Reed Farrel Coleman is one of our favorite authors, Mulholland is one of our favorite publishers, and noir is one of our favorite subgenres. When Reed recently posted a list of noir books you should read on Mulholland’s website, we had to share the link.
These are lesser known books that definitely deserve the attention. You can check out more about them right over here.
If you read Chris F. Holm’s Collector series, you know he is one of the most talented writers out there. His latest featuring Sam Thorton, a soul collector for Hell, The Big Reap, has him going up against several former collectors who have turned into creatures who have been living off of humans for centuries. Once again he weaves a great mix of horror and hardboiled into a tale about humanity. As this interview we did with him shows, he’s also one of the smartest writers out there.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: The Big Reap has Sam learning something that could change his life or at least his view of it. Did you think it was necessary to have this discovery early in the series?
CHRIS F. HOLM: I think the timing of that discovery — in which (cough spoilers cough cough) I dangle the possibility of redemption — was vitally important. If I’d done it in books one or two, it might have felt cheap, unearned. If I’d waited until ten books in, it might have felt like a deus ex machina. But three books in, the audience is comfortably settled into the rules that govern Sam’s existence, so it seemed like the perfect time to upend those rules.
MP: Because of the nature of the book, Sam fights several different creatures and it never seems repetitive. How did you approaches these passages so it wasn’t just another monster battle?
CFH: The Big Reap has a classic revenge-tale structure in the vein of Kill Bill or Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast, and like those works, it was important that each of the characters Sam squares off against was unique, and entertaining enough to justify their time on-screen. And further, because his prey are former Collectors warped by the ritual that freed them from hell’s bonds, I felt that they should each represent a potential dark fate for Sam himself. To do that, I turned to an unlikely source: the movie monsters that shaped my childhood. I riffed on a little bit of everything, from Dracula and Frankenstein to Alien and Poltergeist, and in so doing, I was able to create what I hope were some memorable characters that manage to reflect poor Sam’s deepest anxieties back at him. I’m glad to hear, for you at least, the work paid off.
MP: In Dead Harvest, Sam is caught between two warring factions; The Wrong Goodbye has him betrayed by a friend; and The Big Reap has a scene reminiscent of Marlowe’s meeting with Major Sternwood. Do you like to have an echo of the book whose title you’re recreating for the one you’re writing?
CFH: Absolutely. Early on in the series, I realized if I were to hew too closely to the plot of the book from which I take my title, it’d suck the air out of my own story and lend it an air of predictability. But I’m a huge pulp nerd, so I can’t help but leave an easter egg or two for people like you who know enough to spot them.
MP: In the series and some of your short work, you have part of the characters’ back story slamming into their present. What meaning do you think a person;’s past has?
CFH: Phil Dick once wrote, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” And that, to me, is how I view a person’s history. It’s no surprise to anyone who’s read my work that I’m fascinated by the elasticity of self. People adopt so many personae — and wear so many masks — throughout their lives, the question of what’s essential, what’s immutable, interests me to no end. But one thing that can’t be changed, nor ever truly escaped, is our past. It shapes us in countless ways, and colors every aspect of who we are. And yet two people with similar personal histories can make very different choices, lead wildly disparate lives. That friction between fate and free will is, to me, the essence of what it means to be alive.
MP: What makes Sam Thornton worth coming back to?
CFH: Well, for one, I just like spending time with the guy. Profession aside, he seems like he’d be a good dude to grab a beer with. That’s handy whether you’re a writer spending a few years with him, or a reader spending a few hours. But I also think some of his appeal is in the fact that his tale externalizes and makes literal the internal struggle we all face, trying to make sense of a brutal and beautiful world that resists sense-making.
MP: Can you tell us what you have in store for him next?
CFH: At present, I’m not contracted to write another Collector book, but that could change at any time. I will say Sam’s role will shift considerably thanks to the events of The Big Reap, and the temptations he faces in the next book, should there be one, will be of a different sort entirely. He’s proven himself over the course of the first three books to be a man of good intentions… but then again, I hear the road to hell is paved with them.
Copies of all of Chris F. Holm’s books are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Jim Nisbet’s Lethal Injection is one of those much admired yet still underrated classics of the neo-noir movement. Published in 1987 under Black Lizard when author Barry Gifford ran the press, the book fits in that era of writers who were influenced by William Burroughs as much as by Jim Thompson.
