LITTLE ELVISES, Chapter One

September 27th, 2008

What follows is a second pass at a first chapter. If it survives, it’ll be the opening of Little Elvises, the second book I’ve written about a burglar named Junior Bender who lives in the San Fernando Valley and works as a private eye for crooks.  The first book, Bad Money, is looking for a publisher now but has had a positive reaction from some guys at a cable channel I’m not supposed to name.  Anyway, this either is or isn’t the beginning of Junior’s second adventure.  And, no, I have no idea in the world where it’s going — I just think there’s something kind of interesting about all the little Elvises who sprang up in the fifties.

Chapter One:  All That’s Admirable in Law Enforcement

DiGaudio said, “We can make you for the Hammer job.”

“I’d emit an outraged squeal of innocence,” I said, ”except I don’t have to. I didn’t do the Hammer job.”

DiGaudio scratched his cheek. His beard was so heavy I could hear the whiskers under his nails. “I’m going to extend you a courtesy I usually don’t offer career criminals,” he said. “I’m going to believe you.”

I said, “This is too easy.”

“You think? Well, you’re right. See, it doesn’t matter whether you did it. What matters is that we can make you for it.”

I was already not happy. As a career criminal, to use DiGaudio’s description – and we might as well, since it’s accurate – I rarely enjoy myself in a police station. But now I was even not-happier. It didn’t matter whether I did it? We were in new territory, even for me.

Just to test the depth of the tar pit, I said, “I have an alibi.”

DiGaudio folded his hands over his continental belly, a belly big enough to have a capital city. Although he looked these days like something you’d toss peanuts at, I could remember when he was a trim-waisted patrolman with laundry-scrubber abs and a three-pack-a-day nicotine habit. When he made detective, four or five years back, he’d traded cigarettes for calories. He’d obviously stuck by the deal, although I doubted his cardiologist was encouraged by the results. “You might want to try to call the people you were with that night,” he said. “Just, you know, match your memory with theirs.”

This was especially not good. “Think they’ll take my calls?”

“Buy a new cellphone,” he suggested. “That way, they won’t know it’s you.”

“The Hammer job,” I said. “As I recall, there was a gun involved.”

DiGaudio nodded. His eyes wandered around the interrogation room, one of the nicest in the Van Nuys station. Had a floor and everything. “Special circumstances.”

“You know that’s not my style,” I said. “I mean, assuming that I steal things in the first place, which is a laughable proposition –”

“Funnier than George Carlin. No, change my mind, nothing was funnier than George Carlin.”

“I agree,” I said. “But it’s just barely not funnier than George Carlin, thinking that I steal stuff. But even if I did, it wouldn’t be my style to use a gun. As pretty much everyone knows.”

“Sure,” DiGaudio said. “Everyone knows that you don’t steal stuff, since you’ve never actually been convicted of stealing stuff, and everybody also knows that if you did steal stuff, you’d be too smart to go in strapped. Because of – what was that phrase? The one I just used?”

“Special circumstances,” I said.

“That was it. And if you got made for robbery under special circumstances, especially against people like the Hammers, who demand and receive the very best in law enforcement, him being a circuit court judge and all and her, a little old lady weighs about eighty pounds getting pistol-whipped, you’d probably be looking at twenty years.” He reached into the inside pocket of his Quintuple XL sport coat, courtesy of the local Tall Porkers outlet, and brought out a couple of Tootsie Rolls. “Want one?”

“I’ll get by without it,” I said.

“I’m not sure I’d have given it to you anyway.” He tugged the twists at the ends of the paper wrapper. “I like two at a time.”

“Generous offer, though.”

“Yeah?” he said, unwrapping the second and at the same time using his tongue to park the first in his right cheek. “You think?”

“Are we being recorded?”

He popped the second Tootsie Roll like it was an aspirin. “You crazy?”

“Just checking. You can make me for a robbery I didn’t pull, and that you know I didn’t pull, and you’ve intimidated the three people who could verify my alibi, which you know is straight, and you keep bringing the conversation around to special circumstances. My guess is that we’re working our way toward an act of generosity on your part.”

“Selfless generosity,” DiGaudio said, and chewed.

