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    Original Essays | January 19, 2015

    Emma Hooper: IMG From Musician to Novelist

    I was asleep on the floor of the magicians' apartment. Not one, but three magicians lived there, and their mysterious, mischievous, and sometimes... Continue »
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1 Burnside Mystery- A to Z

An Ordinary Decent Criminal


An Ordinary Decent Criminal Cover





I had a gun I didnt want to use. It was a small, heavy thing of blue-black metal overlaid with a rainbow patina and stuffed shit-full with fattened copper bombs. It was hidden away in the right-hand pocket of my paisley dressing gown with my fingers resting gently on its butt. There were three men in my new home, one behind me with empty hands and two in front; one of those with a cheap hunting knife and the other with a piece of iron rebar as long as my arm. As far as I could tell, though, I was the only one with a gun.

“My wife is upstairs and pregnant.”

All three men laughed nervously but didnt move. I was about a hundred percent certain I knew what they were thinking, but I couldnt afford mistakes because my wife and child were upstairs. The three had been caught breaking and entering and hadnt decided what to do. They could run or they could stay, and in either case they could hurt me or mine. That gave them three possible actions to choose from and two were bad, and that forced my hand.

“But …”

The hair on my arms went up as I made a decision. All three were wearing black woolen balaclavas with eye and mouth holes, and later Id find out that the one behind me was also wearing a baseball hat that advertised Esso Gas.

“… Ill give you all blow jobs if youd like.”

Time slowed for me as the one with the rebar grunted with effort and swung, but I was already falling inside the arc of the blow and twisting as I went. The crack of the iron denting the table beside me was loud as I raised the gun and pulled the trigger. In the quiet house the gun was a thunderclap and it woke my wife and my son and my dog and my mouse.


The boy cursed shrilly as the bullet entered his belly to fragment against his pelvic bone and steal the strength from his arms and legs. Shards of copper and splinters of bone briefly shared the same velocity as they scythed through meat and muscle, but, meanwhile, I was rolling towards the middle of the room and switching the gun from right hand to left. The other two boys had started to move and I fired twice more while they were stunned by the noise of the first shot. In the dimly lit room, the shots were accompanied by jets of burning gas almost a foot long, a blinding light that drove the bullets through the air.

One boy catches the round in the left eye of his mask and the second is turning when his bullet catches him under an armpit and cracks his spine. Both are dying as they fall and by the time they land, their hearts have stopped and their brains no longer spark. The echoes of the shots are fading and I can hear my son crying, my wife swearing, my dog finally waking and barking, while my mouse rustles in its dry aquarium.

Claire, my wife, comes down the stairs with a bayonet off an old rifle, held in a fencers grip, and she is completely naked and gloriously full-breasted. She glares at the dim room and takes in the whole scene with a single glance and a narrowed mouth before moving into the kitchen with the blade held parallel to the ground at waist height, ready to stab or slash. The dog follows her but hes young and still confused by the loud noises and so he moves in a parody of solemn silence and virtue. I listen carefully to the silence for anything above the cries of my son, which have changed from terror to outrage at his inability to get anyone to bring him food.

“… Ehak …”

A cough comes from the first person Id shot and I kneel. The skin under the mask is white and his breathing is erratic and slowing even as I watch.

“Shes not pregnant.”

The man, no, the boy, makes it sound accusing but I pay him no attention. The dog has come over and is sniffing the boy in friendship and curiosity, only to get pushed away with a feeble hand. I check to make sure the rebar is well out of reach and smile as though to a half-heard pleasantry.

Claire moves back through the room towards the front of the house, checking the windows as she goes for signs of entry. She does not look at the bodies, but moves around them to avoid the slowly spreading stains on the carpeted floor. The dog looks up at her and trots over to join the new game, which looks like much more fun than the one I was playing.

Upstairs, I find my son Fred, holding hard to the bars of his crib. He is just ten months old and teething a little as he sobs. I pick him up and he is calmed by my smell and tries to reach the gun in my hand. Instead, I give him a rattle shaped like a black and white Christmas tree and he is satisfied and quiets down. Back downstairs, the boy on the floor hasnt moved much and I go over to watch while he dies.

