- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 2799 KB
- Print Length: 365 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0399576711
- Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (July 18 2017)
- Sold by: Penguin Group USA
- Language: English
- ASIN: B01MPWT7AQ
A classic southern tale of backroom deals, tainted honor, dysfunctional family, high-stakes greed—and everyday heroism—from the New York Times–bestselling author.
Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson had to admit he admired the bank robbers. A new bank was hit almost every week, and the robbers rushed in and out with such skill and precision it reminded him of raids he’d led back in Afghanistan and Iraq when he was an army ranger. In fact, it reminded him so much of the techniques in the Ranger Handbook that he couldn’t help wondering if the outlaws were former Rangers themselves.
And that was definitely going to be a problem. If he stood any chance of catching them, he was going to need the help of old allies, new enemies, and a lot of luck. The enemies he had plenty of. It was the allies and the luck that were going to be in woefully short supply.
About the Author
Ace Atkins is the author of twenty-one books, including seven Quinn Colson novels, the first two of which, The Ranger and The Lost Ones, were nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel (he also has a third Edgar nomination for his short story “Last Fair Deal Gone Down”). In addition, he is the author of six New York Times–bestselling novels in the continuation of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. Before turning to fiction, he was a correspondent for the St. Petersburg Times, a crime reporter for The Tampa Tribune, and, in college, played defensive end for the undefeated Auburn University football team (for which he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated). He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2017 Ace Atkins
“I guess I got the idea about the time I got fired from the Ford dealership,” Rick Wilcox said. “Some big-money swinging dick had hired me to motivate the sales staff, pep talks and all that bullshit, and do a bunch of commercials. To be honest, I didn’t like the whole thing. He wanted me to dress up in combat gear and read this corny-as-hell line while I saluted the viewer. It made me want to puke.”
“What was the line?” Opie asked.
“Christ, Ope,” Wilcox said. “Why do you want to know all of this? I mean, right now? At this very moment? I find it highly inappropriate.”
Wilcox looked at his watch. Nearly five minutes to the Wal-Mart delivery, the mission, and the action. He and Opie sat up front in the white Ford van, smoking Marlboro reds just like they had back in all those mud-slapped Zamindawar compounds. Cord was in back loading the AR-15s they’d modified, duct-taping the magazines back-to-back for easy loading. The guns were untraceable. The van stolen. They’d picked it off that morning at the Oak Court Mall in Memphis, switching the plates taken off a similar model.
“You got me into this, least you can tell me how it all happened,” Ope said. “If you hadn’t noticed, we’re knee-deep in Shit City.”
“Well, what if I don’t want to talk about it?”
“You brought it up,” Opie said. “You said it was the reason you and Crissley got into it. Since she has no fucking clue what we’re doing, she wanted you to go back and beg for your old job.”
“She was pissed,” Wilcox said. “She thought she was going to get a cherry-red Mustang out of the deal.”
“So what’s the line?”
“Come on, buddy.”
“Why the hell not?”
“OK, OK,” Wilcox said. “You really want to know? So, I’m dressed in my battle fatigues and salute the camera and say, ‘At Big T Southaven Ford, we never leave a customer behind.’ The fat-ass sales guys look to me and salute back. Then a flag unfurls out of my ass and the band strikes up, ‘God Bless America.’”
“Damn,” Opie said. “You’re right. That fucking sucks. Humiliating. Are you even allowed to wear your uniform? I mean, isn’t that against regulations?”
“I didn’t wear my dress blues,” Wilcox said. “Just some utilities. And a helmet. They made me wear a fucking helmet. It was something from Word War II.”
“What about your medals?”
“They wanted me to wear them, but I told them hell no. I mean, I do have a speck of dignity somewhere I forgot. I’d run out of money. It’s not like winning a Silver Star led to some financial reward. I figured if anything, it might help jumpstart my country music career, but you know how that turned out.”
“I thought you sounded great,” Opie said. “Kind of like a more hard-edged Kenny Chesney.”
“That hurts, Ope,” Wilcox said. “You know how much I hate that bald-ass pussy. If I hear that song ‘Me and Tequila’ one more time, I’m going to blow my fucking brains out.”
Opie, freckle faced and jug-eared, grinned. That was the one thing about Ope, he could drive you crazy with his diarrhea mouth, but damn if he wasn’t game for walking into hell itself with a positive attitude. He was the kind of guy who’d make jokes while you were tip-toeing though the poppy fields waiting for an IED to blow off your dick. “I remember how you hated that song when you found me down in Florida.”
