Edmond

TEASER from upcoming book: Come Back To Me

March 17th, 2016

This short excerpt is narrated by Malcolm, Vin Vanbly’s older brother. In the previous books, not much has been revealed about Malcolm, only that he is an African-American police officer, roughly twenty years older than Vin. Vin and Malcolm adopted each other as brothers at some point. This excerpt seemed appropriate to share today, Saint Patrick’s Day.

Enjoy!

Come Back To Me is scheduled for release in the first half of 2016.

***

“One night in early March, I came home and found a note in the vegetable crisper. I had mentioned the day prior I needed to use up the damn broccoli. Vin had anticipated me. The note invited me to bar on north Clark street to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. He had written in block letters, PLEASE COME and underlined the words. I joined him that evening, despite how much I hated the day. All day, we answered noise complaints, party complaints, domestic complaints from people so drunk they could barely form words. This day brought out the worst in people, not the best, but Vin had never invited me out for a beer, or even to meet him outside the house, and I could not pass this opportunity.

“Vin had secured a table, no small feat in this crowded establishment, and had my favorite beer waiting for me. I was touched by this small gesture. He nodded. I nodded. We drank for a bit and watched the crazy people get drunker and drunker. Vin said, ‘It’s my birthday.’ I said, ‘Happy birthday.’ Vin said, ‘It’s not actually my birthday.’ After a moment he said, ‘I don’t know when mine is, and I need a birthday. Everyone has a birthday, right? I pick today. I was horrified and I’m sure my expression showed it. ‘It’s a good day,’ Vin said. ‘there’s always going to be a party on my birthday, and people are always happy today.’

“I said, ‘They’re in a good mood because they’re drunk. That’s not happy. Don’t pick this shitty, shitty day as your birthday, Vin. You will regret it. It will fucking haunt you. Vin laughed, and this was a new sound from him—laughter. He said, ‘I might actually be Irish, you know. I mean, look at me. Or maybe I’m German. Or Finnish. You know, blonds.’ I realized at this moment, it was officially, our first real, sustained conversation. But I couldn’t talk him out of it. He had picked Saint Patrick’s Day and he thought it was genius.

“We sat together on Vin’s first birthday drinking beer and conversing. We talked about sports even though it held no interest for either of us. We were hunting for common ground. I did not ask questions about his upbringing or anything to do with his former life. We mostly stared at the people around us and I started telling him my observations. He had made his own observations, and I discovered his talent—which I had suspected—was real. We ordered corn beef sandwiches, because, that’s what you do. Vin insisted on paying for everything.

“After that Saint Patrick’s Day, he changed. He ate more. Left his room. We would go out together and I would teach him how to watch people, watch for what was true, and then the truths behind their true. He already possessed this skill. I enhanced it. Vin always took it too far, further than I would. He would intervene. Once we observed a woman hailing a cab and both concluded—based on her clothes, her hairstyle, and the way she held her umbrella—she didn’t much like her appearance. Before I could stop him, Vin crossed the street to her and spoke to her. She smiled. When he returned to me, he explained, ‘I told her she looked beautiful.’

“Vin was beginning to find his own way.”

King Daniel, Chapters 1-11

February 25th, 2016

Didn’t you sometimes resent J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series? She created this fantastic world that sucked us in and made us care about potions class, an old geezer named Dumbledore, and bewitched furniture. But then we had to wait two years for the next installment.

Two years!

I always wished she provided a tasty tidbit between novels, like a Harry Potter short story.

I’m a slow writer, so between king novels I’m hoping to provide readers with a tasty tidbit. Roughly six months after the last book release (which hopefully is roughly six month before the next full novel), I will make chapters available from the sixth book in the series, King Daniel.

Wait, the sixth book? Prior to the release of the other books?

I know, I know. It’s messed up. But Vin Vanbly’s tale is odd and the telling of his stories must also reflect this oddness. Just go with it. Part of the grand adventure.

The release schedule:

King Perry (first book) – February, 2012

King Daniel, chapters 1-3 – October 2013

King Mai (second book) – July, 2013

King Daniel, chapters 4-7 – January, 2014

The Butterfly King (third book) – September, 2014

King Daniel, chapters 8-10– April, 2015

King John (fourth book) – September 10th, 2015

King Daniel, Chapter 11 –February 2016

Come Back to Me (fifth book) – prior to July, 2016

King Daniel (sixth book) – COMPLETED STORY, ???, 2016

The chess pieces are on the board. Vin Vanbly. Daniel Connors. The prophecies. The king whose initials are D.C. The Great Remembering. What happened to Vin in 2005? What role does Daniel play in The Lost and Founds? Enjoy exploring the world of the Found Kings in 2013, the year King Daniel takes place.

And if you’re here for Chapter 11, buckle up, Mare. The real show’s about to begin.

DOWNLOADS:

  • .PDF file is attached to this post.
  • .mobi file is available (but WordPress won’t let me attach). Email me and ask for it: remembertheking@comcast.net
  • .epub file is available (but WordPress won’t let me attach). Email me and ask for it: remembertheking@comcast.net

All my love,

Edmond Manning

King Daniel – Chapters 1-11 – Edmond Manning

 

The Wedding Poem

July 21st, 2015

A few months ago, Emme, a reader-turned-friend, asked me if she could pay me to write a short story for her son, something she could give him as a special wedding present. I considered the very cool opportunity but declined. At the time, I was in the throes of researching and writing my big 2015 novel (King John), and writing a short story could prove too potent a distraction. I needed to focus.

I countered with a proposal:  what about a poem?

She was equally delighted. When I declined payment, she insisted on donating money to charity instead, which made the happiness of a wedding poem that much sweeter.

I wrote a questionnaire for her son (Anthony) and his betrothed (Mike) asking them questions: what kind of kid were you? How would you describe your love? What is your favorite color? Where is your favorite place in the world? She forwarded the questions and they dutifully answered. Some of their responses challenged me.

“Our love is like a boulder.”

“My favorite color is blue with green a close second.”

“Our love is like a redwood.”

Hmmmmm.

I wondered how to create something to honor them both and their love. After all, I’m no poet. Sure, I love poetry but I’m just a dabbler. That’s not false humility. It’s true. Also, I am a terrible dancer, but I love to dance. I sing off key, but I sing. I think we should all attempt creative talents we do not possess because it helps us admire those who excel in these areas.

Plus, it’s damn fun.

While crafting their poem, I learned of their courtship: their first date (Mets game), the things each one does which drives the other nuts, a description of the park where they were to marry, and their special wedding clothes. Emme sent me links and background information. I studied their photographs. They seemed like lovely men.

They were married at the end of June. At the reception, Emme presented them with a wedding poem.

***

Mike, did you ever dream,

as a child, when you thought you knew everything,

did you dream that love would come for you, like a family of redwoods,

standing tall and strong beside you, the fresh, clean heady scent of holiness

swimming inside you, reminding you to love?

Did you dream,

that he would forgive your papers left everywhere,

and that he would love you tenderly, with grace and humor, this man of great integrity?

How could you know?

How could you know that one day,

when asked about your favorite place in the world, you would answer,

“Anywhere he is.”

 

Anthony, did you ever dream

that love would stop you in your path like a boulder,

relentless in its desire to be loved, to be recognized as loving,

you, who spent your childhood wrapped in book after book, fact after eager fact,

Waiting impatiently for someone to listen to your hard-won knowledge?

And already, someone interested in knowing you, in loving you, was walking his path to you.

A menschlichkeit, a man you would admire for his openness to the good in humanity.

A man who cherishes your clever jokes, your amazing intellect.

Your hard-won knowledge is now fully loved.

 

As you come together in Preservation Park,

proud Victorian homes admiring with silent majesty two kings in love,

When you catch each other’s gaze,

will you remember the past?

Your first date at Shea Stadium, the day Anthony recalls,

“The Mets lost, but we won.”

In front of the park fountain, on the gorgeous lawn,

will you flash to your future?

