Excerpt from Havana by Stephen Hunter, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Havana

An Earl Swagger Novel

By Stephen Hunter

Havana
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2003,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2005,
    480 pages.

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But Frankie knew the big kid wouldn't stand in his way, not once the fun started. That was the point of a subgun, even a Danish one: it spoke so loud and powerfully, Joes just melted into puddles of nothingness in its presence.

Quickly, Frankie checked the place out, seeing only furtive men locked on what they were considering buying and sneaking home in lunch buckets or briefcases. Nobody would ever admit to being in such a place so no witnesses would come forth and no statements would be signed. That was what was so great.

Frankie edged through the throng, bumping into a guy gazing yearningly at Black Garters magazine, and another, a homo, in the homo section where Male Call seemed to be the big item. At the cash register a surly creep reigned supreme and guarded access to the stag movies; behind that was the window of the office. Frankie might have to pop the creep first before he had a clear shot at the two in the office. He could see them, bent over the new product line from the sample cases. Shit, color! These California pricks had gotten so well established they could print out in color. Frankie's understanding of the business -- any business -- was limited, but he understood that color was the next big thing in nudie books and pix.

No wonder the big boys were so interested in sending a message to California: deal through us or stay off our turf.

"Hey," said the clerk. "You here to buy or just to poke your pud? Get your goddamned mitts out of your pockets, pally, or take a hike."

Frankie decided the man's fate in a second. It pissed him off to be dismissed so roughly. This fug thinks he's tough?

"Yeah, here's your hike," said Frankie.

He shrugged to spread his coat and raised the muzzle of the gun, his left hand coming around to grab the magazine, clamping down a safety lever behind the magazine housing. The clerk's face went numb and he just froze up, like a guy who sees the car coming and knows there's no point. There wasn't one, either.

Frankie fired. Three shots, but they ripped out in a millionth of a second or so it seemed, that's how fast the fuggin' gun fired. The light -- not much was there to begin with, but there was maybe a little -- left the clerk's eyes as the bullets speared him, and he said "Thelma!" to Frankie as he slid down.

The moment froze. It was dead silent. Nobody moved, nobody looked, nobody even farted. The echo of the three shots seemed to clang through the smoke and the only noise was the light metallic grind of the spent casings rolling on the floor. The acrid smell of the burned powder overpowered and dissolved the disinfectant stench. The two men at the desk through the window looked at Frankie, who now transacted his day's labor.

He fired through the glass, and watched it fracture into sleet, like the glinty spray of a Flatbush trolley through new snow on a winter afternoon in a long-lost childhood, all chaos and sparkle; and the bullets were like the arrival of a tornado, for as they dissolved the glass, they dissolved what lay behind the glass. The desk erupted in a riot of splinters and dust and smoke and nudie books flew into the air as if seized by a whirlwind.

You couldn't say the two stiffs didn't know what hit them, because Frankie knew they did, in that split second when they'd looked over to him and seen their deaths in his eye. But in another second they were gone, for the bullets bullied them relentlessly, causing them to jerk and twist and lurch. One fell back into his chair and went limp, the other rose, twisted as if on fire, and beat with his hands at the things that tore him up, but then he slid to the ground, his skull hitting the linoleum with a thud.

Again, silence. Each man lay still. Then not still: as if dams had been burst, a sudden torrent of blood began to empty from each penetrated man, from a dozen new orifices. So much, so fast; it soaked them, running from broken face to burned shirt to twisted arm to splayed fingers to hard floor, spreading in a satiny pool. Frankie squirted them again, to make sure.

Copyright © 2003 by Stephan Hunter. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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