Evelina Bledans prokomme.., p.1

Soul Standard, страница 1


Soul Standard

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode

Soul Standard


  “A dark, existential thriller of unexpected twists, featuring a drowning man determined to pull the rest of the world under with him. A stunning and vital piece of work.”

  —Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting and Filth

  “Transubstantiate is an intricately woven dystopian thriller, with every thread pulled tight. This is a solid debut from Richard Thomas.”

  —Craig Clevenger, author of The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria

  “This novel is so hard-hitting it should come with its own ice pack. Richard Thomas is the wild child of Raymond Chandler and Chuck Palahniuk, a neo-noirist who brings to life a gritty, shadow-soaked, bullet-pocked Chicago as the stage for this compulsively readable crime drama.”

  —Benjamin Percy, author of The Dead Lands, Red Moon, and The Wilding

  “Thomas builds his universe and its population with terse prose and dynamic, often horrifyingly visceral imagery that unspools with grand weirdness and intensity. Then he rips that universe apart, brick by bloody brick. Disintegration is provocative. It’s also damned fine noir.”

  —Laird Barron, author of The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and The Croning

  “A sodden, stumbling anti-hero in a noir so dark it makes much of the rest of the genre seem like Disney movies by comparison. Gritty, obsessive, and compulsively readable.”

  —Brian Evenson, author of Immobility and Windeye

  “Disintegration is gritty neo-noir, a psycho-sexual descent into an unhinged psyche and an underworld Chicago that could very well stand in for one of the rings of Dante’s Hell. Richard Thomas’s depraved-doomed-philosopher hitman is your guide. I suggest you do as he says and follow him, if you know what’s good for you.”

  —Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Little Sleep

  “In sharp, icy prose that cuts like a glacial wind, Richard Thomas’s dark Chicago tale keeps us absolutely riveted to the very end.”

  —Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Devil All the Time and Knock-emstiff


  “Nik Korpon will tear your heart out and leave you howling in the wilderness, and I mean that in the best possible way.”

  —Benjamin Whitmer, author of Cry Father and Pike

  “Nik Korpon’s Old Ghosts is about old friends and older dreams getting in the way of your present, and then totally kicking the shit out of your future. Plus rebar. If there’s such a thing as neo-noir, this is it. Moody, smart, sexy, and tension-filled, Old Ghosts is a whip crack of a crime novella.”

  —Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Little Sleep


  “Caleb J. Ross writes fearlessly, never shying away from the wild, insane places where his fertile imagination leads him.”

  —Joey Goebel, author of Torture the Artist and Anomalies

  “[Caleb’s] stories change you, and not just a little bit. Try to forget them, tell yourself they’re not true, but it’s no use. Whether you want them to or not, they’re going with you.”

  —Stephen Graham Jones, author of Not for Nothing and After the People Lights Have Gone Off


  “Axel Taiari packs a whole world into a short story, never making us feel left out or that we need to know more, doing the perfect job a writer should.”

  —Cultured Vultures

  “Axel Taiari writes like a monster. He’s the writer we have nightmares about, the kind that creeps under our skin and rewrites the way we see and feel the world.”

  —Edward J. Rathke, author of Noir: A Love Story





  Nik Korpon

  Caleb J. Ross

  Axel Taiari

  Richard Thomas

  5220 Dexter Ann Arbor Rd.

  Ann Arbor, MI 48103


  THE SOUL STANDARD. Copyright © 2016, text by Nik Korpon, Caleb J. Ross, Axel Taiari, and Richard Thomas. All rights reserved, except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher: Dzanc Books, 5220 Dexter Ann Arbor Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48103.

  First US edition: July 2016

  Book design by Michelle Dotter

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Soul Standard / by Caleb J. Ross, Nik Korpon, Richard Thomas, Axel


  pages cm

  ISBN 978-1-938103-04-9 (paperback)

  1. Suspense fiction, American. 2. Psychological fiction, American. I. Ross, Caleb J., author. II. Thomas, Richard, author. III. Korpon, Nik, author. IV. Taiari, Axel, author.

  PS648.S88S68 2015



  This is a work of fiction. Characters and names appearing in this work are a product of the authors’ imagination, and any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the authors.

  Printed in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1






  This book is dedicated to The Velvet (Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger, and Stephen Graham Jones) and all of its past members, with a special thanks to Pela Via. Stay warmed and bound.




  Four Corners

  The flame flickers green and toxic with each bill I throw into the fire. The wind through the busted north window rouses the flames into spires of black smoke that leave the crumbling corner fire pit masonry dark and powdered. Each wadded bill bounces into the ash of hundreds before it; like people, their governing currency returns to the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and all that shit. It’s been one of those hot-summers-cum-stale-falls, where everything smells like motor oil and shirts come only in shades of sweat. These breezes, even ones tainted by the City itself, are a welcome respite.