“Find you, hell,” Wilcox said. “I fucking rescued you.”
“Rescued me from pouring cocktails to women in bikinis,” Opie said. “Tough gig.”
“You were picking up trash on the beach and living with your grandpa,” Wilcox said. “Those women all over you were cashing their Social Security checks.”
Jonas Cord moved up between the two front seats of the van and looked out the windshield. They’d done a week of recon last month, hours of laying out the plan on maps, timing every mile and stashing the Kawasakis. The only thing they couldn’t have predicted was the damn rain. Great falling sheets of it between where they’d parked and the target. Jonas, hard, muscular, and absolutely humorless, leaned up between them and said, “Can’t see shit.”
“Life ain’t all blueberries and paper airplanes,” Wilcox said. “We say we’re going to take the hill, we take the hill. I don’t care if we’re ass-deep in hailstones or a monsoon.”
“Well, we got a monsoon.”
“Spring showers,” Wilcox said. “Bring spring pussy.”
“They’re late,” Cord said.
“Two minutes,” Wilcox said. “Get your panties out of a twist.”
“What if it’s longer?”
“That we adapt,” Wilcox said. “Adjust. Overcome. Clint Eastwood shit. Have you forgotten everything you’ve learned, sergeant?”
Cord grinned and disappeared back into the back of the van. A minute later, a big gray armored truck rolled up in front of the Jericho First National bank and idled there with its headlights shining bright onto the entrance, red taillights glowing. When the guard stepped out into the rain and reached for the big sacks, Cord hit the timer on his watch.
“Did you see his commercial?” Opie said.
“Yeah, I saw it,” Cord said. “Also saw him open up for a Jimmy Buffett tribute band at the dog track in West Memphis. I’d say I’ve seen too much.”
“How was it?”
“He had one good song,” Cord said. “Real tearjerker about coming home from war and finding out momma didn’t know his name.”
“That one was true.”
Opie and Cord didn’t say anything, knowing they’d gone one place that a Marine just couldn’t tread. Talking about another Marine’s momma. After all, there were tattoos for that and everything. As American as apple pie and a gallon of milk. Cord handed him and Opie a couple of masks to cover their faces, Donald J. Trump, and two AR-15s locked and jacked with a double-dick magazine. Cord would stay behind the wheel, he and Opie would run into the bank and make a large withdrawal.
“This looks like a nice town,” Opie said, sliding the Trump mask over his face and pulling the rifle’s charging pin. “White lights in those old trees on the Square. A big gazebo. Should we feel bad?”
“Nope,” Wilcox said. “Life isn’t fair. Look at you guys and then look at me. It should be a crime that I got to be born so damn good-looking.”
Wilcox checked his watch and put on his mask, remembering last time it had been Yoda and before that Santa Claus. He liked Trump better, it’d scare the crap out of folks and would also make the news. Wilcox loved making the news. The Trump Bandits. He could see it now.
The guard appeared back outside the bank and crawled up front with the driver. Two minutes later, they were gone and the diversion well in motion. A little tight but manageable. A minute later, they heard the sirens. A cop car passed, and then two more headed toward Highway 45. It almost looked like a parade.
Wilcox and Opie got out of the van and walked together in the rain. Both carried their guns in big, oversized black canvas bags. The rubbery latex mask caught in a puckered gesture, yellow fake hair flapping in the wind.
Inside, Wilcox pulled out the weapon, shot at the ceiling, and shouted, “Anyone moves and I’ll grab ‘em by the pussy.”
Earlier that morning, Quinn Colson sat in a back booth of the Fillin’ Station diner finishing his third cup of coffee. He signaled the waitress, Miss Mary, for a refill right before Boom Kimbrough walked through the door and took off his jacket. He’d known Boom for most of his life, the two growing up and hunting and fishing all over Tibbehah County. Boom still doing his fair share of hunting, coming in that morning dressed in an orange vest, even though he’d had his right arm blown off six years ago while serving in the Guard in Iraq. He now wore a bright silver prosthetic device that Boom bragged was good for about any job except for wiping his ass.
Mary refilled the coffee and noticed Boom. She walked back toward the kitchen for his morning sausage biscuit and tall Mountain Dew without being asked.
“I saw that big-ass Tom,” Boom said. “So close, hearing that gobble-gobble call. But man. He knew I was around. Got spooked and flew back into the woods.”
“He’ll be back.”
“You coming on or going off?”
“On,” Quinn said. “Lillie’s off today. Spending time with her kid.”
