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Authors: Andrew Vachss

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A Bomb Built in Hell

BOOK: A Bomb Built in Hell
A Bomb Built in Hell

Andrew Vachss is a lawyer who represents children and youths exclusively. His many works of fiction include the Burke series, several standalone novels, and two collections of short stories. His books have been translated into twenty languages, and his work has appeared in
Parade, Antaeus, Esquire, Playboy
, and
The New York Times
, among other publications. He divides his time between his native New York City and the Pacific Northwest.



Blue Belle
Hard Candy
Down in the Zero
Footsteps of the Hawk
False Allegations
Safe House
Choice of Evil
Dead and Gone
Pain Management
Only Child
Down Here
Mask Market
Another Life


The Getaway Man
Two Trains Running
The Weight
That's How I Roll


Born Bad
Everybody Pays


Copyright © 2012 by Andrew Vachss

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Crime/Black Lizard and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Vachss, Andrew H.
A bomb built in hell : a novel / by Andrew Vachss.
p. cm.
“A Vintage Crime/Black Lizard original.”
1. Assassins—Fiction. 2. Ex-convicts—Fiction.
3. Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3572.A33B66 2012

eISBN: 978-0-307-95086-4

Cover design by Mark Abrams



In 1972, I was represented by the John Schaffner Agency, largely on the strength of some short stories
I published in minor magazines. My first full-length effort was, essentially, the journal I kept during my time in the infamous New York City Welfare Department between 1966 and 1969, ending when I left to enter the war zone inside a country calling itself Biafra.
That book was (as was all my work prior to
) considered unacceptable by the publishing establishment, on the grounds that there was no market for “this kind of material.”

Victor Chapin, my tireless agent, who never lost faith in me, thought my varied ground-zero experiences (including, by that time, not only the genocidal madness in Africa, but a stint as a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, working as an organizer in Lake County, Indiana, running a center for urban migrants in Chicago, a re-entry joint for ex-cons, and a maximum-security prison for violent youth) would lend themselves perfectly to a “hard-boiled” novel of the type that was so successful in the 1950s.
A Bomb Built in Hell

And (again) was unanimously rejected by publishers. They professed to love the writing, but felt the events depicted were a “political horror story” and not remotely realistic. The rejection letters make interesting reading today. Included in the “lack of realism” category were such things as Chinese youth gangs and the fall of Haiti. And, of course, the very idea of someone entering a high school with the intent of destroying every living person inside was just too … ludicrous.

Naturally, the book was also “too” hard-boiled, “too” extreme, “too” spare and violent. I heard endlessly about how an anti-hero was acceptable, but Wesley was just “too” much.

was meant to be a Ph.D. thesis in criminology without the footnotes, exploring such areas as the connection between child abuse and crime, and the desperate need of unbonded, dangerous children to form “families of choice.” Thus, the narrative is third-person, and the tone is flat and detached.

Victor, ever loyal, insisted that there was no dispute
about my ability as a writer, but that I needed to add some intimacy to a book everyone called “dry ice.” So … 
. Same themes, but first-person narrative, interior monologues, fleshed-out backstory, (some) characters with whom the reader could identify (and even, presumably, like). Some sense of human connection. But the same themes.

Victor read the manuscript and told me I had finally done it—we were winners. And then he died. Suddenly and unfairly.

Years later, after
came out, offers for
magically appeared. Some from the same publishers who had rejected it the first time. I never took the offers, thinking of the original book as a “period piece.” Later, at the suggestion of Knopf publisher (and my editor) Sonny Mehta, I cannibalized pieces of it for the Burke series. That series took eighteen books to find its own ending, but pieces of
made their way into both
Blue Belle
Hard Candy
, and Wesley remained a character in the series (despite being “dead” since
) throughout.

I left
's first publisher, Donald I. Fine, for Knopf, and have remained in that new home ever since. Eventually, Vintage assumed publication of all the books in their classic trade paperback form. If you're reading this in print form, it's thanks to Vintage that you are.
And for the fact that this is the first professionally edited version of what I wrote so long ago.

Rumors of the original book's existence have been present ever since an excerpt was published in the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich series
A Matter of Crime
about a quarter-century ago.

The rumors are true. And how I wish some of the book's predictions had not proved to be so.

I dedicated
to Victor Chapin. And I dedicate this to him as well.

It's been a long wait, old friend. I hope it reads as well from where you are now.

Andrew Vachss
New York

One of which later morphed into “Placebo,” which, still later, came to anchor the three-act play “Replay,” both featured in my first short-story collection,
Born Bad
(Vintage, 1994). “Placebo” has been performed in many venues, including the U.K. and Europe.

Neither the country nor the name survived. Nigeria won. The result has been such that no one can be certain that war ever ended.

Vintage maintains
of the books from
on. This has been especially important to me, because people who run across a used or library version of one of the Burke books can, if they choose, read them all in the order written.

Volume 4 (1988), edited by Richard Layman and Matthew J. Bruccoli.



About the Author

Other Books by This Author

Title Page


Author's Note


esley sat quietly on the roof of the four-story building overlooking the East River near Pike Slip. It was 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon in August, about eighty-five degrees and still clear-bright. With his back flat against the storage shack on the roof, he was invisible to anyone looking up from the ground. He knew from observation that neither the tourist helicopters nor the police versions ever passed over this area.

In spite of the heat, Wesley wore a soft black felt hat and a dark suit; his hands were covered with dark-gray deerskin gloves. The breeze blew the ash away from his cigarette. Aware of his habit of biting viciously into the filters, he carefully placed the ground-out butt into his leather-lined side pocket before he got to his feet and stepped back inside the shack.

A soft green light glowed briefly as he entered. Wesley picked up a silent telephone receiver and held it to his ear. He said nothing. The disembodied voice on the phone said, “Yes,” and a dial tone followed at once. So Mansfield was going to continue his habit: Wednesday night at Yonkers, Thursday afternoon at Aqueduct. It never varied. But he always brought a woman to the Big A, so it would have to be tonight. A woman was
another human to worry about, another pair of eyes. It increased the odds, and Wesley didn't gamble.

He walked soundlessly down the steps to the first floor. The building was over a hundred years old, but the stairs didn't creak and the lock on the door was virtually unbreakable. The door itself was lead between two layers of stainless steel, covered with a thin wood veneer.

Wesley stepped into a garage full of commonplace cars. The only exception was a yellow New York City taxicab, complete with overhead lights, numbers, a meter, a medallion, and the “crash-proof” bumpers that city cabbies use so well.

An ancient man was lazily polishing one of the cars, a beige Eldorado that looked new. He looked up as Wesley entered. Wesley pointed to a nondescript 1973 Ford with New York plates.

“Ninety minutes.”

“Plates okay?”

“Give me Suffolk County.”

Without another word, the old man slipped a massive hydraulic jack under the front of the Ford and started pumping. He had the front end off the ground and the left wheel off before Wesley closed the door behind him.

esley took the back staircase to his basement apartment. It was actually two apartments; the wall between them had been broken through so they formed a single large unit. He twisted the doorknob twice to the left and once to the right, then slipped his key into the lock.

A huge Doberman watched him silently as he
entered. Its ears had been completely, amateurishly removed, leaving only holes in the sides of its skull. The big dog moaned softly. It couldn't bark; the same savage who had cut off its ears when it was a pup had cut out its tongue and damaged its larynx in the process. But the Doberman still had perfect hearing, and Wesley didn't need it to bark.

The dog opened its gaping mouth and Wesley put his hand inside. The dog whined softly, as though remembering the emergency surgery Wesley had performed to stop it from choking on its own blood.

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