The book follows Franklyn Royce, a doctor with a failed marriage and practice. For extra cash, he oversees prison executions. After a strange encounter with Robert Mencken, an inmate he delivers a lethal injection to, he believes he may have killed an innocent man. It drives him to track down the real killer.
Dr. Royce heads to Dallas, finding out his road to atonement leads straight to Hell. He soon hooks up with Menken’s partner in crime, Eddie, and his girl, Colleen, a junkie and part time hooker. It’s not long before he falls into a crime spree with Eddie and into Colleen’s bed. They both lead him to hard truths about the murder and redemption.
The pitch black mood in this book is practically a character. Nisbet uses his skill as a poet to deliver a tight tale that has the flow of a dark stream of conscious, moving at a rapid pace. He covers class, race, and addiction through characters instead of thematics. Nisbet relies on us to read between the lines, but those dark spaces are so clear.
Lethal Injection is one of those books that brands itself in your brain. It taps into the visceral side of noir, looking at the genre from a unique perspective. You enter a sinner’s fever dream that culminates in sex, drugs, and violence where the only peace comes from not waking up.
Copies of Lethal Injection are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.
Austin Mystery Writers is a group that has been operating in our city under the radar for some time. It made some major strides in the last few months, launching a brand new website and putting together a free writing class with three acclaimed Texas authors. That class is happening here at BookPeople this Saturday, November 9 at 9:30am. We talked to spokesperson Lara Oles about the group.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: In a nutshell, what is Austin Mystery Writers?
LARA OLES: Austin Mystery Writers is dedicated to creating, promoting and exploring the craft of crime fiction. Acclaimed author Karen MacInerney founded Austin Mystery Writers in 2003 when she submitted an ad to the Writers’ League of Texas newsletter at two in the morning and hasn’t stopped writing since. The group has since grown to include a tight-knit group of writers meeting weekly to discuss, critique and analyze their currents works in progress.
MP: What are some of your goals?
LO: First and foremost, we are committed to strengthening our story-telling skills and learning the art and science of creating crime fiction. Gathering as a group is important, as writing is largely a solitary existence. We keep one another accountable and the momentum helps us move our projects forward, in part, because we know our members are counting on us to produce work regularly.
We also strive to support the writing community and local authors whenever possible. We’ve recently expanded our efforts to include special events and will also work to support other groups and conferences in any way we can.
MP: Will this be helpful to writers who are not Austinites?
LO: Absolutely! Even though we are based in Austin and support local writers and events, our focus includes outreach to mystery readers and writers everywhere. We enjoy conversing with other writers and writing groups regardless of their location. Thanks to social media and online networking, we enjoy being able to share ideas, tips, interviews and anything related to crime fiction with others who wish to hone their craft or simply search for a new talented author to read.
We also hope to share information regarding writers’ events including courses, workshops, conferences and other happening in the Lone Star State and beyond.
MP: You have an event you’re presenting with three authors here on November 9th. Could you tell us about that?
LO: Our first event involves hosting a free crime-writing workshop at BookPeople, our favorite fiction haunt, and we’re so pleased to have secured Karen MacInerney, Reavis Z. Wortham and Janice Hamrick as expert instructors. They each bring a great deal to the table and we know our attendees are going to take home practical tips and advice they can put to use immediately.
Each author will be sharing a specific specialty and the program is designed to appeal to both mystery readers and writers. Our panel of highly-acclaimed mystery novelists will give attendees the inside scoop on what it takes to create some of today’s most memorable mysteries. Janice Hamrick, Karen MacInerney and Reavis Z. Wortham will cover topics ranging from plotting and characterization to how to balance action and humor in crime fiction.
We also have some special goodies for our guests. The first 25 attendees will receive a free Austin Mystery Writers notepad and pen set. We will also have a raffle for other items including signed books, AMW tote bags and more. It’s a half-day event–perfect enough to still fit in a busy schedule–and what better way to spend the first half of your Saturday?
It’s scheduled for Saturday, November 9th. Doors open at 9am and the first class starts at 9:30. You can see the entire schedule and our workshop flyer on our Facebook page.
MP: What is the best way to stay updated by AMW?
