Tag Archives: Novel

My 2013 is Going Out With a Bang!

awesome

Well, this has certainly been a pretty kickass year overall for Cat13, despite not writing too many new things — especially when factoring in the second half of the year! Is it a coincidence w/r/t the number 13 and its sheer awesomeness? The moon’s gravitational pull on the tides? Swamp gas? You’ll have to decide. . . .

I found out around June that my “collectio[novel]la” Shenanigans! was a Finalist for a Next Generation Indie Book Award.

My newest short story, “Now You See Me” was published over at Bartleby Snopes, which then managed to snag “Story of the Month” honors for October!

InDigest Magazine had a killer relaunch recently and “Mr. Twitchy,” a chapter excerpt from my forthcoming novel Human Services is featured in the latest issue (and live online).

There rumblings on the music front too. Without too much build up, here we go guys/gals: some remixes I did a long time ago (1999*) before it was easy to do using Traktor or Serato [yes, I know I’m old]: A Gravitaas Playlist: “SDK Sampler Ninety-Nine,” in all its (pseudo-)glory!

More news on the music front, the extraordinarily- and multi-talented Peter Tieryas Liu used a few of my tracks in some new video reviews, which is both awesome and humbling! I’ve listed two below:

HTML Giant featured Peter’s review of The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting Improvised Men by Gabriel Blackwell.

— And inspired by his review for The Lit Pub, Peter created a video for Janice Lee’s Damnation.

I’m working on a collaboration essay for The Good Men Project. More details to follow!

There is also some big news/a possible killer opportunity brewing for something on the horizon — but even I have to wait ’til Monday for more news.

Stay tuned (and bring on 2014!)!!

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Stan Manley is not a good driver | 12.23.11

I was having a bit of trouble getting productive earlier today. It’s been one of those days; what can I say? But @alananoel and @mensahdemary challenged me, over Twitter, to just write 750 words in about an hour. I thought it’d be tough given the amount of trouble I’d been having sticking with anything resembling work today, but I’m happy to report that I finished with 796 words and potentially another (start of a) chapter of my novel. All’s well that ends well!

Stan Manley is not a good driver. No one who knows Stan well would contradict this statement. Even Stan’s mother—a woman who believes Stan can basically do no wrong, ever—refuses to ride with Stan unless all other transportation options have been exhausted. Stan’s chief problem, at least where the operation of motor vehicles is concerned, is that he unfailingly tries to do what he thinks his passengers want him to do, which he does in the interest of pursuing the path of least resistance and maximum driving harmony for all passengers. However, someone as highly anxious as Stan tries to be, for lack of a better term, vehicularly utilitarian, he panics, and the situation quickly deteriorates into utter chaos.

Passengers experience abrupt, somewhat violent lane changes precipitated merely by a passenger’s wayward glance, i.e. if he or she turns his/her head too quickly—a sure sign, Stan thinks, that he’s managed to miss his exit. Jerky stop-and-go acceleration and braking ensues signaling Stan’s attempt to gauge his passenger’s desired speed—a circumstance greatly worsened when Stan finds himself operating a car with a manual transmission, whereby a clutch pedal is added to the whole driving dynamic. Friends also joke that traces of Stan’s childhood dyslexia rear its head when he puts on his left blinker for a right-hand turn.

As a consequence, most times when Stan is with a group of friends or coworkers who need transportation, he simply opts for riding along, as a passenger. Stan, however, is, himself, a model passenger, never uttering a word of criticism despite the inordinate amount of shit he personally gets for his own driving abilities (or lack thereof). However, in a city with a public transportation system that leaves as much to be desired as Omaha’s, it’s nearly impossible to get around efficiently without driving “there” yourself, or catching a ride with a friend. Unfortunately, even when Stan is navigating the grid-patterned streets solo, it’s a no less harrowing experience.

Arguably, Stan’s biggest problem with respect to driving is overthinking. Many people are horrible drivers because of overestimating their abilities where multitasking is concerned. This is not applicable to Stan. Stan does not text while driving, nor does he talk on his smartphone. The mere thought of rear-ending another vehicle at forty-some-miles-per-hour because he was looking down to correct the autocorrected version of whatever he might have been trying to type causes Stan symptoms that suggest imminent hyperventilation.

