Happy New Year!

Can you really wish anybody a happy New Year without shouting it? Hey–so, I guess, um, happy New Year, bruh.

Well, it seems you can. #mysterysolved

Every week for a long time, I’ve been meeting up with a couple friends and going to a local dive to do some writing. Usually, I can knock out around 1,000 words during these sessions before the alcohol kicks in and I transform into a barely-functioning zombie. Problem is, my two buddies may as well be twiddling their thumbs while I write. One pretends to advance his own story, but works instead. The other–gods only know what nightmares wait on the opposite side of his laptop.

I finally gave up on these sad souls and decided to start a Meetup group dedicated to sci-fi writers. Every Tuesday, a growing bunch of us meet at the local Elks Lodge, which is a dusty men’s club run by ancient vampires, and chat about our would-be novels. It’s nerdy. I’ll own that. But it’s also great. I get to interact with like-minded folks, which is both inspiring and educational. Really. Even if you’re writing a pile of dog shit–and that might aptly describe my latest book–you get great feedback from people who actually care. That’s–you know–more than my closest family and friends can provide.

So that’s happening.

Sophistication, round two, is nearly good to go. The revision has been plagued by procrastination largely driven by fear. I’m afraid to fuck with the original work because I like it, so instead I watch TV, play video games, and drink. All my talk about writing every night–pretty words, but bullshit. I’ve made terrible choices, which I realize every morning. But then every night I choose the wrong path again. All of this to say that it’s taken longer than I anticipated to advance the revision. But, even with lots of fuckery, I’m just about ready to submit the second draft.

I think my slowness is just going to be a thing. Apologies.

Degenerate, meanwhile, has a new hook that segues into the main character’s narrative. Feeling pretty good about it. More to come, of course, but I won’t allow myself to write another word until Sophistication is wrapped. Soon.

Enjoy a little sample of the opening chapter:

### 1

### Fly

“Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”

The air stewardess, a slim brunette with ivory skin and a pageboy haircut—her name is Flo, he thinks—cocks her head and stares at him like a dog struck senseless by a high whistle. Finally, she opens her mouth to say something and then doesn’t.

“Please,” he adds and nods to her purse, where she deposited his unread letter moments ago. Probably, she thought it was a desperate proposition. Maybe his telephone number, home address, and a doodled heart. No such luck, lady.

The plane shakes as it climbs a thermal and Flo reads the note, her eyes widening with each word. Finished, she folds and palms the paper as though the threat itself might be smashed into oblivion along with it. When she meets his eyes again, though, she rises and takes a seat beside him. She’s young, beautiful, and not prepared for this event. He can see so in her rigid posture and the way her hands tremble in her lap now. And can he blame her? Not really. Not when there’s a new Cuban skyjacking earning newspaper headlines every other week. Tomorrow, he thinks, the stories will be about me.

He lights a cigarette and offers her one.

“No—no thank you.”

“Bourbon then?”

She shakes her head. “Can you… you know… show it to me?”

Butt dangling from his lips, he reaches between his legs and pulls forth a black attache case. When he unlatches and cracks it open just wide enough to reveal eight red cylinders connected to a battery by just as many wires, she cups her mouth with one hand.

“Please believe me, Flo, when I tell you that nobody’s going to get hurt today,” he says with nonchalance reserved for small talk. “As long as everybody—and I do mean everybody—follows my directions. You understand?”

“Yeah.”

“Wonderful,” he says as he redeposits the briefcase between his legs. “In a minute you’re going to mosey up the aisle to the cockpit and inform the captain to get on the radio. My demands are these.”

He turns to face her.

“First, two-hundred thousand dollars in negotiable American currency. Repeat it to me.”

She does.

“Second, four parachutes. Four. No more, no less. And if they try any funny business with them, I’ll know. There’ll be consequences, Flo. Explosive ones, if you catch my drift. Tell them that. Now go on—say it back.”

She does.

“And third, a fuel truck waiting to gas us up when we land in Seattle.”

He drags the cigarette, holds onto the smoke a moment and then pushes it out through his nostrils. “That’s it. Now skip along, and don’t make a scene. We’re all going to stay just as cool as the air outside these windows—that’s how we’ll walk away today with our tails intact. You follow me?”

As she hurries toward the cockpit, he dons a dark pair of sunglasses and knocks back the remainder of his bourbon and cola. This, he knows, is going to get interesting. He should be terrified—he’s just crossed a line that few men come back from, after all—but he’s not. And he knows why his heart isn’t already jackhammering. Why he isn’t even now on the verge of hyperventilation. It’s because he’s not alone.