“You should have taken the blow job.”

I feel kind of sorrowful and kind of relieved, and Fred reaches out with a chubby hand and touches my cheek, and so I kiss his fingers, which makes him happy. I revel in that touch but I can hear sirens in the distance and my vision narrows until all I can see is the lame mask concealing the dead boys face and the dog whos come back to sniff at the outstretched hand.


“Monty? Sam?”

Claire had come back into the room with the bayonet lowered and a dark flush fading slowly across both breasts and on her neck. Fredrick had fallen asleep in my arms and drooled peacefully on my left shoulder, and the dog had finally settled down. Claire flipped on the overhead lights and I could see the taped boxes stacked against the walls, each with a black number and letter combination drawn with a marker on the sides. She glanced at the bodies and exhaled through her nose; shed done this kind of stuff before and hadnt liked it any more then.

“Theres no one else here. What happened?”

Claire can tell when I lie, most of the time, anyway, and she put a little rawhide and steel into her voice to remind me of that.

“Would you like the truth or what were going to tell the cops?”

My voice cracked with residual strain and I resented it, it was un-professional. She nodded like Id already told her something important.

“Both, I think.”

“Good choice.”

I handed Fredrick over and he complained a bit but fell asleep again after Claire put her knife down on the table. Right beside the knife was the dent made by the rebar club.

“These three assholes broke in to rob us. I heard them and came down with the pistol to chase them out. They tried to kill me and I shot them.”

Claires eyes narrowed when I mentioned the pistol.

“With the pistol? What pistol? Certainly not a pistol you kept? Right? Hmmm? Not after you promised.”

Busted. I held up both hands.

“I kept one piece, just one. Not for work, I promise and I mean it. It was for self-defense. Ill crucify myself later.”

I waited and she looked at me. She was a hairs breadth from leaving me, I could feel it. We were together on certain conditions and if she thought I was lying about this, then she was gone.

“No more, Monty. Nothing at all, ever again. Am I clear? Ill crucify you myself. Okay?”

The cold rage coming off her was palpable. I waved it off and went on.

“Between us, I gave em a chance and they didnt take it. Im very sorry it happened.”

The sirens were closer and I walked to the front of the house so I could see the street. Claire followed. Her mind was already working on more practical matters, like how to get away clean.

“Shouldnt you wipe the gun?”


I glanced down at the snub-nosed gun and felt the cool, checkered walnut grips. The gun was a Smith and Wesson K Frame revolver, a Patrolman model built to handle .38 caliber special rounds, and it was pretty much untraceable. Id done the work myself with acid and an emery wheel, grinding down the serial numbers on the outside and the set hidden inside until it was as clean as I could make it.

I hadnt even stolen it in this province.

“No. Our story is that the bad guys brought the gun with them. I came down and we wrestled.”

I paced around and gestured with my hand.

“Wrestle, wrestle, wrestle. Then I took the piece away from them and had to shoot. You woke up. We dont have a phone yet so we couldnt call the cops.”

I thought about it and continued. “Theyll be here soon enough, anyway.”

There were curtains on the front window and I could see through the gap. Id laughed when Claire had put them up first thing, but now I appreciated them. The sirens were louder, and a blue and white Crown Victoria sedan pulled up to disgorge two Winnipeg cops, a youngish blond man and a brown woman. She yanked the shotgun out of the holder built into the dashboard and carried it at port arms up the path, but that didnt surprise me, it was that kind of neighborhood. I felt a little thrill. I hadnt dealt with cops for a while and I wondered if these were any good.

“Sound good?”


Claires voice was clipped and I turned back towards the dead bodies. Already they were starting to settle as the air left the lungs and the piss and shit seeped out to mingle with the blood on the carpet. Fortunately, we were renting.

“Stall em a second, hon. A little panic/fear/rage would be appropriate.”