Stan does not have to worry about being distracted by manipulating the dials on his stereo either. He drives in complete silence. There’s always a chance someone will call him while he’s driving and a too-loud stereo would prevent him from hearing his smartphone’s ringer. In the event he does receive a call, Stan immediately pulls over to the side of the road to answer it. Stan is also worried that he’ll be unable to hear the approach of an emergency vehicle over his music and thus, be unable to react in an appropriate and defensive-type way he was taught in high school driver’s ed. classes—classes Stan personally found tremendously helpful and of which he could never understand the nearly universal scorn of his fellow classmates.

Continue reading

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Me reading in a video and stuff

I’ve meant to post this for a while but that’s really no excuse for how long it’s taken me! This is me reading chapter 1 of my novel-in-progress, Human Services (with a truly fantastic introduction given by the wonderful and talented, Amy Hassinger). Enjoy!

Joseph Michael Owens reading “Contemptibly, A Hair” – Graduating MFA Residency from Joseph Owens on Vimeo.

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“The New Thing” finally has an official title!

…and a (semi)sweet-ass plot synopsis to go with it! Here it is in a roughly sketched form, below:

HUMAN SERVICES is a novel about people. Flawed people. Damaged people. More specifically, it’s a novel about flawed and damaged people desperately trying to help other flawed and damaged people. Problems arise when the unnamed Midwestern state’s government decides to privatize its Department of Health and Human Services, giving lead contracts to large, out-of-state corporate entities.

Rumors of imminent bankruptcy now facing the Furlong & Associates Agency begin to run rampant. Human service workers begin jumping ship. Supervisors weigh employment options against an inevitable economic recession. Everyone involved with The Agency is on pins and needles.

The ultimate success or failure depends on the business savvy of the Furlong & Associates upper management and their employees coming together as a team—as a family, even—putting aside petty personal rivalries for the future survival of The Agency.

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And the beat goes on: writing a novel, the editing process & working with Alan Rinzler

Writing a novel takes a while; don’t let anyone tell you differently.  Even when you are moving along at what appears to be warp speed in the writing world, you’re invariably on the cusp of realizing you still have a long ways to go — which is a really good thing, believe it or not!

Besides having had an amazing and wonderful experience working on my novel with my two MFA mentors (Catherine Texier and Patricia Lear, you guys rock!), I’ve also had the privilege of working with one of the best editors in the biz, Alan Rinzler.  One of the great things about working with an editor who is up to his eyeballs with responsibilities is that he won’t sugarcoat anything for you.

After Alan read through the first [very rough] 77,163 words, he said, “The writing’s pretty good but there are a few core concept issues here,” and offered to help me fix them.  We talked on the phone for an hour which was ostensibly a preliminary consultation, possibly to find out how we’d work together, but more so that I could get a feel for what Alan thought was working and what wasn’t, not to mention what was needed.

We hung up, I trimmed away14,752 superfluous words and drafted a  new full-length outline of the book as I was imagining it and sent it to him a few weeks later.  In the mean time, I’d also written another new 11,698 words to bring my novel’s total word count back up to 74,109.

We’ve since touched base and he definitely gave it a thorough read through.  It’s always interesting to see what people who edit for a living spot that you have managed to miss throughout your umpteen number of drafts.  The most significant suggestion he had was to — and I think this is the part that breaks more sane people — start from page one and begin working on a new draft.  Actually, his suggestion was to reconstruct the outline and then start from page one.  This is not an uncommon practice.  My favorite writer, David Foster Wallace, was known as a 5 draft author; the first two full-length drafts, he’d actually write out by hand.

And because I love both challenges and masochism equally, I suggested to Alan that, since it has historically been my strongest P.O.V., why don’t I write my second draft from the first person?  He thought this was a really good idea and that was that; I began sketching out ideas on my outline for a 1st person P.O.V. narrative. I’m actually pretty excited about this, I think it’s going to be even better!

