Stories of Crime, Mystery and Mayhem
By Robb T. White
Crystal: Today I have the pleasure of hosting Robb T. White. Welcome Robb, I'm so excited to have you here today. Would you share a little bit about yourself with us today?
Robb: I’ll begin by saying the odometer on my 5-year-old Wrangler has exactly 5,884 miles on it, which proves I’m on a sliding scale between a stick-at-home and a full-time recluse. I grew up and still live in a small town on Ohio’s eastern end of Lake Erie—overlooking the lake, although I rarely go down there anymore unless my wife drags me along to hunt for beach glass. I’m usually found in my backyard in the hammock with a book as a prop to excuse dozing off. I’m married, retired, with three grown children, three grandchildren, and two cats.
Crystal: Do you have a favorite scene you would like to share with us?
Robb: I tried to end all the stories with a bit of poetic justice or a measure of irony apart from the two novellas that begin and end the collection. I favor the “comeuppance” ending; as it’s been around since the Middle Ages, I’m confident readers do, too. My favorite comes from “Black Sheep in a White Collar” in which the narrator—a smug, hardnosed contract killer—meets his fate in a horrific way, thanks to the woman he’d contracted with to kill her husband. He thinks she’s a petite, airheaded trophy wife who will crack like an egg under police interrogation (SPOILER ALERT). Instead, she’s worried he’ll break, so she beats him to the punch when he shows up at her house to kill her. I tossed out any notion of realism in the finale to have the narrator describe his own demise, but I enjoyed this two-paragraph conclusion too much to change it:
“He fell and landed hard at the bottom. It was a grave. His grave. He felt the first shovelful of dirt land. Then the second one, followed by a third and then a steady, rhythmic thunk, pause, thunk, pause—until his broken mouth was almost covered. He had a few seconds left to try to undo this horror. . .
The only sound, however, that penetrated up to the shoveling women above was a mushy-voweled gargling from the broken hole of his mouth. Above him, growing fainter, more distant as time stretched like taffy until a last shovelful of dirt tossed covered the blood-flecked spittle below.”
Crystal: Where did you come up with the idea for your latest release?
Robb: Nearly every story I write has to do with revenge or betrayal of some kind, so the classifying part by theme was easy. My family often mocks me, calls me Captain Obvious, for missing the obvious. I didn’t realize I had enough stories by and about women to build a collection around that fact. I’d already done a novel centered on a female protagonist before, so the idea wasn’t new—just the fact I’d accumulated enough stories to put a collection together.
Crystal: What are you currently working on?
Robb: I’m proofing a recently completed crime novella based on an incident from my hometown: a small fortune was stashed in an abandoned building by a woman who ran a store in her neighborhood for half-a-century. She didn’t trust banks. The money was hidden behind a refrigerator and discovered by two men. The grown children of the family are demanding its return. I rarely use real stories but this one intrigued me. I lifted from a financial commentator on one of the business channels: Dead Cat Bounce. The cliché has to do with a temporary and false uptick in a stock’s market value—one that isn’t genuine and won’t last. It sounds like anti-PETA activity, which it isn’t, of course, but I really liked the imagery despite the risk of using a cliché for a title.
Crystal: Do you have any special routine that you follow when you are writing?
Robb: I’m strictly an afternoon writer. I while away the morning on my favorite drug: caffeine. I do household chores while my wife snoozes (she won’t read this): dishes, straightening up the rooms, bringing out the trash and recyclables to the garage, and most important: dumping a couple coffee cans of bird feed in the feeder out back. When I’m done putzing around the house and yard, I head upstairs to my laptop.
Crystal: Did you have to do a lot of research for this book or any other? If so, do you have a fascinating fact that you have learned you would like to share with us?
Robb: I’m ashamed to admit my novels require little or no research. Anything I don’t know, or can discover in a book on hand, I google, pack my brain with temporary facts about the subject, and then fold this brand-new information into my narrative—before all those facts tumble out of my ears. I’m a fake for doing it this way, but the internet, for all my ambivalence about it, regarding social media, works. It just flat-out works. You can gain knowledge on any subject instantly, and as long as you’re intellectually capable of sifting the wheat from the chaff, any writer should be able to use it with—drum roll, big word coming, ahem—verisimilitude without blemishing the style or the upending the plot. As a writer of noir and hardboiled fiction, I worry that the everyday factual details of law enforcement, such as their use of databases and forensics technology, will go wrong and expose my ignorance—and indeed I’m sure that’s been the case somewhere back along the path of my publications to the present. I’d be arrogant to assume any expert could not find flaws. But I don’t strive to incorporate much technical detail because any reader who clamors to hear about short tandem repeat polymorphisms isn’t going to be reading me anyhow.
Fascinating fact: Never having walked into a nail spa in my life, I did research on what goes on inside besides gossip. I discovered that the tight band of skin beneath the nail plate, called the “proximal fold,” seals and protects the nail matrix from bacteria and germs where new cells are created. Some girls, even some manicurists, thinking this is dead skin, will cut it away when it dries out and cracks—big mistake because it leads to infection.
