New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"





HELENA SWANN DIDN’T HAVE to go out there in the desert where Mrs. Buckley lived. She could have transacted their business over the phone. But she was curious. Wanda Buckley was a local legend, a bawdy old woman Brad talked about when Helena was planning this little trip. Besides, she wanted off the Las Vegas Strip for a few hours, and a drive through the desert suburbs would be a welcome diversion.
It was Monday, and traffic had abated after the morning rush. Turning into Wanda's street, Helena saw the little sign out front: Buckley Real Estate. The house was pleasant enough, had that cut-rate 'villa' look so prevalent in the valley. As she stood by the front entrance and pushed the bell, the late morning sun assaulted her arms and legs.
A young woman in a lavender paisley halter-top and black shorts opened the door, a little mutt yapping behind her. Helena must have looked surprised—this couldn’t be the old lady she was expecting.
The woman seemed to guess what she was thinking.
“Mrs. Buckley is just inside,” she said, taking the dog by the collar and ushering Helena into the house.
A large matronly woman with a florid face lumbered into the living room and introduced herself as Wanda Buckley. She wore one of those telephone headpieces with mike attached, and was gesturing with the hand holding the cord.
“This here is a friend of mine, Lana Firewood,” she continued. “And the furry little guy is Don Juan.”
Helena turned laughing toward Lana and glanced at the dog. “How do you do . . . both of you. Why did you name him Don Juan?”
“Don’t ask,” Mrs. Buckley cut in. “The little humper may want to demonstrate.”
She cackled over her own joke, and Lana snorted in spite of looking horrified. Helena forced a smile, not expecting a remark of that sort.
“Lana’s just visiting while I take calls for my agency, Mrs. Swann. Reason I have friends over during the workday is because I’m an old woman who hasn’t got a life worth tellin’ about anymore. I like to hear what goes on in town, especially from a firecracker like Lana.”
“C’mon Wanda, what is this lady going to think?”
“I suspect we all know what to think, darlin’,” she said, looking Helena's way and raising a conspiratorial eyebrow. “Anyway, what can I do for you, Mrs. Swann?”
“I just dropped in to pay for the accommodations, Mrs. Buckley. The suite’s lovely, by the way.”
“Thanks,” she said. “It’s definitely better than your typical Las Vegas hotel room. Isn’t it, Lana?”
“Wanda, you can stop that right now,” Lana protested.
Mrs. Buckley was living up to Brad’s description. She was like some ribald battleaxe out of an Elmore Leonard novel. Helena dug into her handbag for her checkbook as Mrs. Buckley guided her to a writing desk in the corner of the living room.
Lana was primping now in front of a gilt-framed mirror over the fireplace mantel. Without looking at Mrs. Buckley, she began to speak in a familiar tone that suggested she was resuming a conversation started earlier.