Zero Avenue

By Dietrich Kalteis

Zero Avenue
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“If you like your crime hard and fast, Kalteis is for you.” — The Globe and Mail

Set to the cranking beat and amphetamine buzz of Vancouver’s early punk scene, Zero Avenue follows Frankie Del Rey, a talented and rising punk star who runs just enough dope on the side to ... Read more


Overview

“If you like your crime hard and fast, Kalteis is for you.” — The Globe and Mail

Set to the cranking beat and amphetamine buzz of Vancouver’s early punk scene, Zero Avenue follows Frankie Del Rey, a talented and rising punk star who runs just enough dope on the side to pay the bills and keep her band, Middle Finger, together. The trouble is she’s running it for Marty Sayles, a powerful drug dealer who controls the Eastside with a fist.

When Frankie strikes up a relationship with Johnny Falco, the owner of one of the only Vancouver clubs willing to give punk a chance, she finds out he’s having his own money problems just keeping Falco’s Nest open. Desperate to keep his club, Johnny raids one of the pot fields Marty Sayles has growing out past Surrey, along Zero Avenue on the U.S. border. He gets away with a pickup load and pays back everybody he owes. Arnie Binz, bass player for Waves of Nausea, finds out about it and decides that was easy enough. But he gets caught by Marty’s crew.

Johnny and Frankie set out to find the missing Arnie, but Marty Sayles is pissed and looking for who ripped off his other field — a trail that leads to Johnny and Frankie.

Dietrich Kalteis

Dietrich Kalteis is the author of three crime novels, Ride the Lightning (which won a bronze medal in the 2015 Independent Publisher Awards and was hailed as one of the best Vancouver crime novels), Triggerfish, and The Deadbeat Club. More than 40 of his short stories have been published internationally, and his screenplay, Between Jobs, was a finalist in the Los Angeles Screenplay Festival. He resides with his family in West Vancouver and is currently working on his next novel.

Excerpt

. . . FALCO’S NEST

She walked in, Falco’s Nest open to the indie music scene. Johnny Falco being the second club owner with the balls to do it. Most venues around town treated punk like taboo: pogo dancing leading to underaged drinking, leading to drunken fist fights, leading to police raids and shutdowns.

Johnny moved here from back east, got to know the punk scene in Toronto, told her about living in the Lawrence Hotel, rooms like two bucks and change a night, a Sabbath cover band called Never Say Die stayed down the hall, the band living on potatoes and soup packets. Getting to know them while bowling with empty ketchup and beer bottles in the hall, driving the landlord crazy.

She loved hearing Johnny tell about the Toronto scene: the Viletones, the Demics. Bands like the Diodes, Cardboard Brains and Teenage Head out of Hamilton, venues like Larry’s Hideaway on Carlton. Johnny saying he wished he’d been on the coast to catch the Furies before they split up, loved their sound, getting out here a couple years too late.

Photos were tacked up behind the bar: him standing arm in arm with Frankie Venom, another one of him and Daniel Rey, producer for the Ramones, one with Carole Pope out front of the Concert Hall.

Lachman over at the Buddha was first to do it in Vancouver, bringing the sound to town. The Young Canadians, still called the K-Tels back then, put on a hell of a show, followed by the Subhumans. The Buddha had been packed ever since, Lachman still trying to live down the night he kicked out Hendrix, back in the club’s R&B days a decade earlier, Lachman telling anybody who’d listen the guy just played too loud.

Falco’s Nest had been catching the Buddha’s overflow since opening its doors eight months back. Johnny usually short on cash, but long on ideas, showcasing new talent, giving bands a chance to jump off the hamster wheel of shit gigs available to them. The local papers called both clubs a spawning ground for a new terrorism on the sensibilities, but Vancouver’s punk scene didn’t read the dailies — fans flocking from as far as Mission, giving the “No Fun City” image a good shake.

Not sure who Johnny had booked in tonight, she walked by the posters plastered across the storefront window. Hoping to duck Marty till later, she’d come to hear some music, have a beer with Johnny then drop in at the Buddha, catch some of D.O.A.’s second set. The guys sometimes letting her sit in. Her Flying V locked in the trunk, just in case.

She stepped into the warmth and the smoke. The biker blocking the door was Stain, big as a bear, tattooed arms hanging from under the Hellrazors MC vest. Fingerless gloves and fingers thick as brats. Never charged her the cover. Everybody else paid two bucks to get in, half a buck less than the Buddha. The way it went at Falco’s, if Stain didn’t like your looks, it cost you three bucks to get back out. The two bucks went to Johnny, the three going to Stain.

