Ghost Recall excerpt

ELI CARVER 3: GHOST RECALL – (c) Copyright Alan Baxter 2021


Trouble finds me like flies find shit. Then again, I do like to see a motherfucker’s tooth spinning through the air, his lip spraying blood like a split hose jetting water. Gonna have to get these knuckles cleaned up though. The germs people have in their mouth would make you sick to think about, and knuckles always get opened up by a motherfucker’s teeth, and often end up infected. That’s a concern for later though. I was aiming for his nose, but we can’t always have what we want.

“Duck,” Michael Privedi says.

I don’t pause to think about why the ghost of my dead friend would say that, I simply comply. A piece of splintered two-by-four whistles over where my head was a fraction of a second before. I use my downward momentum to plant my hands and bring my leg around, sweeping the shithead’s feet right out. He up-ends and hits the asphalt of the dirty alley on his back with a rush of escaping air and a thock! as the back of his head connects and he’s out. Always an advantage of hard ground.

Burst Lip Asshole has regained his composure and found a new measure of anger, and his two mates are less surprised and more ready now. Four on one was tough going, now it’s three on one and they’re spread out wide across the alley, planning to paste me. Still tough going then.

“You are truly boned now, cocheese,” the ghost of Dwight Ramsey says, blood trickling down his nose from the bullet hole between his eyes.

Oh, good. The gang’s all here. Officer Graney, his throat ruined by the bullet I put through it and more scarlet blooms on the chest of his police shirt, is standing beside Dwight, ready to enjoy the show. Sylvester Barclay is leaning against the wall farther away, organs glistening where I blasted a shotgun shell through his chest, smoking his ubiquitous joint. Blue smoke curls out of his wide-open ribcage. Michael is somewhere behind me. Only Alvin Crake is missing, but I’m sure he’s here somewhere. Ghosts of the bastards I killed. Well, five of the many. I still don’t know why only these five. Now is not the time to think about it.

Michael strolls around behind the goons, the explosion of bone and brains where his ear used to be reflecting a streetlight at the end of the alley. He’s the only kill I really regret, but he gave me no choice. “Better focus, dickhead,” he says.

He’s right.

“Gonna fucking kill you,” Burst Lip Asshole says. Well, slurs.

They advance in a line, the other two fanning ahead and wide of Burst Lip, planning to flank me. I wish I had my guns on me, but I’ve got out of the habit of carrying them. Getting complacent. Now is not the time to think about that either.

Rule one of fighting multiple opponents: hit the leader first, to undermine the confidence of his lackeys. I assume Burst Lip Asshole is the boss here. Rule two of fighting multiple opponents: make space. Here I go, rules one and two together.

Instead of backing up like they expect, I rush Burst Lip. His hands are up, he thinks he’s ready for me, but I sidestep at the last second and stiff-arm him, collecting one arm and his face as his punch finds only air. My forearm, hard as wood from a lot of training, slams him backwards. At the same moment I tuck my hip, lift my right knee and power out a kick into the ribs of the goon on that side. He folds up over my foot, crying out in pain, but I’m already planting that foot back on the ground and pivoting, bringing my other hand around in a tight hook that connects with beautiful solidity right behind Burst Lip’s ear. He grunts and staggers forward, as good as out. His body just hasn’t realized yet. The third goon, finding himself too far away, tries to close the distance and runs right into my front kick.

A good front kick is none of this snapping bullshit so many dojos try to teach. It’s knee up high and drive out, the same as if you were trying to kick down a door. One of the most underrated techniques in any kind of fighting. I hear at least three of the dude’s ribs snap under my foot and he clutches himself and collapses, howling in high-pitched agony, which is a strange noise when most of the breath has already left a body.

I turn one-eighty and punch the other goon back into the wall just as he’s trying to stand up from my side kick and he drops like a sack of bolts.

Burst Lip Asshole has fallen to his knees, one hand pressed to the back of his head where I punched him. It must hurt because my knuckles are singing with pain. I hope my hand isn’t broken, but it could be. You don’t often get to hit some fucker’s skull with all your strength and not break something. But my hands are pretty well conditioned to this type of activity, so I might be lucky.