Fred started to cry when the dog began to bark, which he did as soon as the cops passed into the front yard. I put the pistol on the table and then pulled a plastic baggie with extra bullets from the dressing gown pocket. The unarmed man had fallen on his back, and I opened the front pocket on his black nylon windbreaker and dumped in the six lead and copper rounds. I shredded the baggie into a half-empty box of cutlery and then came back as the cops reached the porch.

“Police. Open up.”

They were doing it right, one on each side of the door and a long reach to knock and announce. Claire glanced at me and I nodded and opened the door. Before I could do anything, there was a thumb-wide shotgun barrel jammed into the hollow of my throat and a pale brown face staring down the receiver. The gun was crude, primitive, and lethal, and eminently capable of blowing my fucking head from my fucking neck so I slowly exhaled and made no movements at all.

“Police. Hands up, please. We have a report of shots.”

Her voice had a West Indian lilt that sounded like music and she smelled like cinnamon mixed half and half with gun oil. Slowly my hands went past my shoulders and she smiled and nodded. Her partner slipped past me with a Buck Rogers-type pistol in both hands, pointed at the ceiling.

“I want to call a lawyer. My name is Samuel Parker and this is my house, my family just moved in and we have no phone yet. The woman behind me is my wife and the baby is my son. Three men broke in with guns and knives to rob us and I killed them in self-defense. I want to call a lawyer.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the younger cop blush furiously when he saw Claire standing there naked. Reflexively he moved to holster his piece. “Jeez,” he said.

The woman with the shotgun made a gentle spitting sound like a chicken critiquing her young and her nose wrinkled in disapproval.

“No, Officer. You keep the gun out. You ignore the pretty naked lady. You check the house. Then you call for an ambulance. Maam? Please dont move. This has to be done a certain way to avoid unpleasantness.”

The boy cop held onto his gun and started into the dining room, staying near the wall and out of the ladys line of fire. Fred cried and the shotgun stayed steady at my throat as Claire spoke with a voice that cracked with the same cold rage. “Goddamn you. Take that gun off my husband, he didnt do anything wrong. Go do your job.”

The bright eyes sighting along the shotgun didnt even twitch and the cops cheerful voice dropped half an octave. “Be quiet, maam.”

The other officer finished checking the first floor and came into view out of the corner of my vision. “We got three deaders back there.”

He looked blank and started talking into the walkie-talkie on his belt. “We need two ambulances plus crime scene and homicide to a private home on Aikins. No sirens. Repeat: no sirens, one suspect, and needing crime scene and homicide. Reference officers Ramirez and Halley.”

Our dog Renfield, a Frankenstein-mixed mongrel, ambled up to sit pretty beside me with a battered Frisbee in his mouth.

“Sorry, boy, not now.”

The cop behind me grabbed my wrist and I felt the cold steel forcing my hand down to waist level before ratcheting tight, one wrist to the other. The cop with the shotgun didnt do anything until I was pulled down to my knees and then she spoke. “The gun, Officer. The one on the table, bag it. You should have done that right away.”

The younger one had a whine in his voice as he answered and it grated on my nerves. “What about chain of evidence?”

The shotgun was now pointed at the floor and the cops finger was finally outside the trigger guard. Now I could focus past it to read “Ramirez” on the name tag.

“Chain of evidence dont mean shit if the lady with the baby shoots us dead. We protect ourselves first.”

She gave me a sweet half-smile at odds with disinterested cop eyes.

“Sorry, sir. We have to do things in a certain way. I am quite sure you have done nothing wrong.”

Fred had finally stopped crying and I turned my head to see Claire standing about four feet away and staring at Ramirez as she asked, “What is your name?”

The cop smiled and showed beautiful teeth. They looked capped and were even, with a smudge of lipstick on one incisor. “Elena Ramirez, maam. That is a beautiful boy you have there.”

Claire didnt say a word; she just stared with narrowed eyes and I recognized her rage, but then she smiled and chucked Fred under the chin. When he laughed, I relaxed a bit and allowed a smile as Ramirez glanced down at me with a slightly confused look and then back at Claire.

“Yes. His name is Fredrick.”