LO: We’re just getting our communication efforts off the ground since we have previously been a small private group of writers, but we are updating our Facebook page regularly and we also have a blog that includes event updates, book reviews and convention coverage (Malice Domestic 2013). We will continue to add articles, tips and other content from our members. It can be found here.
The free writing workshop will be held in BookPeople’s third floor event space on Saturday, November 9 at 9:30am. All are welcome to attend, no registration is necessary. For more information, visit BookPeople’s website.
When reading The Big Reap, I couldn’t help but think of a recent discussion I had with the author Chris F. Holm when he called into our History Of Mystery class on Lawrence Block. Chris talked in great detail about Block’s Matthew Scudder series and the craftsmanship used in conveying those ideas. This latest in Holm’s Sam Thorton series proves he has taken what he’s learned from one of the masters to heart.
For the uninitiated, Sam Thorton is a man who sold his soul to the devil. His hard boiled Hell is is to collect the souls from those who have done the same, like a supernatural loan shark. In The Big Reap, his handler, Lilith, the ultimate femme fatale, gives him a different kind of job. She asks him to take out The Brethren, a group of former collectors who have escaped the bonds of Hell. Not only have many of them influenced the legends of many classic monsters, they feed off humans. The hunt for each one takes him across the globe, feeling more and more like a pawn as fights for his life against them. It also triggers memories of his first collection and encounter with Lilith.
Holm has amazing skill when it comes to emotion and theme. The book’s meaning creeps up on the reader, without one fully grasping it until the last sentence. The emotions build as Sam’s well earned cynicism gives way to a slight sense of hope, if not trust. To Holm, even Heaven and Hell aren’t black and white.
I’d love to delve more into The Big Reap, but what is so good about it is tied to it’s impacting reveals that serve as more than just plot twists. Holm weaves the ideas he wants to explore with his story like a master craftsman. He uses the subtext of hard boiled novels, making the text through urban fantasy a starting point to venture in less charted territory. It would be no surprise if there is a class discussion about him someday.
Copies of The Big Reap are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.
Our last Noir At The Bar for 2013 will also celebrate the third anniversary of MysteryPeople. It’s been a fun year and we’re going out with three authors who are a great example of the talent we’ve brought out in the past.
MysteryPeople has been dealing with Jon Basoff for sometime, but mainly in his role as publisher. His NewPulp Press has given us books like Hell On Church Street, Bad JuJu, and Frank Sinatra In A Blender. His second book, Corrosion, has received accolades from book bloggers, drawing comparisons to Jim Thompson and William Faulkner. It is a bleak, sweaty, rural noir with a scarred veteran, hooker, and preacher on a collision course for violence on one doark night.
Anonymous-9′s Hard Bite found it’s way onto many, many best of 2012 lists, even though it was only available to download. Newpulp has put it in print and we’re happy to Introduce Anynmous-9 to Austin readers. Praise for this tale of a paraplegic going up against the Mexican Mafia to save his kidnapped nurse with only a hooker and his trained monkey for help spread like wildfire.
We love to promote our local authors like Nate Southard ). Nate’s book Pale Horses has two protagonists: a small town sheriff dealing with Alzheimer’s and a murder, and the damaged vet who may have committed it. Nate has earned a lot of praise in the horror world and it looks like the same is going to happen with him in crime fiction.
Join us this Thursday, November 7th at 7pm at Opal Divine’s on 3601 South Congress. Have a drink, hear from some bad ass authors, buy some of their bad ass books, and help close out a great year at MysteryPeople. See you there.
Our Pick Of The Month, Crooked Numbers by Tim O’Mara, uses New York City as a rich canvas. His hero, Ray Donne, is a man involved deeply with his city and its citizens. When we asked Tim to give us five of his favorite New York novels, his respnse was, “Only Five?” Here they are in no particular order.
12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose, David Mamet
“Not a book, but a play, which we still teach at my middle school — 12 Angry Men. Reginald Rose created a dozen NY men who could not be more different than each other and stuck them in a hot jury room to decide the life and death of a kid they didn’t know. In the midst of this drama, the city is calling to each of them from outside; some hear the call as a reason to just get through the decision as quickly as they can and others as a call for justice. You never “see” the city in the play, but it’s there inside each of these men.”
