Friday, May 24, 2013

"Angel Baby"

Richard Lange is the author of the story collection Dead Boys, which received an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the novel This Wicked World. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and his fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2004 and 2011. He lives in Los Angeles.

Lange applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Angel Baby, and reported the following:
Angel Baby is the story of Luz, the beautiful, abused wife of a Tijuana drug lord, who decides to escape her husband’s clutches and return to the U.S. to reclaim her young daughter, who is being raised by relatives. The getaway doesn’t go as smoothly as she planned, however, and she finds herself on the run with a bag of her husband’s money and his pimped-out Colt .45. In the course of her journey across the border and through Southern California, she crosses paths with an alcoholic human smuggler nursing a tragic secret and a death wish, a ruthless ex-gang member ordered to track her down, and a corrupt border cop who will go to any lengths to get his hands on the money she’s carrying.

Page 69 is the first meeting between Luz and Malone, the man who’ll be driving her across the border. It takes place in a Tijuana body shop under the watchful eye of a pollero named Freddy.
The car’s horn bleats twice, and a voice calls out in English, “Open up, already.”

Goyo waddles over and takes hold of the gate, drags it sideways. A beat-up silver BMW pulls into the lot. The engine sputters and dies, and darkness and quiet return. Luz lowers the gun into the pack but stays where she is, back pressed against the chain-link fence.

A white man steps out of the car, some beach bum, tall and thin, older, maybe thirty, thirty-five. He’s wearing a T-shirt advertising a surf shop, plaid shorts, and black Converse tennis shoes. Surely this isn’t the guy Freddy’s been talking up all day, his best driver. This pendejo can’t even keep his hair out of his eyes, keeps having to brush it back every time he turns his head.

“Just so you know, this isn’t going to be a regular thing,” he says to Freddy. “Nighttime is the wrong time to be fucking around down here.”

“If you have trouble with anyone, tell them you know me,” Freddy says.

“Yeah, right,” the bum says. “I do that, I’ll end up in the river.”

“Hey, we’re all going to end up in the river someday,” Freddy says.

He leans in close to speak quietly to the bum. The bum listens for a while, nodding agreeably, but then suddenly stops Freddy and says, “In the morning? You didn’t say anything about in the morning.” Apparently, there’s a disagreement over the details of the trip. Not being able to hear what’s being said, all Luz can do is watch the men argue in urgent whispers. The bum puts up a fight, but Freddy is relentless and eventually gets his way. He slaps the bum on the back and steers him to where Luz is waiting.

“Now come and meet our friend,” he says. “She needs our help.”

“There any beer around?” the bum asks.

“Goyo,” Freddy calls and tips an imaginary can into his mouth. Goyo grunts and walks into the office.

Freddy brings the bum over, and Luz moves away from the fence, standing up straight to look down her nose at him. His blue eyes are bloodshot, and he looks as if he could use a shower.

Señorita Luz, this is Kevin Malone, who’s going to take you across,” Freddy says.

Malone lifts his chin by way of greeting, doesn’t even meet her gaze. It’s like he could take or leave this job. This infuriates Luz. She can’t believe she’ll be putting her life in the hands of this cabrón.
Angel Baby zooms along at a relentless pace; you’ll be hanging on for dear life after the first page, I promise. But there are also characters you’re going to care about, cheer on, and grieve for, because all the thrill and chills in the world don’t mean anything if you’re not emotionally involved with the people in peril. It’s a lean, mean crime novel, one that takes you on a wild ride, but also breaks your heart.
Learn more about the book and author at Richard Lange's website.

Writers Read: Richard Lange (August 2007).

The Page 69 Test: This Wicked World.

--Marshal Zeringue