Lives pursuing justice, and music, and faith, with gray in your hair?

Living in your own home, a family of two, or four, or possibly so many more?

Or will you see each other in the present on your wedding day?

Anthony in his kittel, dancing with birds, crowns, grapes and vines,

pomegranates, too.

Michael in a clever gray suit, grinning and hungry for this new chapter to begin.

Will you see each other as the men you are today?

Will you say yes to that man, today’s man, and yes to that tomorrow man, too?

Each day you say yes, the sky will be blue, with green a very, very close second.

 

Did you ever dream, Mike?

Could you have known, Anthony?

That one day, you would love this way?

 

 

 

wedding 1

King Daniel, Chapters 1-10

April 17th, 2015

Didn’t you sometimes resent J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series?

She created this fantastic world that sucked us in and made us care about potions class, an old geezer named Dumbledore, and bewitched furniture. But then we had to wait two years for the next installment. Two years. C’mon, woman, give us a fix! I had always wished she provided a tasty tidbit between novels, like a Harry Potter short story.

I’m a slow writer, so between king novels I’m hoping to provide you with a tasty tidbit.

Roughly six months after the last book release (which hopefully is roughly six month before the next full novel), I will make chapters available from the sixth book in the series, King Daniel.

I know, I know.

It’s messed up. But Vin Vanbly’s tale is odd and the telling of his stories must also reflect this oddness. Just go with it. Part of the grand adventure.

The release schedule:

King Perry (first book) – February, 2012

King Daniel, chapters 1-3 – October 2012

King Mai (second book) – July, 2013

King Daniel, chapters 4-7 – January, 2014

The Butterfly King (third book) – September, 2014

King Daniel, chapters 8-10– April, 2015

King John (fourth book) – September, 2015

King Daniel, chapter 11– January, 2016

The tension in Daniel’s story ratchets up higher in the latest chapters, revealing several of his dark secrets in his ongoing quest to find his kingship. What happened in the garage? Who is DC? What happened to Vin? I hope you enjoy meeting Daniel and exploring the world of the Found Kings in 2013, the year this story takes place.

All my love,

Edmond Manning

King Daniel Chapters 1-10

King John

January 7th, 2015

I am Bedouin.

I walk the hard-packed alkali desert in my canyon-brown jubba, the thin, cotton gown flitting over the tops of my exposed feet, tickling them. I feel the scorching heat rise through the barren earth, through my sandals, slowly cooking me on this oven-blasted day. A sturdy rope belt, woven from camel wool, wraps around my waist twice, the excess swinging at my side almost as a lasso. My canvas water bag sloshes at my side. A shorter length of camel wool secures my keffiyeh, the long white sides flowing down my back and sides of my face, protecting me from the brutal desert rays.

I could die out here. We could all die out here.

Sunstroke. Dehydration. A deep flesh wound could kill, so far from civilization and hospitals. The desert cares nothing about our survival. This is my world.

I am Bedouin.

I travel with my thick staff, observing my people, pondering their multi-faceted fates. The sun celebrants, fire worshippers, the partiers, the burn-outs, the techno-geeks, aging hippies, acrobats, metal artists, colossal dreamers, and the in-over-their-heads vacationers. The Mad Maxers. They come to escape. They come to experience something they cannot anywhere else. They come to get laid.

We are Burning Man.

Despite living here for five days, I still haven’t picked my Bedouin name. I haven’t had need. Haven’t talked to many people. But I do like to pretend to be someone else. Should I be…Vinicio Vanabalay. What? No, that sounds almost Italian. A terrible Bedouin name. I need a more Arabic-sounding name. What about…Vanaco. No. How about….Vintalmach. Ick. No, that’s a mess of letters flung together without any regard for their personal safety. This is hard. The Arabic alphabet contains no letter v. In their language, my name couldn’t possibly exist.

V—the touchpoint of two ls clashing, meeting by rooftop in the dead of night, two ninja swords—no.

Enough on the word stuff.

I step aside to let twins pass me, not twins exactly, but dressed as twin bumblebees, both with martini glasses and singing. I will head down Mizzen, a street I have not yet explored and see what I might barter for lunch. Who needs the services of the traveling Bedouin, Vinicio Vanabalay? No, dummy. Too Italian.

I chat with cheerful folks who offer trampoline bouncing to passerbys, the chance to jump high into the blistering sky. I politely decline. I pass southern swamp mucks who have recreated a rundown trailer camp. They call, ‘hey, foreigner’ in their friendliest, redneck accent. I bow. I pass a camp themed around squirrels, which is pleasantly odd, and ahead on the left I see Camp Cuddleville, where lingering hugs evolve into non-sexual intimacy under their RV’s awning shade. May have to return.

A block later, one guy snarls at me, “Go home, towel head,” which I expected, this recent after 9-11. I intentionally chose a Bedouin costume this year to generate and share goodwill dressed as an Arab. We lost lives, New York landmarks, and trust in the world. We most regrow our tolerance, a sturdier crop this time. The world grows smaller each week. We must grow to meet the new ear unfolding with patience and love.

A medium-height, black woman in a silver-flashing skirt, some space-age polymer wrapped around her with sensuous folds, argues loudly with a taller frat man, early twenties, shirtless with burnt shoulders. His spikey blond hair suggests more hair-care product than the haphazard, windblown appearance most burners share. Dozens of silver necklaces fall over and shelter her naked breasts, yet the heavy curve of their undersides reveal thickness and perfection. She defines austere elegance in this harsh environment. I see his abandoned robot-something costume a few feet away, same silver material as hers, already layered in playa dust.

She yells. He sloshes his drink, gesturing wildly and snarks back. She screams louder. He shrinks from her—only for a second—redoubling his yell. Interesting. A few people stop, a small crowd forming. I see others dressed similarly, probably from the same camp, whispering, deciding whether to intervene.

Common enough scene, drunken rowdiness or random expression of fierce emotions, but perhaps I am needed.

I stroll right between them. I must distract their rage.

I jerk my staff above my head and I out-shout them both. “‘Nobody fucks with the Butterfly King’, he would cry in his resonant voice and all rejoiced when he thundered those words, for this meant he would take action against an injustice to his people and so many considered themselves his people.”

It works, for they pause long enough to gape at me.

“The Butterfly King ruled with the gentlest touch, not ruling at all, merely a hand on a shoulder, the soft awareness of his presence behind you as you blew out your birthday candles, letting you know he shared in your wish, whatever it might be. He sometimes paid the rent for those who could not afford it. Those fired from their jobs often found fresh roses delivered the next morning, compliments of him. Next time you go to New York, look for a new kind of graffiti, not spray-painted. Look for the yarn butterflies. This king taught me the lightest, feather touch will enable a certain magic to emerge, an ability he bequeathed me, a simple Bedouin, and I stand in your service, to see if I might offer you butterflies of your own.”

“What?” The frat man is annoyed. “No, go the fuck away, dude. Private conversation.”

“Of course, of course,” I say and bow before them. “Sahib, I am yours to command, yet might I suggest with four minutes of your time, I could change your life direction, making your fights softer and more loving. Four minutes, is all I ask. This, and you must answer my every question with truth.”

“Go the fuck away,” he repeats, his emphasis harder.

“No, stay,” she says. “Help us. Four minutes?”

She wants me to stay if only to defy him. She’s spoiling for the fight. Still, it’s an invitation to stay.

“Yes, beautiful lady, four minutes, if you both agree. And you both must answer whatever I ask, however I ask it.”

She glowers at her lover. “Stay. We agree.”

He scowls and takes a slug of his drink. I don’t work with drunk people, but I don’t think he’s wasted. He’s merely enjoying a cold one as they explore the city streets. Yeah, he’s okay. More importantly, I measured her reaction when I said beautiful lady. I believe I know her story.

“My name is Vinicio Vanabalay.”

Why didn’t I invent a better name?

Butterfly King Release Day!

September 20th, 2014

Wahooooooooooooooooooo!

