We interrupt your regularly-scheduled AWP updates to bring you an [unexpected] excerpt from “The New Sophisticates: A Novel”

Sunday, Omaha, NE, 7:09 A.M. CST

Newport Landing, Bennington

Drew Whitaker looks at the clock and remembers how good it feels to sleep in past 6:00 A.M.  He checks his BlackBerry for any missed messages, calls and the latest RSS-news-feeds to see whether or not it’s even worth venturing out in the cold to the end of his driveway simply to retrieve his paper.  Meredith Tomlin lies nearly motionless on the other side of the bed, sound asleep, curled into a delicate ‘S’ on her right side, one of Drew’s Pottery Barn 650 fill-power supreme goose-down pillows tucked snugly underneath one of her arms, cradling her neck.  Her breathing is almost silent, beautiful.

Drew carefully tosses his legs over the side of the bed and slips into his pair of Cole Haan Zermatt “old man”[1] slippers and shuffles to the bathroom—the way footwear with no heel requires of one—to retrieve from behind the door the very same Paul Smith robe his father’d bought him just before he’d left for Columbia.  Drew makes his way down the curving staircase and past the den where his two greyhounds, Einstein and Samson, lie curled up tightly on their plush dog beds, turning only a lazy eye toward their master as he makes his way to the kitchen.

For some reason the house feels chilly and Drew notices the thermostat has been switched over to its off position versus its typical auto setting.  He resets it to automatic and punches in 72 degrees, the furnace kicking on immediately.  The outdoor thermometer’s indoor display reads 26 degrees and Drew briefly considers how important reading the Sunday newspaper really is to him.  However, on Sundays, Drew receives the New York Times because A) it’s an infinitely better paper than the local Omaha World Herald and B) Sunday is really the only day he’s got time to actually sit down and read anything that isn’t work-related.

The Bodum Arabica Thermal French Press is hot, which means Margaret has already made her morning pass through the house—silently pressing the coffee, tidying up, then flitting away before he’d even known she was there.  And the fact that the paper is still at the end of the driveway and the coffee is still hot and Margaret is already gone means that the paper delivery guy was late.  Again.  Which absolutely nettles him more than just a little since the paper only gets delivered once a week for Christ’s sake, and so Drew decides he really needs to make a call about this weekly inconvenience first thing tomorrow morning.

Drew pads across the foyer and proceeds outside through his double entry Borano Bormio V front doors and briskly walks down his drive toward the mailboxes.  He considers it’s likely that the paper delivery guy/gal/whoever actually has to put forth a concerted effort in order to somehow always—week after week—land Drew’s NY Times, simultaneously, as close to the street and as far from his house as humanly possible with such precision and consistency.  Drew steals a glance to his left as he makes for the paper’s resting place and sees his neighbor’s left-side garage door going part-way up and then back down.

“That you out there Whitaker?” a voice from somewhere beneath the automatic doors emanates.

“Albus?” Drew says, picking up his frozen copy of The Times.  “Is that you under there?”

“Yep,” the voice says, garage opening all the way, “just me.  Finally got someone out here to fix this goddamn thing.”

“Garage door troubles?”  Drew briefly considers the possibility that me might be literally freezing his balls off.

“I’ll be goddamned if this thing’s ever worked right since I moved in.”

“Looks like it’s working now.”

“You bet your ass.  For a grand, it’d better be!”

“They charged you a thousand dollars?”  Drew wonders why he keeps asking garage door-related questions—or any questions at all for that matter—when he’s wearing only a robe and slippers in 26-degrees Fahrenheit air.

“Damn near replaced everything except for the actual doors.  It’ll probably work for a hundred more years now.”

“Well, I certainly wish you the health to live long enough to see that.”  Drew is nearly to his double front doors with no intentions of dawdling any longer.

“Oh, Christ—not me, Doc!  Gotta know when to fold em, which, if I were still a gambling man, I’d bet I’ll be doing long before then—foldin em, that is.”

