An exclusive sneak peek at the first two chapters of Dig Two Graves by Eric Beetner, coming soon from Snubnose Press.
Val is out of prison and back on the streets with a new plan to pull off “perfect” bank robberies. All is going well until the cops show up at his door. He realizes pretty quickly that the guy who set him up is his prison lover, Ernesto. The jailhouse affair comes out and Val’s wife is not pleased, but nothing matters much to Val except payback. Sprung from custody, he ends up on the run with the cops after him, him after Ernesto and some big names from his past on his heels.
“And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” —The Bible
I’m careful. Even more so since I got out of prison. How careful can I be if I went inside, you say. Those were youthful mistakes and the point is—I’ve learned from them. It’s called change. I didn’t used to be, but now I’m one cautious son of a bitch.
So when the cops showed up at my door sniffing around and found me with five grand still on the hip, I knew it wasn’t me. Someone is a rat.
And I know who.
That part didn’t take long. The cop who busted me, Knott was his name, he was all too happy to share his source. Rubbed it in my eyes like lemon juice.
Ernesto. God damn. Can’t trust a friggin’ soul in the world anymore.
Y’see Ernie and I are . . . we’re . . . well, you gotta understand that in prison . . .
Let me back up.
In the joint even the best of them—the roughest, the hardest, the baddest-assest—they fall into it same as the fresh meat and the lifers. I’m not saying prison made me gay, I’m saying being there exposed me to a life I might not otherwise have known and, as it turns out, I kinda like having my dick sucked by Ernesto. So sue me.
For the record, he was the only one. I didn’t go in and become some serial dick sucker. Ernie had a certain . . . quality. I’ve heard people say what the heart wants, the heart wants. My thing with Ernie came less from the heart and more from the balls with a little heart thrown on top for seasoning.
You’ve wondered it. Since we own the equipment shouldn’t we be better at sucking dick than a woman? Spoiler alert: Yes, we are.
Our cell block had so much sucking and fucking going on it was like a porno set. Most guys leave it at the gates when they get out and some are lifelong “innies and outies”; dick suckers when they’re in, straight guys when they’re out.
I guess if it hadn’t been for Ernesto that would have been me.
My sentence came down as three years for armed robbery. A stupid gas station hold up that went sour but, again, taught me some valuable lessons. First and foremost: planning.
I plan the shit out of my jobs now which is another way I knew that I’d been ratted out. No cop can follow the trail I leave because I flat out don’t leave one. I’m a ghost.
Ernesto was doing eighteen months for dealing crack. His third stretch in five years. His dick sucking resume was impressive.
Ernie was still young, 26, and had that Latino macho thing going but with soft features that made him kinda girlish. He had long hair that he kept tied back in a slick ponytail most of the day. When we were alone he let it down and it gave him an even more feminine appearance. That helped. Believe me, the first time was weird as hell so I had to do a lot of mind trickery to get around my brain screaming, “Hey, Val, that’s a dude on your knob!”
I’m no catch, just turned 39, fit, maybe a little bit thick in the middle. I can lift a shitload and yet can’t run more than twice the way around the yard. When he started flirting with me I was actually kinda flattered.
One thing lead to another and so on and so forth. It took a long time before I did anything to him and it’s still not my favorite.’Tis better to give than receive? Bullshit.
Enough about that shit. That little rat fuck sold me to the cops. For what, Knott wouldn’t say. I assume he traded information to get out of another stretch. He was looking at some serious hard time for another offense. We make the best of it on the inside, what with the blow-jobs and all. Given a choice almost anyone would rather stay on the outside where you can suck all the dicks you want and still be able to go home at night.
So does that make me queer? I don’t know. Just don’t tell my wife about it.
Sima, my Persian beauty. That woman hates me so fucking much. Can’t say I blame her. She talks about trying to make it work, getting back in the groove whatever that means. Shit, she stood by for three long years and showed up at the curb to meet me when I got out. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d learned her blow-jobs were lousy.
Ernie got out three weeks after I did so we picked up right where we left off. I started planning. My next run was going to be all thought out. No smash and grab bullshit. No late night 7-11’s or gas stations. Banks. Yep. I became a bank robber. That was nine months and three banks ago.
The key is not to get in over your head. The average take on a bank job is only about five grand. No one has made a successful score like you see in the movies since men regularly robbed trains. Security is too good. Cops are too good. Banks are too smart.
Volume. Lots of small scores. A guy could make a hell of living that way, if he planned it out.
This last job was only the third of a long list I had planned out. Enough to get me the stake I needed to jump ship and head to the islands, any island, and bring Ernie with me. Fuck Sima. Let her stay here and keep emptying cat boxes for the rest of her life. Yeah those cats hate me more than she does and the feeling is mutual. Another year of jobs and I was gonna be one suntanned motherfucker.
Everything started off so well. Until the fucking cops show up at my door that is.