So what does that mean for my previous draft?  Well, I’m going to post sections of the old 3rd person draft right here on my website, of course!  I won’t be giving away the end, though.  I’ve just written a lot of pages that I think are good and I’d really like to get them in front of the eyes of an audience.  So without further ado, a new section from the first [now old] draft:

Friday, Omaha, NE, 8:56 A.M. CST

Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co. Offices

“Sawyer?”

“Doctor Heinzegger—how are you?”

“I’m fine Sawyer, but I suppose the more pertinent question at the moment would be, how are you?”

“Oh, man Doc, I really wish I could say for sure one way or the other.”

“Yes, your message just now sounded quite urgent, and I was honestly more than a little surprised to hear that it was your voice.  I mean, since you’d basically up and stopped coming to appointments all of a sudden.”

Yeah…”  Sawyer lets his voice trail off.

“I don’t typically take professional calls while I’m on vacation, but I could really hear a sense of urgency in your message.”

“I wish I could explain it, Doc.  I just—I don’t know—I feel like I’m going to crack.  Like, I need to make a really big decision and it could—and I’m just supposing here—have very undesirable consequences, once all is said and done.”

Mm hmm… Go on.”

“But thinking about this 24/7, I just feel like I’m going to implode—like the pressure’s just going to get to be too much.  But also, if I don’t say something—and I mean, like I said, this is big—then no one will…  And all that pressure that’s been building and building is just—it’s not gonna have anywhere to go, I can tell you that, and I’m going to have a meltdown.  I know I’m rambling, but does that make even a little sense?” Sawyer says, nearly out of breath.

“I see, and yes, it does.”

“And so then—so if I go ahead and clear my conscience, we’ll say—if I talk about what’s on my mind—well, some people might go to prison.  And by some people, that even possibly means me.  And to be perfectly honest, I really don’t want to go to prison.”

Dr. Heinzegger is silent on his end for what could have possibly been a few minutes.  Sawyer is unsure whether or not the doctor is using the time to mull over what he’s just been told, or whether his mind is just completely blown, or if he is even, in fact, still a participant in the present conversation on the other end of the line at all.

“Doc?” Sawyer prods.

“Yes,” he says finally, “I can definitely see your dilemma.”

“So what do you think?”

“I’m just curious Sawyer,” Dr. Heinzegger begins, then pauses: “Is there anything I should know about my investments with your firm?”

“Wait.  What?  Who said anything about the firm?”  Sawyer isn’t sure he heard Dr. Heinzegger correctly.

“I just get the feeling…”

You get the feeling?  Doc, we’re not talking about you right now, we’re talking about a very realistic scenario where I might have a complete nervous breakdown based on either of two unappealing choices I’m considering making, which is a real catch-twenty-fucking-two here.  So please, pardon my saying this, Doctor Heinzegger, but fuck your feelings!”  Sawyer is rapidly gulping in air at this point, chest heaving.

“Sawyer, I honestly don’t think this conversation is very healthy for you—not like this, on the phone.  Would you like me to meet you at my office?  I can make a special arrangement.  I can even come to you—honestly, whatever works,” Dr. Heinzegger says, becoming a great deal more helpful all of a sudden, which, Sawyer decides, is too late since he’s shown his hand and Sawyer doesn’t at all like the cards the doctor is holding.

After a minute or two, Sawyer finally say something: “You want an investing tip?  I think now is a good time to go all in.  I really do—no question.  I mean, shit, they can just tack on my feeding you insider trading information to the prison sentence I’ll no doubt receive.”

“Sawyer, I just—”

“It’s drugs, Doc.  That’s what it always seems to be with me,” Sawyer lies.  “That’s what all their files say—dirty piss tests.  I’m not reliable anymore, but they know it’s not just me, so yeah—go all it, buy it all, whatever shares you have now are about to double, at least.  Call Frank Pelizotti, tell him you just got a good feeling!  He’ll be glad to help, he always is.”

Before Dr. Heinzegger has a chance to respond, Sawyer pushes the “end call” button on his BlackBerry.  He isn’t 100 percent sure why he just told his (now former) therapist to buy a shitload of shares of mostly nonexistent funds with a company that won’t be worth the puny megabytes of data that’ll be used to complete the transaction—but he’s at least 99 percent sure, he knows that last part.  Let the green-eyed monster have a crack at him, Sawyer thinks.  Since time immemorial, it’s been greed that truly eats the rich.