It’s release day for The Butterfly King, the third adventure in the Lost and Founds series. Vin Vanbly tries to king a powerful man in New York City. But can he pull it off? He’s younger, greener, less sure of himself. Which is dangerous in New York, where anything can happen…

http://www.amazon.com/Butterfly-King-Lost-Founds-Book-ebook/dp/B00NOCBR80/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1411101802&sr=8-9&keywords=the+butterfly+king

And for those who have been enjoying The Lost and Founds series, you might enjoy a few other links:

I blogged for The Novel Approach this past week, sharing why I (Thunderstorm) New York.

Today, I visited Joyfully Jay and wrote about many of the secrets emerging in The Lost and Founds. Oooooo…secrets.

Also, if you missed my introduction to The Butterfly King, this may be a good place to start, a character sketch of him on Gay List Book Reviews.

The Butterfly King: Chapter 1

September 18th, 2014

Hello! This Saturday, the third book in The Lost and Founds series, The Butterfly King, is published. I hope you enjoy this preview, the first half of Chapter 1.

***

Lying on the top bunk of this cell, facing the wall covered in years of angry scribbles, I hear them. When I lift my head, the cheap mattress crinkles. The white-painted wall feels greasy to my touch. Down the hallway I hear the metallic screech from a jail door opening and then, a few seconds later, slamming shut, a loud clanging chord, echoing finality and the irreversible truth that you are guilty. Why? Because you are here, the New York City Police Midtown North Holding Facility. You must be guilty.

Cliff’s footsteps clip along at a brisker pace than normal, but not anything close to hurrying. Clip-clack, clip-clack. Those are his black cop shoes. He’s just a regulation New York City police officer, doing his job—clip-clack, clip-clack—getting dangerous people off the street. I cannot hear the second set of footsteps, yet I know a man in handcuffs walks at Cliff’s side. And if there’s one thing I know about my new cellmate, the Butterfly King, he’s dangerous. Men of power always are, perhaps more dangerous for ignoring that power.

The shuffle from the Butterfly King’s shoes finally reaches my ears and the sound is both satisfying and unnerving. He is here. Terrance is here. His King Weekend begins now.

My heart pounds while I lie with my back to the cell door, listening to the twisting metal in the lock. The door rattles, then opens, the metal swinging quieter than the one down the hall. I oiled this one. My plans aren’t affected if the door creaks but the sound might spook Terrance during critical seconds where a single background noise might impact his decision.

I’m probably overthinking this.

This Midtown station is one of the few remaining precincts to still use actual metal keys, which is why it works for tonight’s purpose. I’ll never know how Cliff got the clearance to make this happen, this incredible ruse. This isn’t his precinct. He must have called in a serious favor or promised one, anything to get rid of his obligation to me.

“Get up.” Officer Cliff Showalter’s words are crisp, like the clip-clack of his regulation black shoes. Clip-clack. I hate that sound, the official sound of being locked up. Long nights listening for the clip-clack of adult shoes in a juvie hallway, timing my escapes. They could never hold me for long.

I can’t make this too easy. Must not appear too agreeable.

Without moving, I imagine Cliff’s tightly drawn face, narrow, suspicious eyes and the short military buzz cut he maintains. I can’t believe how much he’s aged since the last time I saw him. Of course, that was a few years ago in Chicago. In Chicago, I informed him he owed me a favor of serious magnitude. Magnitude. What a great word, heavy and solid, like a brick you could throw through a window. I think New York aged him. That or the magnitude of what happened in Chicago.

Cliff kicks the bed frame with the side of his foot. “I said get up. Get the fuck up and stand over there where I can see you. No funny shit, Ghost.”

Without a word I roll over. I stare at them both, beholding the furious mess who will become the Butterfly King. He affords me the same unrelenting stare I give him, unsettled new cellmates trying to impress each other. I find defiance in his chocolate eyes, the slightest menacing sneer, his game face, which does not fool me. He’s terrified. Behind his furrowed brow, I see a man defeated by circumstances, hard edges worn smooth by pointless resistance. Already I visualize my fingertips brushing the side of his skull, hair cut so close to the head it’s almost a skin cap. I want to touch his luscious skin, so beautifully dark.

Jesus, Vin, lust after him later. It will be hours before he lets you near.

Terrance’s nose is thick, a big fat nose in the middle of his thick face, and I like it, the satisfying strength of width. His lips are full, so beautiful that I find myself wanting to kiss him over and over, the delicate maroon-ish color inside his lips, the color of raspberry kisses.

He sees me studying him and shoots me a lockup glare suggesting, none of your damn business, a jail salutation which also doubles as the standard New Yorker greeting. Terrance doesn’t realize I know he supervises data entry employees in corporate America and has never been to jail. He has no idea what to do, how to act. He’s working with instinct, pretending to hate me to ensure I keep my distance.

I roll off the bed. “Why do I have to move? I didn’t do anything.”

“Stand there,” Cliff says and he walks Terrance to the opposite side of the cell.

While Cliff’s back is turned I move just out of his sight.

Cliff raises Terrance’s bunched arms. “I’m taking off the handcuffs.”

I fiddle with the door, waiting for Cliff to catch me and yell. We rehearsed this with strangers a few times yesterday, random perps, until Cliff nailed the timing. If this opening gambit doesn’t go perfectly, the entire weekend is lost.

Cliff glances over his shoulder. “Damn it, Ghost, get where I can see you.”

I comply and slouch along the bars until I’m squarely within his line of vision again. Terrance angles his body enough to catch what’s happening. If his new cellie is going to try something stupid, Terrance wants to be ready. I cannot see the front of him, but I can tell he’s rubbing his wrists where the metal cuffs shackled him because I see his thick arms moving rhythmically, the lime green dress shirt ill-concealing his massive biceps. I’m going to suck on that beautiful muscle.

Fuck yeah.

Terrance says, “My phone call?”

“You’ll get it.” Cliff backs up. He jerks our cell door closed, creating the strong but dull sound of metal striking metal. An involuntary panic races through me. I remind myself I am not truly arrested, that this is part of the show. But I’m locked in a cage right now, and rats hate cages.

Don’t panic.

“My brother’s a lawyer.” Terrance rubs his wrists absently. “So you’re going to tread carefully with my civil rights. I have no complaints about my treatment, officer, no problems. Just show me proper respect.”

That’s a lie. His older brother died two years ago. Interesting he would choose brother instead of father, mother, uncle, or even lover. He chose his brother.

“You’ll get your call,” Cliff says without expression. “Once you’re processed. We’re backed up right now, so cool your jets. I’ll come back for your information and statement when we get caught up.”

“How long will this take?” Terrance asks with an impatient edge. “I have plans.”

Officer Cliff retreats down the corridor that led him here. Over his shoulder, he says, “I’d cancel your plans if I were you.”

Clip-clack, clip-clack, his sharp black shoes tackle the cement. I hate that sound.

“Hey, cop, I want a phone call, too.”

Without turning he says, “Shut up, Ghost. Nobody wants to hear from you.”

Ow.

I told him to say something like that, something telling me to fuck off, but wow, those words hurt, a truth like a bee sting. He’s right, nobody wants a call from me. Nobody. No foster family, no real family, no nobody. Cliff was not pleased when I appeared on his front stoop four weeks ago, explaining it was time to settle his debt.

A metal door clangs open. The same metal door clangs shut. He’s gone.

Malcolm.

A feeling rushes through me, delight but gushing faster, more like thrilled. Malcolm would welcome a call from me. Unlike Terrance, I still have a big brother. I have to keep remembering that, reminding myself. I’m twenty-six which means we’ve been brothers for five years. I guess it’s hard to—

Jesus, focus up! Talk for god’s sakes.

“Hey,” I say. “Got any smokes?”

“You’re kidding me.” Terrance turns to face me, and his sharp, beautiful eyes reveal disdain. “Are you fucking with me?”

“What? No. I mean, yes, I was fucking with you. I don’t smoke. But it’s a nice way to say hello when you’re in prison.”

