Cover image for House of corrections
House of corrections
Swanson, Doug J., 1953-
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Publication Information:
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, [2000]

Physical Description:
264 pages ; 23 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Jack Flippo finds himself drowning in a sea of mistakes again. This time, the hapless PI plunges himself, unwittingly, into a nasty scramble for a load of drug-money in which he has no interest. He's just looking for a little justice and maybe a little love.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Wesley Joy is a defender of drug scum living in semiretirement in Galveston. He's best pals with seedy Dallas PI Jack Flippo--they once worked together as prosecutors--so when the cops find heroin in Joy's car after he's pulled over speeding, Flippo gets the inevitable call for help. Looking into the circumstances behind Joy's arrest, Flippo finds a life in a mess as big as his own. Money, drugs, and sex are at the center of a dangerous tangle that involves wisecrackin' renegade DEA agents, crooked lawyers, and a bitter reporter determined to use Joy's "unjust incarceration" as the stepping stone to a big-time job in, say, Abilene. Flippo makes a great antihero: he doesn't like who he's become but can't muster the courage to make a change. Until he can, his best shots at happiness will come from unregistered .38s and bottles of cheap bourbon. This is the hard-boiled novel at its grittiest and most unsentimental. Jack Flippo is the real deal. --Wes Lukowsky

Publisher's Weekly Review

If Florida is home to the most offbeat sleuthing characters, Texas must run a close second. And Jack Flippo, with his tarnished-knight ethics and delightfully wry, caustic take on the hands life deals, moves to the very top of the Lone Star State's offerings in this fifth outing from Golden Dagger winner and Edgar nominee Swanson (Big Town, 96 Tears, etc.). When lawyer Wesley Joy calls from a small-town jail, where he's incarcerated on a drug charge, to plead with his old pal Jack to come immediately, well, Jack just has to. He figures to return the favors Wesley did him when they were both prosecutors in the Dallas County DA's office, as well as the sexual favors conferred on him by Wesley's wife, Angelique. Soon after Jack agrees to find Angelique, who's cruising somewhere on shark-infested Galveston Bay in her and Wesley's 32-foot sloop, the fun and the mayhem begin. Wesley makes an improbable jailbreak, an ambitious reporter chases Wesley's story, an embarrassed deputy plots his revenge and all of them try to locate a cache of missing drug money. Flippo embodies an appealing blend of middle-aged angst, lust-addled principles and faded idealism. Swanson's mix of crudity and wit, humor and crime, sex and murder works to keep the smiles coming and the pages turning as Flippo romps through the action to a wild finish. Agent, Janet Wilkens Manus. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One ONE OF THE MEN , a portly Cajun named Emil L'Hereaux, took a bullet in the forehead, a little left of center. The other, a skinny ex-con known as Mope, got his twice in the back as he tried to climb out a bathroom window.     The shootings took place about the time B. T. Mack ordered a slice of banana cream pie. B. T. was twenty-six years old and had been the part-time overnight deputy sheriff and jail guard in Luster, Texas, for almost three months. He had landed the job after a three-week career as a bouncer at a roadhouse outside Vidor, the next county over. B. T. lost the roadhouse gig when he punched the son of a local banker and knocked him out of his wheelchair.     As a Luster deputy, B. T. had yet to see his first dead body, unless you counted his new girlfriend's grandmother, who passed in a nursing home. He had gone to the funeral-parlor viewing, had gazed down at the old woman in the coffin. Somebody said she looked as if she were asleep.     "All plastered with makeup, with her hair combed nice and neat," B. T. said now. He was sitting on a stool at the Luster Truck Stop. "Sure didn't look like sleeping to me. They wanted that, they should've put the old lady in her pajamas."     "That's a awful thing to say" Cheri the waitress told him.     "Hey, was ain't is ." B. T. ate his pie and watched Cheri's butt wiggle as she walked away. Two in the morning, nobody in the place but them and the cook. A sad song from the jukebox hung in the air along with the smell of old fryer grease.     B. T. cleared his throat. "Dead is an all-the-way kinda thing, know what I'm saying?"     