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Posts from the ‘Excerpts & short stories’ Category

An Excerpt from The Nihilesthete, Book 1 in the Central Park West Trilogy by Richard Kalich

August 23, 2016

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The Central Park West Trilogy is part of Amazon’s August promotions and will be available on Amazon.co.uk for £0.99 until the end of the month.


My little shopping spree was not without difficulties. I couldn’t purchase my present ready-made at a store. I had to improvise. I had to purchase a costly art book first and cut out the print reproduction I wanted and then have it enlarged to poster size. After that was accomplished, I had it framed, a plain silver boarder, (quite expensive), and finally I had it gift wrapped. So much trouble for my little one. If only he knew: he is no trouble at all.

You should have seen his reaction. And it was genuine. I’m sure of that. Or should I say I made sure? Not only does this psychologist have his inkblots, but he has his placebo as well. Such things are mandatory in my work. Before giving Brodski his gift, I opened the other. Though it wasn’t actually for him, at the time he couldn’t know that. Mrs. Regina Douglas, our medical social worker, advised me what to get. She said a person suffering from his condition, a cri du chat, would most likely be attracted to the same things as an infant. Something glittering and shiny, preferably an object that moves. I purchased a shiny new egg beater for Mrs. Rivera. And waved it in front of her eyes. The old lady was absolutely gaga at my kindness. But Brodski wasn’t. He showed no response.

His eyes were dead. Then I unwrapped his present. A framed poster-size print of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Within seconds his face lit up. His eyes opened wide. So wide he looked ridiculous. It was as if at this moment he was seeing the whole world. The room absolutely resounded with mewing sounds. He passed his test with flying colors.

Even Mrs. Rivera was impressed. “I have never see him respond like that,” she said.

To this woman I am fast becoming a benefactor. To Brodski, a philanthropist of the arts. And really, I have no interest in the arts. In anything, “make-belimunch32eve.” Of all the riddles in the world, man’s need for beauty baffles me most. But then, why has it preserved so long? Longer and more durable than governments, dynasties, moralities, civilizations, even religions.

Could I be wrong?

No. Never!”


Central Park West Trilogy includes three novels, The Nihilesthete, Penthouse F and Charlie P, originally published separately and collected for the first time in a single volume.  Post-modern fables, dark, shocking, perversely funny, wickedly astute, and compulsively readable, they share Kalich’s ferocious energy and unique vision. Together, they break down standard notions of plot, character and form a body of work that is distinctive and brilliant. Central Park West Trilogy encapsulates Kalich’s uncompromising examination of the state of modern life, as well as his experimentations with form and language.

The Nihilesthete (first published in 1987 and nominated for a Pen/Faulkner Award, The Hemingway Award, a National Book Award, and Pulitzer Prize) introduces us to Kalich’s dark world, where a spiritually desolate caseworker plays increasingly sadistic games with a limbless, speechless idiot with a painter’s eye.

“One of the most powerfully written books of the decade.” San Francisco Chronicle

Excerpt from Patricia Ketola’s “Dirty Pictures”

August 18, 2016

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Patricia 1“On the day of the big event I walked through the hours until seven like I was living in zombie land. I started dressing around five, making sure I wore a disposable polyester dress that wouldn’t leave any fibers scattered around the murder site. It was a plain black number purchased at Walmart for fifteen dollars and it didn’t look half bad when I got it on. I brushed out my hair and then sprayed it stiff and put it up in a tight French twist. The effect was très Catherine Deneuve, and I prayed no incriminating hair would get loose from the tightly coiled hair style. On my feet I wore flat shoes similar to the ones seen on Madame Sarkozy, but mine were not for the purpose of making a tiny politician seem slightly less miniscule; mine were for running away from a crime scene.

I prepared myself well, no perfume, no lipstick, no jewelry. When I looked in the mirror I was pleased with my image, and decided I would conduct myself as though I was in a French movie, a noir thriller starring Catherine Deneuve where she played a snaky bitch out to kill her double-crossing ex.

By the time I got to Terry’s I was well into my Deneuve persona, it was just as well; I probably couldn’t go on with the murder unless I was pretending to be someone else. The front door was unlocked and I walked down the hall to the sitting room. Terry was at the bar, drinking a shot of vodka. He looked fine and healthy, and when I kissed his cheek he smelled fresh.

‘I guess this is it, isn’t it, Martel?’

‘I guess,’ I said, pouring myself a shot.

‘What is it the Irish say?’

‘I think they say see you on the other side.’

‘Yes,’ he raised his glass and we clinked, ‘see you on the other side, Elizabeth.’  He used my first name, it sounded strange, but it also sounded correct in this solemn moment.

Just then the doorbell rang and we both knew it was Preston. I gave Terry another kiss, a final kiss, and ran out of the room to answer the door.”

 

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“Patricia Ketola’s clever and sexy debut novel is an audacious genre mash-up, elevated and enlivened by the salty, up-from-the-heels voice of narrator Elizabeth Martel, a sort of lusty spin on Patricia Highsmith’s magnetic sociopath Tom Ripley. Dirty Pictures heralds the arrival of a clever, gutsy new voice that fearlessly swings for the fences.” 

Craig McDonald, Edgar-Anthony Award Finalist

Dirty Pictures is available here

An excerpt from DEATH IN THE FACE by Craig McDonald

November 24, 2015

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  1. Something Wicked This Way Comes

 

Death in the FaceSean Connery, dressed in his immaculate gray Anthony Sinclair-tailored James Bond suit with pale blue shirt and black knit tie, nodded for another bira—a beer—and said to Hector in his juicy, Glaswegian Scots accent, “I’ve read your stuff, Mr. Lassiter. Much of what I’ve read I’ve quite loved. Let’s say I can pry little money out these fat producers’ pockets. If so, would you maybe option something to me? I have a novel or two of yours in mind. God knows I don’t want to end up type-cast as this silly character for life. Your characters are much closer to the ground than Mr. Fleming’s.”

