This Is Horror is proud to present this exclusive excerpt from Adam Howe’s latest release, Tijuana Donkey Showdown. From the author of Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, Black Cat Mojo, and the winner of Stephen King’s On Writing contest, comes another hard-hitting slice of pulp Southern crime, 80s action, pop Americana, and pitch-black comedy.
Here’s the synopsis:
Reggie Levine, ex-boxer turned bouncer, and hapless hero, has barely recovered from his ordeal in Damn Dirty Apes, when he is called back to action. Recruited to retrieve a Chinese crested terrier from a fleapit roadside zoo, where the ugly effing showdog has been mistaken for the chupacabra, Reggie soon finds himself embroiled in a deadly criminal conspiracy involving neo-Nazi drug smugglers, a seedy used-car salesman, a wannabe serial killer, an ornery Vietnam veteran, a badass veterinarian, a freakishly endowed adult entertainment donkey named Enrique, and in an explosive cameo, an Academy Award winning Hollywood icon.
And now, here’s the exclusive excerpt:
Tijuana Donkey Showdown
FOR A GREAT BUICK
I first met Harry Muffet in the men’s room at The Henhouse, Walt Wiley’s titty tonk in Bigelow town, where some fella, looked like an Orc from a Lord of the Rings movie, only not as pretty, was using Harry’s head as a toilet plunger.
The Orc had Harry by the ankles, dunking him headfirst into the crapper like he was dipping a donut in his morning cup of Joe. He dragged Harry’s head from the bowl and granted him a gulp of air to prolong his misery. The Orc clearly hadn’t done him the courtesy of flushing the commode. Harry’s face was freckled with the previous occupant’s leavings, maybe the Orc’s, in which case this was a premeditated deal. Filth was spewing up over the rim of the bowl, spreading across the cracked tile floor of the men’s room. I shook my head and sighed, not needing three guesses to know who’d be cleaning up the mess. This was already shaping up to be a regular rare morning.
The men’s room door clattered shut behind me. The Orc’s head cranked around, and he glared at me, a tree stump of a man with a patchy red beard, like even his facial fuzz wanted off his ugly mug. He wore a sweat-stained shirt with a trucking company logo on the back, and his name was stitched across the breast, maybe so he wouldn’t forget it. That name was OTIS. Well, of course it was. In my experience, you can’t reason with an Otis. They’re ornery as hell.
I stayed standing where I was at the entrance to the john, my new copy of Ring magazine tucked under my arm, and last night’s microwave burrito, which had seemed like a swell idea at the time, bolting through my bowels like a fugitive fleeing for the border. I fidgeted from foot to foot. “You fellas gonna be long?” Because the men’s room at The Henhouse had just the one commode, not counting the sink, although on rowdy weekends, a lot of fellas did count it.
Harry came up for air and spluttered, “The hell you think’s going on here?”
“I wouldn’t want to jump to conclusions.”
“Do I look like a willing participant in this?”
On consideration, I had to admit he didn’t.
“And you work here, right?”
I glanced down at the black tee shirt I was wearing. STAFF was printed across the chest, except most of the ‘A’ had rubbed off in the wash, so it looked more like it read STIFF. My boss, Walt Wiley (for my sins, he was also my best friend) thought that was hysterical and refused to spring for a new shirt.
I looked back at Harry and nodded reluctantly.
“So do something!”
Otis glanced between Harry and me. “This piece-a shit a friend of yours?”
Harry started telling him how we were lifelong buddies, willing to die for each other—
Unable to hear over Harry’s yammering, Otis shoved his head back down into the toilet bowl. Harry’s gargling cries echoed through the men’s room.
“Nope,” I said to Otis. “But I am the head bouncer here…” I couldn’t resist using the trumped-up job title Walt had given me instead of a raise.
Except Otis called me on it. “There’s other bouncers in this dive?”
“The point is,” I said, “I can’t allow you to drown a man in our commode.” Not least because I was likely to contaminate the crime scene when I took a dump in it directly afterwards.
