Read SSC (2011) The Road to Hell Online

Authors: Paul Levine

Tags: #legal thrillers

SSC (2011) The Road to Hell

THE ROAD TO HELL
Four Stories
Paul Levine
 2011)
Rating:
****
Tags:
mexico, edgar allan poe, florida fiction, jake lassiter, paul levine, hollywood, california fiction, solomon lord

### Product Description

“The Road to Hell” collects four stories by Paul Levine, the Edgar-nominated author of the bestselling Jake Lassiter series. Levine's heroes travel dark and dangerous paths as they confront devilish and powerful villains. The journeys are by land, by sea, and in one case, perhaps only in the mind.

In “El Valiente en el Infierno,” (The Brave One in Hell), a 13-year-old Mexican boy tells his own story as he makes a treacherous midnight crossing into California in search of his father. The boy's courage is tested when he runs into two gun-toting American vigilantes, and the confrontation will change all of them forever.

“Development Hell” is a well-known Hollywood term symbolizing the purgatory where projects are stuck in “development,” rather than being made into films. The story imagines a pitch session in which a bedraggled Poe squares off with a slick Hollywood producer who wants to make a cheesy slasher flick out of “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Bookgasm praised the story as “going straight to the funny bone.”

“A Hell of a Crime” echoes with notions of “The Twilight Zone.” A prosecutor prepares for a homicide trial while being pestered by his domineering mother, a famous lawyer herself. Just what role did she play in the murder? And how is the prosecutor's enigmatic wife involved in the case? It's a mystery with a punch to the gut at the end.

Two of the author's best-loved characters, Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, appear in “Solomon & Lord: To Hell and Back.” The ethically-challenged Steve Solomon and the very proper Victoria Lord are mismatched Miami law partners. Steve says he's going fishing with Manuel Cruz, a sleazy con man. Victoria knows that Cruz embezzled a bundle from Steve's favorite client and is an unlikely fishing buddy. So just what is Steve up to now? Something between mischief and murder, Victoria figures. To protect Steve from himself - and Cruz - she hops aboard the boat, and the three of them head for deep water and dark troubles.

The "Solomon and Lord" novels have been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity and International Thriller Awards, as well as the James Thurber Humor Prize. “Remarkably fresh and original with characters you can't help loving and sparkling dialogue that echoes the Hepburn-Tracy screwball comedies. A hilarious, touching and entertaining twist on the legal thriller." - Chicago Sun-Times

An excerpt of “Mortal Sin,” one of the award-winning Jake Lassiter novels, is also included in the collection. This time, the linebacker-turned-lawyer has a dangerous conflict of interest. He's sleeping with Nicky Florio's wife...and defending the mob-connected millionaire in court. Florio has hatched a scheme deep in the Florida Everglades that oozes corruption, blood, and money. One false move, and Jake will be gator bait. “Recalling the work of Carl Hiaasen, this thriller races to a smashing climax.” - Library Journal.

PRAISE FOR THE FICTION OF PAUL LEVINE

“Mystery writing at its very, very best.” - Larry King, USA TODAY

"Irreverent...genuinely clever...great fun." - The New York Times Book Review

"Just the remedy for those who can't get enough Spenser and miss Travis McGee terribly." - St. Petersburg Times

“Genuinely chilling.” - Washington Post Book World

“Take one part John Grisham, two parts Carl Hiaasen, throw in a dash of John D. MacDonald, and voila!” - Tulsa Sun

“Wildly entertaining blend of raucous humor and high adventure.” - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Cracking good action-mystery...funny, sardonic, and fast-paced.” - Detroit Free Press

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The author of 14 novels, Paul Levine won the John D. MacDonald fiction award and was nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, and James Thurber prizes. A former trial lawyer, he also wrote 20 episodes of the CBS military drama “JAG.” His next novel will be “Lassiter” in Fall 2011.

 

 

“The Road to Hell”

Copyright © 2011 by Paul Levine. All rights reserved.

Ebook Design by Rob Siders

Cover Design by Aaron Kowan

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Nittany Valley Productions, Inc.

 

Smashwords Edition: February 2011

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

 

The four stories in this anthology have something in common in addition to the word “hell” in their titles. The heroes travel dark and dangerous paths as they confront devilish and powerful villains. The journeys are by land, by sea, and in one case, perhaps only in the mind.


El Valiente en el Infierno”
(The Brave One in Hell) is an original short story inspired by a tale I heard in Mexicali, Mexico while researching “Illegal,” my border-crossing thriller. Several people swear the harrowing story is true. After his mother dies, a 13-year-old Mexican boy crosses the border in search of his father, a migrant worker in the United States. The boy’s courage is tested when he runs into two gun-toting American vigilantes, and the confrontation will change all of them forever.


Development Hell”
is a well-known term in Hollywood. The phrase symbolizes the purgatory where books and screenplays are stuck while being “developed,” rather than being made into films. The story first appeared in the anthology, “On a Raven’s Wing: New Tales in Honor of Edgar Allan Poe” (2009), edited by Stuart Kaminsky. “Development Hell” imagines a “pitch session” in which a bedraggled Poe squares off with a slick Hollywood producer who wants to make a cheesy slasher flick out of “The Pit and the Pendulum.” This one provides a dose of humor with your horror.


A Hell of a Crime”
presents a dysfunctional family of lawyers. An insecure prosecutor exists in the shadow of his more prominent parents. His father was a revered District Attorney, his mother a powerful trial lawyer in her own right. So just why does the mother interfere when her son prepares to prosecute a murder trial? And how is the prosecutor’s enigmatic wife involved in the case? It’s a mystery with a punch to the gut at the end.


Solomon & Lord: To Hell and Back
” features two of my favorite characters. The ethically-challenged Steve Solomon and the very proper Victoria Lord are mismatched Miami law partners. Steve says he’s going fishing with Manuel Cruz, a sleazy con man. Victoria knows that Cruz embezzled a bundle from Steve’s favorite client and is an unlikely fishing buddy. So just what is Steve up to now? Something between mischief and murder, Victoria figures. To protect Steve from himself – and Cruz – she hops aboard the boat, and the three of them head for deep water and dark troubles. The “Solomon and Lord” novels have been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity and International Thriller Awards, as well as the James Thurber Humor Prize. This story is an inviting introduction to the novels.


The Road to Hell” also contains an excerpt from one of my novels featuring Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer, a tough guy with a tender heart.


Mortal Sin”
finds Lassiter with a dangerous conflict of interest. He’s sleeping with Nicky Florio’s wife…and defending the mob-connected millionaire in court. Florio has hatched a scheme deep in the Florida Everglades that oozes corruption, blood, and money. One false move, and Jake will be gator bait. “Recalling the work of Carl Hiaasen, this thriller races to a smashing climax.” –
Library Journal
. “Mortal Sin may not be better than a trip to Florida, but it’s the next best thing.” –
Detroit Free Press

 

 

 

This warning sign is familiar to drivers in Southern California near the Mexican border.

 

 

EL VALIENTE EN EL INFIERNO

(THE BRAVE ONE IN HELL)

 

I am not afraid.

That is what I tell myself.

Just after midnight, five hundred meters from the border fence, I keep still, squatting on the ground beneath a mesquite tree. Buried in the sand are motion sensors and infrared cameras.

My name is Victor Castillo. I am 13 years old.

Back home, in my village, a man warned me not to do this.

You are looking for
el cielo.
Heaven. But you will find only
el infierno.
Hell.

Still, I am not afraid. In a matter of minutes, I will be in the United States. By breakfast time, I will be with my Aunt Luisa in a little California town called Ocotillo. She is a nurse, but an even better cook. The best
huevos rancheros
in the world. Homemade tortillas, the eggs not too runny, the red sauce spiked with jalapenos. We will have a cry about my mother, then
mi tia
will put me on a bus to Minnesota, where my father works in the sugar beet fields.

But first, there is the fence. It slithers down a rocky slope and disappears between distant boulders, like an endless snake. We move from the cover of the trees to a ravine filled with desert marigolds. I hope the golden flowers are a good omen. We climb out of the ravine and up to the fence, the links glowing like silver bullets in the moonlight. The man who calls himself El Leon – “The Lion” – snips at the metal with wire cutters. He wears all black and his long hair is slick with brilliantine.