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block
“When the Sacred Ginmill Closes was my introduction to Lawrence Block and Matt Scudder. There are bodies, thieves, New York baddies and weirdos galore, but it’s a story of a man who begins to realize he doesn’t like himself when he’s drinking–and he’s always drinking. I admire the was Block shows his respect for this deeply flawed character; and throughout the story, and other Scudder books that followed, slowly allowed Scudder to redeem himself.”
Slow Motion Riot by Peter Blauner
Peter Blauner’s Slow Motion Riot floored me. His “hero” is a probation officer–with a liking for the booze, as well–who gets caught up in an out-of-control situation involving one of his parolees, who just happens to be a violent sociopath. Blauner gives us an insider’s view into one of NYC’s more dysfunctional agencies and the politics behind it.
Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez
Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez taught me not only how to write cliché-free about life in the projects, but also how to make fiction read like memoir. Quinonez poured his heart and soul–corazon y alma–into this book and I’d love to sit with him one day and talk about the “real” parts of this book and those he made up.
Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger
And, to get away from the crime stuff, JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Short stories by one of the masters of the form. These stories are better–more laser like–than Catcher in the Rye. Here Salinger’s taking snapshots of the people and the places–mostly wealthy–he knows well. Not all the stories take place in NYC, but the city runs through these characters’ blood.
In 2012, I received an unsolicited book, The Case of The Deadly Butter Chicken, by Tarquin Hall. I gave it a try, and liked it. It was not a heavy read, but it was fun and charming. Since it was set in India, and also comments on the society there, it felt a bit educational, as well. I had a pleasant interview with the author.
So, when I received a copy of his new book, The Case of the Love Commandos, I quickly agreed to do another email interview. This book has even more social commentary than the last. So, I wanted to make sure to ask questions about the issues raised in the book.
If you want to read a charming and fun book about a detective (Vish Puri) in India who loves to eat, try this book out. A bonus is that Hall always includes a few recipes in the book, as well as a glossary of words used in the book that those not living in India may not know.
Tarquin Hall is a British author and journalist who lives in Delhi. His Vish Puri series has received praise from authors and critics like Alexander McCall Smith and Marilyn Stassio, crime novel reviewer for The New York Times Book Review.
Here is our interview about The Case of the Love Commandos:
MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did this story develop?
TARQUIN HALL: I’d heard of the Love Commandos, a real life charity that works with young people from different castes and religions who want to marry against the wishes of their families. At the same time, I wanted the fourth book [in the series] to be set in rural India and to explore the caste issue. So, bingo, the two ideas came together. And, I came up with the love story idea: a boy from an untouchable family running off with a high caste girl, with the Love Commandos helping them out.
Then, I read an article about how researchers have been mapping the human genome here in India and how fascinating the findings are proving to be because you’ve had different endogenous groups of people living in the same communities as one another and never mixing for centuries. So, that became a big part of the plot, too.
Basically that’s how I work: I find what I want to talk about, so that each book tells you more and more about India. Then, I try to come up with a decent plot.
MP: How would you summarize the book?
TH: It’s basically about how caste continues to dominate Indian society and politics – less so in the cities. But, to be honest, even in a place like Delhi, it’s a big factor in most communities. It’s an extraordinary thing, caste, unlike any other system that exists in any other society I’ve come across. If you’re unfortunate enough to have been born into a low caste, the chances are you will still end up doing the most menial of tasks. It is changing slowly. And, there are many, many exceptions. But, generally speaking, that’s still the case.
MP: Tell me more about the “Love Commandos’…
TH: I spent quite a bit of time with the Love Commandos, seeing how they work. I met run away couples in safe houses here in Delhi. These couples were on the run from their parents. Some of them were worried that they would be killed if they were found; that their relatives would do anything to stop them marrying someone from another caste or religion.
You have to remember that 99% of all marriages in India are arranged. So, the parents and the rest of the family have to give their consent.
MP: Where do yourself stand on the topic of arranged marriage? Why did you decide to include the debate over the topic in this book?
TH: It’s definitely better to have choice in my opinion; to be able to have a say and decide for yourself. And, obviously, sometimes arranged marriages can be absolutely terrible, with people locked into an awful situation with someone they don’t love – or worse with someone who persecutes them.
