The blame for a county-wide murder spree lies at the feet of three people broken by a dying mill town: Calvin, a killer; London, a cook; and Rhonda, the woman who loves them both. No one sees the storm brewing until it’s too late in this Southern Gothic noir that adds a transgressive, chicken-fried twist to a story ripped straight from the pages of a true crime novel or an episode of Dateline NBC.
Calvin Cantrell searches for meaning in life and believes he’s stumbled across it when approached by Tom London to kill his meddling ex-wife. However, during his trip to Dallas to do the deed, Calvin discovers things about both himself and Corrina London–things that have horrible repercussions to the small town from which he hails.
After Corrina’s horrific murder, Tom London feels the noose tighten as both the local Sheriff and his current wife begin putting together the pieces of the puzzle. Could Rhonda Cantrell’s disastrous luck with men do more damage to the community than her serial killer husband or philandering lover?
Every so often, literature offers us a glimpse of where humanity succeeds.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-60
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Hate. In life, it becomes easy to become consumed with hate and anger and 70% of the results of acting on said hate and anger result in a stay behind bars, and 25% that ain’t is currently being considered by Congress. So I use the pen.
I’ve always laughed at the thought of the man who wants someone killed quietly, but accidentally hires a man who wants everyone to know how good he is at it.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
They are all manifestations of me, with amplifications on the parts that make them broken.
The woman had been at it since the moment Calvin Cantrell was let in the back door. Coughing. Wheezing. She sounded as if she might break a rib, she went at it so hard. He never saw her, no, she stayed in the far bedroom with the door closed, and her husband hadn’t let him past the small dining room just off the side of the kitchen. The place was a mess, and the shades were drawn, despite it being one in the afternoon.
Tom London must have registered Calvin’s interest because, after the fifth or sixth such outburst of coughing, he dismissed it by saying simply,
“That’s my wife. Just ignore it.”
“Is she not well?” Calvin asked.
“She’ll be fine,” he answered. “But let’s not get off-topic. I haven’t got all day.”
Calvin agreed, but the house wasn’t that big, so he could hardly get his mind off the racket in the back. He knew London’s wife, Reyna, and fancied her more social than this. She was a woman about town. She knew people. What few shindigs still happened in Lake Castor didn’t happen unless she was there, and the editors of the Society pullout in the weekly paper knew to take her picture. If they didn’t, London’s restaurant had a funny way of not running an ad for the next month or so. So Calvin reckoned it odd, her not bustling about the house in her heels, serving pitchers of tea or margaritas, fussing over long neglected houseplants or even tending to the weak and sick German shepherd lyingon a mildewed cushion in the corner. Or perhaps even wiping the tomato sauce stain from her husband’s shirt. He’d figure her anywhere but where she was: hidden away in the back bedroom of a drafty house desperately in need of tidying.
“I need you to understand that I’m serious about this,” said London.
He made eye contact, but Calvin felt London was sizing him up. Calvin did what he could to hold his gaze, but after an awkward moment, looked away.
“I wouldn’t ask this of just anyone.”
“I reckon it’s an honor,” Calvin said. “You done right by my wife. She’s had nothing but good things to say about you since you took her on at the restaurant. I appreciate that. I won’t let you down.”
London nodded. He kept eyes on Calvin a bit longer before patting him on the shoulder as if they were sport teammates or perhaps drinking buddies. He led him to a sofa cluttered with greasy toys. London took a seat without first clearing the way for his guest. Calvin, careful not to break anything for fear of its cost, gently moved the toys to a different spot on the couch and squeezed onto a cushion. The wife coughed again. Calvin jumped in his seat.
“Should we talk outside?” he asked, nodding toward the back room.
“Why?” asked London. “She won’t hear anything. And even if she does hear . . . ” He didn’t finish. To replace whatever thoughts he may have had, he picked up one of his son’s toys—an action figure—and examined it in his hand.
“I can see why you’d want her dead,” Calvin said.
“Your wife.” Calvin pointed over his shoulder. “I can see why you’d want her dead.”
London looked as if he’d just eaten a piece of bad chicken. “Not her, you idiot. My ex-wife. I want my ex-wife killed.”
Calvin thought it best not to say anything for a while, maybe let London take the reins of the conversation. London looked at him a long moment, as if several thoughts flit about his head, and he wasn’t certain which to mind. A man not one to care about his appearance, he seemed comfortable enough staring with his mouth wideopen. The dog’s wheezing behind them was the only sound in the house until Mrs. London coughed again.
London returned his attention to the action figure. “You remember these? From when we were kids? Not the garbage they’re watching and playing with now, but the original. The ones we grew up with.”
“Sure,” Calvin said. “Who doesn’t?”
“They’ll reboot it every generation. Repackage and retool it, and our children’s children—our grandchildren—will love it and ask their parents to buy it. Our kids moaning about how it wasn’t like it was when they werelittle. It won’t bear the slightest resemblance to what we once knew. We’ll find it unrecognizable, or forgotten. But they will keep selling it. Makingtons of money.”
