided to give sociability a try. Not my smartest move.

Walter lived in this little hut in the shadow of the marble monstrosity that had once housed the Kings County Supreme Court. It was little more than four walls made of aluminum siding and pink-foam insulation, topped with a solar-panel roof, but it was warm and had electric light. Walter had invited the Stray brothers, a pair of twins you could tell apart only by their fading tattoos. We drained one bottle of only-mildly-awful plonk, and Walter was opening another when a peculiar sound came from outside, in the shanty that filled the higher elevations of downtown Brooklyn.

It sounded like a loud, metallic sneeze.

Walter sobered up. Leaping from the table, he tore away a ratty blanket from a battered steel chest in one corner, which he opened to reveal an old-style assault weapon, bolted together from chipped metal and 3D-printed polymer. “Come on,” he said, snapping a magazine into the weapon, and disappeared through the door.

The Stray brothers nodded and, in perfect sync, drew wicked knives from their jackets. They ducked after Walter, leaving me alone at the table with four empty glasses and an unopened bottle. As the shack seemed to lack any other weaponry, I took the bottle with me. Maybe I could confuse an enemy by offering him a drink.

I stepped outside in time to see the first warning flares rocketing into the sky, from the shanties closest to the bridge. The dead buildings around us flickered white and red. I heard that metallic sneeze again, followed by the harsh chatter of automatic rifles. Our friends from Manhattan weren’t even trying for stealth.

The Stray brothers had disappeared, but Walter had taken a position behind a lamppost that someone had refashioned as an art piece, its steel sprayed in bright whorls of neon, topped with a thicket of colored wires and springs. “Look sharp,” he growled. “The ruffians are upon us.”

Indeed they were. As I crouched, holding the bottle like a club and feeling thoroughly absurd, I saw The Big Guy’s men break through the closest line of shanty. It must have been a special team: They wore bulky armor studded with blunt stumps, built from material designed to thwart all kinds of detection gear down to infrared. It was expensive stuff and made them look like porcupines. Their eyes were glowing red circles, courtesy of their night-vision helmets.

They raised their battle rifles, and I cringed back, ready for oblivion.

Then one of the soldiers dropped his weapon, slapped his hands against the sides of his helmet, and screamed. The others turned to watch as he hopped from foot to foot in a madcap jig. One of them cursed—muffled by layers of armor and electronics—before his own rifle fell from his loose hands, and he launched into the same weird dance. The rest turned to run, only to be seized by the same compulsion: the world’s most heavily armed chorus line, jerking and leaping in front of the shanty.

Walter looked at me and shrugged, as if this sort of thing happened every night.

Before I could say anything, the soldiers joined in a collective shriek that rose higher and higher, like dogs on helium, before they collapsed in a still heap. I could sense people in the shanty around us, watching from their peepholes and cracks, waiting to see what happened next.

A woman stepped from the darkness to our right.

She was old, her face etched with wrinkles and battle scars, her left eye covered with a black patch. As she paused to examine the fallen soldiers, I saw the faint light glint off the plastic and steel encasing her left arm. No, it wasn’t armor: It was a prosthetic, a high-tech one that nobody around here could afford. The glow illuminated a faint pattern of purple lines along the top of her brow, which disappeared beneath her chopped gray hair. A small bud in her right ear blinked blue.

“Denied my chance to die in battle,” Walter said, lowering his weapon.

“Trust us, that’s just stupid,” the old woman called out, turning to us. “Who are you?”

Walter swept into an old buccaneer’s bow. “At your service.”

The woman snorted and turned to me. “And who are you?”

“Someone who wants to get out of here,” I said.

“You know this area?” She strode toward us, and I fell back a few steps. I wondered what she had done to the soldiers. If I gave her the wrong answer, she might afflict me in the same way.

“A bit,” I said. Why lie?

“Good.” She tapped her ear. “We are Maxine. We’re here to help. But in order for us to do that, you’re going to have to tell us the best way to get into Manhattan.”

We? Us? I looked around for some companion, but the only figures emerging from the shanty were the local residents, who began stripping armor and weapons from the soldiers. No, she meant whoever was on the other side of her earbud, no doubt feeding her intel.