“I’ll reserve that judgment for the moment.”

For a count of ten, or twenty if you’ve had a lot of coffee, DeGaudio gave all his attention to chewing his chocolate cud. Tootsie Rolls demand a lot of chewing. When he’d gotten the candy soft enough so he could pry his teeth apart, he said, “My name mean anything to you?”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s a synonym for all that’s admirable in law enforcement.”

He waved a fat hand, attractively fringed with black hair, in the direction of his left shoulder, meaning earlier. “Beyond that.”

I said, “Philadelphia in the fifties. Imitation Elvises. Handsome Italian kids with tight pants and big hair.”

He gave me a rich brown grin. Tootsie Rolls are a truly awful color. “How the hell do you remember that?”

“Rina,” I said. “My daughter.”

He squinted over my shoulder. “She’s what? About fourteen? Be 34. 35 when you get out, right?”

“DiGaudio,” I said, “I haven’t punched you in the face yet, but when I do you’ll know I’m going to let you make me for the Hammer job.”

DiGaudio flushed, and the little black raisins he used for eyes got even smaller. “Any time,” he said. “Here or anywhere.”

“Gosh, and we were getting along so well.”

He passed a pink tongue over his brown teeth. Whatever he found there, it seemed to calm him down. “So, your daughter. What’s she got to do with –”

“She’s thirteen, but in an accelerated program. She wrote a paper called ‘The Distorted Mirror’ for some class they didn’t have when I was in school.”

“’The Distorted –”

“Mirror. About the way American pop culture imitates itself, the way it stamps out little tin copies of anything original that makes money. One of the examples she chose was all the little Elvises from Philly who were churned to the surface in the wake of Elvis Presley.”

“What a colorful phrase.”

“It’s Rina’s. So after Elvis you had all these junior goombahs, all these Bobbies and Billies and Frankies and Fabios and so forth, popping up on ‘American Dance Hall’ and selling lots of records for about six weeks each.”

“Some of them lasted for months,” DiGaudio said.

“And the guy behind them all, according to Rina’s paper, was somebody named DiGaudio.”

“Vinnie.”

“Oh, please,” I said.

“No. Really. Vinnie. Went by Vincent because, well, because who wants to be called Vinnie? But anyway, it was Vinnie DeGaudio, Vincent L. DiGaudio, who found all those kids and made them stars –”

“Shooting stars, Rina calls them.”

“Because they went by so fast, right? Smart kid. But they all made a bunch of money, and Vinnie managed to get most of it into his pockets.”

“As interesting as this is, sort of a four-point-type footnote to the pop music history of the fifties, I’m not sure what it has to do with the Hammer job.”

“Act of generosity,” DiGaudio said. “Remember?”

I may be slow sometimes, but I’m not dead. “Vinnie’s a relative?”

“My uncle. My dad’s brother.”

“Mobbed up?”

“Italian? In Philly? In the music business? Why would you think he was –”

“Your uncle?”

He said, “How far back would you like me to go? Did you miss most of it, or just bits and pieces?”

“I just want to make sure you’re telling me your uncle is mobbed up. At least now I know we’re not being taped.”

DiGaudio spread the pork chops he used as hands in an imitation of someone being reasonable. “You always this suspicious? You miss a lot in life, you go around suspecting everybody all the time.”

“You know,” I said, “I go to work for you and the word gets around, I’ll be lucky if there’s enough left of me to identify.”

He looked so surprised his eyes got bigger. “Work for me?”

“Okay. What am I missing?”

“See, suspicion, it’s a poisonous thing. You think I’m looking to force you to do something for me, and all I’m doing is bringing you a piece of business.”

“Business.”

“We know, and by we I mean a very small number of my colleagues, anyway, we know that you do sort of lost-and-found stuff for people on the other side of the fence.”

“It’s good it’s a small number,” I said, “because they’re wrong.”

“Wattles, who’s like a graduate thug,” he said, holding up a finger. “Three-Eyes Romero, the Valley’s leading car-chopper. Hell, the Queen of Crime herself, Trey Annunziato.” He had three fingers in the air. “You tell me what these three people have in common.”

“Good accountants?”

