Cover Reveal: Ace Boon Coon by Danny Gardner
By Crime HQJune 5, 2020
From award-winning author Danny Gardner comes Ace Boon Coon, the second in the Tales of Elliot Caprice historical crime fiction series about a disgraced police officer caught between worlds—black and white, good and bad.
Check out the cover below and read on for a new excerpt!
The sky above the tavern hadn’t darkened, the familiar smell of ozone was missing, but his bum left shoulder never lied. Sure enough, distant thunder roared. He hoped for heavy rain that would head Southville way. The farm needed a good harvest to make up for the three year stretch of bad that came with Estes Kefauver’s war on organized crime. That’s why he split the week between attorney Michael Robin, for whom he served process, and his uncle, Buster Caprice, for whom he grew string beans, wax beans, and anxious. When he wasn’t serving that mean old man, Elliot Caprice worked hard dragging stumblebums to the courthouse, as he needed the dough to make the mortgage.
He needed a good crop of string beans to make amends.
Before he opened the door, he tapped the court documents underneath his raincoat twice, taking extra care. He didn’t want to disappoint the fiery young complainant who arrived to the small, one license firm, three beige babies in tow, none older than seven. In one hand, the coupon for expert advice Mikey ran in the Chicago Daily Defender. In the other, a summons on her wayward beau she wanted to appear in court for bastardy. She put the entire thing together pro se, as every attorney, court clerk, and social worker she encountered treated her like a whore.
“I’m not respectable, like Miss Ann over there.”
She pointed to Elaine Critchlow, young Negro paralegal, the mountain climber, who clutched the pearls that made the point. Mikey Robin stepped in, of course, as he was the crusading race attorney. She waved him off. She didn’t trust him, off the bat. Her errant beau was white and, up until then, all white folks did was stick together.
“At least you only half,” she said to Elliot, as if that half of him wasn’t listening.
“I see them writing boutcha in the papers. I like how you walk and talk it, Caprice.”
She lowered her voice, as if it wasn’t everyone’s business by then.
“I know where he lives,” she said. “With his other old lady. The white one. You could try to serve him there.”
“Perhaps a public place,” Elliot said.
“He spends most days drinking at the 19th Hole Tavern, out in Rockford, but he’s surrounded by white boys.”
“Ain’t we all.”
She shoved the court papers in his mitt, followed with a wad of cash.
“I paid you good money,” she said, shaking his hand firmly. “Don’t screw me over, like everyone else.”
“Wouldn’t think of it.”
He couldn’t imagine a golfer had ever been near the place, or any of the patrons had a tee-time to make. A few dusty odes to the game hung on the walls; old clubs, championship plaques. It was the other glories on display, the Anglo-Saxon trappings, framed tartans, “Erin Go Bragh” over the door arch, that was the tell. Lots of fellows wearing flags on their olive drab, and scorn on their faces.
Staring into a longneck of Old Style sat his quarry. Blue flannel shirt. Dock pants. Work boots. As if the region gave him a reason to wear that getup. Area military contracts were discontinued. Agriculture programs were cut by the War Department. An entire community tooled to do one thing, reduced to a legion of day drunks at the stroke of a politician’s pen.
“Whatcha having, fancypants?”
The bald bartender with the eyepatch and forearm tattoo had a point. Elliot was slightly overdressed, in his charcoal double-breasted, powder blue shirt and gray tie. He meant to visit the bank later that day to ask for an extension on the mortgage to conserve cash flow through harvest. He wanted to look strong walking back in after clawing the farm from the grip of those bastards.
Elliot scanned the top shelf and found a bottle of bourbon he could stand.
“A couple fingers of Four Roses.”
The bartender snorted, found a glass, and poured Elliot his drink.
“Want me to put a cherry in there for you?”
The functional drunks all snickered.
Elliot downed the shot and tapped on the rim of the glass. Cyclops poured him another.
“That’s quality hooch, mister,” said the fella in flannel. He was reading some sort of pamphlet printed on white paper.
“Best this joker got, anyway,” Elliot said.
“Best any of us can afford. Times are hard, what with the furniture mills closing.”
“Mills been closed going on a few years, haven’t they?”
Elliot sipped his second pour slow as he sized up the mark. Not too big, but wiry, and young enough to put up a fight. And pissed. That part, Elliot understood.
