A darkly humorous and edgy crime novel set in New York City in the late ‘80s, Blood Will Have Blood will appeal to fans of Elmore Leonard, the Coen Brothers, and Lawrence Block.
Seven years in New York, and that big break has yet to materialize for struggling actor and inveterate pothead Scott Russo. Performing in terrible, barely attended Off-Off Broadway productions, hopping from one soul-crushing job to the next, Scott slacks away in a pot-fueled haze and contemplates throwing in the towel on his anemic career. The only thing that keeps him going is the humiliation of returning home to Baltimore. That and his current theatrical gig: an idiotically bad production of Macbeth.
Broke and out of a job, Scott jumps at his friend’s offer to work for a pot delivery service, only to get caught in a web of brutal Irish gangsters, a charismatic psychopath, ruthless prosecutors, and clueless actors. As his theatrical and criminal worlds collide in mayhem, murder, and betrayal, Scott finds himself morphing into a bumbling and blood-stained Macbeth, on stage and off.
If he can just make it to opening night.
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Excerpt, Chapter Two
“Don’t speak the lines!” Allison Rucker said in a voice graveled by the several packs of unfiltered Camels she consumed daily. I sat in the back of the gloomy, black-box theater and chain-smoked with First Murderer while Rucker coached Lady Macbeth on one of her monologues, trying to push her to a seminal breakthrough. We always sat far to the back so we could whisper heckles to each other to relieve the tension of rehearsal. Actors’ gallows humor. Cast members were scattered throughout, the sycophants in the front row lest they miss a drop of acting wisdom from the maestro. Lady Macbeth, straining and clenching, was really putting effort into it, but mostly she looked like she was trying to squeeze out a deuce.
“Feel your own words,” John, aka First Murderer, whispered to me.
“Feel your own words!” Rucker shouted to Lady Macbeth. I covered my mouth to suppress laughter. Rucker’s directorial approach was to have the actors ignore Shakespeare’s lines. Instead, we would improvise within the frames of the scene, using our own, contemporary words to convey the essence of the conflict: to feel our own words. This approach was not a one-off; it was the operating procedure for every rehearsal until a few days before opening, when actors would suddenly and magically apply the play’s actual script. Shakespeare’s dialogue would be infused with the organic urgency of authentic emotions, like a natural overlay on a living animal.
Except that’s never what happened. Instead, the actors would garble unfamiliar iambic phrases that were as hard to chew as plastic straws. During performance, some would simply fall back into the exercise and improvise with unpoetic, colloquial dialogue. This would confuse the few audience members in attendance, especially when Rucker, in between sips of scotch from her flask, would shout from the back of the house: “Yes! Beautiful! Feel your own words!”
“Unsex me now!” shouted Lady Macbeth through a clenched throat.
“No!” Rucker shouted in her face. “Not the actual lines!”
Lady Macbeth’s lips quivered, and the inevitable welling of the eyes ensued. Her slight frame tremored. John looked over at me, shaking his head.
“Right on the mark,” he said, tapping his wristwatch. “Ten minutes in.” I reached in my jeans pocket and picked out a crumbled five-dollar bill. Instead of placing it in his outstretched hand, I compressed it into a ball and tossed it at him. It bounced off his face, and he coughed out a deep laugh.
“Quiet, you two!” yelled Rucker as she hugged Lady Macbeth, who was silently weeping with her face pressed into Rucker’s ubiquitously stained blue fleece sweater, worn year-round and accessorized with an Isadora Duncan scarf. She glared at us, her rheumatic eyes magnified by her goggle-like glasses. She looked like a rotund World War I pilot. John and I immediately reverted to poker faces and stared ahead. John reached over and pinched my side.
“Ow!” I yell.
“What did I say? What did I just say?” Rucker said, her face blotchy red with anger.
“Sorry,” I responded, rubbing my side. “Muscle cramp.” She gave me a simmering look. I shivered a little. I was actually a bit afraid of her. I was almost certain she could take me in a fight.
“We will resume in one hour. Precisely,” she said to the room, drawing out the word. “Do not be tardy.”
She led Lady Macbeth off the stage area and sat with her off to stage right, where she whispered encouragement. She hovered over her like a bear with a jar of honey.
“Got any pot?” John asked.
I whipped out a joint I had stashed in my pack of Marlboro Lights and waved it under his nose.
“Fuck yeah!” He hopped out of his seat, and we made our way out of the smoky darkness.
John used a paper clip from his pocket to suck in the roach of the joint. He inhaled deeply and held it in, gesturing the clip to me. I waved him off. He exhaled a long cloud of pungent smoke while I leaned against the wall of the alley. I was watching a rat eat an apple core next to one of the trash cans. The rat took a break to look up at me with suspicion. It was clearly in no mood to share. The rat resumed its meal, and I was mesmerized by how rapidly its jaw worked, how it held the core with those little rodent hands. What did the apple taste like to the rat? Did rats think? If so, what was this rat thinking? Was it thinking, I’m so lucky I found this apple today? Or: This man can’t have my apple?
“Scott! Hello! Earth to Scott!” I broke from my trance and looked over at John, who smiled at me. Had he always looked like a rodent? With those beady eyes and that small mouth. His hair was a flat brown, the same shade as the rat’s. Jesus, I was really stoned.
“You’re really stoned,” John said.
“You’re one to talk. Your eyes look like two bloody slits.” “Oh, shit. Really? Do you think Rucker can tell? We may do
our scene later. Hey, let’s rehearse!”
“No fucking way. I’m not going to stand in the alley here with
you and improvise our, like, seven lines. I’m sorry, I mean ‘feel the words’ of our seven lines.”
“Come on! This alley is perfect.”
“Nope, not happening.” I yawned and thought about my restaurant shift later. Christ, I don’t want to work the dinner rush tonight. I wondered if Mary was going to come by after or if last night was another one-off. I couldn’t tell this morning when she’d left; she was consumed by the scene she was going to be working in acting class later. Probably not. It would be too soon for her. She’d had her needy crisis, and I had performed my duties.
“Did you get this pot from Freddie?” John asked.
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“The most excellent quality. His service is pricey, though.
Probably worth it. I bought a dime bag in the park the other night, and when I got home and lit up, I realized I was smoking oregano and whatever other shit was in it. Asshole told me it was Kush.”
“Yeah, don’t buy from those jokers in the park; you have no idea what you’re getting. Here, take this.” I handed him the baggie with the dregs of last night’s pot. I was feeling generous and flush with the prospects of my new job.
“Really? Man, that’s radical! Thanks! I should see if Freddie’s service needs more delivery guys. Could you ask him next time you see him? I bet the money is pretty good. Hey, did you check with your place to see if they had an opening?” John, perennially unemployed, only sought work by asking others to seek it for him.
“Yeah, not yet. I mean, I just started myself, so I’m provisional. The place is pretty, you know, exclusive.”
“I heard that. Hard to get shifts. You got the job through Mary, right?” He saw my face drop. “Oh, shit. Sorry, man.” Mary worked there, but somehow came and went as she pleased.
“No, it’s fine. I saw her last night. We’re cool.” I played it nonchalant as we stood for several moments in uncomfortable silence. He looked around, then became very fascinated with his shoes. After a while he looked back up at me.
“We should get back. Don’t want to be late,” he said. “Precisely!” I said, imitating Rucker’s hideous gravel.
John’s laugh turned into a loud coughing fit. I smacked him
on the back a few times, and we made our way down the alley to the building’s side maintenance door, propped open with a brick. I took a last look back at the rat, but it had disappeared with its prize.