“She still pissed at you?”
“Why?” Quinn said. “She’s the one who wanted me to run. After a woman takes down a local hero, there’s nowhere else for her to go but down.”
“This county wouldn’t have elected a woman anyway,” Boom said. “Men don’t have the nuts. A woman like Lillie Virgil scared the shit out of them. She talks straight and tells the truth.”
“Too qualified,” Quinn said. The previous fall, the acting sheriff, Lillie Virgil, had charged the longtime football coach with molesting kids, and the whole town blamed her for the fallout. Instead of the coach. The locals didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. But Lillie told Quinn that if he didn’t step up and take her place, everything they’d worked for would turn to shit.
“And they settle for your broke-down ass.”
Quinn saluted him with the coffee mug and leaned back as Mary slid two sausage biscuits before Boom. The woman had been waiting tables at the Filling Station since Quinn was a kid, back when his Uncle Hamp had been sheriff and took visitors every morning at the same booth. More business getting done at the diner than at the office where Quinn had been sheriff for nearly five years, except for a year or so where he had been voted out of office. He was dressed in a stiff khaki uniform shirt, crisp Levi’s, and polished cowboy boots. His Beretta 9mm rested on his belt and his uncle’s old rancher coat hung by the front door.
“Listen,” Boom said. “I don’t want to cause no trouble. But ever since the first of the year, old man Skinner been riding my ass. He wants me gone from the County Barn and he wants to put in his own people.”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“From Skinner,” Boom said. “That motherfucker been shitting on everything since he took over the county supervisors. You know what he was like before he retired and said he was out of the life, letting Stagg run things. He’s too old and too mean to do Jericho any good.”
“Don’t tell him that,” Quinn said. “First of the year, Skinner announced to the supervisors and county employees that he intended to make Tibbehah a more godly place. Just like it’d been when he was a boy. Leaving out the parts about the Klan, killings, and moonshine wars. But that’s exactly the kind of horseshit people around here believe and trust.”
“And how’d you get elected?”
“Nobody else wanted the job,” Quinn said. “Including Lillie, if she was really honest about it.”
“How’s your momma and them?”
“Hadn’t heard a word since he shagged ass.”
Quinn drank some coffee and watched Boom shove most of an entire biscuit in his mouth and chew. He watched him eat, not wanting to discuss a good woman who’d been a terrible match for him. Boom knowing full well that Ophelia Bundren had once thrown a steak knife at Quinn’s head, barely missing. With his damn family and county politics, he’d had enough crazy in his life.
“How about we go look for that big-ass Tom this weekend and not speak a word about women or politics?” Quinn said. “Later I need to burn a brush pile before the weather turns. We can smoke some cigars and tell lies.”
The Fillin’ Station was packed that morning filled with old farmers, fancy town women, camo-covered hunters, and local politicians glad-handing. Three old men sat at the closest table, all in tall-crown ball caps, smoking cigarettes and downing cheap coffee. One of them muttering something about goddamn China, bringing to mind the late Mr. Jim, who’d run the barber shop, and Judge Blanton, who fiddled with local affairs until his untimely death. The old diner had been a gas station well before Quinn was born, the linoleum floor unchanged, propane heaters glowing a bright orange against the walls under endless rows of framed hometown heroes and yellowed news. Somewhere up there, young Quinn had survived ten days in a national forest, his father had jumped a dozen Ford Pintos, and sometime in recent memory he’d graduated Ranger training and gotten a Purple Heart in Iraq. All that was now as yellowed as the rest.
“Will you talk to Skinner?”
“We still on for supper at Miss Jean’s?”
Quinn nodded again. “Fried chicken,” he said. “And collard greens.”
“It’s good to have you back, man.”
Quinn nodded. He drank some coffee and listened to the old men talk about how things used to be better when they were young.
Boom leaned toward Quinn and said, “Not for my people.”
“Y’all weren’t happy working the cotton fields at gunpoint?”
“I think Skinner will do everything in his power to turn back the clock.”
“He’s too old,” Quinn said. “It won’t last. Nobody can stop how far things have gone.”
“Evil don’t die,” Boom said. “Least with Johnny Stagg, you knew where you stood.”
“How about we not talk about Stagg, either?’
“No Stagg,” Boom said. “No Ophelia. Times do change.”
“If you ask my sister, she’ll say it’s all part of God’s divine plan,” Quinn said.
“But you don’t believe it?”
“How about you ask me when we both get old?”
“Too late,” Boom said. “That clock sure is a bitch.”