“Therein lies the defect of revenge: it’s all in the anticipation; the thing itself is a pain, not a pleasure; at least the pain is the biggest end of it.” —Mark Twain
“Val, what’s going on?” Sima is screaming at me. I’m thinking, scream at the cop who’s breaking my damn arm. One of them did step on a cat’s tail as they wrestled me to the ground, so that counted as a little bonus in the middle of a friggin’ nightmare.
The money wasn’t hard to find because I wasn’t exactly hiding it. No way anyone was on to me. Of course when some fucking rat or mole or whatever leads them right to your door . . .
Sima is so beautiful when she’s angry. That dark hair, her nose she thinks is too big but I think is perfect. Those eyebrows; so strong and commanding. They command her to pluck and tweeze every two weeks, still, they give her face some drama. I honestly still think she’s beautiful. She’s just a bitch.
So she’s screaming at me, cats are wailing, the cops are doing their SWAT team shout down, “I’m in command here,” bullshit, the apartment is being torn up and all I’m thinking is, “Who turned me in?”
My first thought is Ernesto. I quickly dismiss that. He did the job with me so he’d be obvious but, come on, it’s Ernie. He’s my boy. I mean he and I have been . . . I’m mean I’ve done . . . stuff . . . to him. Not Ernie, right?
Nope, it’s Ernie. At first I thought Knott was trying to fuck with me. The more I puzzled it out there’s no other option. The more that realization sank in the more I felt like ten thousand little needles were pricking my skin. My blood went cold. Some guys, their blood goes hot. Me, I go cold. Always have. Back before I was a planner, that is.
What’s the damn difference, you say? Hot blooded: Kittens, puppies, hamsters. Cold blooded: Snakes, crocodiles, scorpions.
Riding in the car down to the station Knott is grinning at me in the rearview mirror. He wants to spoil my Christmas. Tell me everything.
“You figure it yet, Val?”
I stay quiet and give him the stink eye.
“It’s Ernesto, your little butt buddy.” My face is blushed with a mixture of rage and embarrassment. That shit is private. He goes on. “Sold you out, man. Gave you up like it was no big deal. Hey, your wife know you two are dick lickin’ pals? She will any minute now.”
Great. I’m glad they didn’t tell her in the room while I was still there. She would have ripped a gun right out of some cop’s hand and shot me. You do NOT want to piss off a Persian woman. She calls herself Persian, thinking it will hide the fact that she’s Iranian since that doesn’t go over all that well in America these days. Most people are dumb enough to fall for it. I’ve even heard people ask her is she ever gets back over to Persia any more. Sure, in her fucking time machine, dickhead.
Three days in custody swilling in the drunk tank with guys who smell like a toilet’s asshole and they finally decide to move me while I wait on my trial to begin. Not that I like any kind of more permanent incarceration, but that drunk tank wears thin on you real quick. What I hate most is being put alongside guys who aren’t any kind of criminal. Those guys aren’t planners. There is a big difference between being a thief and a fuck-up. Trust me, I’ve been both.
That night, things started to get interesting.
Knott said his good-byes, rubbed my nose in it a bit more. He made some joke about adding sodomy to the charges, how it’s still against the law because no one ever bothered to change some line in the record that dates back to 1854. They handcuffed me to some junior member on shit detail and sent me out the door while they all placed bets on how many years the judge would give me.
Mr. Junior Cop didn’t say a word to me. It made for a very unpleasant ride down to the courthouse where I was supposed to be held overnight until my arraignment in the morning and then I’d be shipped off to a place with real guards and real twenty-foot walls.
We drove around to the back of the courthouse. One yellowish light bolted high on the wall lit the entrance to the holding cells. Two dumpsters sat behind a low wall nearby. I was out back with the trash. Yeah, it made sense.
I had no idea of the time. Night, that’s all I could tell. Mr. Junior Cop was tight on details. I got out of the car, he snapped the cuffs on – one on my left wrist and one on his right.
“Going old school, huh?” I said to him. Got nothing in return. “Guess it beats leg irons.” Nothing. The guy was a stone wall.
I took a big old inhale of fresh air knowing I wouldn’t get any again for quite a while. There is no smell in the world quite like the bouquet of body odor that is a prison block.
I closed my eyes and felt a warm breeze through my hair, what there is of it. For nine months I’d enjoyed the outside world. I was in serious danger of becoming a lifer this time ‘round. I wondered if I’d find another Ernesto inside. I only hoped it would be one that wouldn’t sell me to the cops for a dollar.
I heard a crack and something pushed air past my face. It made me shut my eyes and lean away, like when you walk through a spiderweb.
The sound seemed familiar, like hearing your own dog bark. You’d know it anywhere. I felt something warm on my cheek and felt a tug on my handcuffed wrist. I opened my eyes to see my wife; arm outstretched and holding my .45. I knew I’d heard that sound before.
Mr. Junior Cop sank to my left. His throat had been torn open and he made weird rusty pipe sounds from the exposed innards of his trachea. He hit the ground hard and his eyes rolled, looking for an answer that would never come. He sprayed blood like a champ. Ought to enter a contest somewhere.