Hector tapped bottles of Bomonti with the cinematic version of Ian’s James Bond and said, “By all means. Whenever and whatever you want, Sean. You should know up front, I have a ruthless maxim regarding any and all film options: my book, your movie. If your option money spends, I smile, shake hands, and get the hell out of your way. If the damned thing somehow miraculously comes out okay in the end, I’ll deliriously say so to the press and raise a glass in tribute. If it’s a dog, I maintain a respectful silence.”

Sean smiled and said, “Very good! I do so appreciate a fellow professional. We’re a dying breed.”

Hector had been a week in Istanbul—this now shabby, threadbare ghost of Constantinople, as he thought of it.

It seemed all dust, blast furnace winds, hucksters and dodgy religion to Hector.

He’d hobnobbed with the Bond film producers, done a little uncompensated and un-credited script doctoring just for the hell of it and for free drinks.

He’d also nearly lost Vannina Bello in the very early going after a man with a knife came at them as they were exiting a seafood place along the Bosporus during a sight-seeing blitz.

It hadn’t seemed at the time like anything remarkable—nothing tied to old unfinished business of one sort of another, nor to old enemies.

The attack hadn’t even struck Hector as being credibly tied to the Flea Bomb in any way.

No, it had been—or so Hector had decided in the moment—a simple case of random street crime. It was just dumb bad luck that it was they who had nearly become victims. Happenstance, Hector told himself, that was all.

But Vannina’s candid words in the wake of that attack cut close to bone: “I see now the journalists are maybe right about you and the collision between your life and the page, so to speak,” she said bitterly, her chin trembling in fear. “If this is how things always are for you, then I can see now why you’re still a bachelor…and a widower. This was all terrifying, yet you seem to take it almost in stride, even now. That leads me to believe it’s not an uncommon thing for you. Now I fear that maybe you even savor this sort of thing.”

It was an entirely sensible point of view, he had to confess that was so.

But, in the end, he soothed her into staying on with him, sharing his room and bed while waiting for an opportune moment to effect an introduction between Vannina and the Bond producers. He needed to do that much for her in recompense, he told himself.

But if things were somewhat rocky for Hector, they were far more tumultuous for the cast and crew of From Russia with Love.

Excerpt from “The Painter’s Women”

November 13, 2015

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Leocadia Chapter 3. Leocadia, Bordeaux, 24 April 1828

“So you see, Isabel, it is not true that Francisco enticed me away from Isidoro, or that we were already lovers while Doña Josefa was dying, or that the affair hastened her death. My marriage was over by the time I came to work for Francisco, and his wife had been dead for months. I started out as his housekeeper and did not become his lover for quite some time. He did not try to seduce me or to trick me in any way.

This is how our affair began. I was cooking puchero en olla one day when he came striding into the kitchen.

‘Señora,’ he said, ‘I need a model for a painting I am about to start. I wish you to pose for me. Of course, you will be relieved of your housekeeping duties during the time you spend modelling. I shall employ another woman in your place.’

I agreed to pose for him without a second’s consideration. Without even inquiring what kind of posing he had in mind. Now you may be wondering, Isabel, why a woman of my background was willing to do such a thing. Was I not compromising myself? To tell you the truth, I surprised myself by how quickly and how willingly I agreed. I think it might have been because I had just left my husband a few months before, and so I felt very daring. I was ready to embark on any adventure which offered itself. And what an adventure my life became! For by the time the painting was finished, the painter was in love with me.

Rosario was born eighteen months later. Until my pregnancy was obvious, I managed to hide our affair, but when it became known, I had a terrible time of it. I was unable to go out, for fear of meeting one of Isidoro’s spies, and because I could not bear the whispers and sniggers that followed me in the street. That is why, during those months, I could not see you, my dear Isabel, or any of my old friends. I was like a prisoner in that house and I became extremely depressed.

One sweltering evening, Teresa – she was our servant at that time, a foul-mouthed and insolent girl from Saragossa whom Francisco favoured – I got rid of her later on – announced that the Monsignor from Saint Benedict’s desired to see me in the salon. I wrapped my shawl around me, trying to disguise my condition. I knew full well why the cleric had taken it upon himself to come to the house.

‘Señora Weiss,’ he said, wrinkling his nose when I entered the room, as if he was speaking to a woman of loose morals. He remained seated on our new, red, satin-covered sofa, with his hat on the French mahogany table I had recently persuaded Francisco to purchase. I did not sit down, but stood just inside the door.

‘I have come to tell you that you must return at once to your husband. I have spoken to him and, out of charity, he is willing to accept as his own the child you are carrying. It is your Christian duty to return to him at once.’

I looked down at his portly form, sour face and curling lips, and, Isabel, I was furious. How dare this priest order me to go back to the man I despised.

‘I shall stay where I am, Monsignor,’ I said. ‘I have made my decision. Please do not come here again. Furthermore, when you see Señor Weiss, you may tell him that neither his spies nor his threats have the least effect on me.’

Goya-A7

 

Excerpt from THE PAINTER’S WOMEN by Fionnuala Brennan

September 30, 2015

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The Duchess of Alba

Journal extract                                                      

San Lúcar, March 1797

There he is, the arrogant fellow standing in front of me holding his palette like a shield, wielding his brush like a dagger. Totally ignoring my displeasure. Who on earth does he think he is?

‘Excellencia, Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Alvarez de Toledo, 13th Duchess of Alba,’ he is saying sarcastically, as if nothing has happened, ‘why so churlish this morning? Please assume your pose. Let us proceed with the portrait. You can stop stamping your dainty silver shoe and take your hands off your wasp waist if you please. It looks so aggressive. Surely you do not want to have the whole world see this side of you?’

Oh, how he infuriates me! I want to wipe that mocking smile off his face.

‘I am incensed Señor Goya because you are a treacherous snake. And an obtuse one. How can you think for one moment that I can pose for you who have spent the night disporting himself with one of my servants?’

Insolently he raises his penetrating black eyes and looks at me as at a child in a tantrum. Such a cool, detached, ironic, fearless look.

‘My dear Duchess, I am surprised. You are jealous! And you call me treacherous. You, who have more dalliances than all the ladies of the Court together. You, who have taken so many lovers; actors, toreros, young students even. You, who have invited me here to this secluded place, although you are so newly widowed.’

