Authors: Jon Bassoff
© 2013 by Jon Bassoff
All Rights Reserved.
A DarkFuse Release
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Praise for Corrosion
is a beautifully bleak noir novel that stretches the boundaries of the genre to its breaking point. A virtuoso performance by the terrific Jon Bassoff.”
—Jason Starr , International bestselling author of
“Like some unholy spawn of Cormac McCarthy’s
Child of God
and Donald Ray Pollock’s
The Devil All the Time
offers pungent writing, a cast of irresistibly damaged characters, and a narrative that’s as twisted and audacious as any I have read in a long while. A dark gem.”
—Roger Smith, author of
“Sharp, original, fierce, a real gut-ripper.
is one of the most startlingly original and unsettling novels I’ve read in ages. It ramps your pulse, it claws at your sweet spot. Bassoff has a career ahead of him brightly lit by a very bad star.”
Tom Piccirilli, author of Edgar Award-nominated novel
The Cold Spot
“Imagine Chuck Palahniuk filtered through Tarantino speak, blended with an acidic Jim Thompson and a book that cries out to be filmed by David Lynch, then you have a flavor of
. The debut novel from the unique Jon Bassoff begins a whole new genre: Corrosive Noir.”
Bruen, Shamus Award-winning author of
“Jon Bassoff gives new meaning to the phrase “Hell on earth” in his debut novel,
. It’s a harrowing page-turning tale of lost, misplaced, and mangled identity that barrels its way to breakdowns and showdowns of literal and figurative biblical proportions.”
Lynn Kostoff, author of
“Jon Bassoff’s stream of conscious novel sports Faulkner-like as this dark tale is told in first person timelines. It will grip and engage and ultimately leave you shaken to the core. Not for the tenderhearted…not no way, not no how.
is the tale of a man on a mission from God…or is it the Devil? Dare to find out.”
Charlie Stella, author of
“Talk about a book starting one way and then springing something on you…[Bassoff’s
] is dark and funny and sick, a book as much about identity as it is about crime.”
Bill Crider, author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series
is a fever dream, a lucid nightmare. It is at once poetic and brutal; hypnotic and vicious; empathetic and heartless. It is the most effective kind of horror—the kind you believe. Reading it is a deeply uncomfortable experience in the best possible way.”
—Marcus Sakey, author of
The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes
“An archetypal, nightmare journey down a hall of mirrors.
will burn your eyeballs. Keep you reading relentlessly to the end.”
—Jonathan Woods, award-winning author of
Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem
A Death in Mexico
For my father.
Thanks to my incredible wife Tobey for putting up with a distracted and occasionally frustrated writer for more than a decade. Much thanks and love to the other strong and supportive women in my life, my mother, Evelyn, and my sister, Leah. Thanks also to my students and colleagues at Frederick High who have tolerated a more-than-slightly disturbed English teacher in their midst. I’m proud to call Allan Guthrie my agent and am forever indebted to him for his belief in my writing and his hard work in getting this thing published. And finally, I am grateful to Shane Staley, Greg F. Gifune, and the folks at DarkFuse for giving this book a home.
PART ONE: JOSEPH DOWNS (2010)
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
I was less than 20 miles from the Mountain when the engine gave out, smoke billowed from the hood, and Red Sovine stopped singing. I pushed the old pickup for a while, but it was no use. She’d let me down good this time. I pulled her off to the side of the highway, kicked open the door, and cursed at the wind. I stared down the cracked highway; a backwater town was just up ahead, surrounded by derricks and grain elevators. I grabbed my army-issued duffel bag from the trunk, pulled on my camouflage jacket, and started limping down the asphalt.
The town was called Stratton, and it wasn’t much. Just brick buildings and rotting bungalows and poor-man shacks all dropped haphazardly by God after a two-week bender. Old Main was hanging on for dear life. An abandoned convenience store, abandoned gas station, abandoned motel. Rusted signs and boarded-up windows.
The wind was blowing hard and mean; I pulled up the collar of my jacket and buried my hands in my pockets. I caught a glimpse of myself in a darkened window and shivered. It was a face that I still didn’t recognize. A face that appeared to have been molded by the devil himself…
Twelve hours on the road and I was in bad need of a drink. At the corner of the block stood a white stucco building with the words
hand painted in red, a neon Bud sign glowing in a submarine window. I went inside.