“Forty-two rotten skinners. This fire-breathing iron bird isn’t even half full.”

The Blurry Man shakes his head in the seat beside him—the same one that cradled Flo’s apple-shaped ass seconds ago. Well, maybe he shakes his head, anyway. Truth be told, it’s more of a guess. His companion is… unfocused, shifting and dancing like sunspots on the edge of Frank’s periphery. He can’t really see the figure—not even when he has him dead center. He discerns shapes, motion, simultaneously present and fleeting.

“A shameful, paltry selection. Why did you choose this sky carriage over bigger, more bloated birds?”

“What does it matter?” the man whispers back. “There’re more than enough people.”

“Bah. You know little. No general in command of his wits would pay a ransom for so few. This is a mission of martyrdom now. Expect neither glory nor riches.”

“Just be quiet. What was Flo thinking?”

“That she should’ve feigned sickness today.”

“And what about the other passengers? You sense any cowboys?”

“Gunslingers in this age? You must be a fool.”

“Jesus,” Frank says and rolls his eyes. “Is anybody suspicious? Is anybody up for a fight?”

The Blurry Man moves, or shimmers—maybe.

“I can’t see it.” His voice, a raspy baritone, sounds over modulated and unnatural. Almost animalistic, like a wolf if it could shape its guttural growls into language. “Fourteen of these men are capable of pitiful battle—no match for any true warrior, but easily your equal if not superior. For now, they seem content with their giggle water and letters.”

Frank is about to respond when he sees the stewardess scurrying down the aisle again. And she’s not alone. A man in uniform—a white, collared shirt and a navy blue hat—follows close behind. They both slow as they draw closer to him.

“Mr. Cooper. We’re in contact with…” She looks around to make sure none of the other passengers are paying attention. “With the authorities. And everything you asked for is being worked on. Just like you wanted.”

He nods to the empty seats across the walkway and the two flight personnel fill them. She called him Cooper, which means they’ve done a little homework. Somewhere on the ground, they’ve probably already assembled a task force comprised of airport security and local police and even now they’re crowded in flight control. A room full of sweat, and smoke, and fear. Soon, the FBI will join them. Right now they know that someone named Dan Cooper bought a ticket, and that person has a bomb. Not a real name, of course—he picked it for the acronym DC, the publisher of his favorite comic book, Batman. But let them chase it for a while.

“The bald skinner questions your fortitude,” the Blurry Man whispers. “He weighs murder—believes he could snap your neck like a twig before your threats come to pass.”

Frank extinguishes his cigarette, sighs, and locks eyes with the man in uniform. Short and fit, no sign of stubble, the man stares back.

“Flo, who is this gentlemen and what’s he doing here?”

The woman begins a frantic response, but the bald man raises an index that cuts her words in half.

“Martin,” he says. “I’m the copilot.”

“Martin, I didn’t ask for your presence here. Flo and I have a rapport. We’re quite friendly. And besides, I should think you’ll be needed in the cockpit more than ever now.”

“I’m happy to help here in any way I can,” the man lies.

“If that’s so, you’d be wise to rise from your seat and hurry along,” Frank says and leans forward. “Don’t be guided by misplaced confidence. I will pull these wires before you ever reach me, sir, and we will all ride a fiery express to hell. Is that what you want?”

Martin’s cold eyes falter as the Blurry Man confirms his revolve has done the same. He stands, places one hand on Flo’s shoulder, and tells her that she can handle the situation.

“Thanks for your words of encouragement, Martin. I’m sure they made all the difference. Now kindly get the fuck back to your well-worn seat and finish that crossword puzzle while you nurse what I can only imagine to be a record-book case of hemorrhoids.”

Martin mad-dogs him—oh, how he’d like to take a swing, or maybe wrap his hands around Frank’s neck—it’s all over the man’s face. But he acts on neither. Instead, he nods to Flo and walks back toward the cockpit. As he does, a message from the captain plays over the loudspeaker.

“Folks, Tacoma has given us a green light to accelerate our decline this afternoon. We’re gonna get you in early and then we’ll likely be sitting for just a bit while we dot our I’s and cross our T’s on a few things. Sit back and enjoy the rest of the flight.”

What an absurd misrepresentation, Frank thinks and wonders how many times he has suffered lies like this one is his own life.

“These plump swine gulp down lies like water,” the Blurry Man says. “Look at them. Contented by their paper distractions while their fat, greasy babies wail and shit in their undergarments. This is evolution?”

“I could do without the commentary.”

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