Monday, March 12, 2018



During the Spanish Civil War Frank Swiver and his college pal, Max Rabinowitz, both fall in love with Amanda Zingaro, but she and her father are shot by a local fascist strongman. Eleven years later in San Francisco in 1949, Frank, traumatized by the violence in Spain, has become a pacifist and makes a marginal living as a private eye. He is called into a murder case that the cops hope to write off as suicide. Max, who lost an eye in Spain but owes his life to Frank, becomes a public defender and asks Frank to help him build a defense for a Mexican accused of knifing a naked man in a hotel room. Max has also met a woman in the case who is a dead ringer for Amanda, the woman they thought they'd lost years ago in Spain. What’s going on?

Book Details:

Author’s name: Harley Mazuk

Book title: Last Puffs

Genre: Mystery/crime

Publisher: New Pulp Press, Jan. 2018

Page count: 293

Touring with: Pump Up Your Book!


A few of your favorite things:
My wine collection, my books.
Things you need to throw out: Old clothes that I haven’t worn in years

Things you need in order to write: Revisions are such a big part of my writing, that I really need my computer and word processing software in order to write.
Things that hamper your writing: Noise, such as TV programs playing in another room, chores—dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, bill paying, taxes (I’m retired, so those are my jobs)

Things you love about where you live: I live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. I enjoy the safety and peace of the suburbs. I love the liberal politics of my county and of a majority of the state, and the quality of life. I was born in Ohio, but Maryland is now my home.
Things that make you want to move: The stifling heat and humidity of the summer, and the length of the hot season—it’s more than just a three-month summer. The unbelievable traffic congestion emanating from D.C. The high cost of living.

Favorite foods: French Fries and bacon.
Things that make you want to throw up: Eggnog.

Favorite music or song: I like most everything by the Beatles, Eric Clapton, or Pink Floyd. I’m also very fond of the Blues, especially old-fashioned Delta Blues, like by Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson.
Music that make your ears bleed: Music that blares out of cars next to you at the light with all their windows rolled down. 

Favorite smell: The smell of old roses
Something that makes you hold your nose: Milk past its date, freshly soiled diapers.

Something you’re really good at: Copy editing. Distance running—I have been a jogger since 1978. I’ve finished a couple marathons, and often did quite well in 10k races, though I don’t race anymore. 
Something you’re really bad at: Basketball. I have a vertical leap of about four inches, and I’ve never been much of a ball handler either.

Something you like to do: Go out on a cool sunny morning and run three miles
Something you wish you’d never done: Hit the wall with that rental car in Napoli.

Things you always put in your books: “Hammettisms”—elements generally found in the books and stories of Dashiell Hammett. They include vivid, larger-than-life characters, flavorful dialogue, detective-style descriptions of people, working class main character, a fat man, a Russian, drinking, slang, treacherous women. 

Things you never put in your books: Profanity.

Things to say to an author: I left a review of your book on Amazon.

Things to say to an author if you want to be fictionally killed off in their next book: I only gave your book one star.

Favorite places you’ve been: Rome, Italy, Cusco, Peru.

Places you never want to go to again: New Haven, Connecticut. I got arrested there for hitchhiking.

Favorite genre: Mystery, especially detective/private eye stories.

Books you would ban: See I almost didn’t answer that one because I’m not the sort who believes in banning books. But I could ban books by Harley Mazuk. Then perhaps they’d become underground best sellers.

Things that make you happy: I like running, drinking wine, reading, writing. They all make me happy.

Things that drive you crazy: Bad drivers. It’s dangerous out there!

The last thing you did for the first time: I just had my first cup of yogurt at the age of 69. Low-fat, vanilla.

Something you’ll never do again: Eat yogurt. Ha, ha. No, it was fine. I will never run another marathon.