Quinn rubbed his weathered, lean face. Damn if he wasn’t coming up on forty and no one had bothered to tell him.
“Please don’t kill me,” said Mr. Berryhill, bank president, and according to his wall plaques, a two-time Jericho Citizen of the Year. “I think you broke my nose.”
“You do as I say,” Wilcox said. “And I give you my word of honor, I won’t shoot your dick off.”
Mr. Berryhill nodded in total agreement. Damn, it must’ve been a sight to see for those two women at the teller counter, one woman at a front desk, and those three folks, two men and another woman, waiting in line. Two Donald J. Trumps rushing in from the rain and flashing assault rifles as soon as they walked in the door, commanding attention and respect. Berryhill hid under his desk, Wilcox having to pull his fat ass out by the belt and rush him into the lobby. Opie stood high on the teller counter yelling out orders, keeping watch over the front and back doors. Wilcox pushed Berryhill through all six of the drawers, two of them empty, as an old black woman, the loan officer, kept on crying out to sweet baby Jesus.
“Jesus is playing golf today,” Wilcox said. “Don’t you see it’s raining?”
“Sixty seconds,” Opie said, high up on the counter roving his M4 over the folks laying face-down on the tile floor. On a grease board by the drive-thru someone had written: Beautiful things happen when you distance yourself from negativity. Eight cameras placed in various corners recorded every move and gesture.
“Open the cage.”
“I can’t,” Berryhill said. “It’s on a timer.”
“Sir,” Wilcox said. “Do, or do you not, value your dick?”
Wilcox pressed the nuzzle hard into the fat man’s crotch. Berryhill nodded again in complete agreement and moved toward the accordion gate before the big safe. He reached into his pocket for a key ring and selected a gold one with shaking hands. Opie tossed Wilcox a second black sack and said, “Fifty seconds.”
The gate pushed open and Wilcox rushed inside, leaving Opie to make sure Berryhill kept his hands to himself. Wilcox had never seen so much damn money, neatly bundled and stacked on a stainless steel table by the deposit boxes. All that beautiful cash fresh from Wal-Mart’s big President’s Day sale. Wilcox snatched them up in his arms, cramming it all into the black sack, finding more stacks of twenties and hundreds on a second shelf and even more on a second table. “Thirty seconds,” Opie said.
There was a peace and calmness when you do what you’ve been trained to do. It was like entering a warm bath, everything smooth and fluid. All that bullshit with pills and booze and therapy didn’t matter jackshit right now. Controlled chaos. Speed and violence. Once a Marine. Always a Marine.
“Fifteen,” Opie said.
Wilcox had nothing but time. He could breathe easy, see everything. He finished up with the bag, zipped it shut and dragged it out, so damn heavy, into the lobby. Opie had a gun on the neat group of prisoners, telling them all to shut the fuck up. “Get down,” he yelled. “I said get the fuck down.”
A gray-bearded mountain man in a fringe coat had gotten up on his knees without being asked, holding his empty hands out from his body. “Gentleman,” he said. “Let’s all think about this for one moment. Every prudent man dealeth with knowledge: but a fool layeth open his folly.”
The old man turned to Wilcox, smiling an uneven row of brown teeth, arms outstretched and jacket fringe hanging loose like a honkytonk Jesus. Wilcox looked to Opie, Opie shaking his head, and Wilcox turned back and punched the man square in the gut with the butt of the AR-15. The man fell onto his back, sucking at the air.
“Time,” Opie said. They rushed out the door to where Cord had backed up the van, back doors flung open. Wilcox grabbed one handle of the duffle and Opie grabbed the other. The first bag from the teller drawers was much lighter and Wilcox easily tossed it into the van and slammed doors shut.
Cord mashed the accelerator, and from the passenger seat, Wilcox turned back to where Opie had pulled off his mask, already into the heavy bag, rummaging through fat bundles and laughing like crazy.
“Better than cookies and milk,” Wilcox said.
“I hate milk,” Cord said, driving slow with purpose, away from the bank and heading around the town square. “I don’t drink it.”
“Well,” Wilcox said. “You should. It’s fucking delicious.”
Sometime around two, Quinn got the call that Fannie Hathcock had beaten the shit out of one of her patrons with a sixteen-ounce hammer. His dispatcher, Cleotha, was very specific about the size of the hammer, saying that Fannie had made the call herself and seemed proud of her accomplishment. “Attempted robbery?” Quinn said, into the radio.
“Looks like a truck driver couldn’t keep it in his pants.”