She gave Stain a hug, kissing his cheek, then scanned the room. Black walls, exposed ceiling, graffiti and more band posters plastered on every wall. Johnny’s idea of decorating. The floods shone on four skinny guys setting up on the crappy stage of nailed crates. Lead, rhythm, bass and a guy keeping the beat.

“Marty here?”

Stain shrugged like he hadn’t noticed, no love lost between him and anybody else dealing dope in here. Johnny’s rule: Stain broke up the fights, warned him when the cops or anybody looking like an inspector walked in the door, but he didn’t make trouble with Marty Sayles, the drug-dealing landlord. For that, Stain got free beer and nine bucks an hour, triple the minimum wage.

A decent mid-week crowd tonight. A couple of guys from the Braineaters, Zippy Pinhead over talking with Monk, another Hellrazor. Frankie thinking Zippy was one of the hottest drummers around, right up there with Robert Bruce, not something she’d admit to her own drummer, Joey Thunder.

Underage kids in torn denim and leather milled around the stage, sucking on beer bottles, set to pogo. An old rummy stood propped against the far wall by the co-ed can, getting out of the cold long enough to stop the shakes, Stain giving the guy a pass, sometimes slipping him a couple of bucks, showing he had a heart. Once the old guy warmed up, he’d move on.

“Hey ya.” Folding her hands on the bar, Frankie smiled at Johnny Falco, the Carling O’Keefe neon flickering behind him like it might go out.

“Hey yourself.” Smiling back, he reached in the cooler, drew out a dripping stubbie, knowing her brand. Sliding the OV across.

“Who we got tonight?” Frankie nodded at the stage.

“Middle Finger — drove in from Calgary, their van conked out front, out of gas.”

The one with the bumper sticker and freaky dog. Frankie saying, “They any good?”

“Real good, yeah. Here the rest of the week.”

She slapped a buck on the bar, Johnny sliding it back. Bands, bikers and friends drank for free. Johnny’s rule.

Pocketing the buck, she thanked him and tipped the bottle up, her eyes on his.

Johnny asking how she was doing.

“Getting by, you know. Working on some new tunes.” Telling him the Waves were putting some original stuff down, tight on a half dozen covers now. Johnny asking what she was doing for rehearsal space. Frankie telling him about the barn out on Zero Avenue, Marty Sayles owning it like he owned this three-storey shithole, letting the Waves practice out in the boonies. One of the perks for running his dope and going out with the guy.

Her bass player, Arnie Binz, edged his way through the crowd, coming from the back room with a couple cases of beer, Arnie working here three nights a week. His flop up on the top floor, with a shared bathroom at the end of the hall. Worked here since getting canned from the 7-Eleven night shift — caught stuffing comics into his guitar case — the job he landed after he got busted driving the gypsy cab.

Arnie set the cases on the bar, gave her a smile. Told Johnny he ought to switch to cans, easier to carry. Johnny said he’d think about it, sending him back for more.

Middle Finger kicked it off. Johnny passed beers to hands reaching across the bar, stuffing dollar bills into his old-style National register, brass with a crank on the side. The dollar and cents flags popped up every time he hit the lever, opening the drawer. Frankie bopped her head, the guitar player slaying some licks, shrieking into the mic about confused teens. The crowd was getting into it, pogoing, screaming and drinking.

Three tunes in, she felt the need to pee; Frankie sipped her way to the co-ed can, knowing better than leaving a beer unattended.

Slapping Monk’s outstretched hand, she made her way across the floor, said hey to Pinhead, weaving past jumping bodies, shoving open the door, the filthiest can this side of CBGB. Fifty bands had passed through Falco’s Nest since Johnny lifted a toilet brush. Anytime somebody complained, he’d say, “That’s punk for ya.”

Johnny took the bottles from the case, putting them in the big cooler. Realized he forgot to tell her Marty Sayles had been in, not sure if he’d gone, the guy pissed off on account of the back rent. Johnny telling him he’d have it in a day or so, same thing he always told him.

Sucking a breath, Frankie stepped in. Freaky loo sprayed in hot pink over the mirror, paint that had dripped down the wall and over the glass. Get Modern or Get Fucked scrawled across the ceiling.

