Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Twisted Love" by Wally Runnels

Twisted Love
(A Rocky Novel)
by Wally Runnels

Twisted Love (A Rocky Novel) by Wally Runnels

Author Wally Runnels stops by to share an excerpt from his first Rocky novel, Twisted Love. You can also read my review.
Twisted Love is part of the Rocky series, in which the same characters are interwoven, but which have no plot connection: The In-Ko-Pah Spirit (read my blog post), Tupho’s Pink DeVille, Heavenly Pain, Death Karma, and Mother's Nature (read my blog post).

Roiling in political corruption and the raging violence of drug cartels in the California/Mexico borderlands, Twisted Love explores the redemptive power of love even amidst the most brutal and privileged echelons of contemporary society. Julietta Aguilar, a young archaeologist with a dark past shrouded with sordid family secrets, discovers a hidden chamber under the ruins of the Templo Mayor, in the heart of Mexico City. She soon finds herself enmeshed in an ancient mystery even as she tries to solve her father's senseless murder.
Now followed by cartel killers, deadly supernatural spirits and thwarted by her own family, her quest for peace seems almost insurmountable – until she meets a man in black with a nefarious background who goes only by one name. Rocky.
A fast-paced, gripping read reminiscent of fifties pulp, the characters in Twisted Love offer a dark study in human nature, with all the gory details of unbridled power, soul-searching hatred, strange fetishes, and macabre personalities etched on the reader's mind in searing black and white.