“It’s tragic,” Calvin said. “Horrible. Some of my favorite memories are—”
“It’s far from tragic,” said London. “It’s impressive. They’ll make billions. You see, they have it all figured out. They understand that true value is having your shit copied and sold over and over. No less than ahundred thousand units. Brass ring.”
Calvin rebuked himself for not keeping quiet yet again. He put his hands in his lap and waited as London lighted a cigarette.
“Money,” London said. “You either earned it, or you didn’t. Lots of folk who didn’t earn it don’t give no mind to taking it from folk who did.
Someone can work their tail off their entire life to save and earn, only to be a target for some law or loophole they didn’t see coming. They get taken for all their worth. Do you agree with that?” Calvin did not. “Yeah, I suppose I can see it that way.” London nodded. “I know you do,” he said. “That’s why I brought you here. I saw how hard you worked on Judge Menkin’s campaign. I was proud to know you.”
Calvin studied his shoes. The Menkin campaign was still a touchy subject. “I was only a volunteer,” he mumbled. “And I didn’t stay on for
the entire thing. I was—I left before the end.”
“Your wife told me about some of that mess,” London said, nodding. He exhaled blue smoke, adding to the cloud already forming and hanging in a thick haze about the room. “That’s too bad. You had real spirit on that campaign. You can’t translate spirit like that.”
Calvin said nothing. The German shepherd whimpered and tried to stand, but, as though thinking better of it, lay back down on the pallet, whining sweet and pathetic.
“There are two kinds of people in this world,” London said, changing the subject. “Those who earn money, and those who don’t. My ex-wife falls into the second group. She’d rather feed off what somebody else earns.
Bottom-feeding. The only thing she’s ever contributed to this world is my son.”
“She was Jason’s mother?”
As if he’d been slapped on the nose, London made a sour face. A small rage slipped into him. “She gave birth to him,” he said. “She’s not his
mother.” As if to answer, Reyna coughed again, this time so violently that she damn near rattled the walls. “She’s a junkie,” London said. “I’ve exhausted every legal resource. Lawyer bills are getting me. I’m trying to run a restaurant. You know how hard that is in this economy? Not just here in Southern Virginia, but it’s tough everywhere.” Calvin nodded. London continued: “I don’t have time for it. I don’t have the money. And she’s coming after my son now. The junkie wants custody.” He took a deep breath, exhaled slowly. He did his level best to calm himself. “The only thing I care about is my son.” He turned the action figure around in his hand, then realized the cigarette between his lips had burned too long.
He tried carefully to maneuver it to a soda can without toppling the ashes, but failed. A long finger of ash fell to the carpet, and he stared after it a moment longer than Calvin thought necessary. Finally, he rubbed it into the carpet with his foot until nothing remained but a grey smudge. “No one comes between me and my son.” “Of course,” Calvin said. “She went to Dallas.” London sat straighter. “She’s in a rehab. That’s how I got custody of Jason. And now, for some reason, she thinks she can—” He stopped again. He put his head in his hands. “If it’s too difficult—” “This will be easy,” London said. “Easiest money you’ll ever make. Don’t overthink it.” His wife coughed, gagged a little. London went on: “You drive to Texas. Don’t fly. You get there, you find her, and you kill her. Take her stuff, her wallet. Make it look like a robbery. A drug deal gone bad. Leave drugs lying around. Cops won’t investigate a junkie’s murder. Let’s not give them reason to.” “Not a problem,” Calvin said. The dog’s collar jingled behind him and, surprisingly, the German shepherd leaned and wobbled, eyeballing him.
Calvin stuck out his hand, but the dog couldn’t care less. “He’s blind in one eye, part-blind in the other,” London said. “And he lost his sense of smell a couple years back. I’d have him put to sleep, but my son loves him.” “Any particular way you want her killed?” Calvin asked. “Beg pardon?” “How would you like her killed?” London looked around his house incredulously. “What does it matter? I want her killed dead, that’s how. Shoot her, stab her . . . run her over with a car. I don’t care. I just want her dead. The kind of dead that don’t wake up. What does it matter?”
“It matters quite a bit,” Calvin said. “The Green River Killer liked to strangle women with fishing wire. Son of Sam shot them with a gun. There are all kinds of ways to do it, and since I haven’t chosen how I would do it, I reckon I’ll allow you to offer a suggestion.” London’s eyes squinted to slits. He took a half-breath and held it. He dropped the cigarette into the soda can. “Why do you say things like that?” “I don’t understand.” “Level with me.” London leaned forward on the sofa. Brought himself close enough to Calvin so he could whisper. “Tell me you ain’t crazy. I heard lots of talk, but I want you to settle it for me right here and now.” “I ain’t crazy,” Calvin said. His face burned a mess of fire. He rubbed his cheek. “I just aim to make something of myself, that’s all. There’s little else to do since the mill closed, and whatever there is, I reckon to be the best at it. One day I found myself in deep hatred of a fella, then another day, there was another fella. Pretty soon I realized I hated more people than I cared to admit, and maybe hating was something I was good at. Now I aim to see if there’s a living to be made of it.” London looked like a man stuck. His jaw taut, but his mouth agape. He hemmed and hawed but in the end, pressed onward.