Arag√≥n, Spain, March 1938 There’d been a dusting of fresh snow in the high ground during the night, and the captain wanted our squad, which was nine men, to relieve an outpost on the crest of a hill, just up above the tree line. Max Rabinowitz took point, and I followed, climbing steadily. It was a cold, quiet morning, and we talked between ourselves about the ’38 baseball season, and whether we’d be back in the States to see any games. “I would like to see Hank Greenberg and the Tigers play DiMaggio and the Yanks,” said Max. Max was dark-haired and rangy, and I always thought he looked a bit like Cary Grant, though now after a year in the field, there was nothing suave nor dapper in his appearance. “How about Ted Williams?” I said. “We’ve already seen DiMaggio play in San Francisco with the Seals.” “We saw Williams play with the Padres. Besides, he isn’t in the big leagues yet,” said Max. “Yeah, but the Red Sox signed him.” I walked along just off Max’s shoulder. I was about the same height as Max, six feet, six-one, a little thinner, and looked at least as scruffy that morning. I wore a burgundy scarf around my head and ears, under a dirty and battered grey fedora. I scanned the virgin snow ahead of us with heavy-lidded eyes. The wind was faint, just enough to pick up a feathery wisp of snow in spots and spin it around. “He’s only about 19. I think they’ll keep him down on the farm for ’38.” “I would like to see Bob Feller pitch to your boy Greenberg,” I told Max. Smitty came up between us. “Feller throws 100 miles an hour, and he strikes out more than one per inning.” “They say,” said Max, “he walks almost one an inning,” “Keeps ‘em loose up there,” said Smitty, who was from Cleveland. “Hundred mile an hour heat and nobody knows where it’s going.” As the three of us stepped out of the cover of the tree line, Smitty kind of hopped up on one leg and threw his arms out. I wondered what sort of a weird little dance that was; then I heard the automatic weapons fire coming down at us off the hill. It was a mechanical chatter, rather than gunpowder explosions, and the wind had blown the sound around the hills so that the bullets cut Smitty down before it had reached us. Branches near us started to snap off and tumble earthwards. Max hit the snow on his belly and rolled downhill to his right to get to cover behind a rock. I motioned for the others to get back into the trees, and dove into a low spot in the ground. When we could look up, we saw that the fascists had overrun the outpost we’d been climbing up to the ridge to relieve, and the firing was coming from there. We returned fire. I heard cries in Spanish from behind me, a curse in a low voice, then a high-pitched prayer. A potato-masher grenade came flipping end-over-end down the hill toward me. It seemed like slow motion. It hit a rock and bounced up. I could say a Hail Mary in about four seconds flat in those days, and I said one then. The grenade sailed over my head; I heard it explode, and felt a shower of dirt on my back. In front of me, Max was popping up and firing one round with his Springfield, then dropping behind the rock. I popped up and fired when he dropped down. I thought we were doing pretty well taking turns, but grenades kept arcing over our heads and bullets pinged into Max’s rock and raked the dirt beside me. Max tried lobbing one of his grenades towards the machine gun, but his throw was uphill, and he didn’t have an arm like DiMaggio. After a few minutes of this, I tried to aim and squeeze the trigger instead of popping off quick shots. Then I didn’t hear anyone behind us firing anymore. I looked around and saw Rocco and Pete sprawled in the grass. I called to a couple of the others. “Comrades…anyone…sound off.” Nada. “Frank, this is bad,” Max yelled to me. “I’d rather be facing Feller’s fastballs,” I told him. “Maybe it’s time for us to dust.” Then we heard an airplane motor. It grew louder, and the first plane, a Heinkel, zoomed over the ridge seconds later. Max had risen to his feet and was scrambling down the slope. He looked back over his shoulder at the plane just as a cannon shot from the aircraft hit the rock he’d been behind. The explosion flipped Max in mid-air and tossed him towards me. The ground under him ripped up and clods of dirt flew towards us. The scene faded to black, but for how long, I don’t know. When I opened my eyes, I was facing the sky but I smelled the forest floor, earth and leaves. Truffles, perhaps? Max was on top of me, limp, and it was quiet. No planes, no shooting. “Max,” I said, “we gotta get up. Get off me.” I felt my voice in my head, but couldn’t hear it in my ears. Max didn’t get up. I rolled him over next to me, and saw that his hat was gone. The top of his head and the right side of his face were a collage of blood and dirt. I shook him, and he gasped for breath, earth falling out of his nostrils. He was still alive. “Frank, Frank. I can’t see. I can’t see.” It didn’t sound like Max, but there was no one else there. “Easy, Max.” I tried to rinse some of the dirt, debris and blood off Max’s head with my canteen, then I ripped open