  Mr. Reiss had the fire pit installed four summers ago, a purchase I encouraged wholeheartedly. I supported the black leather couch, the on-spec original Garrity hanging just above the pit, the imported liquor, the commissioned crystal bidet, and the York organ cooler. Especially the organ cooler. This was back when a few paper bills flashed to the right table dancer could get a man laid. And Reiss has his addictions to swinging skin—hence the cooler, his version of a shirt pocket full of singles. The metal monstrosity stands as tall as Reiss himself, three times as wide, and deeper than I’d care to find out. He has cash safes too, but this one is made specifically to weather the in-progress economy shift from dollars to Favors, and all of the gifts, both inanimate and organic, said economy implies.

  I’ve never seen him open the cooler. I’m okay with that, with never seeing what’s inside. I tell myself that sometimes a cooler is just a cooler.

  Liquid assets. The term doesn’t mean what it meant even just a few years ago. Cash used to be the go-to method for passing high dollar purchases and illegal services undetected through the books. People cared about a dollar bill. People fought and died for a dollar bill. This was years ago, when being the economist underling to a man like Mr. Reiss carried with it a sense of security, of authority. The rich got richer. The poor got poorer. And it was important to stake land on one side of the scale, then fight to keep it. To the death, if necessary. This is the natural evolution of any civilized society. Of course, the natural destruction came when the poor no longer had faith i
n promises from the aristocracy. To lose faith in the rich is the same as losing faith in the dollar itself. When politicians fail, when banks fuck over the entire economy, the dollar crumbles too. It’s the currency in the coal mine.

  We wouldn’t term it a mutiny, though the parallels are hard to ignore. Lacking the cash, the lower class began sectioning off into their own micro communities, placing faith not in pieces of paper but in the deeds of a neighbor. You could get your transmission fixed for a few months of lawn work. A gallon of gas for a gallon of coffee. Eventually, I couldn’t cover up Reiss’s quarter after quarter of lost cash revenue with the same old “market fluctuation and tax bracket” crap that people like us have been using since the very beginning of faith-based commerce. Everything Reiss had built—his manufacturing businesses, his play in the Red Light fights, his Ponzi brackets, this very Belvedere Building—would, by my estimate, be worthless within the decade unless Reiss adapted to the shifting model even beyond that single cooler full of lap-dance gall bladders and drug-of-the-month stockpiles. But I’m never telling Reiss this. Paper money still has some meaning around here, and Mr. Reiss pays me plenty of it.

  The hole in the windowpane comes courtesy of my cubicle neighbor, Arnold McCarthy. Before Arnold jumped, he had phoned his wife. He told her to stand at the sidewalk in front of the Belvedere Building at 3:30 and look up. She was to come with siphons and mason jars for his blood and biohazard bags for whatever organs survived. He called his family surgeon, too. This is how life insurance works now.

  Arnold McCarthy had eaten a single, pre-packaged pumpkin muffin every breakfast for the past seven years. Photos of his family—a wife, two girls—bookend his computer monitor. All three are cuter than a man of Arnold’s genetic disposition should merit. Arnold’s ancestry weaves deep roots through three local wars, stints as illegal serfs in the Outskirts, aunts and grandmothers living and dying in the Red Light, failed family business after failed family business, missing chromosomes leading to padded-room hospitalization, too many chromosomes leading to the same, and every once in a while a family tree node pocks with just the right amount of good blood to give a new generation an actual chance. Arnold, given such circumstances, is a fucking miracle. But to Arnold, breaking through for another lifetime doesn’t mean success. In Arnold’s own words, “Even the concept of evolution is still evolving. It’s not crazy to think that my family was meant to die out generations ago and we just snuck by.” He told me this as I helped him cocoon his torso in duct tape, less than an hour ago, just before jumping.

  “Doesn’t sound crazy to me,” I said. “You sure I’m getting this tight enough?”

  “I’ve got two daughters. I’ve passed along everything I possibly could, right?”

  I pulled the tape tighter. “Don’t go second-guessing yourself, Arnold.”

  “I can barely breathe,” he muttered.

  “You need only enough air to carry you to the window, anyway.”

  He chuckled.

  “No laughing. If you pass out, I’m not throwing you out myself. You’ll just have to stay here on the floor here until one of Reiss’s girls finds you.”

  “You’re a friend, Max.”

  “No, I’m not,” I told him, finishing off tape roll number three. “I’m just an economist.”

  I wished him a quick death before swinging a chair against the office window, cracking the glass but only slightly. Arnold wanted to feel the glass break away, a final sense of accomplishment. He ran. He jumped. He hit the ground like a lawn dart, head first to protect his organs. The duct tape was my idea. Back when the Outskirts were worth fighting over, gangs used to wrap themselves tight to prevent organs from spilling should they be shot, keeping them fighting for just a few more breaths. With Arnold, the tape served a less righteous purpose; his family can’t trade splattered organs.

  I crumple another dollar bill and flick it to the flames. Each plume of smoke isn’t without a pang of…something. Growing up, the amount of money I’ve burned in the past few hours would change lives. Maybe it’s nostalgia I’m feeling.

  The flame’s crackle could be footsteps against the marble hallway floor, it’s so sharp and quick. Menacing.

  I crush and toss another bill. The crackle intensifies, eventually overtaken completely by the echo of actual footsteps from the hallway. I maintain composure and brace myself to be reprimanded by one of Mr. Reiss’s assistants determined to make a name for herself.

  Mr. Reiss is never one to welcome uninvited company in his office, but the past few days warrant my extra presence. Last week, someone found out about my donation. See, Mr. Reiss has a history of renal disease. I have a history of receiving a paycheck from him. He needed a kidney; I gave him one. So why the secret? Public knowledge that he’s bought into the power of organ commerce, even if entirely health-related, indicates weakness, and Mr. Reiss has spent billions to ensure that nobody thinks him weak.

  “Mr. Phlebalm,” the woman from the hallway says.

  I’d respond in kind, but I’ve learned not to take the time remembering the names of these women. They rotate weekly, each more driven than the last. But Reiss hasn’t happened upon an assistant he can stomach long enough to shape a career, so these women cripple quickly. Most leave crying. I don’t bother turning from the fire.

  “Mr. Reiss doesn’t appreciate guests in his chamber.”

  “He’s got you calling this a chamber?”

  She laughs. “Seriously, Max. Has it been that long?”

  Mallory. It’s been only months but it feels like years since we last spoke. “A lackey, already?” I stay seated but let a grin slip. Just six months ago Mallory contacted me about helping her find a job downtown. She, like all of us born and forgotten in the Red Light, wanted out. “You were supposed to be a clerk or something. Street level.”

  “Apparently Mr. Reiss thought better of me.”

  “I didn’t mean it that way.” I fumble for the right mix of older brother protector and coy admirer. Mallory and I share a childhood. She made bread in the Red Light, I refined sugar, two kids never knowing that “childhood” wasn’t supposed to be factory line work. Commiseration during deliveries teased out an awkward smile or two between us over the years. The first time those exchanges expanded beyond awkward into something different, something natural, was at that time the best day of my life. It had been years since we last spoke before she called me for a job.

  “It’s just, in this building, the more floors you put under you the less grounded you become.”

  “Still so poetic.” She grins.

  “It gets dangerous up here. Ethics can’t survive the thin air.”

  “Maybe I’m acclimated.” She tilts her head, like a dog staring at its reflection, as she examines the window. “I’m supposed to inquire about your business here.”

  “I assure you, this is work.” I nod to the broken glass. “That was work, too.”

  She walks to the window, glass grinding under those shoes, and braces herself against the frame before looking down. “That explains the commotion on the street.” She leans back into the room, looks down to the mangled chair I used earlier to prime the window break. “And the broken furniture.”

  “I’ve got to admit, I was hoping it was Mr. Reiss himself making all that hallway noise with those pumps. I need to talk to him. Threatening to out him as a cross-dresser would have put my nerves into perspective.”

  “Good to see you, too.” Mallory rights the chair as best its uneven legs will allow. She dusts glass from the seat with her hand then smears a glittery handprint on her white skirt. Buried within the sparkle I see blood. She acts like she can’t feel it, but I know that pain; I’ve had glass under my skin. Maybe she really is acclimated.

  “Of course it’s good to see you, Mallory. I thought we were at the point of conversation where we transferred from friendly banter into business.”

  “That was friendly banter to you? Remind me never to ask you to coffee.”

how about this weather?”

  “As you are certainly aware, Max, Mr. Reiss is quite busy in light of the news regarding your donor gift. The legacy financial world hasn’t treated him with much kindness this past week.”

  “It used to be an organ donation was a good thing. Ten years ago, I would have been a hero.”

  “Ten years ago, your organs would have been so flour-coated they’d make more sense in a deep fryer than a human. Just stay quiet about the donation for a while.”

  “Only for a while? Those don’t sound much like the words of a Reiss lifer.”

  “Organs have survived through much more than paper currency, Max. Between you and me, I believe they will continue beyond.”

  “Why tell me this?”

  “You know this is a temporary gig for me. I know how long lackeys last under Mr. Reiss. I’ll leave, assimilate back into the common culture, and paper will continue to mean less and less. I think you feel the same. I’ve been watching you burn bills for a few days now. You can’t say the act isn’t cathartic beyond the needs of Mr. Reiss.”

  I crumble another bill. “Supply and demand. The fewer the bills, the more each one is worth.”

  “Artificially injecting worth into the system. Mr. Reiss would surely approve.”

  “Enough to squeeze in a quick sit-down with his number-one economist?”

  Mallory turns toward the door. “I’ll speak with him immediately.” Sunlight decorates her hand.

  I take two Vicodin from my breast pocket and swallow to tame the remaining surgery pains, phantom though they may be. Doctor says I shouldn’t need the pills anymore. But the doctor doesn’t have to think the things I have to.

  I know better than to frontload with backstory, but the way I see it, everything since I left the Red Light has been backstory. For what, I don’t know. The end of my life there should have been the beginning of a better life here. But Mallory. She’s tethering me to a time I’ve maybe convinced myself counts as nostalgia.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up