In the States, they would call El Leon a coyote. In Mexico, he is a
pollero
, a chicken wrangler. Which makes the rest of us – Mexicans, Hondurans and Guatemalans – the
pollos.
The chickens. Hopefully, not cooked chickens. If we are caught and turned back, I don’t know what I will do. All my mother’s savings are paying for my passage

The wire cutters fly from El Leon’s hands, and he curses in Spanish.

This is taking too long.

Above us, a three-quarter moon is the color of milk. Under our feet, the earth is hard as pavement. Somewhere, on the other side of the fence,
La Migra
, the Border Patrol, waits. I listen for the
whoppeta
of a helicopter or the growl of a truck.

El Leon, please hurry!

He keeps snipping and cursing. I sit on my haunches, inhaling the smell of coal tar from the creosote bushes. From a pocket in my backpack, I take out a photograph of my mother, her face pale in the moonlight.

El Leon works quickly now, the links
cra-acking
like bones breaking. Finally, he says, “You first,
chico.”

I duck through the opening, then hold the wire for a Honduran girl. Maybe I should say a Honduran “woman,” because she is pregnant, her stomach a basketball under her turquoise blouse. But she is probably only sixteen or seventeen and is traveling alone, and she looks too young and too scared to take care of a child. On her feet,
huarches
, sandals made from old tire tread. I hope she can keep up with us. A selfish thought, I realize, and immediately feel ashamed. My mother taught me better.

The pregnant girl places two hands on her stomach, bends over, and squeezes through the fence. Following her are two
campesinos
from Oaxaca who smell like wet straw. The men wear felt
Tejana
hats, cowboy boots, and long-sleeve plaid work shirts. Then the rest, fourteen in all.

Ten minutes later, we are climbing a dusty path, moonbeams turning the arms of cholla cactus into the spiny wings of monsters.

Los Estados Unidos.
I am here!

Do I feel different, changed in some way? I am not sure. The rocks on the ground and the stars in the sky all look the same as in Mexico. Maybe
mi mami
is looking down at me from those stars. Her weak lungs gave out five days ago, and I recited the
oraciones por las almas
over her grave.


Let me see her again in the joy of everlasting brightness.”

The stars have “everlasting brightness,” so yes, I pretend she watches me, even though I never believed half of what the priests said.

I travel alone to find my father. My two older brothers have been with
papi
for nearly a year, carrying their weeding hoes all the way from our village in Sonora to a town called Breckenridge in Minnesota. Beets, strawberries, cabbage. Melons, corn, peas. Whatever is in season and requires hands close to the ground. The work is hard, but the pay is good, at least by Mexican standards.

Now we walk along a rocky path that crawls up the side of a hill sprouting with stubby cactus like an old man who needs a shave. El Leon yells at two Mexican sisters, calls them
parlanchinas
– chatterboxes – tells them to keep quiet. He has a rifle slung over a shoulder. But why? Who would he shoot?

The older sister is still babbling, something about every house in California having a swimming pool, when El Leon hisses, “
¡Cállense la boca!”

He cocks his head toward the hill. I hear something, too.

A
clopping.

Growing louder. Horses!

A gunshot echoes off the hillside.


Vigilantes!” El Leon yells.

My stomach tightens. Our village priest warned me about the vigilantes. Not policemen. Or National Guard. Or Border Patrol. Private citizens,
gabachos,
calling themselves the Patriot Patrol. Maybe protecting their country or maybe just taking target practice with their friends. Maybe one day shooting Mexicans instead of road signs and cactus.


Run!” El Leon screams.

But where? On one side of the path, a steep upward slope. On the other, a creviced, dry wash.

The two
campesinos
leap into the wash and take off, the spines of prickly pear tearing at their pant legs. El Leon leads the others back toward the border. But I cannot follow them.
¡Mi papi está en los Estados Unidos!

I scramble up the steep slope, grabbing vines, pulling myself hand-over-hand. The horses are so close now I can hear their hooves kicking up rocks on the path. “Yippee ti-yi-yo, greasers!” A
gabacho’s
voice. Gruff and mean.

Two men on horseback in chaps, boots, and cowboy hats. One man holds a large revolver over his head and fires into the air.