“Ten-four,” Quinn said, rolling away from a call up in Yellowleaf and back down to Jericho to the Rebel Truck Stop and the refurbished Booby Trap, which the new owner had christened Vienna’s Place. Even the updated metal siding, new cursive neon, and fancy antique bar shipped in from Kansas City couldn’t change that Vienna’s was a low-rent highway titty bar. The billboards all along 45 promised, The Finest Southern Belles, Cold Beer and Hot Fun. Not to mention the live advertisements on CB letting all the truckers know which of their favorite dancers were working and daily drink specials.
A big sign outside promised two-for-one Budweisers and happy hour lap dances for twenty dollars. Just outside, he spotted one of his deputies, Reggie Caruthers, speaking with a man holding a towel to his head. The towel was a bloody mess and the man leaned on the edge of the squad car, Reggie speaking in patient tones, the man saying he had absolutely no idea what came over the crazy bitch. The guy was redneck skinny with a patchy black beard and long, stringy hair. One of his eyes was swollen and his nose swollen and twisted. His bloody T-shirt read Born to Party, Forced to Work.
“She just up and hit you?” Reggie said, nodding over at Quinn.
“I was watching Cinnamon working the pole,” the man said. “She loves that song ‘Ay-Yo’ by Lady Gaga. You know, the one got that hook about the mirror on the ceiling?”
“No, sir,” Reggie said. “I got no idea what you’re talking about.”
Quinn liked Reggie. Lillie had hired him when she’d been acting sheriff. He was smart and direct, black, medium size and mid-twenties, with four years in the service with the 10th Mountain Division. Good new blood in an aging department, now that Ike McCaslin had retired and Dave Cullison had gone back to school. Someone Quinn would’ve hired himself.
“I gave Cinnamon two bucks,” the man said. “Maybe it wasn’t enough.”
“Are you sure you didn’t try and touch her?” Reggie said. “Or say something inappropriate?”
“What can you say inappropriate to a stripper?” the man said. “Those girls have heard and seen it all. You say, “nice titties” and that’ll just put a real shine on their day.”
Quinn knew the man but didn’t. He looked familiar, like someone he’d seen in the jail a few times for public drunk but not for anything that sent him to court. He looked away as Quinn studied his face, the white towel nearly soaked through with blood.
“Man says Fannie cold-cocked him,” Reggie said.
“With a hammer,” Quinn said.
“Sixteen ounce,” the man said. “Goddamn framing hammer. Made by Stanley cause I seen the yellow on it when she swung it a second time.”
“How’d you know it was sixteen ounces?”
“Cause I’m a damn roofer, sheriff,” he said. “I put that metal on your old home place up in Fate.”
“Yes, sir,” he said. “Guess you didn’t recognize me with one of my eyes snapped shut. Jesus, Sheriff. You need to do something about this woman. I realize we ain’t at the First Baptist Church, but good lord almighty, you can’t just walk up to a man and start trying to knock his fucking brains out while Lady Gaga is on.”
“Yeah,” Quinn said. “That doesn’t seem right.”
Reggie looked to Quinn and shrugged. He’d been taking notes in a little book and slipped into the back pocket of his uniform.
“Miss Hathcock?” Quinn said.
“Inside,” Reggie said.
“You spoken to her?”
Reggie shook his head. “No, sir,” he said. “She asked for you personal.”
“Terrific,” Quinn said, walking into the front door, out of the sun and into the darkness and the smoke, the only light coming from colored patterns on the raised stages and the neon signs along the handcrafted wooden bar. Quinn had always liked the bar, thought it was a nice touch, like something you’d see in Deadwood or Dodge City, looking oddly at home in Tibbehah County, Mississippi.
The naked girls kept dancing and the kid behind the bar, a black kid named Ordeen, kept on pouring beer. Quinn just made out the curvy shadow of Fannie Hathcock staring down from the catwalk outside her office, the faint orange prick of light coming from her cigarillo.
Quinn nodded to Ordeen and headed up the steps to find Fannie sitting behind her desk, alligator-hide pumps on the desk and a long, thin brown cigar in hand. The desk cluttered with papers, a sixteen ounce Stanley framing hammer placed at the edge.
“Thought we’d been over this,” Quinn said.
“You said without provocation,” Fannie said, spewing smoke from the side of her mouth. “That dumb bastard had it coming.”
They followed the county road until it stopped cold in orange traffic drums and NO TRESPASSING signs. A cattle gate swung closed between a couple of 4x4s, showing where the gravel road ended and private property began. The windshield wipers cleared the glass, looking on into the dead end.
