New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample chapter from The Bitch by Les Edgerton

When I was 11, my father walked into his bedroom and caught me stuffing several of the coins he collected and kept in a sock into my pockets. Most of them were foreign coins he’d picked up overseas during World War II and I have no idea how I planned to spend English half-pence or German kroners or if I even planned to spend them at all. I just wanted them because I thought I could take them without getting caught. After he put his belt away, my father made me take four of the smallest coins and swallow them.

“You want them, you’ve got them,” he said. “You need to remember this. A Bishop doesn’t steal. None of the Bishops have ever been thieves.”

My mother came up while I choked them down and stood there, tears dripping slowly and quietly down her cheeks. She didn’t say a word. My father was the king of his castle and she was just a slightly higher placed vassal than my sister and me.

She cried but not this tough, 11-year-old criminal. I came close, but I choked down my tears along with the coins once I saw her begin to weep. I glimpsed in that instant my future if I wept, that I’d become as weak as she had. That I didn’t break down made my father angrier than my theft.

“I ought to make you eat them all,” he said.

“I’d like some salt then,” I said. “And a glass of water.” I knew what saying that would bring and instead of being fearful, I felt a power like never before surge through me. He could hurt my flesh but he could never dominate me as he had the other members of my family. The knowledge I gained in that instant was my earliest reward for being a thief.

He sighed and undid his belt again.

When the coins came out, a day later, I reached into the stool and mushed the turds with my fingers, extracting them one by one. I took the bar of my father’s Lava he used every day after work and held it under the tap until the dried swirls of his oil and grime were rinsed off and the bar shining clean and then scrubbed the coins with it. For an hour I scoured them until they gleamed and shone a dull, lucent silver and copper. He never asked what happened to them and I have them to this day.

The first murder is the hardest. No matter how many more you might commit, it’s the first one that always appears at night in your dreams.

That doesn’t mean the next one is all that easy. Just easier. Like they say, it’s all relative.

The funny thing about thinking about doing a crime is that once the thought enters your brain it’s all over. You might as well write that baby down in the logbook of your life, because it’s as sure as rain in Seattle going to happen. And if you talk about it to another human being, then that landslide is already halfway down the mountain. Like a train wreck, once the engine goes off the track, the rest of the cars are going to follow.

I have no excuses. My mother, after all, prophesied daily the bad end she was convinced I took aim at. From the time I could zip up my own trousers, my mother used to say pretty much the same thing when she weighed in against sin on my behalf. A daily battle she fought for my soul. A battle we both knew she’d lose.

“If you have a sinful thought, Jacob, in God’s eyes it’s the same as committing the sin,” she’d say. She’d show me in the Bible where it said that. “See?” she’d say, her cheeks brightly flushed with Divine Evidence. “You think something bad, son, you’re going straight to Hell. You don’t even have to do it. All you have to do is think it.” Wasn’t much I could do about that, I wanted to tell her, but didn’t. I’d joined the other side a long time ago, maybe as far back as birth. That original sin thing.

The day she died, her last words still tried to reach my poor, black soul. “Jakey,” she said, her voice barely audible against the whoosh of the respirator and the other machines the ghouls in white, starched uniforms had hooked her up to, keeping her burned body alive. “Promise me you’ll be a good boy. Promise me you’ll try to find God.” Thirty-two years old, her confused, dying, fucked-up mind saw instead this kid with mittens on a string. Part of her mind had already gone on ahead to where her body would follow.

What do you do in a situation like that? You promise, that’s what you do. It’s your mother. She’s dying. It’s easy to promise. I’ve made a lot of promises in my life. Keeping them, though…