I could strike his podgy face. I want to wrench away his palette and brushes. I have a mind to throw a jug of water over that portrait. But I do nothing. I sit there with my mouth open and my eyes blazing. Why do I not order him to leave San Lúcar at once? Can it be that I am afraid to cross this impudent commoner who has vastly overstepped the bounds of his social position? Nobody speaks to the Duchess of Alba as he has just done. Especially not such an old and ugly man, who is as deaf as a bedpost.

‘Excellencia,’ he says dryly, ‘your face is twisted and sour. I shall paint you as a termagant if you so wish. Now, please readjust your mantilla. You should also tighten the sash. Good. Now place one hand on your waist and point the other to the ground.’

I obey but refuse to smile. He continues painting, a smug look on his face. I stand there like a sullen rebuked child and I ask myself once again how is it that I have allowed this man to become so familiar. To order me about like a servant. While I am standing in the pose he had commanded, I remember the first time I went to his studio in Madrid. I had heard of his liking for the bizarre, for the erotic. And I also knew that his work is admired by that old trout Maria Louisa, who fancies herself as an artist. So I had several motives for wishing to meet Don Francisco Goya. The portly creature, Maria Louisa, calls me a bag of bones. It was wonderful to hear how furious she was when I ordered a dozen copies of her latest French dresses and gave them to my servants to wear. Revenge is so sweet.

When I entered his studio he was standing at an easel with his brush.

He did not turn around. I remembered then that I had also heard that he had become deaf so I had to walk right up and stand in front of him and repeat myself. I told him to make up my face with the cosmetics I had brought with me. I did not fully understand why I wanted him to do that, to touch my face. It was not only because I had heard also that he was arrogant and I wanted to put him down, to show him my power. Commanding a great painter, so sought after, to be a lady’s maid. If he was surprised by such a request, he did not show it. I have learned since then that it not at all easy to read Don Francisco de Goya. He motioned me to repeat what I had said more slowly, then smiled in an annoyingly knowing way, as if he could also read the real reason. Without a word, he took the bag of cosmetics from me. He darkened my eyebrows like two black bridges, drew lines of kohl around my eyes, rubbed rouge into my cheeks, and dusted powder over my whole face until I sneezed. It was like he was playing with a doll. And all the time he held my face in his hands and a small smile turned up his full lips. He was humouring me, I realised, as a parent humours a silly child, or a lover cajoles a petulant woman. I, who had come to command him, had been reduced to childishness. It was then that I determined that I would have my revenge on him too, that I would enslave the insolent fellow. I would exercise the full strength of my charm and beauty on him. I realised that if I was to have power over this man, it could not be wielded simply because I am an aristocrat. However, I reassured myself that the task should not be too difficult. At that time I was still a beautiful woman of thirty-three, while he was low-born, at least fifty, rough-looking, and deaf. Not that it matters to me if a man is high or low born, as long as he is handsome and fascinates me.

After that first visit to his studio, I invited Señor Goya to Buenavista and commissioned him to paint a portrait of José and another of myself. For that portrait, I chose a deceptively simple white dress adorned with my favourite red – a deep wide sash to show off my waist, a red bow on my breast, and another pinned on my hair. I even tied a red ribbon on the leg of my little dog at my feet. I know about colour too. The meaning of red.

But my plan of entrapment did not work as smoothly, or as quickly, as I had thought. Most men on whom I cast my eye succumbed very quickly and I do not believe it was only because of who I am. I know that when I pass by in the streets of Madrid people run to their windows to catch a glimpse of me. I am not blind. But this Goya fellow seems blind to my charms. He continues to treat me like a spoilt child. I am not a silly woman without a brain in my head. The most influential and enlightened men in Spain, including the poet Don Manuel Quintana, and the poet and philosopher Don Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos are among my friends. The more indifferent he seems, the more determined I am to have him. In truth I am fascinated by this uncouth artist. I ask myself why this is so and have to admit that it is simply because he appears so impenetrable, contradictory and, most exasperating of all, unattainable. He has become my challenge.

 From The Painter’s Women by Fionnuala Brennan

A Father’s Day nod from “Silk for the Feed Dogs”

June 18, 2015

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JM cover idea 1

EARLY TRENDS IN FARMING

 From Silk for the Feed Dogs by Jackie Mallon

I heard the engine of the old red Massey Ferguson fart into life and I emerged running, scrambling to get my wellies on. We were on a rescue mission, Da and me. A cow was refusing to feed her calf. I’d seen it born that morning before I went to school, my bottom numb from being perched so long on top of the barred gate. But it was the animal’s back end that bothered me, or what protruded from it: two spindly legs cut off at the knees, hooves pointed in the launch position. Uncomfortable as the cow had looked, she didn’t seem inclined to finish what she’d started. I couldn’t blame her – it looked exhausting. But she finally summoned the strength, gave two or three great heaves, and the contents of her belly slapped onto the ground. The calf lay sprawled and shivering. The noises he made, after a few moments of silent outrage, were more like those of a curious cat. As his eyes rolled slowly over this new, harsher environment, all the aloof heifers kept their distance, swishing their tails. I held my breath, willing them to be kind, but they seemed to want nothing to do with him. I couldn’t leave him like that, crashlanded and splattered. It was only when I saw one or two cows join the reluctant mother in licking him clean that I jumped down and headed to school.

But throughout the day, he had stayed in my thoughts. As soon as I got home, I hurried to find Da. He said the calf had grown weak. The mother had disowned it. I had ten minutes to wolf down my tea, and we were off, soon turning onto our lane. It was pulpy from the rain and sported a shiny green mohawk that brushed the undercarriage. The hedges were higher than our heads, rampant with hawthorn, gooseberries, and whin. Sometimes Da let me drive on the lane and, as I let go of the clutch and we started to move, I felt the engine’s gentle exhalation, its big and biddable strength. But today we talked little and he remained in his seat, his lips set in a tight line. The Massey didn’t have a cab so the distant drone of silage spreaders, the flapping wind, the muted barking of a dog were our company.

From the dual carriageway people would see the Massey disappearing between the hedges and comment: “That’ll be Dan Connelly and at his shoulder there’ll be wee Kathleen, the great farmer. She’ll run that place one day.” That’s what they’d been saying since I was old enough to understand. I always concealed my pride, never letting slip even a smile.