“Holding facility,” he says, appraising me. “This is not prison.”

“Holding facility,” I say. “You’re right. I’ve been here before. These eight cells are in an old branch on the first floor. The modern cells are on the second and third floors. They mostly use this for night court overflow. They haven’t updated this floor with electronic doors or fancy technology. There’s not even video. Nobody cares if you’re in here.”

He says nothing. He looks down the corridor recently vacated by Officer Showalter.

I say, “I was going for funny, asking you for smokes. I guess you didn’t think so.”

“No,” he says with clarity in his tone. That single world is an invitation for my silence.

I say, “I’m Ghost. Well, that’s the name I use. My real name is boring and this is more fun, like a fun nickname. I gave it to me myself. What’s your name? Ghost is bad-ass for a nickname, isn’t it? Kinda gangster, right?”

He turns and stares at me. I stand with my arms behind me, yanking on the jail bars. I hope I convey how bored I am. I can’t be sure how I come across. I know I look younger than I am. Standing here in my faded, red T-shirt and jeans, I bet I look like I’m twenty-one or twenty-two.

“I’m busy,” he says. “Don’t talk to me.”

“Oh yeah, okay. You’re busy. Sure, I get it. You have somewhere important to be.”

He tilts his head as if studying me, but then closes his eyes, showing me he’s so unconcerned by my presence he feels safe. He puts on a good show for a man who has never been in jail his whole life, not even once. You don’t fool me, Terrance Altham.

“Was it a date? Are you late for a sexy date?”

He says, “Be quiet.”

Already, his voice commands in a kingly way. The power in him, it’s swirling and jagged. Unfocused. But wow, up close, it’s already there and so strong.

“I’ll be quiet,” I say. “That’s not hard. Not for me.”

He turns from me and holds his own counsel.

“I can be quiet,” I announce to no one in particular. “But it’s so boring. You know? So boring to be quiet. What are you in for, running drugs?”

He flinches and his skull tightens at the neck. The thick roll at the base of his skull is his tell. That’s going to be helpful all weekend. Read the muscles on his head.

I say, “I bet you’re in here for drugs.”

He turns to face me. “Don’t talk.”

“No, okay,” I say. “I will. I mean, I won’t. Talk. I just wanted to know. Drugs?”

“Not drugs. Now shut up.”

“Because you look like a drug guy.”

“Officer,” he cries out. “Officer, I must request you process me now.”

His voice rings down the corridor. Strong, like a metal bar. His voice, wow, so solid and clean, rich baritone and with such a polish. He’s practiced, like a theater major, careful enunciation when communicating all the meanings of an intended phrase. His calling for the guard is as much of a warning to me as it reflects his great desire for his own freedom.

“Boy, you must be in a hurry.” I walk to stand next to him.

He steps back.

I must disarm him with the unending flood of my idiocy. “I’m not in a hurry. I don’t care. Which is good, because I’ve been here for three and a half hours.”

He forgets to be irritated with me. “Three hours?”

“And a half.” I walk away, back to the bottom bunk and sit on it. “Three and a half. This is your bunk. The bottom one.”

His face displays no reaction as he watches me. “You’ve been here for three and a half hours? They haven’t processed you?”

“Yeah.” I lean back and lay my head on my hands as I contemplate the springs above me. “I like the top bunk. Not only for sleeping. I like to be the top. Do you like to get fucked?”

“What?” he asks.

“I like to fuck,” I say, shrugging. “You’d have to be into it, too. I would never push myself on someone who didn’t want me, but I do like to fuck black guys. I love the beautiful color of a black man’s skin. I could go on and on about all the beautiful shades of brown. Just saying, so, you know.”

“Don’t talk to me,” Terrance says, his face tensing. “I don’t want you to talk to me. Or out loud.”

“Okay, that’s not a problem. I like quiet but you never answered my question if you’re busted for being a drug lord.”

“Yes,” he says. “I answered. Quit asking me.”

“Oh, sorry. I thought maybe you were because you give the appearance of one.”

He raises himself to full height, six foot two. Or maybe three.

With each consonant prickly, he asks, “Did you just say I looked like a drug lord?”

“Well, not your face. Your face is really handsome. I like your big, thick nose.”

He takes a breath and turns away.

“Your wallet. You still have your wallet. You’re wearing a watch. That’s what I mean. If cops think you’re a drug guy, possibly of some importance, they won’t process you until they’re absolutely sure of the charge and that they can make it stick. Every cop knows you don’t make slip-ups with a New York drug lord. Every t is dotted, every i is crossed.”

He does not speak for a moment. Finally he speaks. “T’s are crossed, i’s are dotted.”

“No, t’s are dotted. It’s a line from a television show I watch a lot. I watch British TV from the BBC. That’s the British Broadcasting Company. I said that because not everybody watches British television. Not that I assumed you’re not classy enough to watch British TV. I’m sure you are. Even drug lords like British shows. You know what they call British sitcoms? Britcoms. Cute, right?”

Studying the back of his neck, I see the subtle shift of tension. I’m pretty far under his skin already, and I’m the least of his worries.

He asks, “What are you in for?”

“Wow, now who sounds like a prison cliché?” I turn to face the wall. “You have a lot of nerve criticizing my ‘got any smokes’ joke.”

He says nothing in response, perhaps bored of conversation already.

“Nothing,” I say, turning to face him. “I didn’t even do anything. The cops are jagweeds. What did you do?”

He does not face me, but walks to the front of the cell. “Nothing. The cops are jagweeds.”

He sounds tired.

I watch him take a deep breath, raising his arms on the inhale and bringing his fingertips together on the exhale right before his chest. Some form of meditation, I’m guessing. Well, I can’t let that continue. I need him on edge.

“What time is your thing? The one you’re worried you’re late for? You’re wearing a nice dress shirt but faded jeans so it can’t be that fancy. Maybe they won’t care if you’re late.”

He does not turn or respond in any way. He repeats the breath thing and brings his fingers together again.

Damn. He’s gonna be a tough nut to crack. Men like Terrance who stand so close to their kingship represent a particular challenge. They live life within close proximity to the finish line and often feel no need to cross over. They’re happy where they are. Well, if not happy exactly, they have accustomed themselves to living as Lost Kings and see no reason to expect better. What have I gotten myself into? How do I move this mountain ten feet? This time, I guess the mountain really must come to Mohammad.

“Let’s start off better.” I leap from the bunk and cross to stand in front of him, preventing his meditation exercise with his arms. “I’m Ghost.”

He bristles and steps away. He eyes me warily. “We’re not exchanging names. I won’t be here long.”

“Okay. I don’t mind. I don’t get my feelings hurt, because, you know, that’s life in the big city. People are protective, right? Gotta be. I am. I’m real careful about who I talk to. I won’t talk to just anybody.”

The neck roll tenses up again.

Good.

I study his frame. He’s a thick man, stocky, sturdy legs like tree trunks, and a chest that is naturally robust. I don’t think he lifts weights to expand his pecs, at least not the way he works those arms. Although hidden tonight, I’ve seen his biceps and triceps—beautiful, fat muscle. Still, he’s not that chunky. He’ll fit through the sewer grate easily.

He resumes staring down the hallway. Can’t blame him. There’s nothing else to do. He takes another deep breath.

Uh oh. I don’t want him calm. I need him agitated. I need this mountain to collapse under an avalanche of bad decisions.

I better get started. I begin by whistling, a combination of a folk song and a 1970s pop hit, something I reworked so the lyrics fit. I wanted it to sound vaguely familiar to him. I memorized three stanzas, which should be more than enough. I switch to humming and then singing under my breath, words still impossible to hear.

“If we’re not going to talk, that’s fine,” I say and hesitate. “But there’s a few things you should know about me. First, I honestly didn’t do anything. Second, they haven’t processed me because they don’t know my real name. I never tell police my real name. Which means whichever cop processes me gets extra paperwork, so they sometimes keep me locked up until a new guy’s shift starts and that person has to process me. They save me for the rookie cops. But if I committed a real crime, they’d process me. I didn’t do anything.”

