What Happens in Reno: New Excerpt

What Happens in Reno by Mike Monson is a noir novella about an unhappily married, drunken gambler (available September 22, 2015).

Matt Hodges is not a good husband. He’s unemployed, a drunk, and a compulsive gambler. His wife Lydia has basically written him off. However, with a small inheritance coming, Matt promised Lydia he’d not only pay for the cosmetic surgery so she craves, but that he’d also get them out of debt. Unfortunately for Lydia, as soon as the check is cashed, Matt heads for Reno to try his hand at high-stakes poker, and to stay as drunk as possible for as long as possible. Meanwhile, back home in Modesto, Lydia plots with a local violent criminal (who happens to be her new lover) to find Matt and get the cash for themselves before it’s all gone. What happens when they all finally meet in Reno will be our little secret, okay?


Too drunk to drive home, Matt Hodges spent Monday night in the Denny’s parking lot, just north of downtown Modesto.

The old Denny’s. The one across from the pathetic American Graffiti Monument at George Lucas Plaza. Bronze statue of two 50s-looking teenagers leaning on the left front fender of some old Chevy or something. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, Matt stared closely into the eyes of the boy and the girl, and the emptiness he saw frightened him. Other times, when he really needed a drink and the inevitable delirium tremens approached, the two looked like clothed reptiles.

After a long night of lonely bar-hopping, Matt had washed down a Grand Slam Breakfast with eight cups of coffee, trying to get focused enough to drive home. He would’ve driven if he could’ve, he wasn’t being all “don’t drink and drive.” But, once he vomited the eggs, sausage links, and pancakes all over the driver’s side window and door of his 1971 silver Mercedes Benz 280 SE, he could only crawl onto the backseat and pass out.

He woke up at 7 a.m., the already bright August sun in his eyes, barf all over the front of his shirt, piss in his pants, an ache behind his left eye like the slash of a box cutter. Used to greeting the day this way, Matt couldn’t muster up the energy for the obligatory shame attack.

He drove home, stripped off his clothes at the foot of the bed where Lydia lay, and took a long shower. Made sure to stay in until he used all the hot water. His headache dissipated some as he let the stream hit his forehead, but he still felt nauseous.

“Did you hog all the hot water again, asshole?” Lydia stood naked in the bathroom doorway, watching him dry off. Makeup smeared and curly red hair wild. After dieting and going to the gym obsessively for months, his wife had gotten way too skinny. Sure, she looked hot as hell in her new sexy clothes, but it didn’t do Matt any good—her pussy was off limits to him. But her naked body, with all the extra skin hanging and the stretch marks, just looked weird.

“Did you fuck that sonofabitch Hunter Manning again?”

“Maybe …”

“’Cause you look like you’ve been screwing all night.”

Lydia squeezed by him to piss, both of them avoiding the touch of each other’s bare skin. Matt dropped his towel on the floor and went into the bedroom. Lydia hated it when he left his wet towels on the floor.

They’d barely spoken to each other the past several weeks. She was pissed at his drinking and intermittent employment. And, until recently, he’d been in a rage that she kept fucking other guys to get back at him for being a marginally employed drunk. Lately, though, he’d stopped caring so much about all of that. He just hated the worthless bitch. He couldn’t recall any feelings of love.

This new one, Hunter, scared the shit out of Matt. He looked exactly like what he was: a shaved-headed, tatted-up, badass ex-con with Aryan Brotherhood associations. Matt didn’t understand why Lydia couldn’t have an affair with a CPA, or an engineer, or one of the lawyers she worked for—someone whose ass he could kick. If it ever came to that, which it wouldn’t. Matt wasn’t a very tough guy.

“Whatever, man,” Lydia said. She dabbed at her vagina with a piece of toilet paper, stood, and flushed the toilet. “The closing is today, right? I mean, fuck, please tell me that you’re finally going to bring home some money.”

“The closing’s at nine. Soon as the title company opens. You don’t need to be there.”

“Don’t worry. Wouldn’t think of intruding on your big emotional moment. Gag.”

In addition to the Mercedes, Matt’s dead mother left him the piece-of-shit house out on Rumble Road where he’d grown up. A 1700-square-foot lime green stucco ranch-style built in 1966 as part of a then high-status subdivision. Ankle-high brown weeds now dominated the yard. The back and side fences barely stood. Vandals broke most of the windows and Matt replaced them with sheets of plywood. It sat on a street surrounded by similar houses, most in various stages of foreclosure or short sale. He was shocked when he got an offer for a hundred and sixty thousand—accepted it immediately before the dumbasses changed their mind.

Delores Hodges died of liver cancer just before Matt and Lydia married. A large debt remained on the second mortgage she’d gotten during the peak of the real estate boom. After paying off the bank, and the closing fees, and the sales commissions, little profit remained. Still, Matt felt fortunate to actually be making some money.

Lydia studied herself in the mirror. She tugged at the skin above her waist with both hands.

“Did you find out how much you’re going to get?”

God, he knew that today would be the day he’d suddenly become fascinating again.

“Twelve thousand, six hundred and fourteen dollars. And ninety eight cents.”

“That’s it? I still can’t believe you didn’t hold out for more. That house is worth at least one-ninety.”

“Yeah, right. Eight years ago. Maybe.”

“The market is improving. In six months you’ll look like an idiot. Fuck, in two weeks you’ll look like an idiot.”

He dressed quickly in shorts and a black t-shirt. All he wanted was to get away from Lydia. In her presence he hated himself even more than usual.

Lydia turned sideways and stared at her profile. She sucked in her belly.

“Don’t you dare forget our deal,” she said.

“I know, Jesus.”

“Five grand of that cash goes for my tummy tuck and the rest pays off your credit card debt. I’m sick of my salary going to finance your drinking and trips to every goddamn Indian casino between here and the Donner fucking Pass.”

Matt went into the bathroom and stood behind Lydia.

“Jesus. How could I ever forget?”

“And if there’s anything left over, it’s mine. You owe me for supporting your ass for two years. Shit, this marriage might be the worst investment in history.”

“You’re just going to get fat again and waste that five grand. Talk about a bad investment.”

Lydia turned around. She tried to slap Matt. He was ready and caught her right wrist with his right hand.

“Fuck you,” she said.

“Fuck you,” he said.

She tried to free her hand, but Matt held tight.

“You’re such a fucking joke,” she said.

She reached out with her left hand and twisted Matt’s right nipple.

“Ouch, shit,” Matt said. He let go of her wrist. “Fucking slut whore.”

Copyright © 2015 Mike Monson


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Mike Monson is the author of the short story collection Criminal Love, and the crime/noir novellas The Scent of New Death and What Happens in Reno. He is the associate editor of the crime fiction journal All Due Respect and the co-publisher of All Due Respect Books.

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