“Too easy,” Cord said.
“You call that easy?” Wilcox said. “I call that perfect execution and timing. In and out in ninety fucking seconds.”
“All this rain,” Cord said. “They could track us. Maybe we should keep driving?”
“Nobody’s gonna find this van for a long time,” Wilcox said. “Damn road’s been closed for years.”
Opie got out, kicked open the cattle gate, and Wilcox got behind the wheel and pulled on through. After closing the gate behind them, Opie jumped back in and rode until they spotted the old barn and drove inside and killed the engine. Rain drummed on the tin roof, headlights shining into the kicked-up dust and grit, the Kawasakis where they’d hid them under a brown tarp.
“If they connect us,” Cord said. “It could put my friend in some real trouble.”
“From what you told me,” Wilcox said. “That bitch is used to trouble. Besides, with all this goddamn rain going on, the tracks will be gone. We can ditch the bikes a couple clicks from the cars and hump it on in. By the time we head out, roadblocks will be down and we can roll on back to Memphis.”
Cord nodded and the three men worked to pack rucksacks with the divided cash, discarded clothes and the Trump masks. Once they got to the switch cars, they’d burn everything but the money.
“This woman must be some friend,” Wilcox said. “How the fuck did she get those cars?”
“Didn’t ask,” Cord said. “Don’t want to know.”
Opie leaned into the handlebars, looking like he had something on his mind. Wilcox zipped up his new jacket and stared at him, letting him know to get on with whatever was bothering him.
“How much do you think we got?” Opie asked.
“At least a hundred grand,” Wilcox said. “Maybe more.”
“Getting close,” Opie said.
“That’s good,” Opie said, grinning. “Right?”
“If you don’t care, then why do it?”
“For the good ole American life,” Wilcox said. “For the money, for the glory, and for the fun. Mainly for the money.”
“You said you didn’t give a damn about the money,” Opie said.
“Don’t listen to me,” Wilcox said. “My ex-wife always told me I was frequently full of shit.”
Opie shrugged and tugged on his helmet, rucksack packed tight with the money, tip of the rifle sticking out of the top. He kick-started the motorcycle and turned north, looking back to Cord and Wilcox, waiting for them to follow. As they rode together, the engines sounded like a buzzsaw ripping through the trees.
“I know you don’t care for this place and would be damn happy if the county closed us down once and for all,” Fannie Hathcock said. “But I can’t stand for some dumb ass redneck to walk into my bar and start feeling up my girls. I know the law. I know what we’re doing is legal. And my girls have every right to be as protected as some Sunday school teacher with locked knees.”
“Why’d you hit him with a hammer, Fannie?” Quinn said.
Fannie tapped her cigarette and shrugged a bit. “Maybe because he wouldn’t listen,” she said. “I got a problem with men like that. Or maybe because my girl was scared and I worried she’d get hurt. I was doing some repairs and it was the only thing I could use against him.”
“That’s not what Charlie Ray said.”
“Charley Ray is a crazy-ass meth head,” Fannie said. “I have witnesses. He was unhinged. You think any judge around here is going to believe what that man says? I don’t think he has two teeth left inside his whole head.”
Fannie was a fine-looking woman, somewhere on the young side of forty with a lot of red hair, good teeth, and a body some said rivaled the great Blaze Starr. Quinn hadn’t had much dealings with her, as her arrival in the county had come while he was in Afghanistan. But since he’d been back, Vienna’s had been a frequent call for disturbances, assaults, and allegations of prostitution. Fannie leaned forward, the top of her red silk blouse showing a good amount of white freckled skin and black bra and said, “Are you fucking with me? Or are you going to arrest me?”
“All these witnesses also happen to be your employees?” Quinn said.
“Does it matter?”
“And they’ll say Charlie Ray just got up and went crazy, trying to attack Miss Cinnamon.”
Quinn shook his head. Fannie leaned back, touching a loose button on her blouse before pushing forward a big, fat humidor with a lot of gold filigree. “Help yourself.”
“No, thank you.”
“Goddamn, don’t be a such a Boy Scout, Quinn,” she said. “I have to protect my girls. I’m not asking for anything special. I thought you were once of the few locals who had a little bit of common sense.”
“I prefer my own,” Quinn said, tapping at the two Undercrowns he kept in his right shirt pocket. He crossed his leg at the knee, kicking up a spit-polished Lucchese with a squared toe. He nodded at her, waiting for her to explain herself like any normal person might under the circumstances.