He says nothing, just does his meditation thing, facing away from me.

“Sometimes, it’s not a guy who’s the new guy. Sometimes it’s a woman.”

He ignores me.

“I’m not sexist, that’s what they call it. The new guy. I think that it’s a—”

He says, “Stop talking. I have to center myself. Create harmony.”

“Okay, I’ll stop talking. I’ll be like a ghost. Silent like a ghost. Which is my nickname. Although, traditionally, ghosts moan and rattle chains.”

He bristles.

I start humming the song again and glance up and down the hallway, more for assurance that everything is as it should be. Empty cells. No video cameras. Yup. We’re golden. I guess you’d call the walls ‘white,’ though that color seems like a distant memory, layer after layer of sweat, grease, blood and anything that can get smeared. The walls are green from the waist down, a tired, used-up green. Dozens of jagged shoe marks scuff the walls, suggesting spontaneous violence. These marks visually remind me one of the best—and worst—things about New York City is anything can happen. Anything.

I stand next to him, once again invading his personal space. “Hey. Wanna get out of here?”

He ignores me.

“I’ll let you in on a secret, which is I’m getting out of here. I’m tired of waiting to be processed. I’m going to escape.”

He steps away, moves the farthest he can, which is not far.

“I’m not kidding. I have a plan.”

Nothing. Not a single reaction. Huh.

“Where is your big party?” I ask in a casual, bored tone. “Were you going to a fancy drug lord party?”

He spins toward me, face wrinkled and snarling. “You racist piece of garbage.”

I’m surprised and I’m sure he sees it on my face. Wow, that was sudden and intense.

I say, “I was kidding. Boy, Mister Sensitive.”

His mouth snaps shut. He stands up tall to his full height. “I apologize. I apologize.”

He turns away.

Dammit, cover the moment. Don’t let him get into shame. “I don’t mind. I understand why you’d say that. A lot of people think I’m garbage.”

“I lost control,” he says, and his voice is softer. He keeps his back to me. “I am under…undue stress. This is not the way of the flexible water and I apologize.”

“Apology accepted.” I make my voice lighthearted. “No problem. What kind of water? Is that your sign? Are you an Aquarius?”

He puts his hands to his face.

I know he’s under a great deal of stress. I put him there.

After several months of correspondence through the mail with an enigmatic millionaire known as Vin Vanbly, Terrance Altham grew intrigued enough to commit to a King Weekend. He agreed to submit for one full weekend, and in return, Mr. Vanbly would restore his kingship, help Terrance remember who he was always meant to be. Mr. Vanbly instructed him to show up at the Waldorf Astoria hotel and provided a black stretch limo.

But as the limo approached its destination, the driver pulled over, gave Terrance a vague warning and drove off. Less than two minutes later, Terrance found himself arrested for reasons as yet unexplained. He hasn’t been granted his one phone call. In another two minutes, he’ll miss his Friday night, 6:00 p.m. rendezvous. The unimaginable wealth available to those who successfully complete a King Weekend will no longer be an option. If there’s one thing that’s important to Terrance Altham of Harlem, New York, it’s money.

Well, that’s not exactly true. But he thinks money is power, and in New York, well, yeah, it kinda is. But money is not his true destination. Nor is power. When I read his published article in the Atlantic Monthly last year, I saw a man in search of his kingship. A king in search of his crown, his kingdom. Through the article, his strong voice rang out, where are my people? Your loyal subjects are all around you, King Terrance. Look around.

I say, “If you want to get out of here, I could take you with me.”

He refuses the bait.

I return to the bottom bunk and lie on the crinkly mattress. I start singing again, a tad louder, loud enough for a word or two to become heard. Same song as before. After a line half-hummed, half-sung, I see his head raise straight up and he slowly turns. Wow, he is graceful. Graceful in all his movements.

“What did you say?”

“Me? Nothing. I didn’t say anything. I was singing.”

He studies me, narrowing his eyes, focusing them. He says nothing, and I swear I see the cogs in his oversized brain debating how far to push this with me.

“I was singing. It’s from a television show.”

He debates this and cautiously asks, “What show?”

The Lost and Founds. It’s my favorite show. It’s on the BBC.”

“The Lost and Founds.” He repeats my words slowly. “Is that what you said?”

“Yeah. It’s a popular show. Probably because it’s British. Have you seen it? They broadcasted four seasons now. British television seasons are shorter, so that’s only, what, twenty-four episodes. Twenty-five. They did a Christmas episode during the third season. It was cheesy.”

I see a tremor near his temple, his jaw flexing. Every one of his gestures communicates strength whether he intends to or not. He turns from me, wrapping both of his meaty paws around the bars. His nightmare is becoming worse.

I ask, “Have you seen it? It’s my favorite show.”

He does not reply.

“I was humming the theme song. Wanna hear?”

I do not wait for a reply before singing my invented lyrics.

“When naught works out and you’re losing ground,
Who finds a man who is lost not found?
When life isn’t right and won’t turn around,
Maybe it’s time for the Lost and Founds.”

He turns back to me, and I see wariness in his eyes and behind that, fear. He’s so tired of being disappointed by life, the unfair tricks and sharp, unexpected turns. He already senses another something bad coming. And he’s right.

Slowly, he says, “Keep going.”

“Vin is the one who can find the lost,
Once you agree to make him the boss.
Secrets revealed when you’re getting tossed.
Through the Eastern Gates, despite the cost.”
Before he can comment, I add, “You have to sing ‘through the Eastern Gates’ a little faster or else the cadence is off.”

He says, “Enough. Do not sing anymore.”

“There’s a third verse.”

“No.” His voice is quiet. “No more. This is television?”

“Yeah. Vin Vanbly is the hero and he goes out and finds these guys and says, ‘Spend one weekend with me and I will help you remember your kingship. I will help you remember who you were always meant to be.’ Over an episode or two they go have adventures in London. Sometimes the country. They went to Wales, once. He also kinged a Scottish guy. That was a good episode.”

“No,” Terrance says. “No. That can’t be right.”

He puts his hands on top of his head, the most expressive expression I believe I’ve seen from him today. He stares into the dingy hallway, the empty cell across from us. I’m guessing worlds crumble inside him, plans, possibilities, dreams. He found himself cuffed and in the back of a police car while on his way to his King Weekend, which turns out is a hoax based on a British television show. This pressure cooker—the arrest, the misleading correspondence, the non-stop chattering of his own personal Ghost—it’s creating unbearable conditions in him, dragging the fear out of its shadowy corners. I hope.

Fear can blast adrenaline, pumping anyone into a state of chaotic frenzy but usually only for a few moments at a time. Fear can paralyze too, but again, it’s a moment to moment thing. But if a man spends his life fighting fear, keeping it at bay with logic and rationalizations, he doesn’t notice fear exacting its toll, draining him, preventing his ability to access true power. That’s the dark wizard’s greatest curse, not draining you enough to notice and fight back, but embedding fear so deeply, you forget to consider achieving your greatness. Tonight, we examine that fear under harsh light.

“That can’t be right,” Terrance says, and I don’t think he’s talking to me. “I never…I never heard of this television show.”

“Do you watch the BBC?”

He says, “I don’t own a television.”

I knew that. I knew inventing a fake television show would work with him. I planned on his subconscious pride in his inability to be fooled, for anyone to fuck with him, a hardened New Yorker. My deception should chisel open that hard shell, expose his vulnerability.

I think. I hope.

Allow Me To Introduce the Butterfly King

August 29th, 2014

The folks at gaylistbookreviews were very kind to offer me a blot spot so I could introduce readers to the main character of my next book, The Butterfly King.

I’ll but a little preview in this blog post…and the link to the full article at the bottom. Hope you enjoy!