Otis’s face crumpled in disappointment. Like he couldn’t believe what this country was coming to. That a man was no longer free to drown someone in a strip club toilet. Thanks, Obama. “You don’t understand, mister. This hornswoggling sonofabitch sold my sister a deathtrap on wheels. He damn near killed her!”
Harry came up for air and protested, “I can’t be held responsible once the car leaves the lot!”
“She wasn’t fifty yards off the lot when the brakes failed,” Otis said. “She nearly went under a truck!”
“Well…” Harry said, with a sheepish chuckle. “Shit happens.”
Which was an unfortunate choice of words, because down he went again.
The next time Otis let Harry up for air, I canted my head like an art critic and took a closer look at him, and I suddenly recognized his face, soiled though it was, from the advertising billboards around town.
The signs said:
HARRY’S PRE-OWNED AMERICAN AUTO
Buying a NEW pre-owned?
You’ll be happy as Larry you bought from Harry!
In the billboards, Harry was holding up a set of car keys, grinning like a fisherman with the catch of the day. Behind him was a fleet of gleaming luxury cars that looked nothing like the decrepit beaters I saw on display whenever I passed his dealership. He was wearing the used-car salesman’s uniform of a check sports jacket and slacks, with a Stars and Stripes tie. He boasted a magnificent bouffant of hair, and a mustache like Tom Selleck’s in Magnum, if Magnum lost his private eye license due to conduct unbecoming and went to hell in a bourbon bottle.
Given the ubiquity of the billboards around town, and the late night TV commercials that aired on local cable, Harry Muffet was something like a celebrity in Bigelow. I made the mistake of saying, “Hey, I know you.”
Harry clutched at my words like a drowning man clinging to flotsam.
“That’s right, Reggie! You do! Of course you do! Help me, please!”
I wasn’t overly surprised that Harry knew my name; I was something like a local celebrity myself.
Even Otis narrowed his eyes, sized me up and down. “Reggie Levine?”
Once upon a time, I was a prizefighter. I coulda been a contender… Until the day I fought Boar Hog Brannon for the light heavyweight state title, and he damn near beat me to death. (Years later, when it was of scant consolation, I discovered he’d cheated in our match…but that’s another story.) More recently, and memorably, my claim to fame was what most folks in town called the ‘skunk ape thing.’ A couple of years ago, a creature believed to be the mythical Bigelow Skunk Ape – a backwoods Bigfoot with B.O. – abducted our high school football mascot, Boogaloo Baboon, plus the man inside the monkey suit, Ned Pratt. I found myself among the posse who set off into the Sticks on a rescue mission – along with Eliza Tuttle, who used to dance topless at The Henhouse, and who now acts, often topless, in Hollywood B-pictures; Eliza’s boyfriend, the late Lester Swash; and self-proclaimed skunk ape hunter Jameson T. Salisbury. Now it turned out the skunk ape wasn’t no skunk ape; it was just a big-ass orangutan called Mofo. Unfortunately for us, Mofo was bad-tempered, and randy as a goat with two peckers – poor Ned bore the brunt of his lust. To make matters worse, Mofo was also a member of the Damn Dirty Apes motorcycle club. The Apes were cooking crystal meth out at Herb Planter’s old hog farm, and were not best pleased when we stumbled across their operation. Needless to say, things went FUBAR right quick. Eliza, Ned and me were lucky to escape with our lives. Salisbury and Lester weren’t so fortunate.
Probably that sounds a little strange to you?
Well, no shit. I was there and I still struggle to believe it really happened.
Maybe you saw the Hollywood movie they made? Damn Dirty Apes. Swept the board at the Razzies last year. Eliza debuted as herself in the movie and did a pretty fair job of it. Me, I’ve got a mug that’d break a radio. Nicolas Cage played yours truly, sporting a mullet made his Con Air-‘do seem conservative, even though I haven’t styled my hair like that since the nineties. But who the hell am I to argue with the artistic choices of Nicolas Cage? The Man’s an icon.