“I’m waiting until that Ford plant they promised during the election opens.””
“Promises, promises,’ Elliot said. “Good work, if you can get it.”
“Better be lined up early.” An older drunk seated by a wall of Irish heritage tchotchkes belched. “You know the niggers’ll be lined up.”
“I blame the big shots hiring them for cheap,” the mark said. He waved his pamphlet. “Right, mister?”
That was the tell Elliot wasn’t made for Negro. The bar was dark. The mark was drunk.
“I guess things are pretty good in your line, friend.”
“No shortage of work lately.”
“What do you do?”
Elliot finished his pour, and stood.
“Douglas Hargray, of Rockford, Illinois,—”
The mark’s bloodshot eyes went wide.
“Wait a second—” The mark stood. “I know you.”
Elliot reached his hand into his pocket. Hargray leaped from his barstool, which fell to the floor.
“Don’t kill me!”
“Wait, what?” Elliot waved off the assertion.
“He used to come around with this real tough guy,” a drunk said. “Saw my dad almost every payday, for a year.”
Another tough stood and walked up behind Elliot.
“I got an older brother who still can’t walk good,” he said.
He grabbed Elliot from behind. Another brandished Hargray’s felled barstool. Cyclops, the Bartender from Olympus, pulled a baseball bat.
“Let ’im go,” he said. “I can’t have that in this joint.”
“It’s Izzy Rabinowitz’s nigger. He collects for the Roseland Boys.”
“You tell that to the Turk,” Cyclops said. “That’s who I pay up to.”
“Oh, Christ on the frickin’ cross,” Elliot said.
Hargray took off in a full sprint, out the door and onto the rainy Rockford streets, where the gutters ran full.
“I’m gonna carve some numbers in your hide, half-breed,” Bearhug said, through the foul breath of a man who long ago gave up on himself. “Enough for the vig I paid to your Jew.”
Elliot would have rolled his eyes at the mention of Izzy, but he had to keep one on the asshole with the stool. The bottle of Four Roses was still on the bar. He stomped Bear Hug’s foot hard with his heel and threw his head backward, smashing the drunk’s nose. Once free, he grabbed the bottle of bourbon, caught the barstool in his left hand, and struck hard with the right. Both men went down hard. Elliot grabbed his hat off the floor and took off after his mark.
“Hey,” the bartender said. “You owe me for a bottle.”
Elliot reached into his pocket and tossed out a fiver.
“Keep the change,” he said. “And your mouth shut.”
Elliot ran full speed down Kishwaukee Street until it bisected Belle Place. He made Hargray out the corner of his eye.
“Slippery son of a bitch.” He pointed as he ran. “Stop right there!”
Hargray pivoted and ducked into an alley. Elliot pondered yanking his piece and taking some fat meat out of his thigh, which they taught him in the academy, Patrolling 101. Soon he gained on him, but also, from an alley near the dock behind Miss Fisher’s Potato Chip factory, he made a man in a black hat and black raincoat, doing his best to conceal himself once spotted. His body language was so sloppy he had to be a Fed, like the kind that had been coming around since Mikey got himself entangled in the movement for Negro Civil Rights, full bore. Some of it tracked back home to the farm, always driven by the Negro press, hot for information on his connection with the McAlpins. Instead of starting a scrapbook, Elliot begged Uncle Buster to throw out the Negro rags, which gleefully printed half-truths and innuendo. All the movement had done for Elliot was distract the local constabulary, make the neighbors more suspicious, and dull his Florsheim wingtips. He played for different stakes than the speechmakers, who rented apartments, and didn’t have to make payroll. When you have no desire for your neighbors’ want, the government needs no hired help to clear your land.
Elliot heard a gurgled yelp and followed moaning to just the other side of the potato chip outfit. The philandering mark might have gotten away, what not for the good fortune of that clothesline in the alley, otherwise known as Frank Fuquay’s forearm. Hargray laid flat on his back in a puddle, the wind knocked out of him. Frank stood over him appearing pleased with himself. He was wearing his field canvasses, standing legs apart, looking every bit the Colored Colossus of Rhodes.
Elliot yanked the papers from the place his .45 would normally be and shoved them into Hargray’s collar.