The Massey represented freedom, the open land. Every time Da raised his boot to the footplate, threw his leg over and lowered himself into the calloused seat with the threadbare cushion, I could see the silhouette of our Sunday afternoon hero, John Wayne. My position was beside him up on the mudguard of the back wheel. Unless for funerals, Da only ever wore a shirt opened at the neck, rolled up to the elbows, and chestnut coloured trousers with the shape of his knees wedged in the cloth. At six, I wore smaller versions of the same. I had his farmer’s tan. My forearms, throat, and face were thick-skinned and freckled, my hair like tangled mélange yarn, often with a briar snarled in it.

We stopped in front of the cobbled-together cluster of byres with corrugated roofs, their numbers added to since granda’s time. Da led me around the back to a clearing where the cows congregated before milking.

“Mind the nettles,” he called.

I aimed to tread in his footsteps, but they were too far apart and my wellies sank, slivers of ground rippling at my heels like big wet tongues. I kept my toes clenched so the boots stayed on. While I’d been at school, Da had built a pen for the calf, using four iron gates tied together at the corners with twine, and scattered it with straw. That was where we found him, skinny limbs tucked underneath him, sleepy eyes trained on our approach.

“You stay outside, Kathleen. Right where you are is grand,” said Da as he climbed in. “Now, lift that plastic bottle with the teat and hold onto it. You’re going to feed him when I get him still.”

With Da’s help, the calf wobbled to his feet.

“Show him the bottle, Kathleen.”

I stuck the bottle through the bars and, with his nobbly knees quivering and hind legs crooked like elbows, he pushed off towards me. “Booley-legged’ was how Da described him, the same expression he used for neighbours he saw leaving The Farmer’s Rest some afternoons. The animal sent his tongue to examine the offering, then stretched his neck and grasped the rubber nozzle in his mouth. For all the size of him, there was remarkable force behind the cute sucking sounds. Ears pinned back, eyes wide and unblinking, he headbutted my hand to alert me when I wasn’t tilting the bottle enough. With my other hand I stroked the flat white forehead, imagined gliding a comb through those slinky albino eyelashes.

When he had finished, his tongue shot out again, but less suspiciously this time. Baby pink, as long as my forearm, the underside was a loofah exfoliating my damp knuckles. He went on to explore my shoulder and chew inquisitively on my collar. I squeezed my eyes shut as he discharged a gust of warm air in my face. The loofah worked its way over my nose and curled lazily across my forehead, finally inspecting what rested on my head: my ‘rainbow tiara’, constructed of three tiers of Caran d’Ache pencils adorned with clusters of M&Ms and trailing ribbons. Da laughed as the calf lapped contentedly at the candy, the ribbons tickling his nose, making him snort. When I opened my eyes, I noticed all the other cattle had gathered at the open gate and were looking on. The calf’s mother had separated herself from the herd and was sauntering towards us.

“There you are, you see, Kathleen?” said Da. “Your creative side might not always be appreciated by your classmates, but here they’re lapping it up. You just need to hang with the right crowd!”

***

Beloved though Da’s tractor was, it was another industrial machine that forced its way in to dominate my childhood: mum’s Singer sewing machine. Black and spiky, it towered over our kitchen like the arthritic nun that watched over school assembly. While the Massey pulled the plough that churned up the land, scattering new potatoes, Da proudly erect at its helm, mum sat hunched over the Singer, pressing the footpedal, easing the fabric to the needle, a crushed velvet waterfall tumbling over the side. She made curtains, or rather, window treatments, great bustled affairs with fancy names like ‘swags and tails’, ‘tie-backs’, and ‘pelmets’, garnished with rosettes, and little braided ropes, and tassels. People came from far and wide; she did a roaring trade making twitching net curtains for the parish to peer around.

I remember the day it arrived. I was doing geography homework in front of the fire when two neighbour men carried it in and wordlessly set it on the tiles. And that’s where it stayed. There was only room for one of us in the kitchen, and it soon became clear which one. I went to open the fridge door, and a bolt of fabric fell against me. At the doorstep, I kicked off my mucky wellies and trailed threads through the house instead. I swept the floor, but had to leave the sweepings so mum could pick the pins out. By the time she got round to it, it was all over the floor again. Da built an annex onto the kitchen, and we called it The Sewing Room. Mum stacked it to the ceiling with spools, thread, and cloth, crammed in a second-hand overlocking machine which drove her and the Singer back into the kitchen and me back out in the yard.

Cow dung was normal; thread balls were not. The loose gurgle of the tractor engine was music in comparison to the whirr of the Singer, which was neurotic, and monotonous, and drowned out the theme tune to “The Dukes of Hazzard”. I hated to invite what few friends I had home because I knew our kitchen didn’t look like theirs. They’d say mean things about mum and Da, and I couldn’t have that; we’d be known as gypsies like Fiona Harkin’s family who lived in a caravan. So on the afternoon my new friend, Siobhan Devlin, was due over, I asked if tea could be served in the hay shed; in fact it occurred to me that all my future entertaining could take place there.

An almighty row kicked off. Mum wouldn’t hear of it. What were we, tinkers? She started to cry. Da came in and at the sight of her tears ordered me to my room until I learnt some respect. I didn’t budge. He raised his voice, pointing to the door I was to disappear through. Just as he was about to go for me, he impaled the tender, paler underside of his arm on the Singer’s spindle. We spent the rest of the day in the hospital getting Da checked for tetanus and his arm stitched up.

Still, mum thought I would go into business with her when I finished school.

“Sit down in front of it,” she tried. “Don’t be scared. I’ll teach you the basics. There’ll always be money to be made in curtains. People never get tired of their privacy.”

But that beast had turned on Da. I thought of the old fable in which the King gives orders for every spinning wheel in the kingdom to be burnt because his daughter, cursed by an old maid, would prick her finger on one and die. Then to mum I responded, “I’ll be staying well clear of it. In fact, if I never go near a sewing machine again, or thread, or needles, or fabric, I’ll live happily ever after.”

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Summer read: A woman, a dolphin and a marble figurine

June 6, 2015

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Excerpt from David Hogan inspiring novel The Last Island

“You’ll be the first person to see this,” she whispered.

