An exclusive excerpt from Critical Damage by Robert K. Lewis, the second dark crime novel featuring former San Francisco cop and recovering junkie, P.I. Mark Mallen (available April 8, 2014).
When ex-cop and recovering junkie Mark Mallen is asked to track down two very different girls who have gone missing, he doesn’t think twice about putting himself in harm’s way to find them. Bloodied and bruised, Mallen shakes down the pimps and hustlers who could crack the cases wide open,leaving no stone unturned in San Francisco’s criminal underground.
But something isn’t right. Somebody’s trying to scare Mallen off, and it’s no ordinary street thug. With heat coming at him from all angles, Mallen’s search for the truth leads him to men who will stop at nothing to make sure their twisted desires never see the light of day.
Mallen and Gato drove around the Mission district of San Francisco all afternoon, Gato asking everyone he knew if they’d seen Lupe. It was turning into late afternoon when Gato’s cell rung. He checked the number, then answered.
“Si?” Gato listened for a moment. Motioned to the glove box for something to write on. Mallen opened it up and found a pen, some .357 shells, a couple condoms, and a menu for a Chinese restaurant. He grabbed up the pen and menu. Nodded to Gato that he’d take down the address. “Bernal district. Corner of Jarboe and Bradford,” Gato told him. “White house, ugly red trim.”
Mallen wrote all this down. Not too many houses with red trim. Gato listened a bit more, then said, “Okay, thanks,” and hung up. He grinned as he looked over at Mallen, saying, “Think we got him, bro.”
“Lupe’s pimp, vato. Teddy Mac.”
Mallen looked again at the location he’d just written down. “This is where he is?”
A nod. “That was one of his women, Diri. Told me about this is a place he stays when he’s burned-out.” He then added with a slight smile, “Or a place he goes to when he’s feeling the heat.”
“Let’s go then.”
On the way over, while stuck in traffic, Gato silently pulled out his wallet. Flipped it open and handed it to Mallen. The first photo was of a very pretty, very young woman. Had the same shape face as Gato. Same smile.
Her smile was the kind that etched itself into your brain. The kind that would haunt you if she left you.
“I just wanted you to see her, vato. In happier times.”
“How old is this?” Mallen said as looked again at Lupe’s photo.
“A long year and a half ago now, man.”
Mallen handed Gato back his wallet. He knew that people had to reveal themselves at their own speed, and would take unkindly to any forcing of the issue. There were also the types who really only needed the opening question. He wondered which Gato would be. He knew very little about the man behind the wheel other than he had a very strong sense of right and wrong, and was prone to being very loyal to his friends. He wondered briefly if that sense of right and wrong had caused him problems in the past. Wondered if that would cause him problems in his finding his sister.
They pulled up to an off-white clapboard house with red trim, one in from the corner of Jarboe and Bradford. The freeway was only a few blocks away, and it was rush hour. The smell from the stalled river of metal as everyone tried to get to the Bay Bridge worked its way into Mallen’s head, making him feel immediately short for breath. The house itself looked like it’d been permanently grunged by the chronic exhaust. Mallen wondered at how many asthmatics lived in the neighborhood.
He was about to open the car door when Gato reached under the seat and pulled out a pearl-handled, snub .38. “Wait a sec, man,” Mallen told him, “What happened to fuckin’ talking?”
“Dude,” Gato replied as if explaining math to a challenged five-year-old, “Teddy Mac is a pimp and a thief. He’s got a heavy rep for not takin’ shit off anyone or anything. This isn’t like the old days when you were an el policia, right? When you could just walk into some dude’s house and make him talk? You need leverage. Six shooter leverage, most times.”
He stared down at the gun. This was Gato’s play, not his. “Okay,” he finally answered, “But remember, G: this isn’t the wild west, okay? Don’t go in there with a lot of attitude, unless it’s called for. We’ll find your sister.”