That said; I have seen a lot of arranged marriages that work very, very well. People get on, learn to love one another. When times get tough, I think, sometimes, it helps to feel this sense of commitment to not only your husband or wife but the rest of the extended family.
MP: Some of the capers in your books, especially those involving Mummy, are quite funny. Do you smile or laugh as you write those?
TH: Yes, absolutely. Sometimes, I just burst out laughing and can’t stop. That’s a great feeling. In fact, as a writer, I don’t think there’s anything more satisfying.
MP: I found fascinating the explanations of the caste system, the Yadavs and the Brahmins. Can you explain it to our readers, and talk about why you decided to include that topic in this book?
TH: Well, as I show in the book, the power and position of the different castes has shifted in the past 60 or so years. Traditionally, the Brahmins (the priestly caste) have been at the top. But, nowadays, that’s not always the case. Not all Brahmins are necessarily priests. Even if they are, they’re not necessarily that well off.
Because of the affirmative action system set up after India gained its independence from Britain, there have been government job quotas for the lower castes. So, that’s empowered some of them, and in some areas – it’s hard to generalize – altered the local power structure.
Democracy has also played a big part in bringing change. The lower castes have become powerful politically as they represent big vote banks. The Yadavs, whom I write about in the book, are a good example of this.
MP: Was it hard deciding which Hindi words to include in the glossary?
TH: Not really. Some are absolutely necessary. You can’t write about, say, caste or Hindiusm without using some words that people outside India are not familiar with. But, there are others that I include because I think they enhance the sense of place and language. That’s the case with food, especially.
Also, people here will often mix Hindi and English – use a word that doesn’t translate or for which there’s only really one word, and that’s fun to reproduce.
MP: How about deciding which recipes to include in the book?
TH: That’s tougher. Because, there are so many that detective Vish Puri likes! But I generally go with ones that have been mentioned in the book. To be honest, it’s kind of an afterthought. But, with book number three, The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, I obviously had to go with butter chicken!
MP: How would you describe the protagonist, Vish Puri and his competitor?
TH: Puri is in his mid fifties, overweight, extremely pompous, but very honest and sincere. He’s rather old-fashioned – likes to hang out at his gentleman’s club and drives an old Ambassador car, which is very outdated. His methods are sometimes a little suspect, and he relies a lot on his undercover team who go into all sorts of situations.
As for his main competitor, Hari, he’s a lot more together in many ways, certainly more polished. And, he doesn’t suffer from too many scruples. He wears Italian suits and loafers and doesn’t think much of Puri’s Safari suit
MP: What question do you wish you would get asked more often.. and then go ahead and answer it
TH: Actually I got asked an interesting question, recently. An elderly gentleman, at a book promotion event – this was in the States – asked me whether I thought people from different countries and cultures were that different from one another. I think he was asking in the context of terrorism and trying to understand why people wanted to kill innocent civilians. I answered, along the lines that geneticists have found that we’re about 98% the same. Skin colour, shape of the nose – that’s all determined by about 2% of our DNA.
Copies of The Case of the Love Commandos are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.
Our History Of Mystery Class moves into the ’80s with an author who would change the thriller forever, Thomas Harris. His second novel, Red Dragon, practically created a sub genre. It also gave us two characters who redefined the protagonist and antagonist in crime fiction, Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.
Heavily researched, Red Dragon took on the procedural mystery, leaning heavily on forensics and the art of profiling. Our hero, Will Graham, is a retired FBI agent who is brought back into service to track down a killer striking families across the U.S. He is so good at getting into a murderer’s mind, he has the potential to have a psychotic break. For help he must consult the killer who put him so close to the edge, Hannibal Lecter, one of the most sophisticated sociopaths. Lecter set the standard for the serial killer after his appearance in Red Dragon and its sequel, Silence Of The Lambs.
Our discussion of Red Dragon at 6PM, Sunday November 3rd will be preceded and followed by two screenings. At 4PM we will watch Manhunter, the first film to adapt Red Dragon directed by Michael Mann. After the discussion we’ll view the pilot episode of Hannibal. Copies of Red Dragon are ten percent off for those planning to attend.
Our next discussion on December 1st will be on Elmore Leonard and Out Of Sight.