1. She Digs Archaeology
2013. The pervasive wood smoke of Mexico City created an orange midday glow. Death. Its challenging presence rode hot thermal wavelets, making the ground quiver.
In the chorizo-flavored heat, Julietta Aguilar hurried along the west foundation of the El Templo Mayor, dark chestnut hair pulled back into a loose knot that kept time with her stride. Although native to Mexico like many in the dig crews, Julietta Aguilar was U.S. educated. That fact alone had built a wall separating her from locally educated archaeologists — and from various regional perceptions and sensibilities. But she took these tensions in stride; her mind was focused on the unraveling of the secrets she now walked upon.
The majesty and scale of the temple where she stood absorbed her every waking moment. If it meant digging seven days a week to become published, she would. The Templo Mayor was her muse.
The structure sat on a plaza of flat irregular limestone pavers once tread by Cortez and Montezuma, now a pit fifty feet below the surface of modern Mexico City, eagerly occupied by her and others digging for knowledge and fame. Around these excavated acres an aggregate of five centuries of civilization rose above her, framing the great hole with colonial and modern structures.
Excited by the prospect of a new discovery, Julietta clambered down eight wooden steps, under an awning and into a cavity littered with exposed bones. Sacrificial victims, the estimate was four hundred. The scale of death she and her crews discovered continued to awe her.
Looking over the paved mall, its depths not yet explored, she wondered how many more bodies rested under the broad stone mosaic. Often she envisioned the irregular stony slabs moving, and bony hands reaching through the dirt to pull their skeletal remains free to walk away. Sometimes their primeval pain seemed to rise from the earth and travel up her body, numbing her senses. Questions tumbled inside her: Who were you? Why did you end like this?
Julietta knelt and studied a loosely arrayed set of female bones; the head had been placed on a partially excavated jade plate with an engraved butterfly. After photos were taken, the plate and bones would be carefully removed and archived.
At first thrilled by the unique placement of the head, she turned inward and thought of the young woman’s hopes. Was she loved? Did her spirit find fulfillment in its discovery? What was it like under the priest’s knife? She found her only answer in the empty eyeholes in the skull, eyes that seemed to hold a terrified expression of violent death.
If she had lived five hundred years ago it might have been Julietta’s bones interred here now. Wealth and status meant nothing to the Aztec god’s lust for blood. Julietta’s family was wealthy, and her father was a widely read political writer and publisher, but that kind of power would not have saved him or his family. The priests sacrificed everyone -- nobles, wives and their children.
That thought always put things into perspective. Just how important were her problems? And she did have them. It wasn’t just the lack of a love life for a young, ambitious PhD dedicated to her work. Solitude and moments of depression came with the job. In fact, and sadly, it had been over a year since the last man − far too long. But male companionship was not high on her priorities. No, the main difficulty was, as always, her parents.
Needing to prep for a meeting in the coming hour, she left the pit and the bones and found shade near a newly uncovered wall that had emerged from stony rubble.
A sultry breeze that was more of a promise than a commitment pushed at the heat in weak gasps. Sitting on the cobbled ground near a pile of stony debris, surrounded by her scattered tools, her journal on her lap, Julietta looked up at the muraled barrier of painted jaguar warriors who danced in a bloodletting ritual.
Conversations of nearby workers and their clattering tools created a sound snippet that seemed to give life to the bloody animated visual. Aztec jaguar knights had been dangerous and fanatical individuals in life.
Thinking of the coming meeting she felt like opening a vein and joining them. She was filled with frustration: her team’s work had been without any significant finds, aside from the jade plate for months now. Nothing dramatic had been uncovered.
Dr. Matos, her boss, was a world-renowned archaeologist, but he needed impressive results to pull more money into their research stream. Some days she couldn’t look him in the eyes.
Frustrated, she poured through her journal. Had she missed some obvious link? She reorganized her photos and reread several entries. There was nothing. Angry, she slammed her workbook on the pavement and sent her trowel clattering across the stones.
Above her head, the warriors gyrated, flinging blood, their open mouths showed bleeding tongues. Their character was gothic yet beautiful, and then something caught her attention.
A piece of fuzz clung to one of the savage dancers. She leaned over for a closer look. The outlaw particle was somehow stuck to the pigment. A light whisk with her brush didn’t dislodge it. Nature had applied glue to the fluff so that it seemed stuck to the graphic with a malevolent grip.
She gave it an easy tug. Sounding like heavy paper crackling, the performer fractured and collapsed into a black void. She stared, trembling, heart pounding, and choked back emotion. "My God, what have I done?"
First racked by fear of reprimand, and then entranced by the mystery of empty space, she peered into the aperture. Where there had been a paper-thin sheet of stucco was now darkness.
From the black opening she was embraced by an outpouring of air, centuries old that joyously rushed from its captivity. Scented like incense, it carried a hint of wood smoke. She then felt a strange tactile sensation, as if hundreds of fingers massaged her body and then left in a whispering ether of sighs.
The sensation stunned her. Her mind wanted to deny it, but she felt groped.
As if it came from a great depth, a powdery fist of something old and dangerous assaulted her. Biting and dry, the taste of copal deepened and saturated the air around her. She coughed and swallowed.
Copal, a pine resin considered to be the very blood of the tree from which it came, rising in smoke to feed hungry gods during a sacrifice, was often the last olfactory experience a victim had. Its presence shot a thrill through her like an electric shock.
Was this something that could launch her career?
At the very least it might create a cause that would keep patrons funding their research.
Trembling, she ran her hand along the edge of the broken stucco. The hole gave her a sense of a larger contained volume beyond – a sanctuary perhaps? The inner masonry had probably fallen away from the mural in some earlier time, leaving no support. What remained behind the damaged section was some sort of crawl space.
She looked over her shoulder with a mix of fear and excitement. What had she discovered? She saw two senior members of her crew. Frantic with anticipation, she yelled, "Mario, Reggie, get over here."
In seconds, they stood around her, dusty and excited. Mario knelt and put his head into the opening.
"You okay, Julietta?" asked Reggie. He had an off-handed respect for Julietta. Standing six foot with a sinewy build, he wore a bandana over his hair and today sported a black eye.  
Julietta stared at him, wondering about his wound. He’d always interested her. But knowing that her taste in sex was a liability with casual lovers thanks to her sexually abusive grandfather, she guessed that Reggie would probably be shocked by her needs. Better to keep her private life separate from work, she reminded herself. The thought of intimacy with Reggie passed. She guessed the black eye was from the soccer club he played in.
"This hole was an accident," she said. "But look inside."
"Yeah, like my eye," he shrugged catching Julietta’s look while Mario leaned in to look. "Played Los Cruceros last night. They got a mean goal keeper."
"Wow, this is incredible," said Mario, talking fast, "A lucky happening." Stocky, going on plump, a pink round face with thinning hair, he had a fidgety habit of nodding when he spoke. He often thought out loud to himself while ignoring the verbal reactions of others. Mario shuffled around the aperture, careful not to step on the broken remnants, and trying to see inside. Shorter and more round than Reggie, he had a waist created by his quest for the perfect taco. "Wow, Julietta this could be a major fuck-up or a total bonus deal."
Julietta looked at Reggie, who shrugged his shoulders and tried to look noncommittal. "Thanks Mario, I’ll bear that in mind."
"Stop saying your thoughts, Mario," said Reggie.
"Stop trying to read my mind," said Mario. "I’m just thinking out loud, sorry."
Both Reggie and Mario were Americans who’d graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with honors. She appreciated the international flair they gave her crew.
She pointed to a plywood scrap about a meter square. "Mario, bring that flat over here. We’ll gather these plaster shards for the restoration folks." They made a careful jigsaw puzzle of the remains of the fallen dancer and moved him out of the way.
"You two get lights and anything else you think you’ll need."
Reggie and Mario took off for their gear.
Her flashlight caught a glimmer of water deep in the somber space. Trying to contain her excitement, she locked her mind on the task at hand and zipped a first aid kit and a spare hand torch into a small backpack.
Reggie and Mario returned, each with multi-colored climbing ropes, lights and canteens.
"Where’s Tamale Boy?" she asked.
"Probably at a torta stand," Reggie said, grinning.
"Here he comes," said Mario.
Panting, a young man nearly as wide as he was tall, ran to the group.
"Okay, Tamale, go tell Dr. Matos what happened and where we are." She pointed to the hole. "Then come back, just in case we need help."
Tamale’s eyes widened. He looked at the broken wall with a pleading expression. "Can I go with you?"
"No. We need you here at the entry," said Julietta.
Reggie and Mario grinned at Tamale’s plight. Julietta was being nice. He wouldn’t fit into the opening. She clapped her hands as if to wake a sleeper. "Got it?"
He nodded and lumbered away.
"You two with me?" Julietta asked.
Both men nodded with a grin. "Let's go, but be careful," Julietta warned. She inspected the rim of the hole and felt relief wash over her. The stones that supported the remaining mural were intact. She eased herself in and worked her way over the fallen cobbles that had once supported the broken warrior. "Don’t touch the wall," she yelled out. "We don’t want to destroy any more of the pictorial."
They crawled into a cool, cavernous chamber. Not a true cave, the walls were made by man and covered with paintings. Their lights shone on carved impasto bas-reliefs. Julietta shook with excitement. This could be an important discovery. Perhaps a door to fame was finally opening. Once inside, they were able to stand. The ceiling was several feet over their heads and the space was quite large.
She felt as if she were being watched, like a burglar breaking into someone’s home. Something brushed against her. She froze, but saw nothing. Reggie and Mario grew quiet.
"Wonder what that was?" asked Reggie.
"Maybe your imagination," retorted Mario.
"Don’t be a smart-ass, it was something," Reggie was tense.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"Wally Runnels is a master storyteller. Call it Border Pulp or noir, Runnels is always fresh and original; an author who stimulates the imagination with his jaw-dropping window into Rocky's gritty and grimy, but sometimes sensual, world. Twisted Love is no different. It's another chilling and hardboiled roller coaster ride into a story that does not disappoint. Buckle up. You're in for a fun trip." ~ Dennis Copelan, author of the Welcome to Hollyweird Collection
"I've read some of Wally Runnels' short stories that are set around Mexicali, Mexico, a city on the Mexican-United States border. They're remarkably original and entertaining to read. Now he's written the novel-length Twisted Love. [...] The two storylines converge and finally meet in a most unlikely way as the violence explodes, with Cruz doing everything he can to save himself. With all this going on, add some supernatural Aztec spirits that Julietta has unwittingly unleashed, and the story races toward a thrilling climax. Two thumbs up for Twisted Love." ~ J. Chambers
"From word one, this novel grips and shakes you with its unique descriptions and its velvet use of terror. [...] The hero is ruthless and passionate, the heroine driven, ambitious, and loyal, even to those who corrupted and used her. Everyone holds secrets, even the dead, and it's a race to see who will survive the revelations of those dark, devastating truths." ~ Lou M. Nelson
"Faced paced, this novel has plenty of twists and turns to satisfy the most ardent crime novel reader." ~ Jenny Woodall