The floor was concrete and the tables were wooden. There was a pool table with torn blue felt, and a jukebox, twenty years old at least. A burly fellow with a red handlebar mustache sat at the counter drinking from a Coors can, his overalls smeared with paint or blood, while an old man with a rosacea nose sat in a vinyl booth, arms cradling a tumbler of bourbon. The bartender—a skinny man with sickly yellow hair and liver spotted-hands—whistled a nameless tune and wiped down the counter lethargically. Head down, floor creaking, I walked across the room and sat at a corner table, back to the bar. I placed my bag on the floor and stuck a pinch of snuff between my gums and lower lip. After a few minutes, I heard footsteps. I didn’t turn around. The bartender stood right behind me and asked me what I wanted, his voice all full of barbed wire.
Bottle of beer, I said. Cold.
Doncha want some food? We got hamburgers and hot dogs and the best barbecue pork in town.
All I wanted was the beer, but he moved so that he was in front of me and handed me a menu, and then he saw my face and said, Ah, Jesus. It was an involuntary reaction.
Just a beer, I said again.
He muttered an apology and walked back to the bar and everybody was looking—the same curious bystanders who watch in disguised glee every time there is a car wreck on the highway or a shooting outside a nightclub. I stared straight ahead, tapping the table with my fingers. The jukebox creaked into action and Merle Haggard started singing, but the speakers were busted and his voice was warbled, drunken.
The bartender came back a few minutes later with my beer. He could’ve left me alone, but he wanted to prove he wasn’t frightened of me. He just stood there, jaw slack. He had a full set of bottom teeth, but nothing on the top. I could smell his breath, a strange combination of bourbon and candy canes. So, uh, what’s your business here in Stratton? he said.
I cleared my throat. No business. How much do I owe you?
You don’t owe me a penny. Drink’s on the house.
I was used to it. I made a living off other people’s pity. They’d bury me in a potter’s field.
I took a long drink and wiped my mouth with my sleeve. I’m looking for a place to stay, I said. Someplace cheap.
The bartender smiled slyly. Everything is cheap in this town, he said, but the Hotel Paisano is cheaper than most. Just a few blocks down on Third.
Much obliged, I said.
I drank my beer, and then another and another, and then I heard a car pull up outside, the engine growling. The door slammed and I could hear a man and woman arguing outside, and the sound of a bottle shattering on asphalt. The man shouting Goddamn slut, you are!
A moment later, the door opened and a woman walked inside. She wasn’t very pretty, but that sort of thing never mattered to me. She was tall and skinny with bright red hair swooped up in a sort of beehive. Her face was pale and her nose was crooked. She had a stud in her lip and a tattoo of Betty Page on her arm. She wore red boots and cut-off jeans and a Misfits T-shirt.
She stomped her way up to the bar and plopped down on a stool. Got Maker’s Mark? she asked the bartender.
He wiped the sweat from his forehead and nodded. Yes, ma’am. How do you drink it?
Quickly, she said. And give me a Michelob, too.
The bartender pulled out a heavy-looking glass, poured a fistful of whiskey, and popped open a bottle of beer. She raised the glass and made a toast to all the bastards in the world before slugging it down. Then she coughed and grimaced and reached for the beer. I was hooked.
Not two moments later the man came charging in. He wore cowboy boots and tight blue jeans and a heavy flannel. His face was bloated and red, his mustache thick and gray. He was twice as old as the girl, easy.
He wanted her out of the bar and he said so, but she wasn’t having any of it. Fuck you, she said. You’re not my keeper.
This man strode to the counter with more than a little purpose. He yanked the beer out of her hand and slammed it hard on the counter. The fellow with the bloodstained overalls rose to his feet and took a couple of cautious steps back. The bartender said, Now, just take it easy, mister. We don’t want no trouble here. Me, I watched from a distance, seeing how it would all play out, because I wasn’t a violent man except when I had to be…
Let’s get out of here, you goddamn whore, the man said, and you could tell he meant business. She tried pulling away, and that’s when he got rough with her. He grabbed a handful of her red hair and yanked her off the stool. The girl screamed. He let go of her hair but grabbed her arm, twisting it behind her back. She was flopping around like a rag doll.