I’m giving away an autographed paperback copy of my new novel The Answer Is. Simply leave a comment below this post telling me what your answer is to a happy life. I’ll draw a name from the accumulated comments at random on Friday, July 10 at noon.
Here’s an excerpt introducing you to one of my more colorful characters. Enjoy!
JP leaned forward and fingered the miniature snow globe on the desk because focusing on the pretty piece allowed him to avoid his new boss’s assessing gaze. The globe held a gilded village caught in a snowstorm, a land where magic was possible, where love and miracles could happen. He picked it up and shook it hard, wreaking havoc upon the immobile, captive inhabitants.
“Let me get this straight,” Stewart Dimple, his boss and former colleague, said. “You don’t want a byline on this piece?”
“It’s not a ‘piece,’” he said. “It’s a few lame paragraphs about a university art show. No one cares.” I certainly don’t… or I didn’t.
“It’s your job to make them care.”
JP had nothing to say to that, nothing that would help him keep his job, anyway, such as it was.
“You may have been a big shot in Baltimore, able to write about whatever you wanted, but you fucked that up—”
“I know what I did—”
“—so now you write what you’re told.”
“Yeah, yeah, Stew.” JP pointed at the computer on the big desk. “It’s written, isn’t it?”
He’d reluctantly attended the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the art show, talked to a couple of the artists and guests, asking questions to get enough color and details to fill a couple of column inches as quickly as possible. He had better things to do, men to do, but then… he’d seen Lonnie Bellerose walk out of a back room.
His Lonnie, the man he’d fucked over and mistreated before landing in rehab. JP had lingered out of sight, watching Lonnie chat with professors and art lovers. His hair was the same, wild. His light brown skin flawless. Same tight, lean-muscled body. He wasn’t surprised by his cock growing hard, but the ache in his heart had caught him off guard.
Lonnie was apparently on his own for the gathering, and JP had considered approaching him, but changed his mind at the last second. He wasn’t sure how he’d be received. Despite Lonnie’s open, warm smile as he listened to attendees blow smoke up his ass, there was a sadness in his eyes, a sadness JP suspected he had caused. He felt a momentary twinge of guilt but dismissed it, heading out to find a bar and a fresh fuck to distract him.
Spotting Lonnie at the show was the main reason he didn’t want a byline. The artist was sure to read the account of the evening, and JP wasn’t ready for him to know he was back in town. “What’s next?” he asked Stewart.
The man huffed and tapped a few keys on his computer. “There. No byline, as you requested.” He shuffled a few papers on his desk. “Now this next assignment will require a byline. It’s your typical ‘local folks make good’ series. Your profiles will anchor the Community page each week.”
“Not really my purview, though, is it?” JP affected his most disinterested expression as he ignored the frown that clouded his boss’s face.
“Given your history, not much is your purview anymore.” Stewart slid a folder toward him and leaned back in his chair, hands clasped confidently over his abundant belly. “Your penchant for nose candy blew everything out of the water, so the crime beat or the mayor’s office—one and the same lately—will need to be earned, regardless of your experience.”
JP hesitated a moment before snatching up the folder. He didn’t have a choice in the matter, and Stewart knew it, judging by the abundance of smug on his ruddy face. JP was aware he only had this job because Stewart and he had worked together for a few years in Baltimore before the guy had taken over the tiny Overbrook Times.
With his court-appointed rehab completed, the conditions of JP’s probation were to stay sober, attend regular NA meetings, and stay employed. He’d just come from a morning meeting, his last for a few days. He did the minimum of two a week and now had an entire weekend free from listening to seemingly endless horror stories of loserdom. He’d never shared his own. His story was no one else’s business, and of course, he wasn’t a loser.
Speaking of losers, he thought as he opened the folder. It held his assignments, several lame human-interest pieces: some unwed mother had finally secured her college education, and her rug rats were oh so proud; an ex-con had opened an auto body shop; a grandmother and her grandson had won a national contest with a spectacular baked potato recipe. Really?
Spectacular? It’s a potato. And some dude had lost his father as a boy—boo-fuckin’-hoo—but was now making his mark in Overbrook. Oh my God, shoot me now.
JP knew not to express his feelings out loud. After all, these stories would be the next step on the road back to his previous life. To his respected job, his luxury apartment in Baltimore, his friends. Though he’d been warned about the dangers of hooking up with former pals, people he used to get high with, he had plenty of other people who cared about him, people he had never partied with. At least he used to.
There was Carole—Karen?—from The Baltimore Sun front desk, a sensible mother of three who always asked how he was doing when he showed up for work; Stewart, currently sitting across from him, wheezing through his cigar-damaged lungs and watching him with beady black eyes; Lonnie, of course; his… his building maintenance man, whose name escaped him at the moment. They were, or had been, his friends. They had cared at one time… before he let it all go to hell.
He flipped through the files, giving them a quick scan and looking at the bare bones of data on each subject—age, story angle, contact information, photo. The pictures had come from various places: a graduation, a gym membership, community functions, the DMV, etc.
“Damn. That’s one big dude,” he said, pausing on one photo. He glanced at Stewart, who nodded. “He got a record?”
“Nope. By all accounts a good kid.”
“How many baby mommas?”
“None that we know of.” Stewart frowned. “His father was killed in a robbery of the family store when he was just ten. Raised by his mother. Been working at Lincoln Frye Home Improvement for years.” Stewart sighed, leaned forward, and clasped his hands on the desk. “I think Frye is some sorta surrogate daddy.”
“What’s his deal? I get that he overcame adversity and blah, blah, blah, but—”
“Check the catalog.”
JP turned another page and found a glossy sheet showing handmade furniture. “Damn,” he whispered.
“He made these?” He met his boss’s eyes in disbelief, then examined the catalog and photo of his subject again. The man looked like a destroyer of worlds, not a woodworking artist.
“Contact info’s all there. Good luck.”
Summarily dismissed, he replaced the snow globe and left the office, carrying the file with him. He made his way to his new cubicle. Banished to live among the peons. Fabulous. Well, he figured being arrested for cocaine possession, public intoxication, and destruction of property would do that for you.
He removed the photographs of his subjects from the file and stared at them for a moment before setting the furniture maker aside. “I’ll save the best for last,” he mumbled as he fingered the picture. The subject was a good-looking man. Unblemished dark skin, shaved head, and kind eyes, if you got past your initial fear. “So, Mr. Jamison Coburn,” JP whispered, “what’s your story?”
Remember to leave your comment below on what makes a happy life, and good luck!