Stewardess Jackie Burke (Pam Grier, who for some reason Leonard keeps describing as a blonde) has been just down-on-her-luck enough to fall into the snares of gunrunner Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), acting as mule for his illegal cash during Caribbean hops. Until, that is, she's made by a couple ATF operatives (Michaels Keaton and Bowen, respectively) looking to bust Ordell, and who complicate matters by finding cocaine tucked among the cash bundles in her flight bag. Robbie uses the services of bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to bail her out. By exactly the sort of coincidence that often happens in crime novels, Cherry happens to be the employer of another associate of Ordell, Louis Gara (Robert DeNiro). Forster bails Grier, only to experience sexual tension during the car ride to her apartment, and even more once within the apartment, where she puts some classic soul on the turntable, just so there's no confusion. Tarantino is uncharacteristically coy here, whereas Leonard has no trouble getting down to business, shattered liquor glasses and everything. Anyway, turns out Grier has an idea to double-cross Jackson, give him over to the feds, make away scott-free with the money. Forster isn't so sure, or at least scrunches his face in order to play it that way. DeNiro whiles away the hours with stoned surfer chick Melanie (Bridget Fonda), who has Ordell in her double-cross-hairs as well. It all comes down to a tense shell-game finale -- who's got the money in which bag? -- that allows Leonard to explore the darker edge of a simple modern-day motivation: I'm getting long in the tooth, chances are slimming, how do I get what I really want in life? The book also features a massacre at a compound belonging to a neo-Nazi gun nut that I can't believe Tarantino omitted; maybe he already had Inglourious Basterds (2009) in mind and didn't want the two films to cover the same ground, or something. On the other hand, it's like Leonard wrote his dialogue with Samuel L. Jackson in mind. And since there's another novel (The Switch, 1978) featuring the characters of Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara, I know this won't be my last go-round with ol' Elmore.
But, figures: Since I finished this book, IFC hasn't shown Jackie Brown once.