“Well, in any event, it was a pleasure talking to you, Albus, as always.”

Drew is already back inside his foyer—teeth, a’chatter—before a response reaches his ears, his doors closed before only the faintest recognition of words that sound like they could have come from the mouth of Albus Bartleby permeate, though utterly muffled, through the Honduran mahogany and glass.

Einstein and Samson are waiting for Drew when he turns around, wagging their long, skinny tails and panting, wide-eyed, as if to remind him it’s yet another morning and they’d enjoy very much being released into the back yard for a few laps around the fenced perimeter and a shit, thank you very much.  Drew lets the dogs out the back door onto the deck that opens up to a half acre and returns to the kitchen, tossing the defrosting paper on the counter and retrieving a mug from the cabinet in which to pour himself a cup of coffee, black—no need for cream or sugar when it’s been pressed accordingly, he thinks.

He sits at a counter chair and unrolls the Times from its protective orange sleeve and is not just a little astonished to see two local articles plastered right there on the front page of the Times’ national edition: the Who’s Who corporate real estate gala and the deer-slash-mountain lion invasions of Omaha, the latter article pondering the impact the wildlife figures to have on the planned expansion and development of Omaha west– and south-ward toward the city limits of Lincoln.[2]

By the time Drew finishes the article about Omaha’s manifest destiny and subsequent annexation of every– and any-thing in its path, Einstein and Samson are ready to come back in for breakfast and Meredith has materialized at the top of the stairs wearing only a pair of panties and the Ermenegildo Zegna shirt Drew wore yesterday, buttoned ostensibly no more than halfway.

“We need to get you a sexy robe or something to wear when you stay over.”

“Are you saying you don’t like me wearing your stuff?”

“No, I don’t mind at all.  I really dig it, actually.  I was just thinking along the lines of something more comfy and that actually fits.”

“Anything good in there” she says, stepping down the last few stairs into the foyer and nodding at the Times.

“Omaha appears twice on the front page.”

“Wow, really?”

“Yeah, check it out.”  He slides the paper across the granite counter-top.

Meredith skims the front page, flips to the corresponding jumps and shakes her head.

“This place is getting insane,” she says.

“Tell me about it.  Albus was outside this morning playing with his garage door.”

“Playing with it?  He creeps me out.”

“That’s probably a logical sentiment to experience around him.”

“Can I have the Arts section, babe?”

“Sure thing.”

Meredith scoops up the paper from the counter as a cold, wet nose appears from below and nudges her elbow.

“We’ve got a beggar here,” she says.

“Samson! Go lay down,” Drew says, firm.

“At least he’s cute.”

“Someone told me they look like overgrown weasels once.”

“Who said that?”

“Just someone—can’t remember who off the top of my head.  Doesn’t matter.”

“I think they’re gorgeous.”

“Agreed.  Not very bright though.”

“Oh, check this out—Matthew Scott Keohne has some new stuff coming out this week.  He kind of dropped off the map for a while after this last book.”

“Who?”

“Don’t you ever read things that aren’t published in JAMA?”

“I read the Times.”

“…..”

* * *

Sunday, Omaha, NE, 3:20 P.M. CST

Riverfront Condo, Hall Bathroom

Sawyer can’t see his reflection in the mirror at the moment because he’s scrabbling along the tile floor, writhing in almost every conceivable three-dimensional direction, palms clutched his to his face, over his eyes, fingers knurled in various configurations of agony.  He’s been down there for about thirty minutes.  The pain’s onset was rapid.  Even his breathing is now a labored and conscious effort.

Sawyer’d finally managed to wriggle himself up to his knees a few moments ago, bracing his weight against the toilet before freeing his wallet from his back pocket—only then he’d somehow proceeded to drop his wallet in the process of trying to retrieve the special Harvard items from behind his dollar bills with his appreciably shaky hands, and so his wallet of course—at the irresistible mercy of gravity—fell splashing down into the toilet, the lid of which Sawyer’d thought to raise in a preemptive maneuver to address his very uncommon cluster headache-related nausea.

