No this isn’t the twilight zone. I’ve learned from multiple readers that the posting of the first chapter of my next book (North Country Girl) confused them, and they thought it was the first chapter of my currently available book (Everything is Broken). (Note: If anyone needed more proof at my ineptitude at promoting my work, look no further.)
You can read even more of Everything is Broken in the preview/look inside features at the various retailers.
But to hopefully clear the picture, I present the first chapter of Everything is Broken.
Copyright © 2018 by Anthony DeCastro
All rights reserved.
Everything is Broken by Anthony DeCastro
Billy “Sample” Smith was a low-level dealer of weed and pills, who stayed out of trouble with the law by simply lacking any ambition. He spent his days playing video games at wherever he was shacking for free, and his nights selling dime bags to rich kids wandering around Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach.
I didn’t like Billy, but I had when we were younger. Back when he had earned his nickname.
It was a night in college, sophomore year, at one of the many strip clubs that flourished in the Strand. Billy escorted one of the girls to the Champagne Room. When she came back down twenty minutes later with a sodden Billy holding her hand like a little boy, she said, “Okay, I’ve had my free sample. Now I’m ready for the full dish. Who’s next?”
Billy stood about five-three and weighed maybe 120 pounds after a full meal. The stripper could have referred to his stature, but a bunch of college guys would never come to that conclusion. So Billy spent the rest of his college days fending off teases about the size of his manhood. College only lasted a few more months for Billy. But the name, “Sample”, stuck to this day.
Like I said, I didn’t like Sample, but in my business it helps to have a conduit to the seedy side of the Beach. And he’d done me a solid in that regard many times. So when he texted me saying he had work for me and asked me to meet him at the Second Avenue Fishing Pier, I didn’t stop to think whether I wanted to work for dirty money, or ask whether the work would involve me breaking any laws. I just agreed to meet him at 10 p.m. at the end of the Pier. Legality, prison time, or a knifing by rival dealers, I pondered on the ride over.
* * *
It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and a light chill rode shotgun on the breeze coming off the Atlantic. I played the part of a beach bum put out by the cold, wearing a light nylon windbreaker, threadbare khakis, and white canvas boat shoes. I stopped at the pier’s bait shop and paid a dollar walker’s fee to a heavy-set, bald clerk. He looked annoyed that he had to lean forward to ring up my sale on the register.
“Ya know we close up at eleven, right? No excuses. Gotta be outta here by eleven.”
I didn’t point out that his breath smelled worse than the bait he was peddling, or how I doubted he would make the effort to walk down to the end of the pier and escort me out, if I rebelled and stuck around longer than eleven. I just nodded and stuffed the little orange ticket stub he handed me into the front pocket of my slacks.
Stepping out of the shop, I hunched my shoulders against the cold. Somehow, the smell of the salt, the fish guts, and seaweed was more potent on this side of the bait shop. Flickering, halogen lights hung from rickety posts illuminating a dim path down the pier. The boards of the pier creaked and sagged under my steps as they always had. It was a wonder that the thing hadn’t collapsed. Especially during the summer months, when tourists lined the pier elbow to elbow, reeling in pinfish and toadfish and other useless game.
Tonight it was mostly empty, there were only a handful of old salts down near the end. They slouched, elbows resting on the rails, rods in their hands. They dropped their lines beside the pier’s pilings hoping to lure sheepshead to the live shrimp or fiddler crabs or oysters, which baited their hooks.
I found Sample on hands and knees at the far end of the El shaped terminus, sawing the dorsal fin off an 18-inch, baby, black-tip shark. A light, spinning rod laid beside the shark, and I could see a circle hook set into the crook of the shark’s mouth. Its tail swiped back and forth, painting the boards of the pier with its own blood.
“What the hell are you doing, Sample?”
He jolted, bolt upright. “Jesus, Fuzzy. You almost gave me a heart attack.” He dropped the knife and stood wiping a bloody hand on the front of his jeans. He was naked to the waist, and his concave chest was as hairless as his bald pate.
I shook his callused hand. It was sticky with fish blood.
“With a grip like that Fuzzy, you’d think you was a dairy farmer, not someone who throws a ball for a living.” He pointed to the impotent shark, flopping at his feet, its dorsal fin hanging by a flap of skin. “Best bait in the world there is for shark.”
“No lie,” he said. “Wounded baby shark draws the big ones like flies to shit.”
“Isn’t there a size limit on what you can keep?”
“I’m using it for bait,” he said. “I ain’t keepin’ it.”
“I don’t think it matters, Samp. And, didn’t I see a sign prohibiting shark fishing from the pier?”
The crescent moon flashed upon his golden bridgework. “I ain’t always exactly been what you’d call legal.”
He had me there.
“Yeah, well, you asked me to come and I’m here. So, what’s up?”
“Let me get this baby baited up and wet again. Then we can talk,” He stepped down on the shark’s head, bent over and yanked the fin from the fish’s back. “There’s beer in that styrofoam cooler. Help yourself to one.”
