Book Excerpt: Just Before the Dawn by Bonnie Kozek

Chapter 12 excerpt:

I waited till hell froze over, but Rabbit never showed. I needed smokes and booze – maybe a pack of Sno Balls. It was late. I’d have to hurry if I wanted to get to Anita’s before closing. I took a shortcut through the back parking lot of Main Street Church. There was only one car in the lot, parked under the shadow of an overhang. It was dark-colored. It looked familiar. Could it be?

My heart skipped a beat. Daddy! I rushed forward arsy-varsy. Oh, Daddy! It sure did look like . . . but . . . no, it wasn’t. No orange pinstripes, no pinstripes, period. My heart sank. My stomach knotted. I passed the car and dreamily ran my hand along the side. Oh, Daddy, where are you? Suddenly I felt something sticky. I looked at my hand. I smelled it. Then I bent down and examined the spot where I had touched the metal.

The something on my hand was black; it smelled like paint. And there, hiding beneath the recently applied black paint, was a bright orange pinstripe.

What the fuck?


Anita was out of Sno Balls. Anita was out of Ring Dings. I got the third best thing. Surprisingly, Devil Dogs, rot-gut, and cigarettes make for a decent snack. I stared at Rabbit’s note, trying to think clearly. Javelin. Pinstripes. Postmarks. Daddy. Skinner. Spray paint. Rabbit. Alice. Maggie. Tommy. Lucky Frank. U.S. Marshal Dunk Hayward. Buddy Pinchback. Honey McGuinness. No job. No home. Attempted murder. Prison time. Nothing made sense. Nothing made sense, cuz these were all just meaningless words now. Meaningless words with letters – letters that had to be counted! – letters that had to add up to five or multiples of five.

By the time I finished half the forty-rod and my second pack of New- ports, I knew what was throwing me off track: five was an uneven number. Even numbers, four-letter words, or multiples of four . . . that was my ticket back. The problem was simple: how to get from odd to even. I finished the fifth of whiskey and weighed the consequences of my solution. I read somewhere that the right half of the brain – the side that controlled the left hand – was mute. I opened my left palm and stared.

Being that it was controlled by speechless matter, well, I figured maybe there wouldn’t be such a fuss over the mess. I studied each finger. I gave the thumb and pinky a quick eighty-six. That narrowed it down to the index, middle, and ring. Being that I wasn’t exactly what you’d call marriage material or the kinda gal a fella would bring home to Mom, and therefore being that I’d never be someone’s wife, have a family, or live behind a white picket fence, well . . . easy come, easy go. *** The first hack didn’t go all the way through. The knife was big, but rusty. I gave it a couple more whacks and huzzah-huzzah-huzzah if the little sucker didn’t go flying across the room and carom right into the middle of the bloody fingerprints on the wall, then drop to the floor with a little thump. I looked at my hand and smiled. There it was . . . an even four! Pure fucking genius.


I laid my head down on the table and closed my eyes. In my dream there was talk of me getting “orograted.” And, by the end of the dream, I got orograted. Someone asked me if it was “some kinda pain,”but before I could answer, I woke up . . . in some kinda pain.

Red was everywhere. Hands, arms, legs, hair, clothes, table, floor – covered in blood. I looked at my stub – a geyser of hot red and white corpuscles. I felt confounded, dizzy, and short of breath. Think. Think. Stop the bleeding. Stop the pain. I tried to stand but slipped and fell in the slithery gore. I used my right hand to sideslip across the floor to the kitchen closet. Dish rag. Wrap stump in dish rag. I reached the closet and knocked Lucky Frank’s Winchester outta the way. When had I propped it up against the door? Why was my blood oozing out from under the bottom of the closet door? I gripped the lever and struggled to pull myself up. But before I could, the closet door swung open.


The last thing I saw was Rabbit Rawlings, propped upright in my kitchen closet with a bullet hole through his forehead. The last thing I felt was the crushing weight of the albino’s body as it fell forward and landed on top of me with a thud. And the last thought in my brain was: Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids.

BONNIE KOZEK is the author of the hardboiled noir grunge thrillers, “Threshold” and “Just Before the Dawn.”  Her work has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation.  KOZEK lives and works in New York City.  Visit her website at

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