Ever since the movie was released, people had started visiting The Henhouse to hear me tell the story in person, or to ask me questions about Nicolas Cage, who I never met, so they’d always leave grumbling and disappointed. Stranger still were the folks who started bringing me their problems to solve, like I was some kinda one-man A-Team who could help them. But worst of all were the scalp-hunters; the badasses who wanted to test their mettle by dancing a few rounds with the Skunk Ape Slayer, Reggie Levine.
It looked like Otis was the latest of these knuckleheads.
Just bigger and uglier than usual.
He stomped from the toilet stall like a troll from his cave. He was still clutching Harry by the ankle. One handed, no less. A show of brute strength that hardly filled me with joy at the prospect of going toe to toe with him.
“I heard-a you,” Otis sneered, “Mr. so-called Skunk Ape Slayer.”
With a grunt, he flung Harry clear the length of the men’s room. If used-car salesman tossing was an Olympic event, Otis would’ve been a gold medalist.
Harry crashed against the condom dispenser and thudded to the floor. A rain of rubbers ejaculated from the machine. Novelty rubbers, I should add, because for most of the patrons at The Henhouse, getting laid was indeed a novelty. “We’re selling fantasy here,” Walt liked to say.
Otis marched towards me, chinking his neck and balling ham-hock fists.
“I’d like to see you beat on me like you beat on that orangutan,” he said.
Did I mention that those Damn Dirty Apes made me box Mofo the orangutan? True story.
“I don’t want no trouble here,” I said, “all I want is a crap.”
Otis loosened my bowels with a left hook to the gut and I filled my shorts with liquidized burrito. I managed to wheeze, “Goddamn it—” Then he grabbed the front of my shirt and hoisted me up into the air. The top of my skull cracked the ceiling light with a crunch of plastic. The light bulb started spazzing, turning the men’s room into the world’s seediest discotheque. Still clutching my copy of Ring magazine, I swatted Otis over the head with it, like I was trying to housebreak a puppy. That didn’t do much else except piss him off – so I jabbed him in the eye with the rolled-up end – now he was really mad. He let out a roar and pitched me across the room, like he was trying to beat the record he’d set hurling Harry. I crashed through the flimsy wooden wall of the toilet stall, reducing years of historic graffiti to kindling.
On hands and knees inside the buckled stall, I clutched the crapper and tried to steady myself. But before I could clamber to my feet, Otis landed on my back like Hulk Hogan leaping down from the turnbuckle. The breath woofed from my lungs. Otis gripped me by the hair and started shoving my head down towards the shit-choked toilet bowl.
Snatching the porcelain lid from the toilet top, I swung the slab back over my shoulder, and smashed the heavy tablet in two across Otis’s forehead. Otis let out a grunt. His hands relaxed on the back of my neck. Squirming free from his grip, I scrambled across the stall away from him, wedging myself between the commode and the wall, like someone seeking shelter during an earthquake. Otis was out on his feet, teetering ominously. His eyeballs rolled up white in his skull. Blood streamed from the gash in his forehead where I’d brained him with the cistern slab. He dropped to one knee like he was about to propose. Then, instead of popping the question, he toppled forwards, his bulk crashing down on the toilet bowl and shattering the porcelain to rubble. A tsunami of sewage flooded across the floor, drenching me in a stinking spray of brown-and-yellow filth.
But, thank God, at least Otis was done for.
I glanced across the men’s room, expecting to see Harry cowering beneath the condom dispenser, grateful for me having saved his life. But he was gone. The sneaky sonofabitch must have vamoosed while I was tussling with Otis.
I leaned against the wall and caught my breath, not to mention a ferocious whiff of ripe human waste. Otis was splayed facedown in a lake of piss. I didn’t have the heart to just leave him to drown, so I rolled him onto his back. Okay: So I kicked him onto his back. Hard. He deserved that much.
Surveying the flooded floor, I spotted a leather wallet propped up against a turd. It must’ve fallen from Harry’s pocket while Otis was shaking him upside down. The wallet, I mean, not the turd. I fetched the wallet from the floor and tossed it in the sink and ran the faucet to clean it some. I’d return it to its owner with a few choice words. My new Ring magazine was beyond salvage, reduced to mulch, and that really pissed me off, because I had to order it special from the store in town and there was no telling how long I’d be waiting for a replacement.
