WELCOME TO AZTEC, NEW MEXICO.
HELL ON EARTH.

Elections are coming up in Aztec, New Mexico, and corrupt county sheriff Carl Leadback is only asking for one thing: to keep Aztec dirty another four years until he retires.

The way things are shaping up, he won’t make it another four weeks.

The sheriff’s interstate prostitution ring is crumbling. A truckload of his girls just went up in a trailer fire—a fire he has every reason to believe was planned by his own supplier. His sadistic six-foot two-inch transvestite lover wants a piece of the action and is willing to do anything to get it. And his dumbass deputy is too stupid to help him cover up his tracks.

Just when the sheriff thought his luck couldn’t get any worse, traveling preacher Eli Goams shows up, riling up local cult leader Mac Sheedy, an old enemy of the sheriff who will do anything to make sure he doesn’t get re-elected.

Which gives the sheriff very little choice but to take the law into his own hands. He just isn’t sure who to shoot first.


CHAPTER ONE

VARNELL LEGREE

Big Jack Giambalvo didn’t like men taller than he was, which meant he didn’t like most men in the world.

But he hated welshers worse. There was a special hatred he reserved just for those men and their welshing and his hatred even had a home. It lived somewhere between the heartburn raging in his esophagus and a prolapsed hemorrhoid he’d just had removed. Way down there.

Call it his business sense. Welshers made your hard-earned money a fiction. If you could avoid paying what you owed, you were more or less reinforcing the idea that it didn’t really exist in the first place. The tree falling in the woods.

But, of course, money was a very real thing. It was made of paper. It had that money smell and sometimes left stains on your fingers and could, if the situation called for it, be recovered strip by strip from the flesh of a man’s back over hours and hours. A man that thought money wasn’t real, this was the kind of man that could be made to eat his own shit.

Which made Big Jack wonder, as he ran an eye up and down the loan agreement he held in his Florida-tanned fist, whose pussy this albino punk in the size-28 Levis had gotten trickling to get these numbers. His wife’s or his daughter’s.

“What it is, Mr. Giambalvo, is my working hours. I can only get so many.”

Big Jack looked up. On the other side of a gloss-topped desk so wide it actually made Big Jack feel even shorter, Varnell Legree sat in a quilted leather director’s chair watching Big Jack’s hatred back like half a pigeon on a wire.

“Flipping burgers,” Big Jack grunted.

A tic under Varnell’s right eye went off and he said, “That’s my job. Love it or leave it.”

Big Jack laid his elbows on his desk, mauling the agreement. His suit jacket rode up at the cuffs, his dark, hairy wrists coming out. He had a clear view of the traffic on the county road through a floor-to-ceiling window he’d paid good money for. None of it was stopping at Big Jack’s Automotive. The long-piled carpet he’d also paid good money for, they said it had come from Finland. It made Big Jack think of the very same thing—all the money he was losing. Every second he sat there talking to Varnell Legree, in fact, the only thing Big Jack could think about was all the money he was losing.

He rang the receptionist for his afternoon espresso, immediately understood his mistake and cancelled the order. Other than his rising blood pressure and the reddish cast sitting on his face, there was nothing in Big Jack’s demeanor to suggest his deep personal desire to see Varnell Legree stuffed into a trunk and dropped off a bridge.

“Mr. Legree, are you saying you’re unable to honor your monthly obligation to me?”

“No, sir, I’d like to pay.”

“But you can’t.”

“What I can’t do is say for sure that I can. Your daughter was doing me a favor, but those hours I had have changed. I don’t want to feel like I’m being squeezed.”

Daughter.

Favor.

Squeezed.

Was the punk playing with him? He could have had Legree buried upside down in cement before he went home for dinner tonight. The DA would run a mile to shit in a brook before he came sniffing around Big Jack’s place of business. Judging from the month he’d spent at his current address, the Eighth Street Trailer Park in Bridgeport, and his inability to turn up any references or guarantors or a single fucking next of kin other than an ex-girlfriend in Wyoming he’d shacked up with for a few months, no one knew where the shit stain was. And no one would care if he disappeared. Auto financing could be a very unforgiving business.

“I’ll tell you what,” Big Jack said. “I think I hear you. Hours are hours. I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself looking for more. How about we renegotiate to two-fifty a month at fifteen percent? You think you can manage that?”

“Fifteen percent?” Varnell put his hand to the back of his head. Scratched at his scalp a moment. Sniffed the hand. “That seems awful steep, Mr. Giambalvo.”

“It’s a little more than what we agreed to. But your situation has changed. You said that yourself. You have no one to vouch for you, no credit report. Besides,” Big Jack said, “we’re talking about a home, not some shitty rental property.”

Varnell nodded. He pursed his flat lips white. Twenty-four feet of home on wheels with a septic problem, that was. The ‘85 Excel Chateau might have been worth the seventy-five hundred he’d agreed to, but they’d knocked it down from nine nine. The girl had. By the time he was done paying off the trailer at fifteen percent, Big Jack would have collected double its value. On the other hand, paper was only paper, and there was a whole lot of country to get lost in.

Big Jack watched Varnell thinking through his dilemma, his small round black eyes perched on Varnell’s, just waiting for him to turn down the ludicrous offer. God knew a monkey would have. He’d have Dwayne over there in the truck with a ball and hitch before the shit stain had time to empty out his dresser drawers, the thousand-dollar down payment and one month in his pocket. A little less money lost.

“What do you say?” Big Jack said, his right foot soundlessly tapping.

“Yessir, well, you know what I was just thinking?”

Big Jack waited.

“I was just thinking how easy your daughter was. I mean, she didn’t get stuck on the numbers at all. But I know it’s the numbers that count, Mr. Giambalvo, every inch of every inch. That’s why I’d be happy to accept your new offer.” Legree stood, towering palely over Giambalvo. He put a sickly white arm out, his long, broad fingers almost translucent.

Giambalvo left it where it was.

“I gather this won’t be a direct deposit, Mr. Legree.”

“That’s right, Mr. Giambalvo, it sure won’t. I’ll be dropping off the money like always. First of the month, I believe it was. I’ll just leave it outside with your daughter.”

Motherfucker, Giambalvo thought, and he started reentering figures.


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