And so that is pretty much that as far as Sawyer is concerned.  The decision’s ostensibly begun to make itself for him.  For once he’s going to be a significant player in the narrative productive of his own life.  For far too many nights now, he’s woken up from the same recurring dream, vivid, the dream where he is on the outside—always on the outside—of a giant ice skating or hockey rink—an arena, extremely large.  Every person he’s ever known and even more people he’s never met, all out there, skating on the ice, participating, everyone—he alone remains is in the stands, observing from behind the safety glass.  In these dreams, Sawyer simply only ever stands and walks—just lingers there—on the perimeter, only ever watching—watching what he knows is (but is never told is) life, his life, playing out in front of him on the ice, he himself utterly lacking a desire to participate, to venture forth from behind the safety glass onto the ice where everything and everyone is, forging parts of their own narratives and welding them to the infinitely expansive wall that surrounds the ice, never taking notice of the sole figure watching from behind the glass, merely staking their claims around the massive skating rink as proof that they were there, really there.

Sawyer is not there, not really.  He isn’t anywhere.  He prefers not to be.

He prefers only to observe and cogitate, trying to make meaning from the infinite variety and combinations that can be synthesized together whenever two ice skaters’ lives meet and then coalesce.  Brave or inquisitive souls swish their sharpened blades under foot, their momentum carrying them effortlessly to the edge, to the perimeter—his perimeter—and the safety glass behind which stands Sawyer, always observing.  Every so often in this dream, some of the people, usually people whom he doesn’t recognize, will skate over to the edge, to the perimeter, likely noticing him for the first time, standing behind the glass—those people from the ice, from life—they’ll approach him, speak to him, make various attempts at communication, but Sawyer unfailingly becomes overwhelmed with anxiety and feels completely unsure of how to respond to them in a manner they’ll feel is appropriate.  The people from the ice reassuringly invite him to join them on the other side, but he gives them only a boyish smile and tells them he does not know how to skate and, thus, does not know how to live life the way they do—because he has never learned—but that he enjoys very much watching them skate and is perfectly content to remain doing so from his preferred vantage behind the safety glass.  They tell him things like, everyone knows how and don’t be silly, it’s just like breathing…to which Sawyer replies that he is very clearly not every-one and that it’s difficult really to say whether or not he is, in fact, even really any-one, at all.

This rejoinder, Sawyer deduces, is never the appropriate response that the ice skaters are hoping for, whom then simply look at one another and shrug before flitting off to rejoin the rest of the people skating, living—the every-one who skates around life’s icy rink as naturally as if it were an ultimately predetermined circumstance that should just simply be so—automated.

Every time the dream is the same.  And each time, Sawyer has never learned or ever had a desire to learn to skate, which he finds sort of odd that he doesn’t find it odd at all.  Always the lone wolf.  In his “real” life, he’s always found himself thrown into groups where—though there hasn’t been other options offered—he’s still always sought his own council, and wondered to himself, why hasn’t anyone ever stopped to think that perhaps not everyone fucking likes ice skating?

So then presently in his office, Sawyer can only stare at the towering stack of folders.  Manila on top of manila on top of manila—stacks of bound eight and a half by eleven sheets—interminable, indefatigable.  For every adjustment he makes, taking the figures from the red and restoring them to the green—because investors and shareholders have conniptions when pecuniary figures are in the red—for every individual transaction he adjusts, two more transactions occur somewhere, dipping the readjusted green figures back into the red, which in turn creates another manila folder of documentation in need of balancing that will invariably make its way on to his never-ending stack.

In fact, he’ll ostensibly be altering—sorry, adjusting—new figures while the boys from the SEC audit the old ones, simultaneously—he’ll practically be handing the doctored folder right to them: Here you guys go, hot off the fuckin Xerox!

