Now seems like a pretty good time to have another look at Setup On Front Street, the first novel in my Key West Nocturnes series. A pretty good noir tale, if I do say so myself. It happens to be available as an ebook, paperback, and audiobook. Go here to check it out.
Here’s the opening: (WARNING TO THE EASILY-OFFENDED!! Contains profanity and racial slurs. Better ask your Mommy.)
I got back to Key West on the day Aldo Ray died.
This kid sitting next to me on the bus had one of those old transistor radios, and the news crackled out of it somewhere south of Miami. The big C got him, it said.
Ray was one of my favorite Hollywood tough guys. Like myself, he was powerfully built, with a harsh, scratchy voice, cutting a bearish figure on the big screen. But he had a well-hidden, squishy-soft center, which usually meant big trouble for the characters he portrayed.
As the Greyhound made its way down the Keys that morning, I gazed out at the hot, lazy island hamlets, thinking about Ray and about what I had to do.
And there could be no room for squishiness.
We lumbered into the downtown Key West terminal. I stepped off the air-cooled bus into the steamy embrace of the thick humidity I remembered from long ago. I started sweating right away. As I took a full stretch, my bones creaked and cracked, and I frowned.
Three days on a bus gives you the creaky bones.
Three years in the joint gives you the frown.
The passengers stood around: an odds-and-ends collection of smelly backpackers, Jap tourists here on the cheap, plus a couple of scowling Miami jigs — low-grade street types draped in gold, probably down here to make a dope drop.
As soon as the driver pulled the bags out of the belly of the bus, I snatched mine and headed across the small parking lot for a little rooming house nearby on Angela Street. It wasn’t even a two-minute walk, but by the time I got there, splotches of sweat had stained the front and back of my guayabera.
Welcome home, pal.
Inside, I signed the register, then paid the deposit. I paused for just a moment, looking at my signature. “Don Roy Doyle,” it read. That was the first time in a long time that I’d written my name for anything other than prison shit.
Before my frown dissolved at this liberating thought, I remembered what got me sent up in the first place.
The clerk pushed me the key. I headed upstairs with more than a little snap in my step. Slipping the key into the lock, I gave it a turn. Then I stepped back just a shade.
I cracked the door a couple of inches, but I didn’t push it all the way in. Instead, I closed it again, then reopened it. Opening my own door. With my own key. How long had it been?
The room was boiling. I flipped the AC on high, then peeled off my clothes. With nobody around.
By normal standards, I’m sure it was just an average-sized room, but compared to my Nevada cell, it seemed gigantic. It was a lot more space and a far better view than I’d been used to, and it was all mine.
Smiling, I turned the light on and off a few times, watching the bulb react to my switch-clicking. Then I moved to the center of the room where I stretched my arms out as far as they would go. I turned a couple of complete three-sixties without touching anything.
With those luxuries under my belt, I checked out the rack. It was huge, compared to the little slab I’d slept on for years. I hadn’t had my feet up in three days and sweet sleep was calling me.
I didn’t even pull back the covers.
I came to at twilight. The humming AC cooled the room to perfection. I felt rested for the first time since I left Nevada. I took a long, warm shower in wonderful solitude, without worrying about anyone trying to fuck with me.
Afterward, I pulled a fresh guayabera and a clean pair of cotton pants out of my bag. I could wear what I wanted now, so I took my own sweet time getting dressed.
With my brushed-back hair still wet, I headed down the stairs, out into the warm night. Man, I felt great.
And now, it was showtime.