Git on back to
Meh-ee-co
! Look at ‘em run, Calvin.”

Calvin, a big man with a belly flopping over his jeans, coughs up a laugh. “Whoa, what do we got here, Woody? Looks like a
piñata
on Michelins.”

I see her then, too. The pregnant Honduran girl in her tire-tread
huarches
, trying to hide in the shadow of the hill.


Someone aims to have herself an anchor baby,” Calvin says.

I know what the man means. Anyone born on this side of the border is automatically an American citizen. Doesn’t matter if you’re from Mexico, Guatemala, or Mars. If
el Diablo
himself fathered a child in Los Angeles, the unholy offspring would be an American.


Welfare and food stamps and diapers all on the taxpayer’s dime.” Woody spits out the words.

Gripping a vine at its root, I keep still. Afraid to dislodge a stone. Afraid the
gabachos
will see me. And ashamed of my fear.

On the path below me, the girl tries to run back toward the border, but the best she can do is a duck waddles. The two men cackle and whoop. Calvin grabs a lariat from his saddle. “Where you goin’
chica?
The amnesty bus already left the station.”

He twirls the lariat and tosses it over the girl’s head, where it settles on her chest. He pulls it tight, nearly yanking her off her feet.


No!” she screams, clawing at the rope.
“¡Mi bebé!”


If there really is a kid…” Calvin hops off his horse. “Let’s have a look,
chica.”

He struts toward her, bowlegged, his belly jiggling over his wide belt,

which is studded with silver buttons.

I want to fly down the mountain and take the gun away. If they give me any trouble, I will shoot one in the kneecap and the other in his big, fat belly. Isn’t that what a
valiente
– a courageous man – would do? Take any risk, fight any foe, protect the weak, punish the wicked. But I am a boy. And they are grown men with guns.


You with that coyote calls himself ‘El Leon?’” Calvin demands

The girl’s head bobs up and down.


El Leon’s a
narcotraficante.
You carrying his
cocaina
instead of a kid? You a mule?”


No!
Mi bebé!”


C’mon. He always uses kids and women to carry his drugs.”


Not me.
¡Te lo juro por Dios!”

Calvin slips the lariat off the girl, then yanks up her blouse.

Even from this distance, I can see her bulging stomach, creamy white in the moonlight.


She ain’t lying,” he says to Woody, patting the girl’s belly. “Maybe we should deliver the baby right now. Save the county some money.”

The girl screams.


You got a knife, Woody?”


You know I do. Bowie knife.”

I must do something, but what? My arms feel like they’re dipped in boiling water. I try to get a better grip on the vine, but it tears from the dry earth. I dig my sneakers into the slope.

Calvin says, “Who’s gonna operate?”


You do it, Woody. I can’t stand the sight of blood.”

The girl chants in Spanish. Asks God to take her own life but save her baby.

I do not expect God to answer her prayers. He did not answer mine when my mother was sick. It is up to me.

Can a
valiente
be
afraid?

I tell myself
yes.
If he acts with courage, despite the fear.

I grip the vine with my left hand, pick up a rock with my right. Round and jagged, the size of a baseball. I throw the rock at Woody, the
gabacho
still on his horse. It sails past the man’s head, clunks into the dry wash.


What the hell!” Woody turns in the saddle, faces the slope, revolver in hand.


Up here,
pendejos!”
I yell.


It’s a kid,” Calvin says, pointing. “Right there, Woody.”


C’mon down here, you little jumping bean,” Woody orders.


Come and get me,
culero!
” I throw another rock, adjusting for the downward arc. Woody never sees it coming out of the darkness, and it plunks his shoulder. He yelps and his horse does a little dance under him. He turns the revolver toward the slope and fires. A bullet
pings
off a boulder. Not even close. I think maybe he is not such a good shot.


I work for El Leon!” I yell, waving my backpack in the air. As if I’m carrying cocaine and not just a pair of jeans, three t-shirts, and a first baseman’s mitt.


Little greaser’s the mule!” Calvin sounds as if he’s just made a great discovery. Now, I think maybe the men are not too smart, either.


I may be a mule, but you’re nothing but chicken-hearted
bandidos!”

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