“Ah, for fuck’s sake,” Dwight says, disappointed once again.

I walk around in front of Burst Lip Asshole and grab a fistful of his jacket, haul him up to look at me. “Why the fuck are you shitstains following me?”

“Lotta money on you,” he says, sounding confused. He’s punch-drunk, that weird state of not actually knocked out, but also not really conscious. His friends are starting to groan and I keep an eye on them, just in case anyone pulls a piece. I need to move along, this is a busy town and people are walking past the alley in droves. Someone will look in soon and it might be a cop.

“Cops are the least of your worries,” Officer Graney says, voice harsh because he doesn’t really have a throat to speak of. I don’t understand how he talks at all, but then again, he is dead, so what rules should apply? Like Sly getting high with no lungs.

“That’s it?” I ask. “Money?”

“Saw you cash out, leave the casino.”

“That’s my girlfriend’s money. You think I’d just let you take it?” Bridget is a hell of a gambler, she’s got Las Vegas twisted around her finger, playing all the casinos. Enough to get rich, but not enough to notice. Not yet. I cash up for her a couple of times a night, stash the money in a safe at our rented apartment. Every couple of days I take about half the winnings to the bank, but keep the rest loose. Avoid a little government attention, maybe. It’s a good life, or it has been for the last few months. I think maybe we’re both getting bored. Itchy feet.

“Didn’t think you’d have a choice,” Burst Lip says. “Four on one.”

“Unlucky for you.” I pop him, a short, fast jab across the point of the chin and he sags like an empty wineskin. I turn to leave, then pause. A quick search of the four turns up phones, about six hundred bucks in cash, and two 9mm automatics. Seems like poetic justice to me. I leave their cell phones, too much trouble to get rid of these days. Leave the guns too, who knows the history of those irons. Then I see a nice signet ring on Burst Lip’s index finger. Thick and heavy, got to be a fair amount of gold in that. It has a black stone on top, maybe onyx, with a strange symbol carved into it. Whatever, the gold alone is probably worth more than the cash I took. His ring goes into my jeans pocket, the guns go into a dumpster, and I add the cash to Bridget’s winnings to put in the safe for later. We’ve got a good amount put away. Maybe it’s time we started thinking about a holiday.

Six months, she told me, to get cashed up. Then take a break and live large for a while. When the money starts running out, find a new casino and start over. Maybe Monaco, she said. Sounds pretty sweet. It’s only been three months and we’re already loaded. I can’t see us hanging out here another three. But right now, as long as I get to hang out with her, I’m happy. The money is good, the lifestyle is enviable, and the sex is out of this world. And she’s smart and funny and sassy. For the first time, the pain of the wound Caitlyn and Scotty left in me is a little bit dulled. It’ll never go away, but with Bridget around it’s easier to live with.

Given my life up until now, I guess I don’t really deserve it, but I’ve been through a lot of shit. I’ll take the win, for as long as it lasts. Nothing lasts forever, after all. But this? With Bridget? Feels like it might.

“Why the hell you tell him about the fucker what snuck up behind?” Dwight says.

“Yeah, why?” Alvin Crake says, bullet hole glistening in his forehead. So, there he is.

Of course, no matter how well things might be going, there’s always these assholes. I turn off the main street, foot traffic thins considerably, and the five of them are walking with me like we’re some kind of gang.

“Habit, I guess,” Michael says.

“Would have been perfect if some fucking losers killed him in a dirty alley,” Sly says, blowing out a cloud of bluish smoke. “He deserves an ignominious end.”

“An igno what now?” Dwight says. “Speak fucking English.”

Sly laughs, even I can’t help cracking a smile at Dwight’s racist ignorance. Then again, to be as hatefully racist as Dwight, you have to be dumb as a brick.

“Why did you save him?” Graney asks Michael. “It’s been so quiet for so long, this was the first chance we’ve had in ages to let him get hurt.”

It’s true. Since we left New York, I’ve barely had a raised word with anyone. Come to think of it, just now is the first fight I’ve had since the gun battle at the Vesuvius Lounge in Newark. It’s been the longest peaceful period of my life that I recall. Funny I hadn’t even noticed. Even these ghosts have been more distant in that time, only showing up now and then to harass me for the sport of it.