“I hear you, amigo. And I promise you that if things go bad, you won’t be associated with this gun, okay? I promise you that.” Gato slipped the pistol into his waistband. Covered it with his shirt. “Okay. You have the cop knowledge. You call it, I’ll follow.”
They got out of the car. Checked the neighborhood. The streets were empty of foot traffic. They walked up the cracking concrete steps to the door of the house where Teddy Mac was supposedly staying. Mallen used his old cop knock, rapping loudly on the peeling, warped door.
“Who is it?” came a man’s voice from inside. Deep in tone. Angry. Guarded. Guarded like Fort Knox. Mallen took a step to the side of the door. Motioned Gato to the opposite side. Gato’s hand inched towards his shirt.
“We’re friends of Lupe’s,” Mallen said. “She ain’t been around. We need to find her.”
“Hey man, it’s about her mother. She’s really sick. Heart attack.”
There was a brief silence, then the entire world exploded as the door shredded apart in a hail of bullets. Sounded like an entire magazine was unloaded. Mallen and Gato dove for cover, Gato pulling out his .38, Mallen wishing now he’d asked if Gato had a spare. A door slammed at the rear of the building. Gato was on his feet instantly, bolting for the backyard like a pitbull on the chase. Mallen was up and after him less than a second later.
He watched Gato leap the backyard fence like a gazelle. He followed with more effort and less grace, but it was getting better with every day he stayed clean. Landed hard in a backyard filled with nothing but yellowed grass and forgotten appliances. Gato was well ahead of him, already at the back gate. His friend tore it open and was answered with a wall of gunfire. They both had to dive flat to the ground to avoid taking a couple in the chest. The squeal of tires ripping over gravel filled the air then faded quickly away.
Gato was already up, maybe ready to run into the street for a shot at the car, but Mallen got to him and grabbed him by the shoulder. “We need to get scarce, G,” he said urgently, “and I mean like right now.”
“We’ll find him again! You want to answer to your probation officer why you’re involved in a shooting spree? Now, come the fuck on!”
They ran back to the car. Jumped in. Didn’t see anyone around to mark their leaving. All the citizens were probably still in cover, or still at their televisions. The Falcon roared off quickly. In a minute they were safely on the freeway, anonymous among all the heavy traffic. Mallen checked out the back window. Unless someone got a make on the car, they’d be all right. Went over in his mind what the street was like right as they’d gotten back to the Falcon. There’d been no one. Was possible no one would even associate the car with the gunfire. He felt eighty percent positive about that, anyway.
“Why you think that fucker opened up on us like that, man?” Gato said as he pulled the .38 from his waistband and shoved it under his seat. “That was some crazy shit.”
“Don’t know. But I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not an admission of guilt, okay? I don’t think he would’ve blindly shot apart a front door if he’d thought it was just Lupe’s brother knocking. No offence. Not if he’s as badass as you say he is.”
“I bet he would’ve. And I bet that piece of shit knows exactly what’s happened to my sister, man. Exactly.”
“Yeah, it’s possible. But come on, the guy’s a pimp, right? You said he’s got a heavy rep. Guy like that could have any number of dudes after him, for any number of reasons.” He thought hard as they sat there in traffic, trying to figure out the best way forward. But the longer he sat there, the more he realized that he just couldn’t figure one.
“You know, you just might be right, vato,” Gato said, breaking in on his thoughts. “That was some pretty wild shit, right? Fucker just blasting the door like that? I mean, that chingador totally unloaded on us.”
Mallen got it. Nodded. “Yeah. Teddy Mac was scared to death by who he thought we were, or might be.”
Copyright © 2014 by Robert K. Lewis. Used with permission of Midnight Ink Books.
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Bay Area resident Robert K. Lewis has been a painter, printmaker, and a produced screenwriter. In addition to contributing here, Lewis is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the International Thriller Writers. Untold Damage was the first novel in the Mark Mallen series, followed by Critical Damage. Visit him at his website, at needlecity.wordpress.com, and on Twitter @robertklewis.