A luckless gambler goes on the run after refusing a mission from a loan shark in Downs’ (Penchant for Vengeance, 2017, etc.) novella.
In this brief noir pastiche, desperate, recovering alcoholic Johnny Chapman passes out during a card game from an unspecified condition. He regains consciousness after one of the other players finds pills in his pocket and shoves them in his mouth; Johnny had been prescribed them by a man in a white lab coat. However, he then loses the rest of his chips. He tries to drink away his sorrows and has a brief encounter with former girlfriend Gwendoline, who’s mixed up in vague troubles of her own. She watches Johnny get severely beaten in the bar, then later threatens to shoot him while rehashing the end of their past relationship. The next day, she gets fired from her job, punches her boss, and get knocked over by a teenager in the street. Meanwhile, a loan shark, whose money Johnny lost in the poker game, threatens to kill him if he doesn’t inject a racing dog with a hormone that will somehow make it lose a race. (They already tested the hormone on Johnny, while he was sleeping.) Johnny reluctantly agrees but ultimately can’t bring himself to do it. While on the lam, he robs a bank, gets robbed twice, and gets into a lot of fights with strangers. The story is full of confusing contradictions, incomprehensible motivations, and dropped plot threads; for example, after the opening scene, neither the headaches nor the pills are mentioned. The violence is miraculously consequence-free, and Johnny kills several people—including a convenience-store clerk—without remorse. It’s all set in a version of Albuquerque where everybody still uses Blackberrys and police are mostly absent. Downs also offers cartoonish dialogue (“If your trap opens again, I’ll hit you so hard your grandchildren will feel the blow”) and elaborately mixed metaphors (“Maybe it was some dream on some horizon that was just out of reach, pushing and pulling him, and bouncing him around like a red rubber ball on an open field”).
A hard-boiled crime drama that lacks well-defined characters or a comprehensible plot.