Probably the worst forms at B.B.B. & Co. in need of adjusting are the 1120, 990, 940 and 942 IRS tax forms that Sawyer has to run through a practically ancient IBM Selectric typewriter, a true anachronism in the digital age, that produces hardcopy documented records that have no digital footprint—on his computer, the Black Box or otherwise.  It’s a painstaking process and one that’s always made him very uneasy, which is putting it extremely mildly.

Sawyer pauses to look around his office, taking things in he’d never really taken in before.  Besides the exceedingly posh office furniture, there’s nothing truly remarkable about his office.  Nothing remarkable, that is, not in the sense that it isn’t an absolutely prime professional work space—of course it is—with its exterior windows nearly floor-to-ceiling, offering fantastic view of downtown Omaha, it’s positively professional-çç [1] to the nines.  No, there’s nothing remarkable in the sense that there is ostensibly not a single distinguishable characteristic within the entire space, no defining features that would identify this as the Office of Sawyer Deramore, as opposed to any other urban professional anywhere else across America’s metropolitan areas.  There’s nothing at all that shows he, personally, was here.

His life has seemingly become nothing more than a boutique flavor of vanilla—it doesn’t matter how refined it is, becomes, it’s still unremarkable and always will be—his life, his office—nothing more than a box inside a box inside still larger box—basically a Russian doll with an underwhelming, wholly anticlimactic dividend at its core that isn’t worth the adumbration for a rainy day.

How’d he somehow nearly manage to see his 30th birthday without recognizing this fact?  The epiphany is pretty staggering and he has trouble catching his breath.  Really, what has he been doing?  Why has he been doing it?  As Sawyer sits in his unremarkable office chair staring at his unremarkable office walls, he truly begins to comprehend the gravity of the past three decades—the gravity with respect to himself that is not exclusive to himself—which is that he has never, in nearly 30 years, even once been allowed to fail—truly fail—never faced a consequence that couldn’t be bought off or politicked away by his parents.  Basically, he sees now he has never been in charge of his own life, ever.  Someone—namely his parents, either one or both—has/have always been there to catch him well before he falls.

Always.

Never.

So many applicable absolutes.

They told him (his parents had) that they’d long ago taken off his training wheels and he’d simply never bothered to look down to make sure, always only ever—more absolutes—taking them at their word—unfailingly trusting, unquestioning.

The biggest, most significant reason he’s only now realizing the degree to which this reality is true—has always been true—is because he’s now approaching a definitive situation, approaching a decision that has consequences that will fall—irrespective of any extenuating circumstances—squarely on his shoulders, consequences that can’t be bought off or politicked away, no matter the amount of capital or clout that gets thrown at them, the consequences.

But now he was going to make the decision and he alone was going to face the ramifications.

However, there is an odd sense of repose that comes with making a pivotal, autonomous decision.  You know that on whichever side the chips fall, it was your autonomy and independence as a thinker and an individual that brought about the outcome.  If the first 29 years of his life had been unremarkable, this decision he’s all but already made is going to efface all of that posterior obscure ambiguity that he felt had once defined him.  If riding on the laurels of your upper-class family heritage and strict, WASP upbringing somehow paved the way to leading a life of comfortable, yet ordinary banality, then blowing the whistle on one of the largest, longest-running and undetected ponzi schemes in American history will certainly provide an express pass to notoriety—not for notoriety’s sake but for the ability to leave your indelible mark on the world in a manner that is truly beneficent by intention, by making a decision that is not congruent with your once traditional and self-serving M.O.


[1] The kind of chic that is so chic it requires unnecessary áççèñt marks to illustrate its ultimate ççness.

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Holy Extremely Long Hiatus, Batman!

I wish I could say there is an excuse for my extended absence from the InterWebZ, but sadly, it mostly amounts to laziness and preoccupation. I can only say: “I apologize profusely!”

Superstar literary agent, Nathan Bransford, is having a smallish mini-contest for best suspense scenes and since I happened to be working on my novel at the time, I submitted the first scene that came to mind from “The New Sophisticates.” You’ll also note that your author is also the very first submitter of said suspense scenes for said contest. Hit the jump! (Then hit the comments section’s jump.)

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/06/rock-paper-tiger-chaseaction-writing.html

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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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