Crystal: Who are some of your favorite authors that you like to read?
Robb: My “big three” crime trio, as ever: Thomas Harris, David Lindsey, and Martin Cruz Smith. All are outstanding writers, crime fiction aside, and stylists of the highest caliber. I read William Styron at fifteen and have never wavered in my admiration for him. One by one, my other literary heroes have dropped away (Camus and he alone left standing). Styron is under-appreciated, has been for decades, and, I believe, is one of America’s great authors. I’m crazy about the elegance of his prose. I would love for a new generation of readers to discover him.
Crystal: Is there a genre you haven't written that you would like to try?
Robb: I’ve dabbled with a horror story now and then. I think of crime fiction as the daytime version of horror and Stephen-King-style fiction as its more flamboyant nighttime counterpart, but the psychology of experiencing horror is not that different when human monsters and evil monsters blend. One genre I’d like to try is science fiction—or, more exactly, fantasy, less the “science.” I remember being engrossed years ago by the steampunk film Perfect Creature that mixes vampires and “nineteenth-century London” on another planet.
Thank you, Crystal.
Be careful what you wish for, Regina.
Her mother’s words. Sometimes she could hear her mother’s voice in the house.
The Vindicator piece on Bodycomb’s death was two paragraphs.
He was found floating in Lake Milton, a popular summer resort area for fisherman seventeen miles east of Austintown just off the Interstate 80 overpass. Shot by a small-caliber weapon in the back of the head. The important information was in the second paragraph: Bodycomb, it noted, was running a dog-fighting network among three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia for a loose-knit West Virginia crime family connected to the Pittsburgh LaRizzo family.
Damn you, Leo.
She was blowing through caution lights, ignoring the honking of cars, as she beelined for the office on Market.
Like a script from a cheap thriller, he was there, wearing the same clothes and unshaven, big jowls dark with stubble, pong of body odor in the overheated single room.
“You promised me full disclosure, total honesty,” she said.
She threw the paper across his desk.
“Here it is in case you missed it.”
Be calm, Regina, she told herself. She wasn’t going to lose her temper and a new job in that order.
“I did and I meant it, Baby,” Leo said.
He glanced at the paper sideways and pushed it back to her. He’d obviously read it.
“You asked me—no, you demanded I call somebody. I did,” he said.
He disgusted her with those wagging jowls and big stomach. She noticed his belt was undone and a patch of curly belly hair exposed.
Probably jerking off in here, the freak.
“I suppose you’ll tell me when the mood strikes.”
“I meant the second case—your next case,” Leo said. “Full disclosure, just like you want.”
Her indignation petered out at the prospect. “So tell me about it,” she said.
Bodycomb was moving in on Donnie Bracca’s territory with his dog-fighting, Leo said.
“He can kill all the dogs he wants in West Virginia,” Leo said. “But Donnie B. controls gambling around here.”
“Donnie Bracca was your real client all the time,” Baby said.
“It’s like this, kid. They don’t blow each other up in cars no more. Gentlemen’s agreements, all nice and polite. But rules have to be followed. Bodycomb went rogue.”
She bit back a retort: You mean, like your own father?
Leo went on, waxing large, a hopeless Mafioso lover, although a real mafia man, a made man, could see Leo couldn’t be trusted. But even the Aryan Brotherhood used outside associates to get things done. Leo could be useful if you couldn’t buy a cop or scare off an investigative reporter snooping in shady politics or business deals.
She didn’t feel bad about Bodycomb’s death. After all, she'd wanted to kill the guy herself.
“Damn it, Leo,” she said. “You should have told me this in the beginning.”Baby moved in the direction Bodycomb’s vehicle had taken. After A couple of hundred yards through meadow grass up to her knees, she stopped and listened. Moving on, she dodged stunted bushes that popped up out of nowhere to snag her clothing. The foliage grew less dense. She found the parallel ruts of the Road Runner’s tracks and kept moving, straining her eyes to see light ahead. If Bodycomb was hiding assets from his soon-to-be ex-wife, he was taking a lot of trouble over it.
After five minutes of faster walking in the grooves, she heard barking coming from the right. She saw the first glimmer of light in the distance. The terrain was sparse but small slopes refracted the light source so it appeared and disappeared with every rise of the ground. A single dog barking became two, then three and finally a pack. Beneath their howls, men’s voices.
When she got close enough to make out words, she lay flat on her belly and put the binoculars on a cluster of men beside a ramshackle barn surrounded by cages of dogs in the beds of trucks beside a squared string of light bulbs a dozen feet from the ground. It looked like a crude boxing ring for backyard brawlers.
Its purpose became clear in the next few minutes. It was a dog-fighting pit.
About the Author:
White was born, raised, and continues to live in Ashtabula, Ohio.
More about Robb at: