Billboard Man

After a savage beating that left him near death – and brought him no closer to his estranged daughter – the nameless drifter returns to the road, still a haunted man who’s yet to recover from the brutal murder of his wife.

But as he wanders from the red-rock spires of Arizona to Sun Studios in Memphis, he succumbs to sordid temptation – and is soon accused of murder.  To clear himself, he must find the real killer, unaware that his nemesis, a Wall Street power broker, is once again manipulating him afar and has unleashed a killer on his trail – and the trail of his daughter.

Once again, the drifter learns there’s no place to hide on the long, dark road when so many people want him dead.

Nighttime and the place was filling up, but the band hadn’t started yet.  Some kind of old Southern rock played from the jukebox, and they were still talking about nothing.  Ginger dropped her hand on top of his.  The next round’s mine, she said.

He stood and nodded toward the back of the bar.

“I’ll save your place,” she said as she started thumbing through his book again.

A wiry guy sitting by the pool table watched him as he made the long walk to the rest room.

When he came out, the guy was in his seat at the bar.  He was barking at Ginger.

“You’re in my seat,” said the man who’d introduced himself to the woman as J.J.

“Nobody’s talking to you, Dad.”

Dad?

The wiry guy had sideburns along his narrow face and a little thatch of hair under his bottom lip.  He wore black jeans and thick boots with heels for stomping.  His studded leather wristband matched his belt and colorful tattoos up his arms like half-done graffiti.

“Boone—“

“Let’s get going, Ginger,” he demanded as he slid down off the stool.  “Enough’s enough.”

“Boone,” she repeated.  “Do you mind?”

He grabbed her arm.  “Come on.”

Ginger snapped free.

J.J. stepped between them.  “She’ll see you later.  Boone.”

“Old man, you don’t know what you’re trying to bite off.”

He edged toward the stool.  Trying to turn down the heat, he said, “Your friend just bought me a beer.”

Boone Stillwell was on his way to drunk, but hadn’t gotten there yet.  “Who said she’s my friend?”

“She’s got the right to see me put it away.”

“You think this is funny, old man?”

Not yet, no.

“Do you?”

“Boone,” Ginger said.  “Why are you doing this?  Boone.”

Boone made some kind of move and out of his back pocket came a leather band, rounded on top and weighted.

“Oh shit.  No, Boone,” Ginger moaned.

J.J. Walk took a beating not long ago with a lead sap.  Thing bit like a son of a bitch.  A double shot could crack bone.

Interested now, the crowd inched forward.  The clack of pool balls halted.

Boone raised the sap up high and rolled his wrist like he was preparing to strike.

“Is it funny now, old-”

The beer mug smashed Boone Stillwell full force in the face and slammed him back into the doorframe.  The man dove off the stool, the mug still in his hand and, kneeling on Stillwell, hit him with it square on the forehead, using the mug like brass knuckles.  Second time he hit him, the mug shattered.  The man looked down and he had the handle in his fist.

A shard of glass was embedded in Stillwell’s face, just above the eyebrow.

The man jumped up.

He looked at the sap, which also served as a key chain, three or four keys on the ring.

He kicked it toward the street.

He spun, waiting, legs wide, fists cocked. A crowd had gathered near, maybe 15 people including the bikers from down the bar.

First time he was pounded to paste in public, he was 15 years old.

Now a big leather-vest biker with a handlebar mustache pointed to his neck.  “Say, friend…”

The man who called himself J.J. dropped the handle and felt for a piece of glass stuck near his throat.

He pulled it clear.

“Ginger,” the bartender said, “get him out of here.”

Her T-shirt was soaked with beer.

Stillwell was bleeding from his mouth where the first blow struck.  A thin stream oozed from the wound above his brow.  His eyes rolled in his head.

Composed, Ginger said, “J.J.  Let’s go.”

He was surprised.  He thought the bartender was telling her to get Stillwell out of his doorway.

“J.J.”  She was tugging at his sleeve.

He had $43 in his pocket.  He tossed the bills on the bar.

He grabbed his book and followed Ginger through the crowd toward the side door.

“Fusilli is to mysteries as Alan Furst is to political thrillers” — Workman Publishing

“Offering a neatly plotted tale full of humor with just a little pathos, Fusilli, a music critic for The Wall Street Journal as well as a novelist, has created a captivating knight errant thriller.” — Library Journal