a compress from my pack and put it over his forehead and eyes. I wrapped more dressing around his head to keep the bandage in place “Hold this on your face, man. Don’t try to open your eyes.” I was afraid his right eyeball was going to fall out. “Hold it tight.” Using the slope, I maneuvered him across my shoulder, head down in front of me, and struggled to my feet. I took off at a trot along the tree line. Our lines were behind us to the east but it looked like the whole damned fascist army was charging down from the outpost, headed that way, so I ran south. It was downhill and my momentum carried us. The going was easy, but I felt panic building in my gut so I tried to slow down. I slid on the snow, fell on my butt, and slammed into a tree and dropped Max. “Frank, where are you? Am I dyin’?” “I got you, Max. You caught some shrapnel in the head from that plane. Say an act of contrition or something.” “I’m a Jew, you idiot.” “Say it anyway.” I lifted the gauze off his forehead and looked under it. His wound didn’t appear to be deep, but the right eye was very bad, all blood and pulp, and the bone around it may have been shattered. “Press on this, Max.” I pressed the bandage back against his face and put his hand on it. I hoisted him over my shoulder again, and stepped off, forcing myself to keep my pace steady and not too fast. We went on till the sun was high in the sky. I didn’t fall again, but my ankles were burning, and my toes were pinched in my boots from going downhill. I stopped twice, and opened our bota. I washed my mouth out with the wine, a rustic red from Calatayud, then I cradled Max’s head and opened his mouth. I squirted the wine in, squeezing the leather skin, the way I’d squeezed the trigger of my rifle. Max coughed. He seemed only half-conscious. I carried Max down the hill and to the south, parallel to our lines, until we were deep in some woods. I was scared and it wasn’t easy, but I would have done anything for Max. We had been roommates and run around together at Berkeley. We fell out of touch when he went to law school, and I started drinking, trying to forget Cicilia. When Max re-connected with me in ’36, he tried to help me sober up and get back on my feet. I’d come around for a while, but always, I’d slip back into the abyss. Max was a red, even back in our student days. I hadn’t been serious about my politics then. One evening to keep me from drowning my demons, Max took me to a meeting about the Spanish Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Before the night was over, we’d signed up to fight in Spain. Max didn’t have to. I think he did it to save me. Now I was going to save him. When the sun dropped behind the hills, the woods quickly grew dark. There was a smell of pines, and the footing was better—no snow or ice on the ground, which was hard and covered with dry pine needles. Under the background din of war, the roar of artillery and airplanes, I heard water down to my left. I turned towards it and a few minutes later, came to a stream, probably flowing south to the Ebro. It wasn’t night yet, but it was so dark under the tall trees, I would have walked into the stream without seeing it if not for the sound of the water rushing over the rocks. I put Max down on his back, head and shoulders downhill toward the stream. The blood had dried; the gauze was stuck to his head. I scooped up water with my hat and poured it on his face. The icy cold shocked him into consciousness—and panic and pain. “Morphine, Frank,” he moaned. “Gimme the morphine.” But I had used our morphine one night weeks ago on guard duty on a cold hillside. We did have a flask of Cardenal Mendoza Spanish Brandy, and I gave him some, then I drank. I rinsed his wound good and put a new bandage on it using Max’s kit this time. My legs felt weak and started to shake with cold or exhaustion. I don’t know if I could have stood up then if the Generalissimo had come down the hill waving his pistoles. We were down low, and there were some bare shrubs and young trees sheltering us on the uphill slope. I fought my exhaustion and tried to keep watch as long as I could. I had another swallow of brandy and pulled close to Max. My eyes closed, and I fell asleep.


Harley Mazuk was born in Cleveland, the last year that the Indians won the World Series. He majored in English literature at Hiram College in Ohio, and Elphinstone College, Bombay, India. Harley worked as a record salesman (vinyl) and later served the U.S. Government in Information Technology and in communications, where he honed his writing style as an editor and content provider for official web sites.

Retired now, he likes to write pulp fiction, mostly private eye stories, several of which have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. His first full length novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder, was released in 2017, and his newest, Last Puffs, just came out in January 2018.

Harley’s other passions are his wife Anastasia, their two children, reading, running, Italian cars, California wine and peace.

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