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A Last Act of Charity - Frank Westworth

”Dangerous days, these. All of them. Trying too hard can be dangerous. If in doubt...do not try; simply do it. If you’ve done it, and if you are still in doubt...do it again, but this time do it harder. Then once more...with feeling. With conviction. On dangerous days, it is always best to do it hardest the first time.”

Most lives are fairly uncomplicated. If someone were to follow most of us around for a week, they would soon be yawning over the predictable pattern of our lives. Our veneer life is usually boring, but sometimes the veneer hides some really interesting characteristics that add some swirls or knots, some beauty or some ugliness to the structure of who we are. On the surface JJ Stoner is more fascinating than most. He plays an ancient Fendercaster in a Blues band. He owns rental properties. He has a steady supply of sex with compelling, imaginative women. He carries around a handful of phones, which certainly adds a layer of mystery to a man who already inhales intrigue and exhales charm.

You might think of him as the most interesting man in the world.

The police often question him, just because they find him interesting.

When he holds a lady's purse, he looks manly.

His lovemaking has been detected by a seismograph.

The dark is afraid of him.

His friends call him by his name, his enemies don't call him anything because they are all dead.

He once brought a knife to a gunfight… just to even the odds.

If he were to punch you in the face, you would have to fight off a strong urge to thank him.

Who doesn’t want to be this guy? Except there is one more layer. If you drop down through one of those knotholes in his character, you are going to find a dark place. A place he would insist he has left, but frankly it might be more correct to say he has taken an extended vacation. Let’s just say he knows the way back.

The military taught him how to kill. He became very, very good at it. He piled up cash, once he finished his obligations to Queen and Country, by continuing to do what he’d been trained to do.

He’s retired,
but he’s keeping his hand in. He works for a man he calls The Hard Man. A man connected to the “bad guys” and the “good guys.” Stoner doesn’t kill anymore, but he provides valuable insight into situations.

Once you are in the business, it is never safe to walk away.

At least with this arrangement, he has time to make music when his guitar will cooperate.

”Stoner’s elderly Fender was nothing less than notorious for its capricious moods. Ninety-nine plays out of a hundred it would function as Leo Fender had intended, and would sound rather better than a guitar of its age should, due to a little extra in the switching department, but on its off day it would be a bad boy indeed. A bad buzzy boy. Ancient wiring was the problem; the breakdown of the earthing was the cause of the buzz. And the ancient nineteen-sixties soldering could possibly be the source of the occasional inappropriate silence. Buzzing silence. Stoner had been known to threaten it with conversion into firewood. Or worse, conversion into an unplayed ornament, hanging on some collector’s trophy wall.”

When you are in a position like Stoner, the possibility of things going sideways are not only expected, but distinctly probable. When The Hard Man sends him into a hotel room to make heads or tails out of...well...bodies missing heads and heads missing tails, it lands JJ in a kaleidoscope of blood splatter and subterfuge.

Stoner has a girlfriend...sort of. A woman he calls The Dirty Blonde who seems to be more interested in discussing his past and current professions than she is in being a lover or even being properly romanced. Their sexual encounters, though intense, are more along the lines of deluxe handjobs or mind blowing blowjobs, but miles away from anything approaching intimacy.

It could have something to do with her profession.

She is a high class courtesan, a woman who men pay a lot of money to have sex with. JJ wants her to give up the life, but he can’t ask. She lives in one of his rentals and insists on paying rent which annoys him, but then charity even given under the most pious circumstances is rarely ever given without a hook. He wants more from her, but then she is used to men wanting more from her. She is in the cash and carry business, which means they give her cash and then when they have...geysered... she carries herself away. She doesn’t want to be taken care of, and the need to take care of someone bleeds off JJ like a tropical disease with no cure.

Did I mention Charity?

Charity, Chastity, and Charm.

The Three Graces...well...trimmer more lethal versions of The Three Graces. The Killing Sisters. They are the assassins who are leaving gory scenes in hotel rooms that would have made Sweeney Todd upchuck all over himself and would have made Jack the Ripper pee in his shoes.

Undisciplined, over the top carnage, but done by professionals. If they were just insane serial killers it would make sense, but this is madness on a whole new level that has Stoner on the verge of returning to his killing ways. It would be just ... so... easy to unchain the beast.

There are treacherous women on a scale I’ve never encountered in literature before. There are betrayals that are like punches to the gut. There are surreal, freaky, sex scenes that should only happen in underground nightclubs in Germany. There are musical interludes that you can actually feel moving the pages as the notes sound in your head.

”The night fell a spoonful of diamonds…”

Stoner’s Stratocaster coughed a sliding chord.

“The night fell a spoonful of gold…”

A cluster of minor harmonics sang from the guitar.

“Just a little spoonful of your precious love…”

“...satisfies my soul.”

Frank Westworth has torn the doors off the Impala, the accelerator is hammered down, the radio is jangling jazz so good it stands the hair up on your head, and he is driving you over the cliff only there ain’t no Louise to hold your hand.

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