“Douglas Hargray,” he said, between big breaths. “You are ordered to report to Winnebago County family court. If you don’t attend your hearing, you will be in default and subject to arrest.”
Elliot pointed in his face.
“Clean yourself up. Provide for your children.”
As they walked away, Frank gave in to uproarious laughter.
“Yeah, yeah,” Elliot said. He examined his crushed hat. “That old man tried to tell me I was overdressed.”
“We shoulda let me serve him.”
“I’m not in the mood for your I told you so’s Francis.”
“I’m just sayin’, I’m the one wearing the canvasses. I dressed for fighting.”
“You’re dressed for farming.” Elliot shook his head. “Which is what you should be doing.”
“Hard to farm without enough rain, Elliot.”
“Well, regardless, you were supposed to wait in the car.”
“And I did,” Frank said. “Until the mark gave you the slip. I don’t see why you didn’t just have me serve him, Boss.”
“I told you, as long as that old man needs you, you stay out of the rough stuff.”
“Why you have me drive, then?”
“Because we’re in Rockford,” Elliot said. “Not many friends of Elliot up this way, if you remember.”
“I asked you to watch my back,” Elliot said, pointing his finger instructively. “So you figured you’d intervene, but how do you know whether or not I’m running toward that fella, or away from something else, and a lot worse? Hm?”
“You’re right, Boss.”
“Or have you forgotten the Short Paper War is on? And everyone thinks I’m still in Izzy Rabinowitz’s crew.”
“No, Elliot,” Frank said. “I haven’t forgotten. That’s sort of why I made tracks after y’all. Sorry.”
Elliot slapped Frank on the arm. “Hey,” he said. “Don’t shine me on, man. You hop in to be a hero, you get hemmed up, get me?”
Frank grew quiet. Elliot soon felt like shit for taking the Big Schoolboy to task when he shouldn’t have even been there but with his face in a book, following the rules: want to stay in Buster’s house, you work the land, and you go to school.
“Frank, I’m tired. Run on and get Lucille, will you?”
“You’ve been working too hard, Boss.” Frank trotted off. “Makes you cranky.”
“You must be studying rhetoric, all these comments of yours.”
Frank found his quiet and found Lucille. Elliot was thankful for some quiet himself. He needed some space. The conflagration in the tavern brought it all back. No matter how much good he did, or the kind of notoriety he and the firm received, he was still Izzy’s half-colored thumb breaker. That, or the process server of the Jew lawyer who stirred up trouble among good Negroes. Bill Drury. John Creamer. Kefauver. Uncle Sam. Such an ever-expanding list of white men for whom he schlepped water, like some miscegenated Ganga Din. Elliot had studied the works of Rudyard Kipling at Bradley and found him to be a well-intentioned asshole, of which his life had no shortage.
Frank wheeled Lucille around the corner and Elliot was on the door handle before he had a chance to brake. He noticed the fuel gauge hovered near empty.
“Big man, I seem to remember that, aside from comic timing, vehicle maintenance is your responsibility.”
Elliot pointed at the dash.
“Ah,” Frank said.
“Well, between lookin’ after Uncle Buster, keeping the field hands from stealing us blind, plus add my general equivalency—”
“Okay, Big Man,” he said. “I understand. Good work back there.”
Elliot nodded. “You’re learning how to think ahead. Watch the play. How’d you know where Hargray was gonna dip?”
“Bus station, one block up.”
“You got him, didn’t you?”
“Appreciate you sayin’ so,” Frank said. “It’s not always easy to tell how you feel.”
“I feel like you staying out of trouble,” Elliot said. “Get me?”
“I promised your mama, now.”
“Good work back there, tho.”
“If we don’t run out of gas.”
“Fence mending is hard, ain’t it?” Elliot laughed. “Nail one board in, two more pop out.”
As an angrier rain began, Elliot made a black sedan, piloted by the soggy legman, who seemed to be new at his job, what with direct eye contact and everything.
Elliot thought to say something about the tail, but kept his quiet.
“It’s coming down nasty. Let her out slow, Frank.”
“Always do, Boss.”
As the service man filled up Lucille, Frank availed himself of the men’s room. Elliot stood outside the station underneath an awning. He fished a hand-rolled out of his pocket, reached for his Zippo, and had the remainder of his morning ruined.