“This is very simple,” he said slowly. “You kill her however you see fit. I don’t need to know about it. When you get back to Lake Castor, don’t come to the restaurant. Not even to see your wife. Got it? When she turns up dead, they’ll have some questions, and I don’t want us linked. As soon as it’s safe, I’ll get you your money. Hear me?” “Yes, sir.” “And don’t go getting paranoid about the money,” said London. “I got asshole food suppliers up to here who go out of their way to squeeze me, say I owe them money. I bounce one check, and everybody loses their minds. Threatening to cut me off, stop deliveries and whatnot. I need you to keep your head. When the coast is clear, we’ll settle up.” “This won’t be a problem, Tom,” Calvin said. London recoiled as if goosed, and Calvin immediately realized his mistake. “No problem at all, Mr. London.”
“Here’s seven hundred dollars,” London said, leaning sideways on the sofa to reach into his pocket. He pulled wrinkled bills from his wallet and counted them out. “Use it for travel and expenses. I’ll take it against what I’ll be paying you.” London handed over the cash, then looked at it before pulling a bill from the stack. “Make that six-hundred fifty dollars. I forgot I have to stop at the store to pick up mushrooms and coconuts for service tonight. This goes against the total.”
“Of course,” Calvin said. The dog’s hair came off its neck into his fingers. He wiped it against the couch. The dog didn’t seem to notice, as if
his fur falling out were something natural, like rain or the setting sun. “I understand.” “This will be the last time we see each other for a while,” London said. “The less we’re seen together, the better. If you have questions about anything, ask them now.” Calvin said nothing.
London handed him an envelope. “This is the return address from the last correspondence we had. It’s from a methadone clinic south of Dallas. Probably the place you’re most likely to find her. She’s got family up there, so . . . ” “I’ll find her.” Calvin looked him straight in the eye. “Don’t worry about a thing.”
“Just do me one favor,” Calvin said. London arched his eyebrows. “Yes?”
“Be sure to tell all your rich friends about what I done for you.”
“Beg pardon?” London rubbed at something that may or may not have been in his ear. “Come again?”
“Your rich friends,” Calvin repeated. “You know, in case they ever need something taken care of in the future. Make sure you recommend me, okay?”
London’s mouth dropped even further. He stood from the couch and crossed his arms.
“Will there be anything else?” London asked.
Calvin wanted a glass of water. Cigarette smoke bothered him and made him thirsty, and he’d run dry since London lighted up the first time. But he sensed the urgency in the room and thought it best to dismiss himself, rather to buy a bottled water or soda at the convenience store up the road. He stood and thought for a moment he heard the dog growl. “Nothing I can think of,” he said. “Tom?” came a dry, withered voice behind them. Calvin turned and drew a breath, one he wasn’t quick to exhale. Reyna London stood in the hallway, her hair askew and asunder, makeup not removed from the night previous, and a luxurious yet tattered bathrobe barely held together by a satin belt. Her face bloated and pale, rendering her nearly unrecognizable. She didn’t appear to see past two feet in front of her.
“Tom, is someone there?”
“Go back to bed, honey,” he answered. “We’re almost done.”
“What are you doing?” she croaked. Calvin had never seen her like this. He was more accustomed to her in too-small pencil skirts and hair pulled into a tight bun, quickly and efficiently directing her daily duties, whatever they may be. He would refer to her as a shadow of her former self, had she not suddenly seemed thirty pounds heavier than he remembered.
“Go back to bed,” London told her. “I’ll be finished in a minute.”
She turned and faced the bedroom, but didn’t move, just wavered there a moment. Calvin figured everyone else fancied things fine enough and moved to dismiss himself.
“Remember,” London said, “don’t overthink it. You ain’t reinventing the wheel. Easy money. You’ll be doing me a big favor.”
Calvin nodded. He wanted to say more. He still wasn’t sure about Reyna and what she would or wouldn’t hear. He extended his hand to shake London’s, but he’d already set about lighting another cigarette and couldn’t be bothered. Calvin put his hand in the pocket that held all the money and waved with the other, then set about letting himself out the door.
“Who was that?” Reyna called from the hallway. “Who’s here?”
“Nobody,” her husband said. “Nobody you need to worry about.” Once returned to his car, Calvin yanked the money from his pocket. It was more than he’d seen in quite some time, all there in one place. His fingers fumbled a bit as he counted it, which he did three times, and all three times found it to only come to six hundred twenty-five dollars.
About the Author:
Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author and filmmaker living in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and cat Busey. His short film FOODIE won several awards at film festivals across the US. His fiction appears in The Avalon Literary Review, Pulp Modern, Thuglit, Swill, and Pantheon Magazine, to name a few. In 2013, he was a finalist for Best Short Fiction in Short Story America. His novel Dirtbags was published in April 2014. A full list of credits can be found at erykpruitt.com.