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

This woman and the Pig are going to liberate us all.

 

[END FILE]

 

Description

The United States has collapsed. Bandits stalk the highways, preying on the weak and unaware.

In order to transport goods between heavily fortified cities, companies hire convoy escorts. Maxine is the best of these new road warriors: tough, smart, and unbelievably fast. But she also has a secret: She’s the niece of New York’s most notorious outlaw, a man hunted by what’s left of the nation’s law enforcement.

Maxine wants to live a normal, upstanding life. But a bad incident on the road leaves her mauled, penniless…and fired. If she wants to survive, she’s going to need to embrace her outlaw roots—and carry off the biggest heist that the post-apocalypse has ever seen. It’s a journey that will take her through obstacle after obstacle to the edge of death itself—and beyond.

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday smashes the gritty frenzy of Mad Max: Fury Road with the top-notch suspense of a crime saga like Heat. It’s a brutal thriller that offers a terrifying glimpse of our future.

Praise for MAXINE UNLEASHES DOOMSDAY:

“Take one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels and throw it in the blender with DVDs of Mad Max and The Warriors. Guess what? You just broke your blender. Find solace in this book, which is what you should have done in the first place.” —Rob Hart, author of The Warehouse and New Yorked

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday rolls in with bang-up premise and keeps on punching. This is a trip into the far future and then the near future, where the oceans have swallowed up the coasts, the United States has fractured, and people like Maxine are left in the dust. But Maxine is tough and she’s got no patience for any crap and she will survive…one way or another. Filled with a terrific carnival cast of characters, cracker-jack scenes, and Kolakowski’s witty prose, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday is a fantastic read and definitely well worth your time.” —Jen Conley, author of Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry and Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens

“Loaded with savvy world-building, memorable characters and precise, sharp plotting, I devoured Nick Kolakowski’s latest. The post-apocalyptic and wonderfully bonkers Maxine Unleashes Doomsday will keep you turning pages at a breakneck pace.” —Alex Segura, author of Blackout and Dangerous Ends

“I don’t know which is more terrifying: how wildly inventive this book is, or how close this fractured world is to ours. In Maxine Unleashes Doomsday, Kolakowski gives us the hero we need for the apocalypse we deserve.” —Nik Korpon, author of Wear Your Home Like a Scar and Old Ghosts

maxine unleashes doomsday.png

Taco Truck By Nick Kolakowski

Crime Fiction, Down and Out Books., Fiction, Flash Fiction, Nick Kolakowski, Punk Noir Magazine, Shotgun Honey

 

finest shit

She doesn’t look like much, Jesus sometimes mused, but she gets us through.

Under his baby’s dented hood roared a Chevy 350 V8 capable of zero to sixty in a blistering twenty seconds, provided you pointed her down a steep hill before you hit the gas. Inside the onboard kitchen, the exhaust fan hacked and wheezed louder than a lifetime smoker running a marathon. But the electrical system kept the fridges under the prep counter running without a hitch, and the griddle could fry up pork and chicken like a champ, and that was good enough for Jesus.

Today’s lunch spot: a mall parking lot in scenic Duke County, Kansas. As he propped open the taco truck’s customer window, Jesus scanned the storefronts, half of which stood empty and boarded up. The big blue box store to his left spat out customers every few minutes, their arms heavy with plastic bags. No fast-food establishments in sight meant more hungry patrons meant more money for fuel and food—enough to get his crew to the next state, at least.

Beside Jesus, Luis knelt and fiddled with the valve of a fresh 20-pound propane tank, their second this week. Business had been good: the retail workers and idle kids who populated this winding stretch of subdivisions and strip malls loved their tacos.

In the front seats, the third partner in this little entrepreneurial venture, Raoul, spun the dial on the ancient dashboard radio. Every station blared a repeat of the Orange One’s three-hour State of the Union address. “This puta is everywhere,” he called out.

“It’s the law,” Jesus said. “They have to play the whole thing.”

Through the crackling speakers, the Orange One launched into the most controversial part of last night’s speech, something about dropping a nuke on The New York Times for releasing his tax returns. Jesus wasn’t sure what bothered him more: the President threatening a newspaper with a missile, or the President comparing that missile to his manhood every few minutes.

