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A Blast of Bullets

He looks cooler than you could ever hope to be.

"One time when I was a kid, I picked up the phone. This lady said, 'I have Clint Eastwood calling for Mr. Leonard,' " says his son Bill, an ad agency executive who now lives just a few blocks over. "I said, very calmly, 'Dad, Clint Eastwood is calling from California.' Everybody screamed. We kids ran to the other room and unscrewed the mouthpiece so we could listen in. . . . He was completely unassuming about Hollywood. He'd say, 'They're just people.' Aerosmith -- the whole band -- came over to his house a few years ago. They all went swimming."

This evening, he and Christine go to dinner a mile or so from his house. He gives the maitre d' his name for the reservation. Goes right over the guy's head. He tells Dutch he's late and he's missed his spot and he'll just have to wait some more. Dutch, who could buy the restaurant, doesn't say anything. He and Christine just stand there, looking like a couple of nice retirees, and then Christine flags a waitress she knows, and this lady gets them a booth.

It's like going out with the egoless Zen master.

He was born in New Orleans in 1925, the son of a General Motors executive. They moved around -- Memphis, Dallas, Oklahoma City -- before settling in Detroit. He liked westerns and Bonnie-and-Clyde kind of stories. He worshiped Hemingway, liked that spare copy and all the white space on the page.

He did his time in the Navy and married his college sweetheart, Beverly Cline.

He put in his years of writing at 5 a.m. He sold "3:10 to Yuma." Sold "Hombre." There were five kids and long family vacations down to Pompano Beach, Fla., where the kids would play in the water and the parents would drink bloody marys.

"Every Sunday we'd come home from church, all in the station wagon, and we'd go by this trailer park," remembers Chris Leonard, born the year his dad published his first book, "The Bounty Hunters," in 1954. "And every Sunday, without fail, he'd say, 'There's our future home if Dad doesn't sell a book.' "

Dad also became extremely fond of Early Times bourbon over shaved ice.

One day in the early 1970s, Dutch came back from one trip to Los Angeles -- where he might go through 20 drinks in a day -- and started throwing up blood. It was acute gastritis. His doctor told him this was usually seen in "skid row bums." He found himself arguing with his wife "every single night," with him saying "vicious things, which I couldn't believe the next day. I'd be filled with remorse."

He moved alone into the Merrillwood Apartments, where he lived and wrote and went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and tried to stop drinking for another three years. "I was flat broke." The book he was working on, "Unknown Man #89," was rejected by 105 publishers before finding a home.

"It was a very difficult time," remembers Bill Leonard.

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