And so then the aforementioned wallet-to-toilet sequence of events just about completely shoved Sawyer over the edge of his already deteriorated capacity for concurrently tolerating pain and stress, and so said sequence of events probably would have shoved him right on over had he not (luckily) managed to pinch one of the two Harvard items between his thumb and forefinger before accidentally depositing his wallet into the shiny, white basin filled with chemically-treated, though environmentally-friendly, coolish, clear water.

And so Sawyer, not really in the exact frame of mind to stop and think about a whole lot else, places the innocuous off-white blotter tab on his tongue and is happily surprised with the rapidity with which it dissolves.  There isn’t much of a flavor to speak of, but a sort of pseudo-aspartame-like aftertaste does linger.  Sawyer, eases himself back down to the floor with a spasm’d hand still clutching his face where the imaginary icepick seems lodged inside his right eye-socket.  He considers experiences likely more pleasurable than this, his current one: castration by butter knife, disembowelment via soup spoon, medieval torture implements such as the rack, the iron maiden, flagellation, drawing and quartering or thumb screws.

The pain finally begins to dissipate after another 20 minutes or so, give or take.  Sawyer’s clothes are soaked through with sweat.  He’s feeling a little dizzy and not at all in tip-top shape but—most unbelievably of all—the pain is gone.  It’s just fucking vanished.  And he isn’t sure where Ashley is or why she’s been gone all day on a Sunday, but Sawyer figures his best bet as of right now is to sleep off the dizziness and reassess everything at a time a little later when he doesn’t feel like he’s teetering on the verge of imminent death.

He carefully makes his way to the bedroom, fearing that any sudden movement might reverse the effects of the 2-BromoLSDIt’s working; don’t fuck with it, he thinks.  Sawyer carefully eases himself into the bed, underneath his freshly-laundered Frette sheets and reaches for his BlackBerry.

* * *

November 23rd

Monday, Los Angeles, CA, 1:39 P.M. PST (3:39 P.M. CST)

Dingbaum Land Company HQ, Century City

“How are the population figures looking, Ribble?”

“Sir?”

“The wildlife population numbers.  In Nebraska.  How are they looking?”

“Oh, yes, right.  The numbers are looking healthy.  We’re seeing growth in both species’ populations and our transplant teams have remained completely undetected thus far.”

“This is good news.  You know how much I love good news after my post-lunch massage.  Bad news just brings all of that tension back into my body and I honestly feel the only thing that helps is to fire someone. Ostensibly.”

“That’s completely understandable, Mr. Dingbaum.”

“And I wanted to personally thank you for escorting my father down to the Omaha gala Saturday night.  I’ve heard rumors that a near catastrophic social faux pas, regarding a lack of pants, was narrowly averted by your quick thinking.”

“Oh, thank you, sir.  It was nothing, I can assure you.”

“You’re just being modest.  Those idiots Godfrey and Pearson would’ve likely needed to call you or I—or even potentially both of us—to ameliorate the goddamn situation.  I swear those two couldn’t find their assholes without first asking someone to remind them that it encompasses the permanent location of their heads and their singular, shared-brain.”

“The pleasure was all mine, I assure you.”

“And making sure the old man was able to have a steak.  Mahogany is a fantastic place to dine, or so I hear.  Red meat is just so dreadfully hard on the digestive system.  You are a prince among men for suffering through it all.”

“Mr. Dingbaum, you flatter, really, but it really was honestly nothing.  Irregardless, sir, I do appreciate the compliments.”

“What was that, Ribble?”

“I said I appreciate the compliments, Mr. Dingbaum, sir.”

“No, before that.”

“I believe I said thank you.”

“After that, Ribble.  Jesus H. Christ, are you just fucking with me now?”

“Sir?”

“You said irregardless, did you not?”