Busch Light was stacked in neat rows in the iceless cooler. I grabbed a can, popped one open, and took a short pull of warm, cheap beer.
Sample worked on the shark’s pectoral fins now.
“What’s the deal with chopping off the fins? Isn’t a lively bait, the better bait?”
“Sure, if you’re hunting smart fish. Sharks ain’t exactly smart, and they ain’t discerning about what they eat, either.” He mulled that over for a second. “Come to think of it they’s kinda like me in that way. Anyway, a shark is drawn to an easy meal. I don’t want this beauty dead when I toss it down there, but I want it hurtin’. Stick around. I’ll be here all night. I bet I pull in a big’un.”
Mr. Out-by-eleven would love that.
“Don’t be so quick to laugh, Fuzzy. Just last weekend I pulled in a seven foot hammerhead. Doin’ just like this.”
“I wasn’t laughing at you, Samp. A thought just crossed my mind. But do me a favor, get that thing on a line and back in the water, so I don’t have to watch it die, while you’re telling fish stories.”
I watched in admiration of his efficiency when he set about the task. The person passionate about his work or hobby, even a person like Billy Smith, is a person not prone to wasted effort or bullshit. The bait remained hooked to his spinning rod, as he hurried to a boat rod as thick as a broom’s handle, leaning in the crook formed by the corner of the pier. He slid free a 5” stainless steel J-hook from where it was fastened to a huge 9/0 bait-caster reel. Flipping the drag on the side of the reel, he pulled six feet of monofilament line free, giving him enough slack to hurry back to the shark. He slid on his knees, and skidded to a stop right before the shark’s snout, safely out of reach of its dangerous bite. He grabbed the shark behind its head, jamming his thumb and middle finger into gills on either side. Then he threaded the giant hook into one nostril and out the other. With the bait now hooked, he reached into his back pocket, produced a pair of needle-nosed pliers, and pulled loose the circle hook from the fish’s mouth.
He exhaled a blast of breath and peered up at me. “I never feel real good about this until I get him hooked up on the big daddy,” he said as he hoisted the shark up by the shank of the giant hook. The baby predator looked resigned to its fate. Sample tossed it overboard and let out the line for several seconds. When the sinker reached the bottom, he flipped the bail, cranked a few times, and put the rod back down in its original spot. He tied the pole down to the pier with yellow nylon rope.
“There, now we can talk.”
I waited, while he stood there with a dumb look on his face. “You texted me, Samp.”
“So I did, So I did. So how’s it going, Fuzz? How’s your mom?”
“She’s in jail. How do you think she feels?”
I’d put her there.
We both knew it.
The obligatory awkward silence descended. Even the waves seemed to stop slapping at the pilings. Mercifully, one of the old salts hacked away like a lifetime smoker.
“You still doing the PI gig?”
“You know I am,” I said.
“Still doing, domestic stuff? Ya know like catchin’ daddy puttin’ his thing where he shouldn’t?”
“You’re not married, Samp. Where are you going with this?”
He stepped closer so he could speak in a lower tone. “There’s a girl I want you to follow and take pictures of who she gets with.”
“Ok, Samp. Who’s the girl?”
“She’s just a girl,” he said. “She’s gettin’ herself in trouble.”
“Like I said, Samp. Who’s the girl?”
He had a look on his face I recognized. It was the same look I saw staring back at me from the mirror, after I’d awakened from one of my dreams. The bad ones. The ones, where I dreamed that my fiancé was still alive.
I said, “Are you in love?”
“No, No, No. Nothing like that. It’s just she’s a good kid. Smart kid. She’s got a good future, if she don’t go messin’ it up. Ya know how it is.”
I tried to formulate what a good future looked like to Billy Smith, but I came up empty. “How are pictures of her going to help that? Is she under age? Are you going to take the pictures to her parents? What’s the deal?”
“Nah, she ain’t under age. She’s pullin’ tricks.”
I said, “She’s a whore?”
“No it ain’t like she’s walkin’ Yaupon Drive. She’s just meetin’ guys at hotel bars and dressed all up in those rhinestone dresses.”
“She wears rhinestones?”
“Yeah, you know them sparkly things like the chicks wore to prom?”
“Yeah, sequins. The girls that dress like that at the hotel bars are pros, Fuzzy. She’s a good kid. I don’t want her goin’ pro.”
“So say I take pictures of her doin’ the nasty. Say I even catch her transacting. What exactly do you think you’re gonna accomplish with my pictures?”
“She says she ain’t pullin’ tricks.”
“You asked her if she was a whore?”
“She ain’t no whore, Fuzzy. But yeah, I kinda asked her, you know? Why she had so many dates, and with older guys. I was cool about it though.”
He caught me with that one just as I swallowed a mouthful of beer, and I fought the urge to spit it back out. “And how did she react to your slick line of interrogation?”