“Talk to anyone you like,” Fannie said, waving her hand down toward the bar. “They’ll tell you what they saw.”
“You could have killed him.”
“Damnit, he was gripping my girl like she was a fucking bowling ball.”
Quinn shook his head, the room getting thick with Fannie’s smoke.
“Didn’t expect to see you,” Fannie said. “Thought it would be Lillie again. I do believe that woman has some kind of special problem with me.”
“Just doing her job.”
“She staying on with the department?”
“She didn’t offer that to you when you got run off.”
Quinn shrugged. “I didn’t care to stay on.”
“And now you give a shit?”
“You got me for the next couple years, whether you like it or not.”
Fannie sucked on the cigarette, the red silk top straining at low buttons, before she spewed some smoke from the corner of her her mouth. She tipped the ash and leaned back into her spinning chair, her eyes darting over for a second to the yellow hammer at the edge of the desk. Some dried blood flecked on the claw.
“Lillie, old man Skinner, and now you,” Fannie said. “I never thought you’d jump on that goddamn damn moral bandwagon, Quinn. I always thought you to be your own man, too smart for all this dick-wagging from the Baptist pulpit.”
“Doesn’t take a moralist to keep you from knocking a man’s brains out.”
“Cinnamon feared for her safety,” Fannie said. “I look after these girls. That’s my moral vision.”
Quinn shook his head, standing up, reaching for his walkie-talkie to let Reggie know that he’d be taking in Fannie Hathcock himself and charging her with aggravated assault. But before he got the mic halfway from his belt, Lillie Virgil herself came over the police channel letting dispatch know the First National Bank had been robbed by two men seen heading north in a Ford Econoline van with Tennessee plates.
Fannie looked to Quinn, smiling big. He nodded back and headed towards the door.
“Were you really thinking of arresting me?” Fannie said. “No judge in north Mississippi would fault me for what I did.”
“That’s because most judges in north Mississippi are your best customers,” Quinn said, heading toward the catwalk and down the steps.
“Don’t get wet on the way out.”
“Holy shit, did I pick the wrong day to take off or what,” Lillie Virgil said. “Two shitbirds in Donald Trump masks robbing the First National? That one guy, standing on top of the teller’s stations and yelling, ‘Anyone moves and I’ll grab ‘em by the pussy.’ Damn. You have to admit Quinn, these guys may be some bad motherfuckers, but they got style.”
“I knew you’d like it, Lil.”
Lillie Virgil, all nearly six-feet, one hundred and fifty pounds of her, leaned against a file cabinet in the SO meeting room while Quinn assembled the interviews and queued up the bank video. She’d brought in a sack of hamburgers and two tall coffees from the Fillin’ Station and set them on the conference table. Lillie’s curly brown hair was tamed in a bun that poked from her Tibbehah County ball cap, showered and in uniform less than thirty minutes from getting the call from dispatch.
“Of course I like it,” Lillie said. “I spent all goddamn night running down Robert Earl Hicks for violating his restraining order. Not only did he slap Autumn for taking a couple of his Luke Bryan CDs, but he beat the dogshit out of her old man for saying she had the right. So by the time I find him sipping on an Oreo peanut butter shake at the Sonic, he’s facing not only the violation but two new assault charges and a failure to appear in Tishomingo County for public urination.”
“And how does that make things better?” Quinn said.
“Because this is something I can own,” Lillie said. “I got into law enforcement to track down the bad guys, not take out the fucking garbage. I’m sick of being in the waste management business. Maybe I just appreciate a higher class of criminal. Running down bank robbers is something I can be proud of.”
Lillie had on her jeans, lace-up work boots, and a shiny green SO coat with a black Sherpa collar. Her face was freshly scrubbed and her nails cut to the quick. Since Quinn was first elected, Lillie had been his guide and mentor into law enforcement, often reminding him the objective was to keep order, not blow shit up. Before coming home to take care of her dying mother, she’d spent nearly ten years with Memphis PD and before that she’d been a star shooter on the Ole Miss rifle team.
Most folks in Tibbehah found her odd, a straight-talking tomboy with low tolerance for bullshit. For Quinn, he couldn’t have found a better partner in keeping order in a sometimes lawless county.
She reached into the sack for a hamburger and took a seat at the conference table. Quinn punched up the bank video and turned around the laptop so they both could see it.
“We can’t keep it,” Quinn said. “It’ll go federal.”