You,” he said. “They got you in common. They all had a little problem and they all went to the go-to guy for crooks with problems. You. Junior Bender, boy crimebuster.”

“Okay,” I said, “just to see if we can’t wrap this up before we both die of old age, you’re saying you won’t make me for the Hammer job if I help your uncle, the Philly music crook. And I’m saying to you that the whole thing about me, that stuff about solving crimes for crooks, it’s wrong. And even if it were right, and I really did solve crimes for crooks, I’d need to know exactly what your uncle needs help with, because I wouldn’t get anywhere near murder. If I were doing it at all, that is. So what’s his problem?”

DiGaudio said, “Murder.”

18 Responses to “LITTLE ELVISES, Chapter One”

  1. Lisa Kenney Says:

    I love it! You’re writing in first person — that’s different for you, isn’t it? You’ve got me chomping at the bit to read more. As always, you’ve got some great, funny descriptions here.

  2. Suzanna Says:

    Tim,

    Music business, the mob, set in LA, Little Elvises, a P.I. for crooks — all wonderful ingredients for a great story. And you’re off to a great start.

    Welcome to the world, Junior Bender! Can’t wait to see what kind of mess he gets into and out of.

  3. Pat Browning Says:

    Okay, now,where’s the rest of it? (-:

    A terrific lead-off, intriguing and FUNNY. Junior Bender is the best crook since Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr.

    Good luck with a new series.

    Pat Browning

  4. Shadoe Stevens Says:

    Love it. You’re off to a great start. Once again it pulls us in quickly and it’s filled with incredible wit and an engaging premise. Little Elvises is an inspired idea. Keep going. I really like this approach for a series and think it has tremendous promise commercially.

  5. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, everybody, and thanks for dropping by.

    Lisa, when you read the second chapter, you’ll meet a character who has a few things in common with Talley, the victim/villain of COUNTERCLOCKWISE. I hope that doesn’t get in the way of your enjoying it. As far as the first-person is concerned, that voice started talking directly into my ear last November, at a time that HarperCollins accidentally let my contract lapse for a few weeks. Since I’m not allowed to write anything except the Poke books while the contract is in effect, I took the 5-6 weeks to let the voice tell me the entire story of the first book in the series, BAD MONEY. It was the fastest I ever wrote a book, and I like it very much. So here I am with time on my hands, and the voice started up again, and here comes LITTLE ELVISES.

    Suzanna — You picked all the things I like about it and tactfully evaded all the weak points. The problem I have with this character is that it’s easy to be flip, which is a gear I can always slide into, and I have to make sure that I go deeper than that, at least from time to time.

    Pat — Hi!! Welcome, and why don’t you respond and tell us a little about yourself. (Don’t you HATE when people say that? Still . . .) Thanks a lot for the kind words and the comparison to Bernie, whom I love. These books are tougher than the Rhodenbarrs, but I should just be one-third as assured as Lawrence Block is.

    Hey, Shadoe — as one of the very few people who have read all of BAD MONEY — it’s just you, my wife, my agent, and a few editors — you’re uniquely qualified to weigh in, and I appreciate it a lot. Wait’ll you see where the story went today. Seriously twisted material.

    Four chapters now in three days, and I’ll probably finish another one if I can keep my attention focused. I love to write this world.

  6. Dana King Says:

    A rpivate investigator for crooks. That’s inspired. A tiwst with virtually limitless possibilities, who can be as good/bad as you want him to be.

    Good luck with this series. I’ll look forward to it. Are Poke and Junior going to get along in your head, or will there be some friction between them in your head?

  7. Stephen Cohn Says:

    I peeked in to read a paragraph and got hooked. It’s really fun! I’d love to see what’s next. The P.I. for crooks is a great idea and the music biz is close to my heart.

  8. Larissa Says:

    I read it twice-one because the eternal editor in my head wouldn’t leave me alone and the second time because I really just enjoyed reading it. There are a lot of good ideas here and as always the characters are great so far. Good start 😀

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Dana! Stephen! Riss!

    Thanks to all of you for your enthusiasm. This book has continued to arrive in something like record time — as of the session I just finished, I’m closing in on 20,000 words, and I only started it on September 26. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good, but it sure is coming fast.