“What do you think happens when he does?” Michael asks.

Graney frowns. “Does what?”

“Gets hurt. Or even dies. What then?”

I turn into our building, trot upstairs to the third floor and unlock the apartment. The ghosts are already inside, time and space seem a little more flexible to them than the living. They sit around the front room, staring at each other. Part of me knows what Michael’s getting at. It’s something I’ve thought about over the last few months. Seems tonight’s fight has stirred it up in Michael too. Of course, what I think and what they think is the same, isn’t it? Or not? That’s something else I’ve been ruminating on since New York. I still can’t be sure all our minds aren’t just my mind, still fractured from grief and stress. But I doubt it more by the day. Now I’m inside, I chance talking to them.

“Papa Night, huh?”

They turn to stare at me. Michael nods. “It’s something to consider,” he says.


How did I know to duck back there? Did I sense the guy sneaking up behind me and act on instinct, then just rationalize it by making it Michael’s instruction? Recently I’ve done everything I can to ignore them. Even in New York I tried to disregard them throughout that whole debacle, tried to be just my living self. But they’re still here. I’m not in any danger, I feel okay, but here they are.

“Don’t talk about that fucker,” Sly says. “He is bad news.”

“Papa Night knew we were here,” Michael says.

They all look uncomfortable. Honestly, I’m enjoying this. I can’t help but agree with Michael. “He did. You shitheels should think about that.”

They all turn to me. “Why?” Alvin Crake asks, his bullet hole leaking blood along his nose. “What do we care?”

“You’re his friend,” Officer Graney says, flapping a hand at Michael. “You don’t think straight around him.”

Michael’s eyebrows rise and he turns his head to display the ruined mess where my bullet exited. “We were friends, but this changed things.”

“Fuck you!” I say. “What would you have done? You crossed Vern, you were going to die one way or another. Either I did it and lived, or I refused and died as well. You were already dead, man. I was saving my own life. You shouldn’t have double-crossed Vern.”

Michael sighs and nods. “That is true. But let’s at least say I’m conflicted about how I feel.”

I’ve done my best not to think too hard about New York or anything else in the time we’ve been in Vegas. In my experience, dwelling on the past is usually fraught with side effects. But I need to readdress that for a minute. I head into the bathroom, find some hydrogen peroxide to clean out these split knuckles, hissing at the sharp sting of it. Of course, that’s nothing to what Burst Lip Asshole will be feeling right now. My hand is swollen and bruised too, but flexing my fingers it feels like nothing is broken this time. Lucky.

Something lingers with you, hmmm? Perhaps I can help?

That’s what Papa Night said to me right before we left. I wanted nothing to do with him and still don’t, but help how? He knew my haunts were here. If these fuckers really are ghosts, could I exorcise them? I’ve done my damnedest to ignore a lot of weird shit, but if I’m honest, there’s been a fair amount of less than natural stuff happening around me lately. Is it such a leap to think maybe I could find the right kind of person to get rid of these hateful fuckers? I mean, a sane person would suggest a good psychiatrist, though no brain doctor is getting the dirty on my life. That would be problematic to say the least. But maybe it’s not a brain issue.

I head back into the front room, sticking a couple of Band-Aids over the worst of my torn-up knuckles, and realize they’re all staring at me. They do usually know my thoughts, after all. “Scared, motherfuckers?” I ask.

Michael nods slowly, then turns his head to look meaningfully at each of the others. “What then?” he asks. “Where do you think we’d go?”

They’re all really uncomfortable now. Where would they go? They were all nasty people in their lives, even the damn cop. Cops are usually the worst of all in my experience.

I let them stew on it while I put the money in the safe, keeping a few hundred aside for pocket cash. I’ve arranged to meet Bridget outside the Bellagio at 11:00 p.m., which is only just over an hour away. An hour to have a couple of beers somewhere. I feel like being among people. Living people.

“I’ll leave you fuckwits to your committee meeting,” I say as I leave. “Enjoy your existential crisis.”

(c) Copyright Alan Baxter 2021

Read more?