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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Elmore Leonard, RIP

Elmore Leonard, the great Westerns and crime novelist, died on Tuesday at age 87.

I said what I had to say about him here, back in May of 2009, and don't have much to add. The most fitting tribute is probably just an excerpt from one of his books anyway. This is from Chapter Four of Gold Coast:

    They let him do the work, yes, because no one walked into a room and faced people the way Roland did.
    Into 410 of the Ocean Monarch high-rise condominium on the beach, Jesus Diaz behind him, into the big living room of the apartment with the expensive furniture, where the four young guys were sitting with their beer cans and music and the smell of grass -- a heavy smell even with the sliding door open to the balcony.
    Arnold Rapp, the one they came to see, let them in, looked them over, turned and walked back to the couch. Jesus Diaz closed the door behind them. He liked the loud funk-rock music. He didn't like the way the four young guys were at ease and didn't seem to be scared. Yes, stoned, but it was more than that. They lounged, sitting very low on the couch and the chairs, no shoes on, each with long hair. They looked like bums, Jesus Diaz thought, and maybe Roland was right. Rich kids, yes, who didn't give a shit about anything. Man, a place like this, view of the ocean, swimming pool downstairs -- these guys laying around drinking beer like they just came off a shift, not offering anything, waiting, like Roland was here to explain something or ask for a job.
    Roland said, "Your mommy home?"
    They grinned at him. Arnold said, "No, no mommy, just us kids."
    Roland said, "Well now, who're your cute little friends, Arnie?"
    Arnold said "Well now" -- imitating Roland's cracker accent, getting some of the soft twang -- "This here is Barry. That there're Scott and Kenny."
    The young guys -- they were about in their mid-twenties -- snickered and giggled.
    The one called Barry, trying the accent, said, "And who be you be?"
    It broke them up, "Who be you be." The guys laughing and repeating it, Jesus, who-be-you-be. They thought it was pretty funny.
    Roland walked over to the hi-fi. He brushed the stylus off the record and the funk-rock stopped with a painful scratching sound.
    Arnold straightened up. "Jesus Christ, what are you doing?"
    "Getting your attention," Roland said.
    Barry was still grinning. He said, "Who-be-you-be, man?" And one of the others said, "He's the who-be-you-be man. Comes in, who-be-you-bes your records all up."
    "No, I'm the man's man," Roland said. "Sent me to ask you what happened to the five hundred and forty thousand dollars, I believe is the figure."
    "It's in the municipal incinerator," Arnold said.
    The one named Barry said, 'We already told it, man. Ask him."
    Roland tilted up his Ox Bow straw. He walked out to the open balcony with its open view of the Atlantic Ocean and leaned on the rail a moment.
    Jesus Diaz stood where he was in the middle of the room, watching Roland, hearing the young guys say something like "Hey partner" and something about riding here on a fucking horse, and another one saying, "A fucking bucking bronco, man," and all of them giggling again.
    Roland came back in. He said to Arnold, "How about you tell me what you told him."
    "Coast Guard picked up the boat in international waters and brought it into Boca Chica," Arnold said. "He knows all about that. The pot went to Customs and they burned it up."
    "Pot went to pot," Barry said.
    "The crew, the three guys, were turned over to Drug Enforcement," Arnold said. "Your man is out the five hundred and forty grand and there's nothing I can do about it."
    "It's a high fucking risk business," Barry said, "anytime you get two hundred percent on your investment it's got to be."
    "Two and a half," Arnold said.
    Right, two and a half," Barry said. "You know it's high risk going in, man, if you're not stupid."
    Roland walked over to where Barry was lounged in his chair. He said, "Is that right, little fella? You know all about high risk, do you? Stand up here, let me have a look at you."
    "Jesus Christ," Barry said, sounding bored. "Why don't you take a fucking walk?"
    Roland pulled Barry up by his hair, drew him out of the chair and an agonized sound from Barry's throat, telling him to hush up, turned him around and got a tight grip on the waist of Barry's pants that brought him to his toes, Levis digging into the crack of his ass.
    Jesus Diaz reached behind him, beneath his jacket -- to the same place Roland was gripping the guy's pants -- and brought out a Browning automatic, big .45, and put it on the other three guys, sitting up, maybe about to jump Roland.
    Roland said "See it?" without even looking, knowing Jesus had the piece on them. "Now tell me about high risk," Roland said to Barry, walking him toward the open balcony, the other three guys rigid, afraid to move. "You want me to tell you," Roland said, bringing the young guy to the opening in the sliding glass doors. "Fact is, I'll show you boy, the highest risk you ever saw." And ran him out on the balcony, gripping him, raising him by his hair and pants and grunting hard as he threw the young guy screaming over the rail of the fourth floor balcony.
     Someone in the room cried out, "Jesus -- no!"
    There was silence.
    Jesus Diaz held the gun on them, not looking at the balcony.
    Roland stood at the rail, leaning over it, resting on his arms.
    When he came back in adjusting his hat he said, "That boy was lucky, you know it? He hit in the swimming pool. He's moving slow, but he's moving. People gonna say, my, what do those boys do up there? Must get all likkered up, huh?" Roland paused, looking at Arnold and Scott and Kenny sitting there like stones. He said, "Now, who-be-you-be, who be's gonna answer my question without getting smart-aleck and giggling like little kids? You see what I do to smart kids, huh. Next one might hit the concrete, mightn't he?"
    "The name of the boat in the paper was Salsa," Arnold said quietly. "The same one I hired, I know, because I saw it in Key West two weeks ago."
    "And the Coast Guard cutter hauled it in was the Diligence," Roland said. "Same thing I'm gonna use till you pay us back the five hundred and forty thousand. You can take your time, Arnie, we're reasonable folks. Long as you understand the vig's fifty-four grand a week, standard ten percent interest."
    Arnold began to nod, very serious. "We'll pay you, don't worry."
    Roland said, "Do I look worried?"
    He said to Jesus, in the car, driving away from the beach, "I told you, didn't I, them dinks'd pull something."
    "But they weren't lying to you," Jesus Diaz said. "It was the same boat was picked up."
    'Oh my oh my, you don't understand shit, do you?" Roland drove in silence to the federal highway, US 1, went through the light and pulled over to the curb. "Out you go, partner."
     Jesus looked around. "What am I supposed to do here?"
    "Hitch a ride or take a cab, I don't give a shit. I'm going up to Lauderdale."
    Roland was looking at himself in the rearview mirror, squaring his new Ox Bow wheat-colored straw.

Elmore Leonard, the one and only. No one had a better ear for dialogue, or a better feel for sociopaths. RIP.

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