    Dana — Poke and Junior are pretty different, and I also have to say that it helps that the Poke books are written in third-person present-tense and the Junior stuff is first-person past tense. I’d actually forgotten how much fun third person could be.

    Stephen — Glad you got hooked, but remember that only the first one is free. The best thing about Junior being a PI for crooks, purely from a writer’s perspective, is that it answers squarely the question that all other PI writers have to deal with — why not call the cops? Nobody in Junior’s world is going to call the cops.

    Riss — what did your internal editor find? I’d be really interested in knowing.

    And despite the stupid joke about only the first one being free, I’ll e-mail the next 3-4 chapters to anyone who asks for them. Because the material is coming so quickly, I’d be interested in some reactions. Just bear in mind that it’s all first or barely-second draft, and I still have no real idea where it’s all going.

  10. Larissa Says:

    Send it to me! (c: Also, I wanted to see if you had mailed the book yet because my dad didn’t get it but that doesn’t mean anything hehe. (c: You sound busy. I will email you what my internal editor found. (c:

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Riss —

    I’ve e-mailed you the first seven or eight chapters. I’m actually working on Chapter Ten, but I’m not sure I’m going to keep either of them. Out of nowhere, a love interest suddenly appeared, and I’m not sure the way I’m developing the relationship couldn’t be a lot better.

    And I HATE to say this, but which book? I have your address, but I got so gummed up in MISDIRECTION and so consumed with LITTLE ELVISES, and then was held captive by an operatic series of developments with my publishers, that I’ve forgotten. Maybe you could tell me which blog you responded to, so I can see whether I owe books to anyone else.

    Eager to hear your take on LITTLE ELVISES — but remember, please, this really is first, first draft stuff.

  12. Jen Forbus Says:

    I’m in love with it already! It’s unique, quick paced and the wit is always so much fun! Effective sarcasm is such a strong device. Can’t wait to hear more. I definitely want to know when it finds a publisher!

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks, Jen —

    If you’d like to read more now, let me know. Three people asked to see chapters as I produced them, and I’ve sent them out. (So far, they seem to be containing their enthusiasm.) I can send you through the end of chapter 9 now, if you’d like.

  14. Jen Forbus Says:

    Oh, you know I won’t turn down that offer! I’ve already pointed my readers in your direction for Chapter 1. Send away. I can’t wait to read more!! Thanks, Tim.

  15. Wendy Ledger Says:

    Hi, Tim,

    As someone who is currently slowly rereading all of Robert B. Parker, I felt very at home with this chapter. You have a similar flair for dialogue and humor, which makes for a very enjoyable read. I think you’ve set up a very interesting situation here.

    best, Wendy

  16. Ken Lewis Says:

    Tim, Tim, Tim: What am I gonna do with you? Turn a guy like YOU loose, and before you know it ALL the good crime fiction plots will be, well…gone! I loved Chapter 1! There is no way I could put a book like this aside; not after reading an opener like this one. The only thing I didn’t like (at first) was the detective’s name, DiGaudio. Mentally, when I first saw it on the page, I wasn’t sure how I should pronounce it. But right or wrong, after reading Chapter 1 he is now “Dee-GAWD-io” to me, so it’s all good. Great job, Mr. Hallinan!

  17. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Wendy — Thanks for the comparison — Parker is a master, despite the fact that he seems to write a book every six weeks. He keeps the standard very high.

    And Ken, you’re safe if you’re thinking about writing a cozy in which the crime is solved by a cat that’s also a quilter or a collector of Civil War memorabilia. You can begin that book in absolute confidence that I won’t beat you to print. By the way, I pronounce it “Dee-GOW-dio,” but that’s just me.

  18. Laren Bright Says:

    Curse you, Tim.

    Your damn books suck me in pretty much from the first sentence and I can’t get much done until I finish.

    But I’ll tell you this: If you think I’m going to read Little Elvises one chapter at a time and wait in drooling anticipation for the next and the next, you’re wrong.

    I’m going to forget I ever read this chapter and buy the darn book when you finish it and sail through it like I’ve done with every single one of your other books. I just don’t think I could handle the anticipation after each chapter.

    So don’t just sit there reading the blog! Get to work dammit.

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