I grabbed Otis by his ankles and started yoking him from the men’s room.
The Henhouse was much as I’d left it when I went to take a crap.
In fact, the place had hardly changed in the couple years since the skunk ape thing.
Same slab of oak bar, fringed with old Christmas lights; same shrine of dusty liquor bottles behind it. Same butcher-block tables and chairs, same shadowy booths with slashed-vinyl seats. Same old Lou; huddled at the end of the runway stage like a seedy off-Broadway theater director, tithing the dancing gals from his pile of palm-clammy singles. Same old Marlene, The Henhouse’s sumo-sized dancing queen, working the stage in her G-string and pasties, spinning her tassels like Chinook rotor blades. Same cigarette-scarred pool table. Same Smokey and the Bandit pinball machine; I’d lost my high score to another pinball wizard but was determined to claw it back, no matter how many quarters it cost me. The old rotary phone in the telephone kiosk had been repaired, but cell phones had been invented during the time it was out of service.
Walt Wiley, the owner of The Henhouse, was holding court behind the bar. “Mark my words,” he proclaimed, “when the cops catch this Backseat Strangler sonofabitch, he’ll be a Mexican—” The usual barflies were lining the oak slab like crows along a telephone wire, hanging on Walt’s every word in the forlorn hope of a free shot.
On the wall behind the bar was the framed, yellowing news cutting commemorating my fight with Boar Hog Brannon:
BIGELOW BOY BRUTALIZED IN PRIZEFIGHT.
Walt had since added more news cuttings about the skunk ape thing – for the tourists, he claimed – plus the postcards we’d occasionally receive from Eliza out in Hollywood.
There was even a framed poster from the Damn Dirty Apes movie.
It was signed in a shaky hand:
To my good friend, Walt
Walt had, of course, signed the poster himself – which was why Nic Cage had misspelled his name – and then sworn me to secrecy.
Other than that, yep, same old Henhouse, all right.
And same old Reggie Levine, neck-deep in shit, only literally this time.
I ankle-dragged Otis from the men’s room, smearing sewage across the floor in our wake as I lugged him to the door. Walt took one look at me, and he must’ve remembered the funniest joke he ever heard, because he started slapping the bar slab and laughing his ass off.
“Toilet humor,” he said. “Can’t beat it.”
He said to the barflies, “Take a pitcher on your phone, would you, someone?”
Great, I thought. A new addition to my Wall of Shame. “Go take a look at the men’s room,” I said to Walt, “let’s see how you like toilet humor then.”
I dragged Otis outside, left him in the parking lot to wake up and hobble home. He could count himself lucky I didn’t call our local lawman, Constable Randy-Ray Gooch. Although frankly, the fewer people saw me looking like this, the better.
I went back inside, dripping on the WIPE YOUR FEET welcome mat. Walt was still snickering. “You see a used-car salesman go running past?” I asked him. “Covered in shit? Guilty look on his face for leaving me to get killed?”
Walt considered a moment. “Apart from the guilty look, you must mean Harry Muffet.”
“Walt,” I said, “I’m gonna need to take a personal day.”
“You asking or telling me?”
“You really want me working, looking and smelling like this?”
I could tell he was tempted to keep me around, if only to bust my chops. But in the end the stench won out. “See you bright n’ early tomorrow, Champ.”
Before I could leave, he called out: “Reggie, wait!”
I turned back around and was blinded by a camera flash. When my vision returned, Walt was grinning at the photo he’d taken on a camera phone.
“Oh yeah,” he said, “that’s a keeper.”
Tijuana Donkey Showdown will be unleashed December 9, 2016. Available in trade paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon and other online retailers.
Read the first Reggie Levine misadventure, Damn Dirty Apes, in the Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet collection, available in TPB, Kindle, and Audible formats.
Buy Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet by Adam Howe Buy Tijuana Donkey Showdown by Adam Howe