I turned back to Sima, wondering when she got to be such a good shot. Then again, maybe that bullet was meant for me.
Another shot blasted out of the end of my own gun, pounded into the wall behind me. Nope. Lousy shot. I sank to the ground, huddled for cover behind my escort and immediately began digging in his pockets for the cuff keys.
“Sima, what the fuck?”
She smiled but I could see the street lights highlight streaks of sloppy tears on her face.
“That’s what you get when you fucking lie to me, Val.”
“Sima, that was a cop!”
Her smile vanished. She lowered the gun. I’ve found the Persians to be a passionate bunch, but there’s that old flame that burns brightest burns the quickest thing too. She gotten off two shots which I’d bet was two more than she thought she had the guts for. I felt halfway confident she wouldn’t try again, unless I said something stupid.
I undid the cuffs like a magician. One handed and smooth. Mr. Junior Cop’s neck made a high airy tone like a slow leaking balloon. I wouldn’t look at him, still the hot blood smells filled my nostrils. I scanned over my shoulders for some kind of backup to come rushing out of the building with shotguns and batons. None came. The late night crew is never exactly your A team. I was lucky we were at a courthouse and not a police station, but still – no time to hang around.
I left the cuffs still attached to him, stood, and checked around for blood on me. Most of the splatter pooled out around his head like an oil slick seen from space. He started to fade, slowing down with each pump of fresh plasma onto the concrete. His brain had to be wondering where the hell all the oxygen had gone to. I wiped my cheek and saw a dark smear of red on my palm. I kept wiping as I stomped over to Sima. She raised the gun again.
I took a chance, stepped up to her without stopping, put one hand over the gun and pointed it down to the concrete and slid my other hand over her wrist and tugged her away from the building.
She started crying again and I ignored her until we got two blocks away. I spun her around and pushed her into a deep doorway where we both could catch our breath in the shadows.
“Sima, what are you up to?”
“You lied to me.”
“So you tried to shoot me?”
“I thought maybe that was your lover boy.”
“Sima, that was a cop. I’m under arrest. You were there.”
She shook her head like she was trying to wake herself from a bad dream. “I don’t know. I’m all confused.” She raised her eyes to look at me. “They said you’re a fag,” she said, like it made a perfectly passable excuse.
“So you thought you’d kill me and Ernesto?” I can’t say I didn’t know the feeling.
“Is that his name?” Tears flooded her eyes. Jesus Christ, the wounded wife routine. I told you she’s what you’d call passionate. Blind passion. The kind that makes her do incredibly stupid things. Serves the damn cops right for telling her about me and Ernie. I kinda wish it had been Knott doing the escorting. That poor kid hadn’t said squat to me, hadn’t earned that bullet in the neck.
“Sima, are you out of your mind?”
“Yes!” She raised the gun again. “You made me this way. You humiliated me again. How could you do this? Being with a man? How could you?”
How the hell can you explain it? I’d have to go way back, tell her I never loved her. She was a replacement. Sloppy seconds. That Ernie filled a shallow grave inside me she never could. And if it wasn’t him it probably would have been someone else. That would not have gone over well on the best night, but with her holding my .45 it was not the time to be telling her all my secrets.
The tears started again. All the arrests, the guns, the stolen merchandise—that she lived with happily. Take up with another man and she’s blowing holes in dudes’ necks. “It’s hard to explain. You get to prison and . . . things happen.”
“Is this why you never make love to me anymore?”
One of many reasons. I could write her out an alphabetical list if she wanted. Instead I rolled my eyes and made a slow reach for the gun. She let me take it. I knew what she wanted. She wanted me to repent. To drop to my knees and beg her forgiveness, swear on a stack of Bibles or Korans or some shit that I’d never sin again. Promise to take her away on a getaway weekend, change my island plans to include her.
“Sima, that was a damn stupid thing to do.”
“I know, I know.” Her tears slowed. She wiped her eyes, her cheeks, brushed hair off her forehead.
“You kinda did me a favor though, so I thank you for that.”
She smiled slightly.
Lifting the gun came easy. Putting it to her temple came easy too. Pulling the trigger came easier still. What ended up being hard—watching her fall. That slight smile drooped off her face, a furrowed-brow confusion taking over and then a muscle-slacked nothingness.
I’d always loved that look on her face: after a smile. In those times when she didn’t think anyone was looking, when her face returned from bright smile to simple elegance—I loved that look. And now I’d killed it.
I was right, though. She did do me a favor. I was free. If I got a move on. Things wouldn’t stay this quiet forever. I had to get as far away from the two bleeding bodies, and the courthouse, as I could.
I knew where to go, too. Ernesto. Time to go kill me a rat.
Eric Beetner is an ex-musician, one time film director, and a working television editor and producer, as well as author (with JB Kohl) of the novels One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two daughters, and one really great dog. His upcoming novella Dig Two Graves will be out in December, along with short stories in the anthologies Pulp Ink, D*cked, and Grimm Tales.