She grabbed the red towel from the steps and threw it in the water, then pushed me in after it. She began to call Yukon from the steps, whistling and slapping. Shortly after, there was the signature ripping sound at the edge of the cove, and Yukon arrived. We jumped in together. Kerryn put the red towel in Yukon’s mouth and held on to one end. I grabbed the other end so we were on opposite sides of the dolphin as she pulled away.

I felt the immense propulsion generated by Yukon’s fluke with each thrust. It seemed as if Yukon was in a hurry; we gained speed rapidly. My hands strained to maintain a grip on the red towel while the water tugged fiercely at my shoulders and legs. In an instant, the cove was gone, and we were in the open sea. I glanced at Kerryn. She had her head cocked up and forward, her eyes squinted in determination.

I closed my eyes and ducked my head under the surface. The whoosh of the water was gone, transformed into a sort of muted hum. Fighting the pull of the water, I snapped my head back above the surface. I tried to gauge our speed, but there was nothing to measure it against. We were a rocket in space, tearing from one void to another, only the salt shooting up my nose and down my throat made me aware of the distance being covered.

We must have turned at some time because I could now see the island over my right shoulder. Again, Kerryn and I were helpless and naked and exposed and entirely in Yukon’s element. Yukon could take us anywhere; she could pull us under or strand us or crash us into a rock. But my momentary fear was of no consequence; like a child leaping into the open arms of his father, the apprehension and delight sprang from the same source, one was impossible without the other. Yukon was pulling us into the night, and we could only abandon ourselves to her will.

Whether we made another turn or not, I wasn’t sure, but soon we were heading back into the island. It was a part of the island I had not seen before. There were sheer falling cliffs of white rock, descending into the sea. The sea had cut thousands of large and small holes into the rocks, forming mysterious hollows and dugouts.

We slowed and penetrated an opening in one of the cliffs, beneath a jagged arc of sea-bitten rocks, no more than seven feet across. We entered what appeared to be a giant inverted cone. There was a small beach of white sand about twenty feet wide ahead of us. And above white rocks shot toward the sky, closing into smaller concentric circles as they advanced. There was the tiny opening where we had entered and an opening at the top – that was all.

Kerryn let go of the towel and swam to the shore. I followed her. Yukon was last and slid herself onto the sand, dropping the towel from her mouth and keeping half her body in the water. The moon like a bottle cap hung just above the top opening. The light beamed in, gentle and sweet, funneled down by the rock. On the sides of this funneling rock, tiny prisms of crystal angled the vertical white moonlight into a horizontal tangle of red, blue and yellow colors, a thin rainbow streaking across the moon. The moon itself seemed so close and so small, that I felt I could climb through the tangle of colors across the sky and nudge it.

Kerryn sat with her feet in the water, and Yukon flopped over and rested her nose in Kerryn’s lap. Kerryn threw her head back and smiled.

“The sanctuary,” Kerryn said, her voice echoing up into the funnel.

I stared at her, and the way the light from above caught the white rim of Kerryn’s deep eyes reminded me of the eclipse. Her brown forehead glistened with sea and sweat, and she sat with her mouth, pink and moist, partly open. On the sand behind me was a half-full bottle of water and a small statue, no bigger than a foot, a burnt gray and white female figurine with a long nose and a rounded cut-off head. To my eye, the ancient statue was without flaws or cracks, as if it existed in a vacuum.

“Cycladic age, I think,” she said. “Could be five thousand years old.”

“How’d she get here?”

I’d heard there were thousands of sculptures dotting the Aegean floor but few, I was sure, as old or in as good a shape as this one, which could be the prize piece in any museum.

“I don’t know. It was here when I first came,” she said. “Yukon found this place. One night, after we’d been riding further and further out, she brought me here. This was just before the others were leaving, and that’s when I knew I had to stay. I mean, I guess, we had a special connection before that. We’d been riding alone at night. But when she brought me here, I knew, just knew that I had to stay.”

I looked at Yukon’s kind face, the sleek rounded head, the large eyes, the fixed smile, resting in the lap of Kerryn. Yukon shot a sly glance in my direction as if to affirm what Kerryn was saying. I laughed, moved next to Kerryn and petted the side of Yukon’s body. Yukon clicked with glee and I was reminded of the forts I used to build as a kid, cardboard and pillows constructed to keep the real world out and the imaginary one in. The fact that we were naked, like children, and with an animal, like children, was as if I had somehow re-claimed a last slice of innocence.

And here it was. In the present. And it was real.

Yukon lying contentedly right next to Kerryn was real, and the sea was real, and the canopy of rainbow lights was real and Kerryn, her golden skin glowing in the flue of moonlight, was real.

 

 

 

Summer in Capri with Kat, Edward… and Jackie Mallon

June 5, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Friends on the beach 1

    Excerpt from Silk for the Feed Dogs

   A barman accepted the fifty, distracted during the aperitivo rush, so we had a little money until new funds arrived. We figured it would stretch farther away from the city, and the next morning we headed for Capri. I expected to see descendants of Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn, hopping off sailboats, flitting along bougainvillea-lined walks in striped tops and wide-brimmed hats. Instead, I saw grotesque subjects of an embalmment process that had stepped out of the formaldehyde early, painted their faces, and donned teenagers’ clothing.

Dietro, liceo. Davanti, museo,” commented Edward.

The women of Capri, suntanned, slim, with their golden hair rippling in the sun, exuded youth from afar. Up close, they were relics clutching with sheer desperation onto the last vestiges of the bella vita. From the back: high school. From the front: museum.

So we boarded a northbound ferryboat and alighted at Procida. Sleepy, wild, and full of adventure, we found we had much in common with the island. We ate catch of the day with spaghetti, local bread, and oil, washed down with cheap wine in squat little cups. We asked about room rates there but were told there were no vacancies and received a worried look. Undaunted, we strolled on, and then sunbathed where we fell on a patch of faded grass. In my mind’s eye, I was the fiery village girl played by Maria Grazia Cucinotta in Il Postino, despite my sunburned shoulders and outfit of Edward’s short shorts, beaded boob tube, and green turban set off with brooch.