“His pene is really like a little Cheeto,” Luis laughed. “The color, the size…”

“Stop it,” Jesus said. “What did Cheetos ever do to you?” He leaned out of the customer window, checking that the chalkboard pinned to the side of the truck had all the day’s specials written on it. When they had started out a month ago, in New Orleans, they had no problem finding catfish and crab, and Jesus and Luis cooked up seafood tacos every day. This far inland, Jesus had a hard time trusting that anything with fins was fresh enough to meet his demanding standards. Their headliner special today: sizzling pork tacos with finely chopped onions and oregano.

Raoul had no opinion on the specials. In fact, Jesus had a hard time picturing Raoul on a prep line, or cooking meat without burning it to charcoal. Raoul’s skills lay in other areas.

The Orange One’s latest rant sputtered to its conclusion, replaced by regular programming. With a feral yelp, Raoul worked the dial until he landed on a station thundering drums and guitar, a solid backbeat for Luis and Jesus slicing and shoveling mounds of peppers and onions and pig. The music blasted the asphalt amphitheater of the parking lot, signaling that the truck was officially open for business.

The first customers drifted toward them. Give me your hungry, your nearly broke, your masses yearning for lunchtime deliciousness, Jesus thought as he wiped his hands on his apron and prepared to meet the first of the lunch rush. And I’ll give you two tacos for three dollars.

One of the first customers to the window was a teenage girl with neon-red hair pinned beneath a black baseball cap, dressed in a pair of paint-stained white overalls. She had enough steel studs in her face to set off a metal detector. “Two pork,” she said, slapping three soft dollar bills on the counter.

“Sure,” Jesus said, and threw a pair of tortillas on the griddle to heat.

“Where you guys from?” she asked.

“Miami,” he said. “We’re headed to Los Angeles. Little cross-country food tour.”

Luis shot him a dark look.

“Haven’t had Mexican in a long time,” the girl said, her eyes drifting. “Even fake Mexican. There was one place, but it…”

“It what?” Jesus asked, flipping the warm tortillas onto his workstation.

“Burned,” she said, staring at the pavement. “After the election.”

Jesus tried to keep his tone friendly. “Accident?”

She shrugged. “You know.”

“Know what?”

“Idiots.” She glanced around the parking lot. “I’m cool, okay? But a lot of folks here are not.”

Jesus pursed his lips as he handed over the steaming tacos. “Sure, you’re cool,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, before darting away with her food.

As he pocketed her money, Jesus turned toward Raoul, who slouched low in the passenger seat. Raoul had slid his sunglasses over his eyes, but Jesus could still read his thoughts in the twist of his mouth. He had overheard the girl’s every word.

The crowd thinned out, and they had a few minutes without customers. Luis took the opportunity to jab his steaming spatula at Jesus. “Why did you tell her?”

“We’re not going to California,” Jesus said.

“Not that part. What’s with the ‘food tour’ crap?”

Jesus shrugged.

“We’re on a mission,” Luis said, shaking his head. “Remember what the lieutenant used to tell us? Operational security. It means not sharing details, even fake ones.”

Jesus jutted his chin toward the parking lot. “Watch it.”

In the distance, a mini-van shimmered into view on the access road that traced the perimeter of the mall. It was an older model, its blue paint mottled like a lizard’s skin, creeping along at walking pace. When it disappeared behind the box store, Jesus allowed himself a little bit of hope. There was a loading dock back there, where you could load televisions or appliances directly into your car. Maybe inside the vehicle was a happy family out for a deal on a washer-dryer combo.

When the mini-van reappeared on the far side of the store, its engine roaring in mechanical fury, Jesus groaned. Optimism these days, he thought, is just a lack of information. Raoul took his feet off the dashboard and straightened up, unzipping his military-surplus jacket. Luis braced his hands against the counter, as if expecting a collision.

Instead of ramming them, the mini-van drifted hard to the left, its undercarriage spewing gray smoke. The daredevil behind the wheel must have stood on the brakes, because the back wheels rose in the air for a moment before thumping down, hard, with a tortured creak of old shocks. The mini-van bumped to a stop behind the taco truck, boxing it in.