“Oh, she got what I was askin’. I told ya, she’s a smart one. She giggled and patted me on the cheek and said, ‘Ah, Billy you ain’t got nothin’ to worry about I only got eyes for you.’ I said, ‘Honey, you need to be careful with what you doin’ there’s bad folks out there.’ She said, ‘I ain’t doin’ what you think I’m doing.’ And got some nasty look on her face. She kinda been avoidin’ me ever since.”
I said, “I still don’t see what pictures will do for you.”
“If I can confront her with the evidence that she’s lyin’, I think I can get her to listen. And if it’s all there in black & white, she’ll see what she’s doin’ ain’t smart. I know it.”
“I shoot in color and digitally.”
“Whatever,” he said. “Whaddaya say, Fuzzy? You gonna help a brother out?”
“What’s her name?”
“I knew I could count on ya. Her name is Marisol Rodriguez.”
“How do you know her?”
“I know her brother. He’s over at CAU on a full-ride. He plays that receiver, who also blocks on the line.”
“Tight end,” I said. “What’s his name and is he one of your customers?”
“Jandro Rodriguez. Short for Alejandro. In high school, he went by Alex, but got tired of all the A-Rod shit. So now he goes by Jandro. He buys from me from time to time, but don’t hold that against his sister, Fuzz. She ain’t ever bought from me. She’s just sorta around a lot. I think she likes to hang out at the college, meet his friends you know?”
Sample was an interesting character. He was quick to uphold this girl’s honor. A girl who he assumed was a prostitute. But he wanted to be sure I knew she says no to drugs. “How old is she?”
“I dunno. 18 or 19 maybe? She outta school.”
“Ok, and how long do you want me to peep on her?”
“I dunno maybe a week. We gotta get her with a john.”
“I get $100 a day, plus expenses.”
He whistled. “Damn, Fuzzy. That is harsh.”
“It’s my normal rate,” I lied. I didn’t tell him I was discounting him by half for the help he’d given me in the past.
“What kinda expenses you talkin’? You gonna charge me for gas or something?”
“You say she works the hotel bars. I’ll be spending time in them. I can’t sit in the bars at night, drinking nothing but ice water without drawing attention, or worse, being asked to leave. Don’t worry. I’ll keep my receipts.”
“Wow, I need to have your job. On top of the fee, you get your bar tab picked up.”
“Look this is probably a fool’s errand, anyway. You don’t have to hire me at all.”
He shoved my shoulder and left his hand there. “Take it easy, Fuzz. I’m just bustin’ your balls. But let’s make it four days.”
“Deal,” I said.
He patted my shoulder, and when he removed his hand, I saw the dark stain of fish blood on my jacket. “Say you don’t give a discount for cash. Do you?”
“Sorry Samp. I keep it on the level with Uncle Sam. Cash and check spend the same for me. But cash lets me start right away without waiting on the check to clear.”
He looked hurt. “Fuzzy, damn, how long we known each other?”
“I’m kidding, Samp.” The smell of the fish blood he’d left on my shoulder crawled down my insides and turned somersaults inside my stomach. He had some rags, but they all looked worse than the slime he had just left on me. “So where do I find this Marisol Rodriguez?”
“She’ll probably make her way to the Coral Beach some night this week. But, I can’t really say with Turkey Day comin’ up.”
“You know where she lives?”
“I don’t want you goin’ where she lives, Fuzzy. She lives at home, and I want no one catchin’ on to you.”
“Sample, you are hiring a private investigator to spy on someone for you. You’re paying me, because I don’t get caught doing it. It’s kind of my thing.”
“All the same, Fuzzy. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Ok, but it might take me more than the four days just to luck out and stumble upon her at a bar. You got a picture of the Happy Hooker?”
“Don’t call her that. Nah, I ain’t got no picture of her. But just check her out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, she’s got lots a photos on there.”
I wondered if he was stalking her online, but I didn’t ask, because he pulled a wad of bills out from his pocket. “How much you need upfront?”
“No retainer, Samp. I know you’re good for it. But if you can front me a hundred for the expenses that would help. I’m running a little dry right now.”
He held out the bill, not letting go of it when I reached for it. “This girl is beautiful, Fuzzy. I mean like movie star looks. When you see her, don’t get no ideas.”
“Yeah, ideas. You got them weathered, jock, good looks, even with that gray hair. Like that Greek god or something. You know the one they always talk about.”
“Yeah, Adonis. Don’t go pulling no Adonis shit on the girl.”
I snatched the hundred from his hand. “I don’t think Adonis was ‘weathered’, but don’t worry, Free Sample, I won’t pull any Adonis shit.”
“Ah, don’t start with that Free Sample shit, Fuzzy. That ain’t right.”
“I’ll start tomorrow.”
I left him there questioning his manhood.
Everything is Broken is widely available digitally and in print at these retailers: books2read.com/everythingisbroken
If you are in the Greenville, SC area Fiction Addiction carries it.
If you are in the Tampa Bay area Wilson’s Book World in St. Pete carries it.
My publisher Palmetto Pulp Mill sells Autographed Copies
Look for a Cover Reveal for the next book, North Country Girl in the coming days.