Read an excerpt from “CUT”: Dueling knife fighters in a Miami living room

By on May 21, 2015

Awhile back, we shared with you a trailer created for Joseph Mattson’s awesome L.A. novel, Empty The Sun, which was directed by Adam Cushman and produced by his company, Red 14 Films. Today, we have an excerpt from Cushman’s own novel, CUT, which is described as “a work of transgressive literary fiction about a failed actor named Gabriel who finds his way into a small ring of underground suburban knife duelists in Miami.”

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Have a look at this trailer for CUT, directed and edited by Adam Cushman. It stars James Duval, Nick Principe, Hemky Madera, Nell Teare, Corby Griesenbeck, Angela Nesbitt, Charan Andreas, Michael Sandow, Kelly Kesyer, Lily Lisa and Greg Jackson, and features a great piece of music, “Harmonisch Serie,” by Max Cooper.

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CUT by Adam Cushman, published by Black Mountain Press. Used with the author’s permission.

Adam was kind enough to let us share with you an exclusive excerpt from CUT, which is published by The Black Mountain Press, along with images from the trailer (thanks, Adam!).

An excerpt from Chapter 3, “The Living Room”:

The Beak rings the bell and a guy with a giant forehead, tight and shiny opens up. His beady yellow eyes smile when my throat contracts. The Beak says, “This here’s all kindsa crazy,” and winks at me before introducing me to Kuba, who raises a pistol, and gestures down the hall toward two double doors. Once inside, the Beak tells me how Kuba’s some weird mix of Chinese and Irish and is only here for a few weeks before he goes back to Chad to finish his degree in monkey philosophy or some shit. When we reach the double doors, The Beak tells me, “There’s three things can happen to a dude that overnight changes how he looks at shit: We all know the first one is pussy. Second is knowing everyone you love is gonna die.”

“What’s behind door number three?”

“If you ain’t absolutely ready for what you came all this way to do, if you got folks somewhere who give a fuck if you live or if you don’t: Walk out this place and forget. ‘Cause when you wake up tomorrow, you ain’t gonna be the same skinny dude who came out that SUV six years ago with all them stab wounds.”

The Beak says, “You sure you ready to do that again?”

With a thumbnail, I squeeze out a few hairs from my moustache and almost tell The Beak getting stabbed in the stomach, arms and thigh was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and all I want to do is repeat it.

“All right, brother,” he says, “Here’s to falling forward.”

He turns the knob to the sounds of overlapping voices. Navajo-white living room walls and a Chinese rug under a micro-suede sectional. The fireplace lights up with a switch and the king-sized plastic tarp falls over the room. A plasma’s mounted on the wall, watching us. A group of five sit slouched against the farthest side and could be homeless children. They’re the locals camped outside a tattoo shop on Venice Beach, or the record store clerks on St. Marks Place. The carved guy in the denim jacket sees me and sinks his chin to his chest.

The Beak leans in, “That there’s Fred. All kindsa crazy, just like you.”

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Fred’s grinning at me. He has large ears.

The Beak says, “Fred’s been stabbed over thirty times. Dude next to him with all those animal tattoos is Wonkie. Real name’s Juaquin. He’s a different kind of crazy. Next to him’s Bam Bam, Pebbles, and the smelly freak with the beard at the end is Alex.”

The Beak half-points at the sliding glass door to the back yard. On the other side waits a slender black girl, a curl of smoke climbing the sides of her cheeks as she faces the screened-in porch.

“That’s Comfort,” he tells me, “Least that’s what she calls herself.”

Comfort’s wearing jeans and a black T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up just below her shoulders.

“This here’s anyone’s bet,” he says as we sit on the sectional, “The kid’s never done this shit before. Comfort just bounced back from a gut wound.”