My Characters Talk To Me

In the past, whenever I heard some flibbertigibbet author drone on about how ‘my characters talk to me…’ I would immediately roll my eyes. Yes, yes, your character talks to you. They create scenes in your head. Your big-breasted protagonist tells you what kind of gin she likes. Your hung cop narrator describes his mean older brother growing up. I’d hear an author say, “I just put two characters together in my head and just watch. Some days it seems like I’m just recording their antics and they’re doing the writing.”

Oh gawd. Kill me now.

I don’t know why it bugged me so much to hear authors talk about their characters that way. Maybe I thought it seemed disingenuous, pretending like writing was magic. Writing didn’t feel like magic to me. I worked hard on sentence construction, reducing adverbs, trying to find plausible motivation. The idea that you drop off your characters like you might a kid for day care and then “just watch,” seemed to dishonor the work that goes into writing.

Maybe it just sounded pretentious.

Maybe it was jealousy. I had been writing for many years and while I loved pondering characters and how they would get along and interact with each other, I can’t say I honestly felt these characters moving through me in a way that felt like they asserted their own will and presence.

Whatever the reason, it was pretty humiliating when I started feeling characters “talk to me.” Not like voices in my head telling me the neighbors are trying to kill me (though I do have my suspicions). No, one day I found myself arguing with a character, the Butterfly King, and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. I’m the author. I get to do what I want.’ In my head, the Butterfly King said, “I see.”

I knew the conversation wasn’t over.

With great humility, it’s now my turn to admit a pretentious truth: sometimes characters talk to me.

They argue with me. I argue back.

What changed? Maybe these days I let myself have more fun with characters. Maybe I finally started listening the way an author is supposed to listen. I dunno. I accept this new reality and I’m blushing a little bit, so I’m aware that I’m a hypocrite at least. That’s something.

I’d like to share some ongoing conversation I’ve had with the main character of my latest release, The Butterfly King. Terrance Altham is a 41-year-old middle manager in a white collar job he doesn’t like. He lives in New York. He doesn’t like how his life has played out so far, feeling he was meant for a greater destiny but family obligations kept him from a life where he might have been someone more important.

Who knows? Perhaps he could have even become a king.

Link to the full conversation

Talkin’ ‘Bout Bears

August 25th, 2014

J. Scott Coatsworth and Edmond Manning both contributed to Dreamspinner’s anthology, Taste of Honey, due for release in August. They chatted each other up about their own roles in the bear community and why their bear-related story somehow reflected a bit of their own unique personalities.

Edmond:  First question…why bears? With all the possible story topics in the world, what made you decide to write a short story about bears?

J. Scott:  Honestly, initially it was because I wanted to write something for each of Dreamspinner’s open anthologies. But then as I thought about it, I realized I tended to write beautiful people – and by that, I mean by society’s standards – the tall-dark-and-handsomes with piercing blue or green eyes. And I thought it would be fun to try my hand at someone a little more real. In fact, the story takes that tact, literally turning a gym bunny into a bear.

Edmond:  Oooo – I like the idea of a gym bunny who turns into a bear!

J.Scott:  LOL… me too. It was fun to write – what happens inside when the outsides change. How about you?

Edmond: As a gay man constantly labeled ‘bear,’ I don’t spend time analyzing bear culture: who we are as a people. I’m more interested in a broader slice of humanity. But I got this idea for a story of a twink (or post-twink) who is into bears and thought it would be fun to see the Bear World through his eyes…as I started writing, I began conceiving this as a fairy tale and thought it would be fun to play with the language. That’s what inspired me.

Edmond: Do you have much contact with bears? Are you a bear?

J. Scott: No, Mark (my partner) and I live in a fairly conservative community on the eastern edge of Sacramento – there’s not much of an LGBT community up here in the hills, let alone a bear community. And as for me, I’m more of an otter, though I was pushing bearhood belly-wise a couple years ago. LOL… As a gay man, I have an appreciation for all body types. For me, the story was the opportunity to look at the world through a bear’s eyes.

J.Scott:  Are you active in any bear communities?

Edmond:  No, I’m not. I used to do stuff with the local bear community when I moved to Minneapolis a few decades ago. But I found the bears a little…demanding. If you weren’t a bear, were you an otter? If you weren’t a hairy otter, were you a…wolf? A fox? A variegated chipmunk?  I didn’t like all the labeling and the need to define men as a specific type. Like you said earlier, I’m attracted to all different types of men for different reasons. I didn’t like boxing them into one narrow category. I just wanted to stand around and drink beer. Not all bears find it necessary to box men up like that. But I tend to shy away from some of the more organized activities for that reason.

Edmond:  So how does this story of yours for the anthology reflect your relationship with bears? What’s your unique twist that makes this a “J. Scott Coatsworth” original.

J. Scott:  Good question. I wish (and always have) that I was more connected with “the gay community,” whatever that really is. I read stories when I was younger about guys who lived in a gay ghetto, where all of their friends were gay, where everyone had kind of a shared sexual history. I never did that. I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, a place without much of an LGBT community in the early 80′s, and when I came out, I settled down with my husband, Mark, after about 6 months. So for me, in a way, The Bear at the Bar (and other stories like it) are my way of having that connection to the community that I never got to experience in RL. I don’t even drink beer!

J. Scott:  As to my twist, let’s just say it involves being someone you’re not, and then learning that who you are wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

J. Scott:  What about you? Tell me what you can about your story, without giving away the plot.

Edmond:  My bear story is truly a fairy tale. In fact, the story begins, “Once upon a time…” despite the somewhat lyrical narration, the story is set in the very real city of Chicago, Illinois, following the adventures of Tyler the Twink who happens to be attracted to bears. He’s in search of one bear specifically, the Great White Bear. Think…Moby Dick. Heh.

J. Scott:  Oooh… funny! OK, one more question for you – is one of your characters you? I like to think mine is a little me, at least once he gets past being a bear-phobic asshole. LOL…

Edmond:  I don’t think so. One of the characters, Derrick, reminds me of a guy I dated a few years ago. He was a great guy – total slob. He defied the stereotypical gay: neat, orderly, newest, latest gadgets or foods or whatever. If he offered me a beverage, he’d have to do dishes to find a clean glass. Of course, my character Derrick isn’t quite so…messy and I added other character traits. My voice figures so prominently into the narration style that I didn’t add much of myself as a supporting character.

J. Scott:  I like that. I think we do often pick things up for people we know for our characters, or things we’ve seen on TV, read in books, etc.

Edmond:  My last question to you. What’s one thing you wish you could change about the bear community?

J. Scott:  Hmmm… Mostly I just wish all the various LGBT communities and types were more integrated. I understand the desire to group ourselves with like-minded folks, but I learn so much more when I spend time with someone who is unlike me than I do from a carbon copy. That’s one of the themes I cover in the story – understanding folks in the LGBT community who are different from you.

Edmond:  We both covered that exact theme in our stories! How cool. I guess you and I have more in common than enjoyment of hairy men.

J. Scott: Sounds like it – see you at the next convention? :-)

 

Taste of Honey on amazon.com

Taste of Honey on Dreamspinner’s website

Filthy Acquisitions – Chapter 1

July 26th, 2014

As his rental car gently cruised through the three-block downtown, Keldon tried to notice things that would make the town unique to him, local flavor. He mildly hoped for quaint, but found nothing of the small-town charm he expected. Instead he saw a chain gas station, a sad-looking pizza parlor with dirty windows, two chubby kids sitting on a curb drinking from 7-Eleven Styrofoam cups, though he could not spot the 7-Eleven itself. The downtown businesses seemed normal enough, a sewing shop (misspelled with the pretentious and empty shoppe), a tax business, a doctor’s office with beige blinds and—

It was normal. Very normal.