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
During an excavation in Mexico City, archaeologist Julietta Aguilar discovers a hidden chamber containing what appear to be the remains of a pair of intertwined lovers. When strange things start happening, she fears she may have released a malevolent spirit. Meanwhile, Roberto Cruz hires Rocky to assassinate Julietta's father, a journalist seeking to publish an exposé on Cruz himself. Both Julietta and Rocky struggle with demons from their past, but what will happen when their paths finally cross?
The narrative alternates between Julietta's story, Rocky's story, and the story behind Julietta's archaeological discovery. The author sets a cracking pace that never lets up. Be warned, this book is full of graphic violence and several twisted relationships. A truly twisted love develops between two of the characters, but you just can't help but root for them.
I wasn't a fan of the original cover and thought that Running Jaguar would feature more heavily than he does; I'm happy to see the author changed the cover to better reflect the story. I'm interested to see if Rocky returns in another book or if he's walked off into the sunset. If so, I'll miss you, Rocky.
Warnings: graphic violence, coarse language, sexual references, sex scenes.

About the Author
Wally Runnels
Wally Runnels was born in San Diego, California, and has traveled through Mexico and Latin America. He was raised on the border, at his family’s ranch, whose original deed was recorded in 1870. Hanging out between two countries, he met a lot of unusual people: Hollywood types, Border Patrol Officers, professional trackers, smugglers, and people he won’t mention by name. He’ll remind you that no matter how weird a story can get, it’ll contain some grain of truth.
Besides Twisted Love and a string of related Rocky stories and novellas, Runnels is featured in The Forsaken anthology edited by Mark Onspaugh and Joe McKinney.