Before I can ask, a kid comes out of the dining room. He’s wearing swim shorts, Elevation X sneakers, and a long-sleeve T-shirt with a rabbit, which he removes and tosses on the floor before stepping onto the tarp and stretching his hamstrings. White sunspots cover his pimply, athletic back. Comfort enters and takes a position next to the kid on the tarp. A gray-haired man comes out of the kitchen eating a hard-boiled egg, dressed in a track-suit and glasses. Tracksuit places a Canon 5D on a tripod next to the couch, frames the shot and presses record. Something about the Beak not mentioning the man in the track suit tells me we’re in his house. Comfort’s black eyes dart around at every little movement. Maybe the credit card debt spun out of control. Student loans. Overdrafts. Late car payments. Or maybe she’s hoping to lose.

Peeking from behind the table with the Swarovski crystal ducks, I swear Coleman’s watching me with dog eyes, same fishing shirt he wore that night in the Keys, running his fingers through his beard and licking his chops.

“You wanna take her place, don’t you? What about the kid though? Don’t he deserve to keep his life?”

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The Beak leans in too close, his face getting red.

“Remember one thing: That girl you thinking can’t really wanna do this shit has as much a chance as anyone. Think about something else: If it was you in the middle of the living room, would you be trying to save her life then and if the answer’s yes, you need to tighten up quick or take your ass back to wherever town it is you living in this week ‘cause homes, you ain’t gonna make it.”

The ambience is heavy breathing and an occasional clearing of the throat. Kuba comes out of the kitchen with two long knives and hands one to Comfort, one to the Kid. The Kid laughs and says something to Comfort, who says nothing. Fred and his circle whisper. A tiny pink-haired girl sits among them, Pebbles is rail-tie thin, with giant lips and eyes, like if an extraterrestrial were kind of hot. Pebbles watches the Kid like he’s about to burst into fire as Bam Bam wraps his arms around her waist. The other orphans wouldn’t look any different if they were watching a mayonnaise commercial. Tracksuit turns the stereo up with his remote and starts the soundtrack to some movie I can’t remember.

Comfort and the Kid step away from each other as The Beak whispers something in Tracksuit’s ear. Fred and the others wait for it. Tracksuit says action and Comfort flies at the kid, swipes the blade at his chest. He recoils in time, turns the handle around and shields his face with his other hand as he circles her. Comfort follows with her eyes. The Kid orbits her a second time. The slightest of smiles. He laughs when her knife enters his side. Comfort’s out the sliding glass door with a cigarette lit seconds after he hits the floor. The kid gushes. Tracksuit kneels, takes his hand.

“The pain is temporary, son. The freedom you’ve just attained, that’s forever.”

The kid smiles as his eyes roll back and a Middle-Eastern man in a leather jacket enters, takes his pulse and snaps at Kuba. Kuba carries the kid away and the man follows them into the kitchen.

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“Where are they going?” I ask.

The Beak starts texting. He says, “The kitchen. That Iraqi dude is a world class surgeon. Best excuse me now, I got to get to Publix before my wife goes apeshit.”

The Beak leans in, but I have to bend down because he’s much shorter than me.

“You’re smart, I can tell,” he says, “one of those quiet types. I respect that, son. Bet you know without me saying nothing that you committed the second we walked in. So you might want to pick up a blade.”

Here’s me stepping toward the glass door, over the pool of blood leakage trying for a closer look at Comfort.

A figure moves behind me, removes his denim jacket. Fred rests a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“Would you think it was so sad if she were fat and sloppy?”

“By the way,” he whispers, “That guy you’re so relieved didn’t stab your little honey smack’s name is William, and William almost paid for a semester of community college in forty seconds.”

“How many people have died in this living room?”

“It didn’t start out like this,” he says, “You’ve arrived at the end, you just don’t know it yet.”

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Fred takes the palm of my hand, flexing his grip from dead-fish to bone-cracker and back again.

“There’s a bus stop in front of the pleasure palace you’re staying at. See you there at noon.”

I notice Tracksuit at the front door, whispering to a man in a real suit, a black man who straightens his tie, scratches his moustache and picks up a silver briefcase, both of them seeing me watching them before the man in the suit exits. Fred says Tracksuit is Mr. Lopez, and the black man’s name is The Handle. He says they make all this happen. Lopez shuts the door, smiles wide and shoots me with his finger. I press my face against the sliding glass door, staring at the back of Comfort’s head as cigarette smoke curls above her shoulder.

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Adam Cushman

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.