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American Skin

Ken Bruen








Glen tried to keep the S.U.V. steady. It was the oldest model, lacked the safety features, not even the seat belts were secure and Karen had been on his case about how unsafe it was, but his drinking, he’d sworn to get it adjusted now he was sober but they had to run……right now.

The needle was hitting 100 and Karen was screaming

"He’s right on us."

Glen, sweat pouring into his eyes, shouted

"Goddamn it Kar, I cant risk going off the road."

The four wheel drive on their rear was blinding them with mega lights. Behind Karen, Rosie, their four year old daughter was staring saucer eyed at her parents, she’d never heard then cuss each other. Beside her was Ben, ten years old, wearing a Knicks shirt, his father’s old catchers mitt in his lap. He pulled at it, as if it might end the terror.

Glen felt the chassis sway dangerously, if a car came from the other direction, they were fucked. He was hogging the middle of the road as it was. Karen, near hysteria, howled


Rosie tried to cover her ears, her mother’s fear frightened her more than the bogey man behind. The man in the four wheel drive popped a juicy fruit, hit the volume on the stereo, The Clash with "London’s Burning"

He was in his late 40s, wearing tooled cowboy boots, faded 501s and a Lakers shirt. A jagged scar on his left cheek resembled a lightning strike, a whore in Ensada, who he’d tried to cheat out of her fee, had come at him with a broken bottle, attempting to gouge his eye out, he’d beaten her to an inch of her life then fucked her again, all the time, the blood pouring from the slash she’d inflicted. He was proud of it now, told folk it happened in the First Desert Storm, a raghead had tried to take him out. On his left arm was a tattoo with the name "Dade"…………..a souvenir of a time he’d been incarcerated down in Dade county, of all his jail time, it was the most fun, he got to kick the shit out of a drag queen and the food was fine, hash browns, gravy, Grits and mashed potatoes, with Pecan pie to follow. On the seat was a Walther PPK. He fastened his foot on the accelerator, the grill on his jeep jolting the tail of the S.U.V. He reached on the dash for his Kools, one fluid motion, working the cig into his mouth and flicking a Zippo, bearing the logo

"1st Airborne."

He’d bought it offa a guy in Tijuana. He glanced at the weapon, the butt was custom fitted and he touched the butt, muttered

"Lock and load."

A snapshot of Tammy Wynette hung from the mirror, tied with an Indian braid. He grinned at her, pedal to the metal, having more fun than hunting bear in god’s own country.

Rosie, unable to bear the tension, reached for the door handle, Mum had cautioned her not to touch it till Daddy fixed it and the seat belt didn’t even lock

The shock of wind rocked glen and he went

"What the fuck?"

The man in the jeep saw what appeared to be a package hurl from the SUV, bounce against his grill and disappear. He ducked reflexively, nearly losing control.

Karen twisted round in her seat, moaned

"Oh sweet Jesus."

Ben let the mitt go, the wind tearing into the seat. Karen grabbed at the wheel, screaming

"Stop, ……stop……."

And the vehicle went off the road.

Crashed into a tree at a speed of 120 and up. Karen shot through the windscreen, hitting the tree with her head, crushing the neck down into the torso. Glen’s air cushion kicked in and he sank into its folds. Ben, his belt tied, bounced against the upholstery. The jeep ploughed into them, the grill preventing serious damage. Dade’s head hit the dash, opening a three inch cut above his right eye, blood began to pour down his face. Took him a few minutes to focus then he reached under his seat, saying


Got a bandana, a souvenir from a Springsteen gig, wrapped it round his head, said

"Sucker hurts."

The Clash had shut down with the collision, he said

"Bummer Strummer."

A total silence followed. He pooped a couple reds, reached for the Walther, got out. His boots crunched on the asphalt as he sauntered towards the SUV. He surveyed the make of the thing, thinking it must have been the first off the line, how goddamn old was that? The lights from the ruined vehicle lit up the tree. He could see the remains of Karen, suspended on a branch, asked

"Hanging out babe?"

Glen pulled his head from the cushion, took in the carnage before him as the glass on his window shattered, a voice asking

" Glen, how you doing there buddy?"

Shot him twice in the upper chest. He dragged him out, leaned over the seat, looked at Ben, took the mitt and put a round in the child’s face. Counted, said

"Uh…huh, one missing."

A Buick approached, slowed, catching him in the glare, he moved to the side as the car stopped. An elderly man behind the wheel, rolling down window, going

"What happened?"

Dade shrugged, said

"Shit happened."

Shot him between the eyes, reached in, got the wallet, had 100 bucks in there. He climbed into the jeep, reversed, a grinding of metal as the grill came free, pulled out, moved off, began to sing

"My d-i-v-o-r-c-e came through today, and me and little J-o-e….."

His voice was low, modulated, a hint of almost sweetness in the tone.

His lights braked on a hill, then disappeared in the direction of Tucson.

Ken Bruen, one of the fastest-rising stars in crime fiction today, is the author of thirteen previous novels, including the Edgar-nominated and Shamus Award-winning The Guards (St. Martin’s Press, 2002) and The Killing of the Tinkers (St. Martin’s, 2003). He lives with his wife and daughter in Galway, Ireland. His next book, The Magdalen Martyrs, will be published in March.

This piece is an excerpt from his forthcoming novel American Skin.

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