It was only towards evening, when the last Bed & Breakfast door was closed on us, its sign that read Ospitalità della Natura swinging in our faces, that we confronted our plight.

“It looks like l’ospitalità della natura is exactly what we’ll be at the mercy of tonight,” I said.

“Who knew this poky little island would be such a popular destination,” said Edward. “Are you sure we’ve been to all the hotels?”

“Procida’s the size of my flat. We saw it all by our second lap.” I shrugged off my rucksack and dropped onto the sand dunes, burrowing my legs into the warm sand to reach the cooler layers underneath. “Ah, that feels nice.”

“Good. Tuck yourself in. I’ll be back.”

He raced off, leaving me trickling handfuls of sand onto my knees. I lay back and stared at the sky. It was the same blue as the robes of the Virgin Mary statue that welcomed (and turned away) guests at the corner leading to the last guesthouse. I would have had no trouble staying right where I was, just breathing in and out, tasting the robust air until I fell asleep. There was silence, except for muted communications between fishermen along the beach and some seagulls. It brought back memories of tramping about alongside Da, out in all weathers, bits of the earth lodged deep under my fingernails and the fresh air clinging to my hair and clothes.

Edward came panting through the dunes. “I know where we can sleep!”

I sat up, straightened my turban, and repositioned my shades.

“Come on!” He flew off again kicking up sand and I had no choice but to follow. I found him by an old upturned boat, one side propped up on four stones. “What do you think?”

“What?”

“It’s almost a little hut.”

I surveyed the flakey blue paint, the damp, exposed wooden slats, the tendrils of seaweed hanging over the ‘doorway’ like wind chimes on a front porch.

“I’m game if you are,” I said. “But remember how you roared the place down when Ginevra trapped that mouse? Who knows what beasties the night will unleash? I say, it calls for some hard liquor. You make yourself at home. I’ll go see.”

“What do you mean, beasties? Where are you going?”

“Be right back!”

There was a little tavern in the central piazza, and I arrived at the same moment as the fishermen. When I explained our circumstances, the barman seemed quite decided and pulled from under the counter an unmarked bottle. “Superalcolico,” he cautioned. The fishermen greeted my query about the likelihood of snakes or scorpions on the beach with laughter.

“Well, if there weren’t any before you drink that, there will be after.”

As the sun was setting, Edward and I crawled inside our little bivouac.

“May the roof above us never fall in, and those gathered below it never fall out,” I said.

We lay on our bellies, looking out at the swaying navy and silver waves, passing the bottle back and forth.

“Well, we wanted to see the other end of Italy. Milan can be kind of one-note. Monothematic: la moda,” slurred Edward, extending his arms wide. “Whereas this is the unseen Italy. The corners that fashion forgot.”

Craig McDonald reads an excerpt from PRINT THE LEGEND

June 2, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

In March 2011, shortly after the publication of the French edition of PRINT THE LEGEND by Belfond, Craig was a guest of the Quai du Polar festival in Lyon, France.

Scroll down and click on Play button to hear him reading the opening chapter (in English, of course): http://www.lanoirode.com/mcdonald.php

PTL covers-page-001

Our edition of the novel is available here

REACH THE SHINING RIVER: “Lover man”, excerpt & soundtrack

May 29, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Bill Call leaned over his coffee, peering at Arlene. “When was the last time you saw Eddie?”

Without answering him or even excusing herself, Arlene rose and went to the bathroom. She locked the door, splashed water on her face, and sat on the toilet. On the back of the door was a framed photograph of Paul Robeson. Leonora had placed little baskets along the rim of the wash basin, each filled with a different colored soap.

She covered her face with her hands and cried noiselessly. There was Eddie in her mind’s eye, standing tall in her front doorway on that last evening, molding the crown of his hat with forefinger and thumb, wearing the dark suit with pencil stripes that he favored when the sun went down.

“I’m not inclined,” he had said.

“Well, then, don’t bother,” she answered. “Don’t bother on my account.”

“Tomorrow night be better. Our customary evening.”

This last phrase Eddie spoke with a sly tone, his way of offering to end the spat on friendly terms.

But she was angry. “You rather spend time with Virgil than me then you go right ahead. See if I care.”

He frowned, put his hat on his greased head, and wandered into the night. See if I care. Her last words to him. Words he carried into the next world. Words she would carry through the rest of her earthly life.

And Virgil gone missing. Maybe murdered as well. What had they done? Who had they crossed?

She and Eddie had rarely argued. He was a peacemaker, even when he was unhappy with something (her wedding ring, not being able to come by the house when Wardell was home). The secrecy of their affair suited them both, and was easy to disguise because of their musical partnership. He liked to slide along the easy way, Eddie did, and keep his head low.

But lately he’d been prickly. He had to borrow a few bucks from her once or twice, which hurt his pride, and couldn’t find work outside the weekend gig at the Sunset (Emmanuel Baptist didn’t pay). His needs were modest, but he liked his reefer and new threads when he could get them, and bought her flowers every week. He was feeling the bite of hard times, she knew that.

Their songs would not leave her alone. Lyrics took on sharper meanings:

 I don’t know why but I’m feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissin’
Oh, what I’ve been missin’
Lover man, oh where can you be?

  REACHx2700_NEW   Kevin Stevens’ novel is available HERE

From “The Angel of the Streetlamps” by Sean Moncrieff

May 26, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

 ANGELx2700                  30 – Michael Bourke

I opt to meet her in the office, not the house. The church had to be re-opened anyway: outrageously selfish of me to have kept it closed. I also hope to project a more officious nature, surrounded by the trappings of ecclesiastical power. Not to impress the journalist – she is bound to be contemptuous of such things – but to bolster myself. In truth, I want to cancel the meeting but lack the strength even for that.

I hear her well before she appears: her high heels clacking down the centre of the church, proclaiming their vulgar selves against the tranquillity around; yobs in an art gallery.

I move to the door of the office and beckon. She’s not what I imagine a journalist looks like: far worse, in fact. I expected some power-dressed vamp with scarlet fingernails, but this creature is quite scruffy, her unbrushed hair featuring a vivid slice of red; as if she has accidentally tipped a can of paint over herself. Her suit is wrinkled and seems in need of a wash: rather like its owner, who is making heavy weather of the walk through the church. She smiles as she approaches me, then sighs, then makes what I assume to be a comical face, indicating that this wouldn’t take so long if she exercised more.