Tim O’Mara’s Crooked Numbers is our pick of the month for October. In it, he shows a great feel for his New York streets. He was kind enough to share this shorter tale from the Big Apple that makes us here at MysteryPeople wonder about his “technique”.
by Tim O’Mara
“I knew it,” he said aloud to no one as he examined what used to be the rear passenger-side window of his car and looked at the broken glass littering the empty seat that had earlier held his laptop. “Leave something out in the open like that and it’s just a matter of time.”
He removed his cell phone from his jacket pocket, found the GPS app, and turned it on. Within thirty seconds, the GPS had locked onto the device he’d installed on his laptop for just this occasion. Whoever had it, was moving west—a blue dot—towards the Hudson River, a few avenues away from where he’d parked on a Hell’s Kitchen side street. As he walked passed the Midtown North precinct, he caught himself smiling. Sure, it would be easy enough to go inside, explain to the uniform working the front desk what had happened, and sometime within the next hour or so one of the bored cops might head over to the river and look into the matter. By that time, the laptop thief would be long gone, as would his laptop.
No, this was something he needed to take care of by himself. After all, he was the one who’d left the damn thing right out in the open. Like he’d been asking for it. He zipped up his jacket, put a glove on the hand that held the cell phone and put the other hand in his pocket.
A wintry breeze was coming off the Hudson making the already chilly air feel about ten degrees colder. The tiny park he had entered was officially called Clinton Cove, but nobody called it that. It was usually just referred to as the Hell’s Kitchen Pier. There was a group—a gaggle, he remembered—of geese hanging out on the lawn eating what was left of the brown grass and crapping all over the “No Dogs Allowed” area. Come springtime, the grass would be green again, benefitting from all that free fertilizer.
The Circle of Life.
Sitting on a bench facing the water, was a solitary figure: the blue dot was now humanized. As he got nearer, he saw it was a guy in a hood-less winter jacket. Both the guy and the jacket had seen better days. He went over to a bench about twenty yards away and sat down, slipping both hands into his pockets. He looked over after a while and saw that the guy had a bulge under his jacket. If the GPS on his phone was right, the bulge was his laptop. He took in a couple of deep breaths from the cool Hudson River air and stood up.
He walked over to the guy and took a seat on the bench next to him, careful to keep the metal armrest between them. No reason to be stupid about this. The guy didn’t acknowledge his presence or even take his eyes off the river. He seemed to be in some sort of trance. High, probably. Even in the breeze, the smell of smoke could be detected coming off the guy and it wasn’t from Marlboro Country.
“Pretty cold day to be sitting along the river, huh?” the man said. He waited thirty seconds for a response, and when none came he said, “Feels good, though. Makes you feel more alive.”
The guy slowly turned his head, careful to keep his hands in his pockets protecting the bulge. He whispered something that sounded like “Duck Soup,” but probably wasn’t. The man smiled. That was good.
“What do you got there, friend?” he asked. “Under the jacket.” The guy blinked three times and turned back to look at the river. “How much you get for something like that?” “Like what?” the guy said.
“Like that.” The man motioned with his head at the bulge. “Couple of hundred?” The guy moved his head slightly and said, “Whatta you know about it?” “I know I just had my car broken into and my laptop was taken. It’s not a great laptop, about five years old, but it’s got some stuff on it that’s important to me.” The guy smiled. His adult teeth were not all present and those that were needed some serious whitening. “Not sure what you’re talking about, Mister, but why would you leave something important in the backseat of your car?”
Now it was the man’s turn to smile. His teeth were perfect. “Who said it was in the backseat?”
The lesser of the smiles disappeared and was followed by those two words that were definitely not “Duck Soup.”
“So, really,” the man said. “Whatta you hope to get? Two hundred? Three?”
The guy with the bulge under his jacket made a move to stand up. The man next to him reached out and grabbed him by the wrist.
“We’re just talking here, pal,” he said. “Shooting the breeze.” The double meaning of that made the man smiled harder. Good stuff.
“You don’t wanna be touching me, man,” the guy said. The man laughed. “What are you going to do? Call the cops?”
“With what?” the man said. “You can’t possibly have a cell phone. You broke into my car and stole a laptop from me. People like you don’t have cell phones.”
The guy shook the man’s hand off, squinted into the man’s face and said, “People like me? The hell you know about people like me?”
“I know you’ll take fifty bucks for what’s under your jacket. You’d probably take twenty, but I’m in a good mood.”