A lone bulb hung from the center of the room, a dead fluorescent tube horizontal over the sink, two toilets, only one with an enclosed stall, a urinal and a plugged-up sink, soapy brown scum floating in it. Toilet paper unfurled like crime scene tape across the floor. Graffiti all over — the voice of the people.

Frankie’s eyes adjusted to the dim, a guy in a sport jacket stood pressed against the wall, his head tipped back, Adam’s apple bobbing, the guy groaning over the pounding music. A girl on her knees, giving him the business. Frankie thinking ewww, people having sex in this place, worse than joining the mile-high club.

Halfway through saying “Get a room,” Frankie recognized him, turning it into “Jesus, Marty?”

Hearing his name, Marty Sayles focused his eyes, his hands on the girl’s head like he was holding himself steady. The blonde craned her neck, her lipstick smeared, eyes of someone on opioids.

There it was, her way out. Frankie put her free hand on her hip, acting pissed, saying, “What happened to having dinner?”

Marty pushed the head away, fumbling at his pants, saying that was later.

“How about take a fucking number.” The blonde made the mistake of getting up, putting her hands on her own hips.

Frankie threw the bottle and missed. An explosion of beer and glass against the tiles. Setting the blonde off, shrieking and rushing at Frankie, her fingers up like claws.

Growing up on the Eastside, Frankie knew how to scrap, put some hip into it and threw a fist. Caught the blonde on the beak, but didn’t stop her. The claws coming again. Hit her again and snatched a fistful of blonde, twisting her head around. Getting her shoe up, Frankie sent her sprawling to the wet floor, the blonde smacking her head on the scummy toilet, the girl sagging down, legs flopping on the floor.

Stuffing his shirt in his pants, dress shoes slipping on beer suds, Marty caught himself against the wall, yelling, “What the fuck, Frankie!” High on coke and the poppers he took off some pusher Zeke beat up, Marty pulled himself together, wondering where the fuck was Zeke. The blonde was useless to him now, lying flopped across the toilet, her hair in the bowl, streaks of blood showing like dark roots. “Look what the fuck you did.”

“You know what, Marty, pretty much lost my appetite,” she said. “And this you and me thing, it ain’t working out.” Stepping to the toilet, Frankie raised her Converse and pressed the lever, flushing, the blonde hair swirling, getting sucked down the bowl.

Turning for the door, she said, “She comes around, tell her to get her head examined while they’re stitching it up.”

“What you and me thing?” Marty called as she walked out the door. Too high for this. Using the toe of his dress shoe, Marty eased the blonde’s head from the toilet to the wet floor. Still putting together what just happened, he tried to recall the girl’s name. Sally or something. Wondering again where the fuck Zeke was.

The band was kicking it, covering one by the Hot Nasties, the bass player screaming and spitting into the mic about Barney Rubble being his double.

The rest of the band backing the vocals with their yabba dabba dos.

The crowd loving it.

Shaken, but relieved the thing with Marty was over, Frankie was thinking in Georgia Straight headlines: Drug Kingpin Fellated in Filthiest Can This Side of CBGB. Angling past the people crowding the bar, she caught Johnny’s eye.

“Something wrong, no TP?” Snapping off beer caps, Johnny caught her mood, practically shouting to be heard.

“Your toilets, Johnny . . .” Frankie leaned across the bar, putting a hand on his, saying, “enough to make Mr. Clean hurl.” She walked for the door.

Yabba dabba fucking do.

A group of boppers pushed their way in, their arms around Jughead, drummer for the Modernettes, holding up his drunken ass. Stain collecting the cover, telling Jug he better learn to hold his fucking liquor.

Jug saying the lickers were doing just fine, reaching in a pocket, tossing up a bunch of bills, enough for everybody’s cover, saying, “Hey ya, Frankie.”

Stepping into the rain, she went around the lineup out front, like a party in the street, didn’t matter it was raining. Miss Lovely, the Eastside’s preaching ex-hooker stood talking to some young chick with braces on her teeth. Sixty years old and wobbling on her heels, Miss Lovely wore fishnets that bunched at her ankles. Reaching in a pocket, Frankie pressed the buck she didn’t pay Johnny for the beer into the old woman’s hand, Lovely thanking her.