The cop shifted her grip on the shotgun and I knew what she was seeing. Here she was, talking politely with a man who had just killed three people and a naked woman who looked absolutely relaxed despite having three stiffs in the same room. She was probably wondering if she had missed something because all the little cop alarms were going off in her head. She stepped back and looked me over again, and I knew she was trying to place my face. Early thirties, slightly over six feet tall, with very pale skin and lots of old scars on his arms and hands. Pale gray or blue eyes and blond hair cut short. Normal enough, except I looked comfortable despite the handcuffs and the corpses and the cops. Cops know that only psychopaths, soldiers, and cops can kill and be comfortable with it, and she was probably trying to put me in the right category.

Others had tried, so I grinned at her, “Lots of luck.”

I said it out loud and Ramirez glanced at Claire and looked even more confused. My wife was mad, which made sense, but not scared, which didnt. So Claire ended up filed away in the cop memory too, five foot nine, about a hundred and forty pounds, well built, sun-browned all over except for a narrow strip around belly and crotch. She was crowned with thick, unkempt, reddish-brown hair worn long, and had dark brown eyes. I wondered if the cop would recognize the untannable stretch marks brought on by pregnancy.

The other cop was back on the walkie-talkie, deciphering the Babel of static and code with ease and answering too low for me to hear.

Ramirez said, “Perhaps, maam, you might get dressed. I think you might distract the paramedics when they arrive. You are also certainly confusing Officer Halley.”

Excerpted from An Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael Van Rooy.

Copyright © 2005 by Michael Van Rooy.

Published in 2005 by A Thomas Dunne book.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Product Details

Van Rooy, Michael
Minotaur Books
Michael Van Rooy
Mystery & Detective - Hard-Boiled
Action & Adventure
Suspense fiction
Mystery-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Montgomery " Monty " Haavik Series
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
8.25 x 5.50 in

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Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z

An Ordinary Decent Criminal Used Hardcover
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Product details 288 pages Minotaur Books - English 9780312606282 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Canadian author Van Rooy introduces an appealing antihero, Montgomery Haaviko, in his debut, a gritty, offbeat suspense novel. When three armed men break into Haaviko's Winnipeg house, Haaviko, who has a criminal record but is trying to make a fresh start, winds up killing them all in self-defense. The police don't believe his account and arrest him for murder. When Haaviko refuses to talk without a lawyer, the police beat him severely. Later, with the help of a lawyer, Haaviko succeeds in getting the charges against him dropped. Despite having nothing official hanging over him, Haaviko soon discovers that his attempts to find gainful employment are being undercut by an unknown foe, who begins a whispering campaign against him by spreading word of his shady past. While Van Rooy doesn't sustain the energy of the dramatic opening scene, he heightens interest with his lead's clever efforts to counter this campaign and tosses in enough dark humor to please Elmore Leonard fans. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Synopsis" by , When ex-drug addict and reformed thief Montgomery Haavik foils a robbery, killing the intruders, it doesn't make staying straight any easier. He soon finds he has both a small-time crime boss and a star police sergeant looking for ways to ruin him and run him out of town.
"Synopsis" by ,
Not since Jack Reacher has there been such a quickthinking, hard-edged antihero who readers will root for against all odds
All recovering drug addict and reformed thief Montgomery Haaviko wants to do is settle down with his wife and baby in their new home and work on building a straight life, one free of the day-to-day hustle and danger of being a career criminal. But for a man whos never held down a legitimate job it isnt going to be easy. When Monty foils a robbery in his new home, killing the intruders, he soon finds he has both a small-time crime boss and a star police sergeant looking for ways to ruin him, run him out of town, or kill him. Its going to take all of the tricks this streetwise ex-con has up his sleeves to prove his innocence, protect his family, and avoid the temptation of the life he left behind.
Montgomery Haavikos Tricks of the Trade:

• Be nice. Nice is good. Nice sets a standard. Then, when you get mean, the shock is strongest.

• Armored cars are owned by people with guns.

• When burglarizing a house move slowly. Then slow down. Now cut it by half. And youve got it.

• A couple of drops of crazy glue on the tips of your fingers will eliminate fingerprints.

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