“Oh, perhaps, yes, I believe I might have.”

“There is no perhaps, Ribble.  You said it!  Irregardless is not a fucking word!  You can say regardless, or you can say irrespective; but under no circumstances, whatsoever—unless you are doing as I am now, which is to say, blatantly pointing out a word that does not exist, has never existed, will hopefully never exist and yet somehow has found its way into the masses’ collective vocabulary—under no circumstances do you say irregardless.  Ever.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.  It won’t happen again.”

“Fuck me, I always find a way to regret saying good things about people—it never fails.”

“I apologize.  Please tell me what I can do to immediately remedy this situation, sir.”

“Get me a Valium.  Or a Xanax.  Or one of each.  Just get me something—my goddamn nerves are shot now.”

“I’m on it.”

“Mine is a stressful job, Ribble!  Act like you’ve got a shred of common fucking sense from now on.”

“I will, sir.  Here are your tablets, Mr. Dingbaum, er, sir.”

“Would you like me to simply voodoo some fucking water out of thin air to take these with?  Or should I see if I can work up enough saliva to prevent myself from choking?  Which would be more amusing to you, Ribble?”

“Sir?”

“I’m obviously simply here for shits and giggles, Ribble—you’re personal amusement.  So tell me, which option would you find funnier?”

“Sir, neither of those would appeal to my sense of humor—at all—because you are a very respectable and powerful man, and I’ll fetch you some chilled Perrier right away with a glass, because that’s what would make me the happiest as of this moment, currently speaking.”

“That seems like the most reasonable conclusion, and you came to it all on your own.  I’ll wait here.  Put a rush on it if you would.”

“I will.  No worries at all, sir.  I’ve got this situation completely under control at this particular juncture.”

“Be sure that you do.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And Ribble?”

“Sir?”

“Have the arrangements been made for our Omaha colleague’s impending visit?”

“Yes, indeed they have Mr. Dingbaum.  Thursday, as scheduled.”

“I trust you’ve taken the liberty of freeing up your own schedule as well?”

“I have, sir.  The family is somewhat disappointed that I won’t be there for pumpkin pie and carving the turkey, but we’ve got an adequate number of males in my family to take up the slack, if you will.”

“I’m sensing a tone, Ribble.  ”

“A tone, sir?”

“Yes, I believe I detected a tone.  A fairly unpleasant, sort of biting, or chewing type of tone—or even, perhaps, a tone so attenuated as to merely be a kind of ancillary, nonverbal intimation of what would typically be considered, quote, ‘barely-in-excess-of,’ indiscernible levels of sarcasm.”

“I’m not sure I know exactly what you just said, Mr. Dingbaum, but no unpleasant tone was intended.”

“Because for a split, what some might, again, call a micro, fraction of a second, I was having the vaguest notion or inclination of a tone treading the line between a displeasing and disagreeable persuasion.”

“No, sir.  That doesn’t sound like me.”

“And you are positive of this?”

“Completely and utterly positive with respect to any biting or acerbic tones that you may have sensed coming from my general direction or person, sir.”

“Good, OK then.  Is there anything else?”

“I don’t believe so, sir, no.”

“Then let’s begin appraising our prairie development stratagem.  Call Pearson and Godfrey into my office, would you Ribble?”

“I can certainly do that, sir.”

* * *


[1] As Meredith always calls them.

[2] State officials have remained diligent with respect to the process of conceiving and then actualizing the Omaha-Lincoln Metropolitan Area as part of the OLMA Metropolis Project, which will one day be home to some 1.2 million people and, consequently, attract larger corporations and businesses and will thus, on paper anyway, boost state revenue into a realm of dollars only describable as “exponentially more than present.”

(2,834 words)

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2 thoughts on “We interrupt your regularly-scheduled AWP updates to bring you an [unexpected] excerpt from “The New Sophisticates: A Novel”

  1. Mindi Wims says:

    Wow, I never knew this, much appreciated.

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