From behind the wheel of the Toronado, Zeke Chamas watched Frankie. She looked pissed, walking and yelling at some geezer who was yanking open her car door. The geezer looked up from the Ghia, starting toward her past the mural van. The Doberman jumped against the passenger window, teeth smacking the glass, freaking out Frankie and the geezer, Frankie yelling at it, inches from the glass. Zeke watching and laughing.

The crowd outside Johnny’s egged her on, hoping for a fight: punk chick versus attack dog.

Coming out the door, Stain told everybody to shut the fuck up. Last thing Falco’s needed was the cops pulling up again — the boys in blue dying to close this place down, the Main Street station only about a block away. Stain told the geezer to keep moving, then threw a look Zeke’s way, the Toronado at the curb, the two of them eyeing each other, nothing friendly about it.

. . . SHOOT THE MOON

The fog settled low over the cornfield. Arnie Binz snapped off branches, grabbing weed by the handful, tossing it in the bag, stripping the lower branches, working fast like that, thinking there had to be at least a hundred plants between the rows of corn, the corn standing over his head. Somebody had been through ahead of him, taking mostly the tops. Arnie knowing it was Johnny. Footprints all over the soft earth. Thought he’d get his share before Marty’s guys realized somebody had been through, picking their weed.

Moving along the row, Arnie broke off more and tossed handfuls in the sack. Hearing crows squawking nearby. Angling and working along, Arnie kept a sense of direction. Couldn’t chance losing the way back to his Pinto, left it along the ditch, Arnie planning to fill the hatch and backseat of the Cruising Wagon, the one with the bubble windows and rainbow stripes.

One bag full, Arnie dropped it and worked along the row, stripping and tossing, when he heard it. Rustling, thinking it was the crows, he kept working, then came the voices. Dropping down, he shoved the sack behind the row, moved back and tucked the other one under a plant.

Two guys talking, coming his way through the corn. Leaving the sacks, Arnie ducked low and angled through the rows, moving away, stopping and waiting, keeping track which way the car was. He’d get back out to the road, take off and come back later for the sacks. Feeling in his pocket for his keys. Not in his pocket. Arnie feeling the panic rise, then remembering he left them in the ignition to keep from losing them.

The voices were closer, Arnie stayed crouched down, keeping quiet. Could be Tucker and Sticky, the guys who worked the farm, guys he knew from the practice sessions, the two of them always standing around, listening, their eyes on Frankie. Moving between the rows, not wanting to explain what he was doing here. The practice not till tonight.

Arnie had overheard Monk talking to Johnny, saw him drawing the map. The field Arnie had told Monk about, half hoping Johnny would ask him to help him rip it off. Would have told Johnny where it was for free, Arnie knowing about Johnny’s money troubles, guessing he came and ripped off Marty Sayles to save his club, pay the rent he owed the man.

Scrambling along the rows, he kept moving away from the voices, away from his car, too. Nearing the end of the corn, Arnie started to angle between the rows, moving back toward the road. He’d get out of there and walk back to the car, make like he was going for a walk in the fog, enjoying some autumn air. If they caught up with him, he’d say Frankie left a message, something about a practice, Arnie getting his a.m. mixed up with his p.m. Blame it on being high on the bhang these guys had been making.

The corn ended at a fallow field. Arnie able to see the townline from there.

“This way,” a voice called, somebody crashing through the corn, getting close.

Moving along the edge of the field, Arnie kept low and threw a look over his shoulder, his foot hooking a dirt clod. Down he went, the wind knocked out of him. He started to push up.

Sticky, real name Lenny Lowe, stepped from the rows ahead of him, cutting him off. Looking surprised to see him.

“Scared the shit out me, man,” Arnie said, thinking this guy wasn’t much. Scrawny and unshaven and no gun in his belt. Sticky calling out, “Got him. Over here, Tuck.”

“Hey, hey, no need for that. Just got myself turned around, man,” Arnie said, walking up to the guy. “You know me.” Swinging a fist, he put Sticky down, the smaller man clutching hold of Arnie’s leg, yelling, “Tucker, get here!”

Couldn’t walk with Sticky hanging on, Arnie punched down at him, trying to shake him off, Sticky ducked his head, refusing to let go.

Tucker Balco shoved his way through the stalks, the shotgun up like an oar, the big man swinging the butt.

An explosion against Arnie’s skull, Arnie spinning into a dark hole.

Not sure if he blacked out. Aware of the two standing over him. Felt the pain in his head, blood trickling down his face, along his neck. Keeping his eyes closed.