“What even makes you think it’s yours?” the guy said. “I mean, if I do have a laptop under my jacket?” The man took his phone out, showed the map on the GPS to the guy and pointed to the blue dot. The guy looked at it as if it were the designs for a nuclear submarine. He squinted again.
“Take it out,” the man said. “I’ll show you. It’s got a short story I’m working on.”
The guy gave the man the same confused look he had just given the map on the phone. “You a writer?” He sounded close to impressed.
“Yep. Almost done with this piece. I needed a little more research.”
“Writers do research? About what?” The man leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. “In my case, about what kind of scumbag breaks into someone’s car and steals a laptop. I mean, seriously, you gotta have pretty low morals to pull something like that, right?”
“I got morals.”
“We all have morals,” the man said. “Yours are just lower than most.”
The guy wiped a wind-driven tear from his eye and said, “Just ’cause I need money don’t mean I don’t got no morals, man. It means I don’t got not money.”
“And I’m sure that’s someone else’s fault right. Not a result of any decisions you’ve made over the last few years?”
“I take what I need. No more.” “You got healthcare?” “Huh?” “What do you do when you get sick?” the man asked slowly. The guy laughed like that was the stupidest question he’d ever heard. “I go to the doctor, man. Plant my ass in the ER ’til someone comes to look at me.”
“And who do you think pays for that?”
“I don’t know. Jesus?”
“Me. The taxpayer pays for that. That’s just as bad as you breaking into my car and stealing what’s mine.”
The guy thought about that for a bit, looking for something to say. What he cameup with was, “My parents pay taxes, so I’m just taking my inheritance early.” That was good, too.
“When’s the last time you were in jail?” the man asked.
“Hey, Mister. I do drugs, not time. I shoot junk, not bullets.”
The man smiled. This guy was great. “Okay if I steal that from you?”
“For one of your stories?”
“For this story.”
Confusion once again took over the guy’s face and he went back to squinting. “This ain’t no story, man.”
“Sure it is. I had something you wanted. Now you have something I want. The fact that it’s the same thing connects us.” He did that back and forth thing people do with their index fingers to signal making a connection. “That’s what makes this a story. Our wants are not only the same they’re in conflict. It’s beautiful.”
The guy thought about that and then allowed the laptop to slide out from under his jacket. “That mean you gonna give me two hundred for this?”
The man laughed. “I said fifty.”
“You also said you had important stuff on here.” For a junkie, this guy was a good listener.
“Let’s make it a hundred then.” Bargaining. As if he had any real intention of paying this guy anything. The man pulled out the five twenties he had in his jacket, fanned them out, and let them flap in the breeze.
The guy was mesmerized by the five bills waving back and forth, and handed over the laptop. When he reached for the money, the man pulled it back.
The guy stood up on wobbly legs, listed slightly in the breeze and mumbled something that sounded like “Gimme the duck and money.”
The man stood also. “You’re kidding, right? You think I’d actually pay for something that’s already mine? That’s your view of how the world works?”
“You said you would. You said this was a conflict. I was helping you with your story. That’s worth something, right?”
The man nodded. “It is.” He looked around—there was no one else in the park except him and the guy—and pulled something out of his other pocket. “It’s worth this.”
The guy looked at it and said, “What’s that? A comb?”
“Hardly.” The man pressed a button and a blade appeared. “I know it’s a bit old school— always reminds me of Twelve Angry Men —but still a useful tool.”
The look on the guy’s face as he stared at the blade was one of confusion: Move forward or backward? He chose the first, as did the man with the knife. They met each other halfway and the blade sliced through the guy’s coat and entered his stomach. There was no more confusion on the guy’s face anymore. The look was now one of certainty. And dull pain.
The man twisted the knife, held it for a three count, and then pulled it out. He looked around again and found the park still empty except for the gaggle of geese and the guy. The guy fell to his knees and looked up at the man.
“Why?” the guy whispered.
The man looked down and smiled. “No, I’m done with motivation,” he said. “I just needed your help with character. The dialogue was a nice surprise. Thanks.” He took a few steps toward the railing, closed up the knife and flung it twenty feet into the Hudson River. When he turned back, the guy was lying on his side, trying desperately to stop the blood flowing out from under his coat onto the white pathway. Nice imagery.
This was good stuff.