“Well, well. If it ain’t Elliot Caprice.”
Elliot’s stomach sank. Chester Gant stood before him. He was ebony wood-black, with smooth, clear skin and piercing, almond eyes. A godawful black bowler hat covered his close-cropped haircut. He wore no facial hair aside from a patch underneath his bottom lip. He had on a black raincoat. He didn’t take his hand out of his pocket, the tell he held a sawed-off underneath. The first time they tussled was in grammar school, when Elliot learned bitterness makes a child a bully and picked on the wrong kid in the schoolyard. Chester gave him as good as he got, and in front of everyone. It was a lesson he’d never forgotten.
He offered a light. Elliot accepted, and silently timed Frank’s restroom break.
“High Yella seems a long way from Southville, don’t he?”
Gimp was Chester’s ace pally. He stood over six-foot three, a full inch over the Big Fella. He wore the same hat and coat. Elliot wondered if they all went shopping together.
“Shol’ is.” Chester grinned. At the sight of his gold tooth, for the second time that day, Elliot felt the urge to shoot someone.
“Where’s yo flunky, that fool Big Black?”
“I hear you haven’t learned my name.”
Frank walked out of the bathroom and arrived full of tension.
“It’s Fuquay,” he said.
“Big Ugly, more like.”
This provoked an exchange of physical semiotics between the two mighty colored men who carried danger in their bodies and malice in their hearts. It was a silent debate in a language that no one seemed to teach, yet every Negro learned at one time or another, and always from their fellow man.
“Chasin’ down philanderers seem like hard work for a man as stylish as you, Lightskin,” Chester said. “The drought got you down?”
“I didn’t know the Turk owns the 19th Hole.”
“It’s what the banks call a collateralized asset.”
“You shoulda done some checkin’,” Gimp said, and he took a step closer. Without a flinch, Elliot finished his square, stamped on the butt and looked up at Chester.
“I’m here on the court’s business. Didn’t mean to cause a ruckus.”
“And yet, you did.”
“No one wants me in Rockford less than me.”
“Except Douglas Hargray,” Chester said, through that goddamned grin. “Next time, call before you come. I coulda taken you over Hargray’s house. Introduced you to his wife and chirrens.”
Chester flashed that gold tooth for a third time.
“His whiter chirrens.”
The service man raised his oil rag.
“Let’s pay the man and get on, Frank.”
Frank slowly walked away. Gimp then menaced Elliot, who rolled his eyes toward Chester.
“At the Texaco? In the rain?”
“Aight, nah, Gimp,” Chester said. “Elliot is just passin’ through.”
Chester turned and walked away. Gimp followed. Elliot walked over to Lucille. Frank was in the driver’s seat. He seemed disappointed he didn’t get to scrap. Elliot climbed in the passenger’s seat and closed the door.
“Boss, I hate those sum’bitches.”
“You must,” Elliot said. “To be cussin’.”
Chester walked right up and tapped on Elliot’s window. He rolled it down.
“Too many of our boys wind up dead in the fields of Southville for you to be passing into Rockford without announcing yourself, Caprice. Wouldn’t want anyone to figure you’re still working for the Jew.”
“Izzy says the Turk muscled in first.”
“What’s he going to say?”
Chester finally stopped grinning. He tugged his hat brim. “Careful in all this rain.”
Elliot tugged his brim in kind. Frank started up. As he pulled away, Elliot checked the rear view. Chester stood stock still in the rain, glaring death at him through the mirror.
The fat cats at the bank didn’t treat him as nice as the friendly patrons of the 19th Hole, denying Elliot an extension on the mortgage and demanding either more collateral or a bigger monthly payment after harvest. As he transferred more of his savings from the Costas Cartage affair to the farm account, he felt badly about dipping into it again, but he wouldn’t survive another winter eating out of cans and praying over the soil.
As he left, he saw a sign in the lobby about the County meeting, where they’d discuss some new Harvest Protection Ordinance, as well as real estate development in Southville. These were the moments Elliot truly hated his hometown, where landholders were presented the old problem as if it were new, and the old evil as if it were the best solution, marketed right where everyone’s money lived, all but printed on the free calendars.