This was his third visit to Monroe, Wisconsin, and he could not reconcile how absolutely ordinary the downtown appeared compared to the strange, repulsive purpose of his visit. He wanted the town to appear vaguely menacing, maybe a sinister machine shop or frowning old people in rocking chairs in front of local businesses, so he could use the material for a later anecdote, something about how the character of the town matched the perverse transaction he headed toward. But the ordinary brick façades with cement ornamentation refused to cooperate. Downtown Monroe was quiet. Sleepy, even. He passed an empty garden space with cow-painted columns and a sign welcoming visitors to come and sit. The garden was barren, too early in spring to contain actual plants or seedlings.

The thought flitted across his brain that even if he could turn this into an anecdote, with whom would he share it? Which friends would he call? None. He didn’t have friends anymore. He had dropped them, or they had dropped him. He scolded himself for getting distracted from his true purpose in Monroe. Keldon Thurman intended to stay only long enough to make the acquisition and leave.

Breezing beyond downtown and into the residential streets, he had no problem finding his destination, having already visited the Turners twice previously. He pulled onto their average street lined with unremarkable two-story homes. the Turners’ trees almost perfectly spaced as the evenly spaced trees across the street and down the block.

The green was gradually returning, he noted. Like birds that had flown south, green flocked to the late-April treetops, resting on small branches, ready to burst into song. The grass was not minty-fresh, exactly, not cheerful spring, but rather a deadish- brown with hints of life and occasional mint-green smatterings. Soon these lawns would reveal themselves to be not dead, only sleeping. But not yet. He was just glad he did not have to deal with boots or a snow-covered sidewalk, which would have impacted how he presented himself.

He wanted to look crisp.

The Turners were expecting him, so when he pulled into their driveway at their white aluminum and brick façade home, he wasn’t surprised to see the front door swing open. The lawn was scattered with a few outdoor toys in various states of abandoned. He had not seen the children on the previous two visits and suspected they had been whisked away, far from the delicate negotiations required in selling and purchasing art created by a serial killer.

Keldon noted this fact—the missing children—and figured he might be able to use that if necessary. Of course, he was only supposed to drop off the check and pick up the art. But he did not trust the Turners. Everything was negotiable. He decided to take his time and make them wait at the front door.

He turned off the engine and straightened his power-red tie while walking himself through various contingency plans—how the Turners might try to back out and how he might turn the situation to his advantage. Or everything might go smoothly. But the first three acquisitions with other art owners had not gone as expected, and he had no reason to expect the one with the Turners would either. These paintings brought out the worst in everyone, he’d discovered. Before the first acquisition he’d wondered, Who wants to own a convicted serial killer’s art? Who wants that? Well, now he had an answer. Donna and Gerald Turner of Monroe, Wisconsin.

He finally extracted himself from the front seat and retrieved his briefcase from the back, pretending not to notice Mrs. Turner waiting inside the front door.

The Turners disgusted him, his wealthy patron disgusted him, everything about this work disgusted him, a low-simmering burn in the back of his mind. But the moment that disgust threatened to evolve into a strong opinion, he reminded himself he did not care, he could not afford to care. He did this for the money. Keldon understood being disgusted with oneself. The Turners had flattered a serial killer for two years of that murderer’s prison sentence so he would give them his original art. So what? For the money he would make brokering all fifteen pieces of serial-killer art, Keldon’s nebulous morality could ignore the disgust, or at least mutter to itself in the corner.

Keldon slammed the car door and walked toward Mrs. Turner, flashing her a grin. He hoped it came across as more sincere than he felt.

She did not return it.

He wasn’t surprised. She had never smiled at him, never extended him that basic courtesy. She stood with her arms folded, her dirty gray hair pulled up behind her head and clipped with a plastic comb. The baggy wrinkles tracing the contour of her face suggested a history of pouting and negativity. He disapproved of her overly orange fake tan. He suppressed the desire to comment on it, even obliquely. He had enough self-awareness to know his distaste for her was influenced by her treatment of him. Everyone wanted to be liked. But she acted as though Keldon were the enemy instead of an envoy sent by a wealthy patron.

“We have a problem,” she said.

Keldon was not surprised in the slightest. “Oh dear,” he said, affecting surprise and disappointment. “That’s terrible. Let’s discuss it.”

She turned and walked through the front door, and he followed. Keldon didn’t care what the problem was. It didn’t matter. He felt confident he would leave with the acquisition. The outcome was not in question.

There it was, propped against a leather recliner, the king’s throne in the living room.

The painting itself was nothing remarkable: a sloppy unicorn with a wavering silver and pink horn, pawing and prancing before a two-dimensional blue lake. Blob fairies hovered in the background like squashed bugs. Merrick preferred small canvases; it would definitely fit in Keldon’s briefcase. The technique was not impressive, sloppy brush strokes and clumsy attempts at adding distinction. Actually, he reflected, the word technique did not apply at all. The finished product contained all the charm of a paint-by-numbers completed by an inattentive ten-year-old. In fact, it could easily hide in a thrift shop unnoticed, forever scorned by anyone who happened to see it dangling from a crooked hook behind a box of jigsaw puzzles in the back corner. Except for its distinction: painted by a mass murderer. Suddenly, the ugly unicorn painting had value.

“Here’s the thing,” Mrs. Turner announced as soon as she had been reunited with her greasy-haired husband and his pointed Brylcreem moustache. She looked at him for confirmation, and he glanced at Keldon with uneasy eyes. “We think it’s worth a lot more than you’re offering.”

Keldon nodded, wanting to give the appearance of seriously considering her. “What makes you think so?”

“Well, some friends of ours said we might get more money if we had an auction for it online. Said other people besides your rich friend might want it. A lot of rich people might want it.”

Keldon studied them, their living room, re-evaluating the assumptions he had made about them and their lifestyle. A PlayStation and its corresponding cartridges and equipment dominated one-quarter of the living room floor, a giant flat- screen television plastered a nearby wall. Plastic knickknacks and faded landscape prints attempted to transform the bleak room into something cheerful and homey. They failed. Keldon noticed the plastic basket of unwashed clothes sitting on the patterned couch and found it depressing. Dirty plates and a pizza box sat unacknowledged on the coffee table near him. Knowing he was coming, they hadn’t even bothered to straighten up.

All these details he recounted, reminding himself to make assumptions and observations but to resist becoming too attached to them. Through assumptions, he might learn how to conduct himself. But through assumptions, he could also misstep, so he constantly re-examined what he thought he knew and how he thought he knew it.

They hadn’t offered him a seat.

“May I?” He indicated the couch.

Donna Turner inclined her head in irritated agreement, though the idea clearly did not please her. From her reluctance, Keldon understood they had planned to explain their decision to renege and then ask him to leave. His taking a seat was a fly in their ointment, a prelude to greater conversation they did not wish to have.

He realized he would have to pry the painting from their fingers. If not literally, then metaphorically.

“Auction where?” Keldon tried to sound pleasant. “No real auction house will have you because the item for auction is so reprehensible.”

“Someone will take it,” Gerald Turner said, finally contributing. “If they think it will get good bids, they’ll take it.”

“No,” Keldon said, “they won’t. Not Christie’s. Not Sotheby’s. Not Bonhams or Fellows. Sure, this painting may create some cash for them, but more important than a cut on an ugly painting is their reputation. Nobody wants to be the auction house that cared so little for common decency that they were willing to profit extensively from a serial killer’s unicorn fantasy painted from death row. They aren’t ghouls.”

The arrow found its mark, and Donna Turner recoiled slightly, enough for Keldon to decide this approach worked. She understood that he had implied ghouls to mean them as well. He assumed the Turners wanted more money but not the publicity, and that would help him prevail. Keldon wasn’t proud of what he was willing to do, the things he would say to win this negotiation. But he wasn’t hired to be polite. He was hired to acquire the painting. His bonus—his future—depended on winning all fifteen paintings on the list. This was only the fourth.

Keldon adjusted the knot of his tie. “Would you take your grandmother’s antique clock to the same auction house that represented serial-killer art? No. You would not.”

“There’s always eBay,” Donna said defiantly, jutting out her chin.