That is self-evident.

While I wait, I glance around the church, which is empty save the two of us. Been that way for years, it seems. Even on Sundays it is barely half full and at Christmas only reaches the three-quarter mark. But we have kept the place well, Jack Kelly and I, agreeing to avoid all the modernist dabblings many churches go in for nowadays. We have kept it traditional. Rich golds at the altar, with faux-renaissance paintings lined up on either side, marking the Stations. Each pillar is partially shrouded by magnificent velvet drapes which lead to the ornate wooden roof. The roof, however, is badly in need of repair: a task we fear we will never complete. We simply don’t have enough parishioners, who would be too poor anyway to fund such a project. Jack has beggared himself before the Bishop, but the money offered was far from sufficient to bring the roof back to glory; just enough, in fact, for the ugly scaffolding which now holds it in place. The roof consists of interlocking joists, between which are once-vivid depictions of the stars and god-men. Sadly, it will probably be replaced with something plain and modern; something altogether more secular.

The panting hackette finally reaches me. She jabs out a sweaty hand and declares: “Oh, I need to do more exercise.”

Already, I loathe this woman; but I loathe myself even more. I have the attitude of a willing penitent, ready to submit myself to righteous punishment. I lead her into the office, slump into a chair and wait while she divests herself of her jacket and searches through her massive leather bag for the tools of her sordid trade.

“Well,” she says as she sits opposite me. I ignore this prelude, this marked attempted at charm. I commence speaking. I tell her everything, or almost everything: my experience of this girl’s death, followed by my contact with the Gardai and everything they told me about this unfortunate girl, this Manda.

I don’t mention Jack, naturally. Wisely, the reporter doesn’t interrupt, but scribbles furiously: the sound of a mouse trapped in a small space.

I finish, and expect her to go. It is evident that there is nothing more to say, that I have fully exhausted my usefulness to her. I don’t look up. I can’t.

But she remains where she is, rustling and groaning and shifting on her seat; as if something has trapped her there and she is struggling to escape.

Then it comes: the softened tone, the elongated vowels which no doubt she imagines sound the same as compassion; a limping totter of words which take their time to stop off at every condescending cliché they can find. She suggests that I was a comfort to Manda during her final seconds. It is a vomit of well-meaning insults which reach their zenith with the harshest of all: that she, this bedraggled pimp of words, knew Manda. And of course, believing it would please me, she has to mention Manda’s great Faith.

Faith. Hundreds of years of mistranslation has the Galilean exhorting all he meets to ‘believe’ in him. But the word he uses in the original Greek texts is pistis: which doesn’t mean faith. It means loyalty.

Now the anger comes. But it is not energising; more as if black walls suddenly partition my vision, screening out all but my failure: not just in relation to the girl, but everything I have set out to do since the seminary. It has all been wrong. Worse: it has been cowardly and hypocritical. I have peddled myths just like the rest of them, hoping that others might sense the music hidden behind my stock phrases. There are no others like me; or at least, none who will admit it. I am alone with a howling truth which for the last two decades I have denied.

This is the truth behind what has happened to me.

I wish to say these things, to declare them, but the words shoot through my mind far too quickly to marshal. Like grabbed raindrops, they splatter against me. I have nothing, but must make her go. So I descend to her level.

“Fuck off.”

She makes a noise; as if she is genuinely surprised by such vulgarity; as if it’s certainly not the kind of language she’s used to hearing in the salubrious offices of the Daily Tit or whatever her rag is called. She stands, picks up her leather sack and flounces out, leaving me to listen to the blood raging around my brain and watching the shake in my hands. I know what I must do; all I can do. I must burn it to the ground.

“The Angel of the Streetlamps” by Sean Moncrieff is available HERE

Video trailer and excerpt from PERMANENT FATAL ERROR by Hadley Colt

March 19, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

 

The following excerpt refers to Everett Hyde’s letter:

“Ashley’s former professor drew a deep breath and said, “Tough stuff, isn’t it? I received it, via his publisher, about three months after the publication of his third novel, Rain Dogs. About a year before the death, as I recall it. I was asking his publisher to pass along to Hyde some questions for a biographical section I originally envisioned opening my book on Hyde and his first three novels. This is what I received instead.”

Chase had placed the professor on speaker-phone after Ashley had called Adam Greenwood, engaging him in a bit of small talk and reminiscing about classes with him before explaining about Chase and his new project and then passing the phone to Chase.

Rubbing his jaw, Chase said, “Rain Dogs. That’s an interesting title. What’s it mean?”

Ashley narrowed her eyes, then raised her hands in a, “Why are you asking that?” gesture.

Professor Adam Greenwood hesitated, then said, “You haven’t read any of Hyde’s novels, Mr. Alger?”

“The first, I think, but it’s been a long, long time ago,” Chase said. He squirmed in his chair, trying to avoid Ashley’s eyes. “Rest assured, I’m knuckling down to re-reading them soon. I was freshly struck by that title when you said it just now.”

“Tom Waits, the singer-songwriter, used it for an album title not long after Hyde’s last book appeared,” the professor said. “Maybe it was done in homage to Hyde. Anyway, it’s from an obscure turn of phrase. In New York City, or any large urban area, the dogs may wander the streets at will, but sometimes the rain comes, hard and unexpected, and the dogs lose their trail for the path back home, the scent washed away. So they wander around lost and stray, or rain dogs.”

“Evocative,” Chase said.”

***

To our Australian readers: don’t miss the Kindle Daily deal for PERMANENT FATAL ERROR on March 23: http://viewbook.at/permanentfatalerror

The Hector Lassiter competition: Day 7

March 2, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Lassiter 7 covers-page-001

Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

The clerk shrugged and slid across a ten-dollar bill at the old man who scooped it up.

Fragments of brick rained down on me. But my friends were safe. I crouched down behind some boxes filled with something I prayed was thick and hard. I aimed the first shooter’s discarded Thompson and fired back at the other machine gun’s muzzle flash. I held my thrumming machine gun with one hand.