He sat on the front porch in Uncle Buster’s rocker watching the sunset. Once the rains ended, it was a slim reward for a hard, wet day. At least he had better bourbon in the house than Four Roses. Elliot was halfway to morose when Frank stepped out the front door, a bottle of grape Nehi in hand.
“Mind if I sit?”
Frank took his quiet as yes. Elliot took another sip of his bourbon. Frank sipped on his pop. He rolled his Nehi bottle in his hands in the same manner as Elliot distracted himself with his own glass. It wasn’t a conscious choice to emulate. More how, after a while, men take on each other’s stink.
“We can discuss it if you want, Frank.”
“That fella we hemmed up,” he said. “Chauncey Ballard. He’s getting life.”
“The whole stretch, huh?”
“In Stateville Penitentiary. Chicago Daily Defender reported it today,” Frank said, before he caught a lump in his throat. “They’re holding him in Cook County Jail.”
“I’d rather Stateville.” Elliot chuckled.
“Why didn’t you do it?”
The Big Man was the kind of quiet that grabbed the moment by the collar.
“Why didn’t you kill him, the night we found him, and Alistair Williams?”
Elliot held his stare against the young gent, then looked away to witness the dazzling watercolors. Some silver. Some bronze. Lots of red. A bit of blue.
“I’m sorry, Boss.”
“Why ask me about the bad stuff, Frank?”
“They’re your stories, Boss. I learn from them. I keep them to myself.”
“I caught you telling your sister, on the phone. You sound like an old radio show, carrying on about me.”
“We’re all proud of you, Elliot.”
Elliot rolled his glass again. As he watched the sky, he wished something would fly down and carry him away from Frank, who was like a dog on a bone when he wanted.
“I’ve been a criminal, and a cop, and now I’m praying for rain. Crime of one stripe or another will always be here, Frank. That sunset has maybe three more minutes before it’s gone forever.”
Elliot patted Frank on the knee. The Big Man inhaled slowly and deeply and stretched and exhaled. Elliot sipped.
“When’s the last you spoke to your Mama?”
“Well, she’s near the church phone most Tuesdays, so that’s when I call. Spoke to Francine, though. She’s alright.”
“Francis and Francine. Still cracks me up.”
Elliot winked and Frank laughed. The sky darkened, adding marigold and burnt sienna.
“Imma go study.”
“Okay, Big Man.”
Frank stood and grabbed the doorknob.
“It wasn’t in my guts.”
“Beg your pardon, Elliot?”
Elliot turned toward him.
“I didn’t kill Williams because he didn’t come for me,” Elliot said. “I didn’t kill Chauncey Ballard because there’s the state’s killing, and my killing, and I know the difference.”
Elliot didn’t leave Frank any room to reply.
“Good night, Frank,” he said. “Don’t study all night. We need to get up in the morning.”
Frank went inside and upstairs.
Magic hour ceded to indigo blue. Stars twinkled. Night birds made conversation. Accepting there’d never be enough bourbon to fade his dread, he flicked the rest out over the porch rail, turned and walked into the house.
Copyright © 2020 Danny Gardner.
Danny Gardner is also the author of A Negro and an Ofay (2017; Down & Out Books). He has enjoyed a career as an actor, director and screenwriter and impressed audiences with his performance on the 3rd season of HBO’s Def Comedy Jam (All-Stars Vol. 12). He is a recent Pushcart Prize nominee for his creative nonfiction piece, His work has also appeared in Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter, and Deep House Page, as well as in the anthologies Shattering Glass, The Obama Inheritance and The Faking of the President.
About Ace Boon Coon by Danny Gardner (Tales of Elliot Caprice #2):
It’s 1950s Illinois and Elliot has returned to his rural Southville homestead to help his uncle save the family farm, which is struggling through a drought. As racial tensions between agricultural workers rise and a murder occurs, Elliot gets pulled back to Chicago when his ties to both Jewish and Negro organized crime factions are discovered during a clash of competing interests around the development of the long-awaited Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. When pressures from federal agents representing Estes Kefauver’s Special Committee on Organized Crime, along with the Nation of Islam, wealthy white potential investors and a shadowy force called the White Circle League close in, Elliot must race against time to connect a money trail to two more murders—and to thwart the destruction of Southville—before the forces combine to destroy Elliot.