Raoul scooted into the driver’s seat, his hand on the keys in the ignition.

Jesus took a deep breath, held it for a three-count, exhaled. Keep cool, he told himself. You’ve seen this before.

The mini-van’s doors banged open, disgorging three men who looked like suburban dads gone to seed. They were balding, and out of shape, but their eyes burned with high-octane rage. For a moment they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, thick arms crossed over their chests, and the image almost made Jesus bark with laughter. Hey, he wanted to yell, it’s the world’s softest gangsters. Want some tacos?

Out of the corner of his eye, he noted Luis gripping a long-bladed knife in his left hand, just out of sight beneath the counter. Jesus raised an eyebrow. Not now.

Raoul sat rigid in his seat, watching in the side mirror as the men strode for the customer window. The one in the lead, a portly gentleman with a graying widow’s peak, wore a faded ‘Trump That Bitch’ t-shirt. Fast on his heels was an even beefier dude in a red polo shirt, with the ruddy cheeks and broad shoulders of a high-school football champion well past his prime. A runt with a scraggly excuse for a beard brought up the rear.

“Can I help you gentlemen?” Jesus asked, keeping his smile fixed wide.

“Yeah, um, can I get six tacos? Three pork, three beef?” asked Polo Shirt.

“Sure.” Jesus cast a glance at the other two. “Is that all you want?”

They shook their heads. The runt stared at the sombrero painted on the side of the truck with sullen eyes. He had a bulge at his waistband that his shirt barely covered. The outline looked like a pistol grip.

While Luis spread out a couple servings of diced pork on the griddle, Jesus prepped boxes and napkins.

“You boys legal?” Polo Shirt asked.

“Born and raised in the U.S. of A,” Raoul shouted from the driver’s seat, loud enough to make everyone jump.

Jesus had done five years in the Marines, where he learned that tension was more than something you felt in your body. It was also something in the air, clear as a radio signal, that made your heart accelerate and your palms sweat. He sensed it now, beaming from the men as they paced in tight circles alongside the truck. The rest of the parking lot was empty as the lunch rush cycled down.

“What you doing here?” asked the one in the t-shirt.

“Food tour,” Jesus said, patting Luis on the back. “Going from city to city, selling tacos. We started out in Atlanta. There’s a lot of hatred and division in this country, you know, so we figured we’d go around, spread a little love.”

Polo Shirt spat on the asphalt.

“You know what my Mama taught me,” Jesus continued, his smile making his cheeks ache. “Way to someone’s heart, it’s right through their stomach. People can break bread together, they start to feel a little better about each other, you know?”

“I don’t know about that,” Polo Shirt said. “But I do know, you’re not welcome here, you hear?”

“What do you call a redneck bursting into flames?” Raoul announced from his seat. “A firecracker.”

The man in the t-shirt spun on his heel, fists balled. “You racist…”

Jesus raised his hands, palms out. “Gentlemen, please.” Lowering his arms, he took three cardboard trays of tacos and set them on the counter outside the customer window, along with napkins. “Ignore my friend. There’s only love here.”

Polo Shirt took one of the trays, stepped back, and dropped it between his feet. Pork, vegetables, and sauce left a brightly colored splatter. Wiping his hands with theatrical flourish, he turned and headed for the mini-van without looking back. In other cities, that sort of thing had signaled the end of it: a flash of anger that might have stayed bottled up in a different time, followed by a screech of tires as the offenders headed for the nearest exit.

Only the runt had other ideas. Unzipping his fly, he yanked out his acorn of a puta and proceeded to unleash a fragrant stream of piss on the side of the truck, swirling his hips as he did so. It reminded Jesus of a dog marking territory. When the yellow stream slackened, he stuffed himself back in his pants and trotted toward the van, where his buddies already waited in their seats.

Luis snatched up a blade and stomped for the rear doors of the truck, his hand on the handle before Jesus managed to grab his elbow. “No,” Jesus said. “Not like this.”

Swiping away his hand, Luis turned, his eyes wet. “They started it,” he snapped, loud, over the growl of the mini-van pulling away.