“Yes,” Keldon said, doing his best to look agreeable. “That would work. Of course, it would take months. Maybe a year. You couldn’t sell the painting for full value without a rigorous validation process. You’d have to ship the painting to a laboratory where they could confirm the paint style, the brush strokes, and so forth. Standard wait time is six months depending on their backlog. I’m only estimating.”

“It’s real,” Donna said crossly. “He sent it from prison.”

“Absolutely,” Keldon said. “I don’t doubt you one bit. However, if you’re going to sell ugly, undistinguished art where its only value is proven authenticity, you must have it evaluated and validated by credible outside sources. With the artist dead, if they don’t have any valid means of confirming Merrick painted this, it could take longer. The process is expensive, too, several thousands of dollars paid before you even know if they can confirm authenticity. So, hopefully your big eBay auction would recoup those costs. You might. But usually, the people with a horrible fascination for serial-killer art aren’t flush with money.”

“Except your client,” Gerald said.

“Yes,” Keldon said pleasantly. “Except my client.”

He physically witnessed the Turners’ resolve crumbling, but instead of feeling triumphant, he felt nothing but irritation at the inevitable decision they would make. Keldon knew how to close this deal but resented that he had to re-convince them to sell as he had on both of the previous visits. He sensed they were driven by immediate financial gain, and the thought popped into his head that like recognizes like. He felt revulsion, though he could not tell with whom—them, the artist, his employer, or himself for accepting this job.

He smiled politely and did his best to look affable. “Of course, the negative publicity from selling serial-killer art for the most profit will make you media targets. People will come out of the woodwork to hate on you. I mean, what kind of monsters seek profit from other parents’ inconsolable, lifelong grief? Once the media understands you entertained a decent offer but it simply wasn’t enough money to satisfy…”

Keldon felt his stomach flip. It was an awful thing to say to them. He knew it. He definitely hated himself.

Gerald Turner stood up. “That’s enough. You should leave.”

Keldon remained seated. “I should. But have you thought about your own kids? Hand over the painting to me today, and you’ll have money immediately and perhaps be able to pay off that shiny TV in the corner. I suspect you need this money real quick, given the way you have showered me with questions about payment and how soon you could cash the check. I’m guessing you need that money right now. You sell this on eBay and not only will it take time and cost you money, but your kids will grow up under the shadow of parents who sought to cash in on seventeen murdered hitchhikers and other victims, too. It will haunt them. It will haunt you.”

Donna said, “We’ll sell it anonymously. Nobody will know.”

“Donna,” Keldon said in a patronizing tone, and he saw her displeasure at his familiarity. “We found you with very little effort. How long do you think it will take for the media to find you? The whole world will find out. And since the killer is dead, the outrage and disgust will naturally turn to those profiting from his artistic endeavors.”

Keldon had no clue how difficult it had been to find the Turners. He had only been given a manila folder with the Turners’ information and told, “Acquire it.” But he hoped he had overtly threatened them enough. Instinctively, Keldon felt his client would have no problem releasing the Turners’ information to the press.

Donna jabbed a finger in his direction. “Hey, I corresponded with that asshole for sixteen months in prison, pretending to be a fan, an admirer of his lunacy just to get one of those paintings, because I knew it would be worth something one day.”

Keldon nodded. “Yes. And you were right. My client found you and offered you money.”

“I want more.” She snapped her mouth shut. “This ought to be worth something. I spent sixteen months—”

Keldon held up a hand to interrupt. “If you’re trying to impress upon me that you sank to the lowest possible depths of depravity in whoring yourself to a serial killer, don’t worry, I believe you. I have no doubt you were vile in your letters. Trust me, I believe you. Why don’t you sell those on eBay instead?”

She glared at Keldon, but said nothing.

“I wonder”—Keldon paused and gazed at the ceiling— “what you wrote to gain his favor. To make your letters really stand out. You probably pretended to be a teenage girl, maybe in the age range he liked to kill, and convinced him he was just misunderstood. If you two had only met some rainy night when you were walking home and become friends…yes, I’m sure the letters are something you’d be proud to show your kids. Your family.”

“She earned it,” Gerald said, his irritation growing to match hers.

“I’m sure she did,” Keldon said. “So show the whole world. Publish the letters. Show them what small-town America can do when motivated by greed with no regard to decency.”

They said nothing to Keldon but did not look at each other, either.

He feared he pushed too hard. He didn’t know what she wrote, but her slight facial twitch suggested he wasn’t far off the mark. Whatever she wrote, she didn’t want it seen. Keldon didn’t like the hard edge he now displayed, crisp and adversarial. He had said horrible things to the Turners. But they had agreed to the offer and since then had changed their minds, tried to renege. It was his job to see they followed through.

Keldon studied them both. “My client offered you a reasonable amount for the painting. I’d suggest you take the deal.”

Donna Turner sputtered. “Your shitty client is no better than us. You can’t show up here and act better than us.”

“Yeah,” her husband said, “he wants it too. Probably to sell online.”

“Perhaps,” Keldon said. “I have no idea why my client wants it. Today, I came with your check. I will hand it over after you sign the paperwork guaranteeing a full year’s silence on this purchase. The gag order prohibits you from speaking to anyone about this transaction, relatives, friends, media—”

“We know,” Donna said. “It’s not fair. We should be able to talk about it.”

“You may. In one year. As we discussed on my last visit, if you speak to anyone before the year expires, legally you owe my client one hundred thousand dollars. And since the only possession of yours with that value is your home, you’d be making yourselves homeless for the privilege of breaking the gag order. And I should probably impress upon you that my client has no problem pursuing the financial restitution of your home. He may not need money, but he will gladly see you punished. He’s not the forgiving type. And if you think you can anonymously leak your news to a media outlet, remember that my client has the money to pay for investigators to track down a leak.”

Donna said, “Tell Mr. Mercer to give us an extra $10,000. It’s worth that much.”

Keldon said, “No.”

“You’re not the boss,” Gerald Turner said. “You shouldn’t answer without your boss.”

“Mr. Mercer will say no.”

Donna crossed her arms. “We’re not signing your piece of paper or turning over that unicorn shit until you take that offer to your boss and get it approved. You’ll have to come back another day.”

Keldon studied them. He thought about pushing the “what about your kids” angle again, but while they flinched with the perception of bad parenting, they didn’t bite enough to convince him that was their greatest concern. They seemed a little too self- centered for that. It had worked with Acquisition Number Two, a bland painting depicting a sunrise over Saturn, but he did not believe that strategy would work again with the Turners. Still, he felt they were close to caving.

“Okay,” Keldon said. “I’ll ask.”

Keldon had established with his employer that today he would pick up Number Four. She had promised to remain on standby, so he texted his client. Mrs. Maggiarra had insisted Keldon present a fictitious art patron named Byron Mercer as the collector behind the acquisitions, so nobody would suspect her true identity. She pretended to be Mr. Mercer’s secretary. Keldon typed while they watched.

Mr. Mercer, the Turners want an additional 10K. Also, Donna Turner probably defrauded Merrick in prison by misrepresenting herself. If that’s so, the Turners may not legally have rights to the painting. Withdraw offer?

Keldon smiled pleasantly while they scowled. He knew he wouldn’t wait long, and in fact, the reply came almost right away.

Disgusting. Drop the offer by 1K and give them four minutes to decide. If they decline, leave and call the police.

Keldon read the text and smiled. “Mr. Mercer counter offered.”

He rose from the couch to stand before them, showing them the text exchange on his phone.

Within five minutes, he left the Turner home with the unicorn painting in his briefcase. He was glad to leave. He drove through town, past the garden with cow-painted columns, but when he passed the downtown Sewing Shoppe, he could not contain it any longer. He eased into a diagonal parking slot away from other cars, and after turning off the car, Keldon cried into his hands, sobbing for a full five minutes, but he did not know why.

***

Purchase on Wilde City:  http://www.edmondmanning.com/2014/07/26/filthy-acquisitions-chapter-1/

Paperback and e-book to follow soon on amazon.com