Cheri wasn't listening anymore, so B. T. finished his pie and left. Out on the empty highway he pushed his patrol car to eighty-five, cruising toward the Luster Central Business District, with the East Texas pines flying by on each side. The little houses and ragged stores that clung to the edge of the asphalt were dark.     In a few minutes, he was at the shabby center of town. B. T. stopped at the flashing red traffic signal, corner of Main Street and Railroad Avenue, and gazed at some boarded-up windows. Talk about dead.     The thing to do now, he thought, might be roll back out to the county line and set up a predawn speed trap. Catch a quick nap that way, sunk low in the seat while the radar gun did all the work. He was about to go when he saw the other car.     It was, as B. T. put it later, hauling serious tail down Main, with its high beams blinding him. Now the car was half a block from him, still coming, not slowing a bit. With B. T. thinking he would be hit square-on, nothing he could do to stop it.     But at the corner, the car swung left toward Railroad Avenue. B. T. watched the red Camaro make a fourwheel, rubber-burning slide across the intersection. "Whoa, mama," he said, as the car skidded in front of him, hopped the low sidewalk, and wiped out a Luster Advertiser news rack. It stopped there.     B. T. grabbed his flashlight and ran to the Camaro. Finally, some excitement in this dog-ass place. He opened the driver's side door and shined the light inside. A woman's voice said, "It's a cop."     The driver was a decent looker, blonde. Blood dripped from her nose into her cupped hands. B. T. said, "You okay, ma'am?"     "I'm fine," she said, turning away.     B. T. shifted the beam to the passenger. She had short, dark hair, and she shrank from the light like an animal backed into a hole. He sniffed and got no smell of alcohol. Asking, "Anybody hurt bad?"     "I just told you we're fine," the blonde said.     "Soon as you stop bleeding," B. T. said, "I'm gonna need to see your license and your insurance."     He took one step back and counted up the citations he would have to write: speeding, failure to maintain vehicular control, no turn signal. B. T. was wondering whether to include improper lane change when the excited voice of the dispatcher came over the two-way radio that hung on his belt: Report of a disturbance with injuries, the dispatcher said, at the Carefree Motel.     Man, the burg was hopping all of a sudden. B. T. had no choice but to answer that call. He leaned into the Camaro, talking fast: "Your lucky night, ladies. Y'all are free to go."     The Carefree Motel was an old place out near Luster Building Supply. Ten units, cinder block, with a pot of sick petunias outside each door. B. T. had been there once before, his first week on the job, when a lodger on amphetamines was hauling chairs from his room and tossing them into the pool. Best fight B. T. had been in this year.     Now he blew into the Carefree parking lot with his red lights flashing. The night clerk, a wall-eyed vet of the Luster drunk tank, did a brittle-bones hustle out of the office. "Room five," he said. "I might of heard three shots."     B. T. blinked a couple of times, then gestured with his chin. "You been in there?"     The clerk shook his head. "Bullets start flying, I stay out."     "See anything from the office?"     "I was using the john when I heard it. Took me a minute or two to get clear."     B. T. narrowed his eyes. "Then how you know it was number five?"     The clerk sent the look right back. "Because that's the only one, junior, we got rented tonight."     B. T. took a big breath and let it out. "All right, then. Guess it's time to give a look."     "Think it'll be a mess?" the clerk said. "Velma's gonna be all over my ass if it's a mess."     B. T. paused by the pot of petunias outside the room. He drew his gun and held it by his ear, pointed up, the way he had been taught in cadet training. His flashlight was in the other hand. His shoes were so new they squeaked when he moved.     He knocked on the door. "Sheriff's deputy," he said, then said it again louder.     The clerk stayed about ten feet back. Saying, "She gives me any grief about damage, I'll quit her right now."     B. T. studied a quavery, tilted five that had been drawn on the fading turquoise paint with a Magic Marker. The door was pulled shut, but not all the way, with a sliver of dim light showing between the edge and the frame.     From behind him the clerk said, "Hey, I was looking for a job when I found this one."     B. T. pushed. The door swung open with a squeal of dry hinges. He stepped into a room that smelled of old mildew and fresh urine.     "Anything broken?" the clerk called.     