“Feds got too much on their plate dealing with homeland security, terrorism and all that,” Lillie said. “Didn’t you clue into that shit over in Afghanistan? Unless this thing is an epidemic, we’re stuck running down these fuckwads. Just how much did they get anyway?”
“One-hundred and ninety-two thousand dollars,” Quinn said. “Give or take a buck or two.”
“That’s a lot for the First National.”
“Wal-Mart had just dropped off the morning receipts,” Quinn said. “Big President’s Day sale.”
“Anyone spotted that van yet?”
“Nope,” Quinn said. “Highway patrol has 45 cut off in both directions. We have road blocks set up on nearly every road leaving the county. We got Kenny, Art, and Reggie on patrol and a few folks down over from Choctaw County. I called up the boys at Jericho PD, too.”
“Those fucking morons?” Lillie said. “God help us.”
“I’ll take what I can get.”
“There’s no way these turds are still in town” Lillie said. “These guys are smart, like I said, have some style. They’d have dumped that van, gotten a couple getaway cars, and are miles away from here.”
“Sounds like you admire them.”
“We haven’t had a bank robbery in Jericho for almost ten years,” Lillie said. “We got too many damn crooks corn-holing this town from the inside. Outsiders are an exotic animal.”
“You didn’t have to come straight in,” Quinn said. “Plenty more to do tonight on the night shift.”
“And let you have all the fun?” Lillie said. “Fuck that, sheriff. I got my aunt to come on over and look after Rose. How about I go back and talk to Mr. Berryhill some more? I never liked that son of a bitch. I kind of want to ask him what it was like having his dick in jeopardy. Truth be known, that fat bastard probably would need a magnifying glass to find it.”
“We got plenty of interviews,” Quinn said. “I talked to every person in that bank personal. Now I’m looking at any type of surveillance that might have seen them before. Gas stations. Maybe these guys fueled up before. Or after.”
“Doubt it,” Lillie said. “They’re not from around here.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because they’re smart.”
“Do I detect some type of contempt for Tibbehah County?”
“Tell me you don’t shower after a long day.”
Quinn pulled up a chair to the conference table and pressed play on the laptop. Everything he needed from the robbery, every single camera, each angle, already uploaded and downloaded. He’d watched it four times already. Good quality, not grainy at all, but not telling them much, either. Images were in black and white. One of the men, the one who’d knocked Chester on his ass, stood about six feet. He was a white male, judging from the skin tone on the back of his neck. He spoke fast and sure, not a bit of an accent. The other guy was white, too. He stood a few inches shorter than the first man. The way they worked as a team, it was clear that the taller man was in charge.
The shorter man glancing back and forth at the big man for hand gestures and sometimes commands on what to do next. The quick entry, the checking of corners, the speed and precision was familiar as hell.
“Hmm,” Lillie said. “I know what you’re thinking.”
“Did you add bacon and pickles on that burger?” Quinn said. “I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.”
“Nope,” she said. “These shitbirds are pros. They move like Army folks. You see what they’re carrying. The way they work the room.”
Quinn nodded. “I can reach out to the Feds,” Quinn said. “See if this all seems familiar to them, too.”
“Just don’t let them spoil our fun.”
“I’ll let you know when to assemble the posse,” Quinn said. “In the meantime, let’s find that white van.”
Lillie reached into the sack and slid a hamburger wrapped in foil over to him. “Cheese, bacon and pickles.”
“How could I ever doubt you, Lillie Virgil?”
Lillie smiled, took a bite of her burger and swallowed. “By the way, you need to call your sister back,” she said. “She’s been making a lot of noise about those two girls again.”
“Not much we can do,” Quinn said. “Looks like they’re runaways.”
“Not the way Caddy sees it.”
“My sister and I seldom see the world the same way.”
“Truer words were never spoken,” Lillie said.
The Fallen is the latest A Quinn Colson Novel by author Ace Atkins. I have read this entire series because I just love the writing and the stories.
The Quinn Colson series by Ace Atkins is one of the series that I watch out for every year to ensure I don't miss a book. The series is set in the South. The real South in all its gritty reality. Quinn Colson is the sheriff in a small Mississippi town near Tupelo and Oxford. A lot of the trouble in these books revolve around the stripper bar next to the interstate. The Fallen is no different. And who is robbing all the banks in Jericho and the other towns nearby?
The characters in Atkins series grow and develop with each book in the series and The Fallen is no different. The reader really is getting to know the people in Quinn's world and their character.
Highly recommend The Fallen as well as the rest of the Quinn Colson series.