“Momma teach you to fight like that?” Tucker said to Sticky.

“Fucking hung on, didn’t I?”

“How about you just go make the call.”

“What’re we gonna do?”

“You’re going to make the call.”

“Why not you?”

Arnie heard the slap, opening his eyes, his right eye nearly swollen shut.

Tucker saying to Sticky, “On your way back, bring some rope.”

Sticky going off, grumbling, doing like he was told, disappearing into the corn.

“Looks like you already been through once, huh?” Tucker asked, squatting next to Arnie, seeing he was awake now, standing the butt of the twelve gauge on the ground. “Golden rule, never go back.” He bent and pulled a lace from his Nike.

“Got it wrong, man,” Arnie said, looking through his one eye. “Was just cutting across, walking around. Know we got a jam tonight, right?”

The big man leaned the shotgun against a stalk, then flipped Arnie over on his stomach. Dropping a knee against his spine, he tied his hands with the lace. “Who’s with you, Arnie?”

“Nobody, man.”

Tucker tightened the lace, cinching it and grabbing some hair and tipping Arnie’s head back, saying, “Guy that’ll be coming, his name’s Zeke. You know him?”

Arnie tried to nod.

“Guy driving Marty around, just got kicked up to hardass. Got something to prove.” Tucker taking the lace from his other shoe, tying Arnie’s ankles together. “Don’t know why the fuck Marty keeps the guy around, but, the point is, he’s gonna be asking you the same questions.”

“Like I told you —”

Tucker swept his hand, slapping Arnie quiet, a welt that would show opposite the swollen eye. Tucker talking, “Heard he caught some guy at Lubik’s, the guy being where he shouldn’t be. Anyway, my point is, Zeke’s someplace between attack dog and psycho, putting on a show for Marty to see.” Tucker sat him up, saying, “So, you wanna do yourself a favor, talk to me while we’re waiting. Go easier if you do.” Tucker waited, but Arnie just sat looking at him through the one eye, Tucker saying, “Suit yourself.” Pushing him back down.

Reviews

“I urge you to take a ride down Zero Avenue in the Zambezi green Karmann Ghia with Frankie and her punk cohorts — you will not be disappointed! The early Canadian punk scene in Vancouver is written with such vivid tang it makes me wish I’d been there — only I wouldn’t have survived! Zero Avenue is written with Kalteis’ characteristic snappy style, with wise-cracking characters scoring sucker punches fuelled by adrenalin and delicious chunks of hash. This book is peppered with verve and great secondary characters — Rita is one of my faves — all in all, Zero Avenue is a treat!” — Lisa de Nikolitis, award winning author of The Nearly Girl, Between the Cracks She Fell, The Witchdoctor’s Bones, West of Wawa, A Glittering Chaos, and The Hungry Mirror

Zero Avenue hits you punk rock hard and fast. No wasted words, visceral and brutal like being in the pit, this one will leave your ears ringing and you asking for more from Dietrich Kalteis. It's the punk rock crime novel I wish I'd written.” — Eric Beetner, author of Rumrunners and The Devil Doesn't Want Me

“Dietrich Kalteis does a brilliant job melding crime fiction with early punk rock history in Zero Avenue, and rocks the story off the page. The cast of characters are authentic and believable, especially his beautifully tough female protagonist, Frankie, who can spit on me anytime. This is punk noir, folks!” — David Swinson, author of The Second Girl

“Who wouldn't want to read a ripping and rocking crime yarn set in the early days of Vancouver’s punk scene? A hard-nosed dope dealer, a desperate club owner, and a copycat bass player take our heroine (not to be confused with heroin) on one wild ride. Bravo! I couldn't put this book down.” — Terry Fallis, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour

“If punk rock noir isn’t a genre, Dietrich Kalteis just invented it. And if it is a genre, then he just raised the stakes. Not unlike the name of his heroine, Frankie’s, band, Zero Avenue is a big middle finger to the establishment, expertly capturing a movement and moment in time that burned bright in its nihilism and fought fierce for its freedom. But that isn’t what makes Zero Avenue so special. Anyone can rage against the machine. What Kalteis manages, in the middle of all the drugs, sex, and general debauchery, is to display an unwavering, expert command of the art of storytelling. In this delicately violent portrait of the outsider, Kalteis infuses in each and every character, however repulsive and suspect, an undeniable humanity.” — Joe Clifford, author of the Jay Porter Thriller Series

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