A lamp was on, and the TV going. On the bed, faceup, was a man who probably went 250 pounds. He wore a Dallas Cowboys T-shirt that couldn't quite cover his belly, and white pants with a wet yellow stain around the crotch. Blood trickled from a dime-sized hole in his forehead.     B. T. felt the banana cream pie curdling. He stared at the fat man. This one definitely did not look to be sleeping.     He glanced to the rear, toward the bathroom, and saw a pair of legs dangling from the wall. One foot was missing its shoe. B T. stepped closer, pointing the flashlight, and saw that the legs belonged to someone who had managed to get his head and shoulders through a window above the toilet.     Someone else must have decided he shouldn't leave. The back of the man's shirt was soaked with blood. B. T. lifted the tail of the shirt with the barrel of his gun and saw two bullet holes along the man's spine.     When B. T. came back outside, the clerk was waiting. Asking, "What's the report, junior?" B. T. pulled the two-way radio from his belt; dry mouth made it hard to talk when the dispatcher answered. Two fatalities, B. T. said into the radio. Gunshot wounds, lots of blood.     The clerk said, "Velma's gonna be pissed."     B. T. put the radio back in his belt, gave his head a hard clearing shake, and took a few deep breaths of night air. Then he watched as a black Ford Explorer bounded off the highway and into the motel lot.     It burned across the Carefree asphalt, going straight for the patrol car, not slowing down. B. T. put his hand on his gun. Telling himself, A night this crazy, no telling what else might bust loose.     The Explorer came to a stop three feet short of a wreck. The driver's door opened, and a short man climbed down. He was a stocky guy in his fifties, with a bald head and a full beard.     He moved quickly toward room five, waving a badge at B. T. and saying, "D.E.A., son. We'll take it from here."     It was all happening too fast for B. T. He stepped into the doorway and blocked entry. Asking, "Who are you?"     The man wore faded jeans and a blue nylon parka, with a snap-button western shirt stretched over a barrel chest. His forehead beaded sweat and his eyes jumped. He looked past B. T. into the room and said, "What's the situation in there?"     When B. T. didn't answer the clerk said, "Two of 'em shot to shit. Blood all over the damn place."     "Jesus Christ." The man looked like someone who had just been punched. "All right, step aside."     B. T. shook his head. "I'm gonna have to ask you to move away.     "Did you--" The man wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and rocked from foot to foot. "Did you or anybody else remove evidence from that room? Anything at all."     B. T. told him again to move away.     The man raised his badge to B.T.'s eye level. "See where it says Drug Enforcement Administration? You're right in the middle of a federal operation, boy. Soon as you crate your ass out of the way, I'll get on the phone with the Justice Department. F.B.I. crime techs'll be here the minute they can get a chopper in. And you"--he put his finger in B. T.'s chest--"you'll be lucky to keep a job cleaning toilets."     "Uh-oh" the clerk said. "Better let him in, junior."     The man said, "How much longer, boy, you gonna interfere with the United States government?"     B. T. thought of the way his high school football coach would tear into him when he blew a play. He remembered the coach asking him, How dumb, Mack, can one dumbass be?     He was aching to punch this guy, but B. T. was still a little gun-shy from his roadhouse firing. He swallowed hard and stepped aside, and the man blew past him into the room. The clerk whistled and said, "Must be something big."     "Open up that other room"--B. T. pointed to number six--"and let me use the phone."     He called the sheriff, woke him up. The sheriff said he was on the way as soon as he figured out where his wife put the car keys. B. T. told him about the federal agent. The sheriff said, "Do what now?" B. T. told him again.     "You instruct him to get his ass away from that crime scene," the sheriff said, talking loud. "I don't care who he is. You tell him that, and if he even looks at you cross-eyed, you place him under arrest. You copy that?"     B. T. copied it. Thinking, Goddamn, this'll be a pleasure. Maybe he'd be forced to slap the man around a little, even if it was a fed. He went back outside with his hand on his gun, ready for action.     But the Ford Explorer had disappeared. The night clerk stood where it had been.     "Looking for the bald dude?" he said. "Tell you what, he didn't waste no time. Took a quick trip through the room, pulled all the drawers out of the dresser, then lit out of here like his pants was on fire." Copyright © 2000 Doug Swanson. All rights reserved.