Jesus stepped back, shaking his head. “Not like this.”

Amigos,” Raoul called from the front. “We got company.”

Jesus ducked his head through the customer window, expecting to see the mini-van circling back for round two. Instead it was the girl in the overalls, hands clapped to her cheeks as she ran up to the counter. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry. We weren’t like this before.”

“Who are those guys?” Luis asked.

“Just guys.” She shrugged. “What can I say?”

With a loud sigh, Jesus pushed the two remaining trays of tacos in her direction. “Want some free food?”

***

 

They left the parking lot at dusk. Following their usual plan meant sticking to secondary roads, followed by an overnight at any truck stop that would give them service. As their mobile kitchen wobbled its way to forty miles an hour, Jesus finished counting up the supplies and the cash from the afternoon. A hundred-fifty bucks from the pre-dinner rush. At this rate, they would have a nice little pile of money when they reached the safe haven of Chicago.

Luis drove, sticking to the speed limit in case any cops wanted to make their ticket quota for the month. “Should have let me take them,” he shouted over the rattling dashboard.

“Little one had a gun,” Jesus said. “And you know our rule…”

“No starting shit unless someone starts shit first,” Luis sang, enthused as a fifth grader in detention.

Jesus placed the cash in the lock-box on the top shelf, stepping over Raoul, who knelt to hook his fingers around a seam in the flooring. A lid hinged back, revealing a shadowy compartment beneath.

Amigos,” Luis called out, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder.

Leaping to the rear doors, Jesus peered through the milky porthole at the mini-van a couple car-lengths behind them. The truck shuddered as Luis lead-footed the gas pedal, buying a little distance, and the mini-van responded by flashing its lights and swerving into the oncoming lane. Jesus bet they would try to pass the truck, maybe try to run them off the road, and that wouldn’t do at all.

“They starting shit?” Raoul asked from the floor, elbow-deep in the compartment.

“Maybe,” Jesus said.

The mini-van’s front passenger window hissed down, and an arm emerged. Jesus recognized Polo Shirt’s red cuff. The thick hand at the end of the arm held a pistol, which flashed and boomed. They heard the bullet skip like a stone along the truck’s left side.

“Yes,” Jesus said, “they’re starting shit.”

Luis cursed, but Raoul flashed Jesus a genuine grin. You were supposed to tolerate bigots. Turn the other cheek, as the Savior once said. But when they tried to kill you—and so many of them did, these days—well, all bets were off.

With a nod from Raoul, Jesus flipped the lock, braced his foot against the rear door, and pushed as hard as he could. The door flopped open wide enough for the howling slipstream to hold it in place, and Jesus stepped back so Raoul could have an unobstructed view of the target. The driver—it was the runt—had maybe a quarter-second to recognize the high-powered assault rifle in Raoul’s hand before a full clip of armor-piercing rounds burst through the windshield, turning the interior into a mess of torn plastic, shattered glass, and premium ground long-pig.

Out of control, the mini-van swerved off the side of the road, leaving a plume of pale dust as it crashed down the weedy, littered slope.

Luis swerved the truck onto the shoulder. Reaching into the floor compartment, Jesus retrieved a shotgun and leapt out the rear door, following Raoul down the incline.

The impact had crumpled the van like an empty can of Coke. Jesus knelt and peeked inside, counting three dead men. A small doll of the Orange One, stuck to the dashboard with a suction cup, offered the destruction two hearty thumbs up.

Standing again, Jesus reached into his apron pocket and retrieved a small black notebook with a pen clipped to the front cover. On the latest page, he made three small marks, adding to the hundred and four on the preceding pages.

It was a long way from New Orleans to Chicago. A lot of territory to cover. A lot of love to spread, one way or another. It was too bad there couldn’t be a taco truck like theirs on every corner, but Jesus liked to think they were doing their part to make America great again.

Bio: Nick Kolakowski is the author of the new short-story collection Finest Sh*t!” His other works include “Boise Longpig Hunting Club” (Down & Out Books) and the “Love & Bullets” novella trilogy (Shotgun Honey). He lives and writes in New York City.