It was murder on my right wrist. With the other bandaged hand, I fished out the keys to my Chevy and lobbed them over my shoulder at Bud — all that twisting and exertion was almost too much for my Orson Welles’-splintered ribs. I hollered over the din of the roaring machine gun, “You two go get to my car, and pick me up at the end of the alley. While you do that, I’ll keep this bastard busy.” Then I remembered fabled Fierro, and said, “Bud, you see any old Mexicans, you shoot ’em. Don’t hesitate. God’ll sort’em out on the other end. No shit — shoot first.”

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The Hector Lassiter Competition: Day 6

March 1, 2015

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Lassiter 7 covers-page-001

Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

Hector sipped more of his wine. He said, “Progress?”

“Yes,” Gertrude said. “What have my mystifiers learned since last night?”

As if suddenly reminded about the body that had been sprawled there, Alice, carrying more glasses of wine for Ford and Joan Pyle, awkwardly stepped wide around that part of the floor.

Looking rather annoyed by tiny Alice’s stutter-step, Ger­trude said, “What have you gathered or learned since Estelle’s theory about poisoning has been borne out?”

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The Hector Lassiter competition: Day 5

February 28, 2015

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Lassiter 7 covers-page-001

Which novel is this? Win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer!

Let’s drop that pretense,” she said, her hands clasping the back of his neck, urging his face down to her waiting mouth.

They’d kicked off the sheets and chenille bedspread — far too sweltering for those. The oscillating fans were no real help, either. Hector had left the venetian blinds cracked and bars of inky shadows criss-crossed his bed. The darkened room reeked of sweat and sex.

Hector didn’t know if it was the absinthe and the other liquor, the threat of the storm, or just Rachel’s own nature, but she was utterly abandoned — completely giving herself over to him.

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The Hector Lassiter Competition: Day 4

February 27, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Lassiter 7 covers-page-001

Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

“Old man, I do so appreciate you playing bodyguard to me,” Orson said. “I truly do. But I am racing the clock on multiple fronts as I’ve said, time and again. I have Danton’s Death to mount for the stage, as I’ve also told you, and this Sunday’s radio show, which as you heard for yourself, has all the earmarks of a train wreck barring some serious attention and artistic elbow grease.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Hector said. “And I won’t be under­foot, if that’s what you’re implying. I frankly don’t trust your memory about the medallion, so I want permission to ransack backstage, to comb through your wardrobe trunks and lockers.”

“Ransack away, but do it as neatly as you can,” Orson said. “John is very fussy. I’ll even let you start with my private dress­ing room. It’s packed with the surviving detritus of the career running all the way back to that first show in Dublin. But it’s a fruitless pursuit, I can already assure you of that.”

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The Hector Lassiter competition: Day 3

February 26, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Lassiter 7 covers-page-001

Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

He held up his Zippo and opened it with a one-handed flick.

She leaned in, holding his hand to steady it. Her hand was still cold from the walk over from the brownstone. Or maybe it’s always cold, he thought.

“Like I said, it was obvious enough,” Hector said. “Meg never even confirmed it for me if that comforts you. Megan didn’t have to do that. Jimmy tumbled to it, too. We’re going to talk more about that topic, you and I, and I promise you that. Because I mean to know more about all of it and Meg isn’t sharing anything with me. And isn’t that ironic, given your wrong suspicions about Meg running her mouth? But you and I will have that conversation later, when it’s just us, alone.” Hector looked again at Shannon.

The diner door opened, letting in a chilly breeze. It was Meg. She’s taken some trouble with herself: her hair and makeup looked fresh. She must have hung her clingy dress in the bathroom while she showered because all the wrinkles had fallen out of it as if it had been steamed.

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The Hector Lassiter competition: Day 2

February 25, 2015

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Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

“The kind of woman a man would burn his life down for,” Hector said, “I know.” Hector specialized in writing such women.

“That’s it, exactly,” von Sternberg said. He appropriated Hector’s second coffee as the waiter sat it on the table. He said to the waiter, “I’ll need cream and sugar for this, too.”

“And a second black coffee,” Hector said, eyeing his stolen java.

“It would be easier, marginally easier, I think, if we weren’t filming in German and in English,” von Sternberg said.

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The Hector Lassiter competition: Day 1

February 24, 2015

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Lassiter 7 covers-page-001

Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

The clerk shrugged and slid across a ten-dollar bill at the old man who scooped it up.

The old man frowned. “Oh, must have miscounted.” He put down another dollar bill and said, “Here’s one more dollar for ten. So we don’t get confused, you’ve got ten there on the counter. Here’s another two fives. How about you just give me my original twenty back and we’ll call it even?”

The clerk smiled. “Sure.” He passed the old man a twenty-dollar bill.

The old man accepted the twenty. Behind his back, the old man held a ten-dollar bill between his fingers, waving it at the woman behind him. He felt the bill tugged from his fingers. Heard a whispered, “God bless you, sir.”

The old man smiled at the clerk, struck a match on the counter and lit a cigar. He blew a smoke ring at the man and said, “Pleasure doin’ business with you, old pal.”

The old man waited just long enough to confirm the woman’s ticket purchase for her child was consummated. When the transaction was closed, the old man smiled and stepped out onto the dock and into the ragged line to board the ship. He figured he’d be safely in dock on the other side before the clerk realized the shortage in his bill tray.

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“Lying Still” by David Hogan

February 16, 2015

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David Hogan’s The Last Island is currently on promotion in Australia.

David Hogan - Writer

Hospital Bed

When I was 17 years old, I dove into a swimming pool and broke my neck.

Until that moment, I’d been relentlessly active, my days taxed with dread of missing something somewhere. I was on the student council and participated in a wide variety of school clubs. I always secured a part in the school play and rode a unicycle in talent shows. I ran cross-country in the fall, track in the spring and was co-captain of the basketball team in between. I was an honor student who worked full-time in the summer and caddied most weekends in the spring and early fall, except on certain Sundays when I served as an altar boy. I’d never had a drink or a smoke, and I rarely swore. Yet that pleasant summer day, for reasons still unclear to me, I plunged into a six-foot deep above-ground pool and slammed the top of…

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