In the year 1886, in Brussels, Peter The Laminate set down on paper what proved to be the first account of the War of the Broses. This document took the form of a recipe for a sandwich made of a then-unknown Amazonian fruit and the burnt offering of a sodium-free soy by-product. Included in the footnote were instructions on precautions to be taken during the mining of rare earth materials, and warnings about impending involuntary servitude in the form of what can only be translated as “gigs”. The Laminate (as he was known to his contemporaries) envisaged an age where a handful of extremely self-important men would ceaselessly generate random notions of well-being while casually tamping down a plague of reasonable expectations. The well-known Biblical phrase To them that hath shall be given was re-interpreted as a threat in the form of accumulated debt. Peter also raged against the inhumanity of bicycles and claimed that people were merely the mulish instruments of invisible creatures that numbered in the trillions inside the bellies of each and every human. The Laminate was known to have had an odor to him, and was almost completely ignored in his time.
Caroline Le Beau stood behind the backstage curtain while the band began to play the warm-up music. The first song was from her new album, ‘Leafblower Tuesdays’, a tune called ‘Where Is That Thing?’. After thirty seconds or so she was supposed to walk on, guitar strapped around her neck, and stride up to the microphone in the center of the stage. There she would wait for the applause to die down as the band went through a few more bars, and then she’d lean into the mic and get going with the verses. At ten seconds in she knew she couldn’t do it. She fucking hated that song. She hated all the songs on the new album. She didn’t event want to do a new album. She hadn’t even wanted to do the first one. All she ever wanted to do was that one song, the song that made her famous, the song that rocketed up the charts and stayed at number one for sixteen weeks. It was the only song she liked, the only one she ever wanted to sing. At twenty seconds she said fuck it and turned to leave. Buddy, the pit bull who was her manager and the massive force running her entire life, was right there as always, blocking the way. By now all he had to do was pretend to go for the knife.
Cissy was the first person in her family to graduate, swim across the channel, and return with no fewer than eleven refugees to bury beneath the culvert of the leafy cul-de-sac where they resided in suburban El Paso. She received her training from the AIPD (the American Institute of Pointless Death) and succeeded beyond all expectations. As a five foot three inch, eighty-five pound gymnast, she’d had no trouble in overcoming rows and rows of burly and fit Australian wrestlers, thanks to her expertise in both the martial arts and sophisticated weaponry. In her audio-biography she recounted her delight in racking up a truly astonishing body count for one so young and illiterate. Her achievements did not go unnoticed. She went on to not only dance with the stars but also received an invitation to re-enact some of her most memorable massacres on the White House lawn.
(Yes, he spelled DESPAIR wrong on the cover. Don’t @ me)
I don’t think I ever told you about that time I went down the haunted hallway. It’s ridiculous, I know. There’s even signs everywhere telling you, do NOT go down this hallway, DETOUR, go THAT way, not THIS way, big yellow and red signs, WARNING, and having worked in the building for what, sixteen years already?, you’d think I’d know better. You follow the arrows, that’s all it takes. So yeah you go a little out of your way and you have to go by the broken water fountain and where there used to be the cigarette machine, remember that? They had a freaking cigarette machine in the hallway! Third floor! Maybe every floor, I don’t know. I never really checked it out just to see. That machine had Virginia Slims and Marlboro 100’s and even Pall Malls too. You’d go by that, take a right, then another right, then you’re back in the hallway but not the haunted part, you’d just go right around that. Marvin’s office was just there at that corner. Of course nobody’s there now. Raheem is in the next one down. That’s okay. He says the lights do flicker sometimes but hey sometimes lights flicker. When I did that, when I forgot and spaced out or whatever and went down that one time? They didn’t flicker. Not even one flick.
“I don’t believe you”.
Inspector Graves leaned back on his metal folding chair. Across the bare table the suspect sat, calm as could be, not even brushing the energy bar crumbs from his admittedly feeble attempt at a mustache. At 23, Junior was not embarrassed about anything, not his facial hair, not the smiley face tattoo poorly sketched on the side of his neck, not even at the short and scrawny appendage that always stuck out at attention between his chunky thighs. Junior knew, deep down in his heart, that all of his physical shortcomings served him well as distractions from the mastermind lurking behind those pale, near-sighted eyes.
“Cameras don’t lie,” the inspector continued, pushing a piece of paper across the table. Junior barely glanced at the image clearly showing him pocketing the can of diet cola in the not-so-darkened corner of the gas station convenience store.
“Deep fake,” he scoffed. “That shit’ll rot your teeth.”
A wide smile spread across his face. Teeth don’t fail me now, he thought. They’d gotten him out of even tighter scrapes than this before.
Today I enjoyed the luxury of reading Saving Grace by Michael Graeme, on Wattpad. Michael is one of my favorite writers and this new one lived up to everything I expect and get from his novels – interesting and complex characters, beautiful writing, settings that make me want to know more about them, well-crafted plot lines as well as timely surprises, the unexpected. As always, highly recommended!
It’s a curious thing to read fiction when you have a history and familiarity with the author, when you know how they view things in general, when you know what they’ve been thinking about, when you have some glimpses of their private life. I’m a follower of Michael’s blog, where some of his themes play out; his love of cars, of touring around Britain, of poetry, his takes on inequality, Brexit, other such topics.
In some ways he is also a rare kindred spirit of mine – a writer who self-publishes his work for free (having experienced the conventional way), who writes for the sake of it, for the stories themselves, for the freedom of expression if provides. Also in terms of protagonists, he tends toward the loner-loser types as I do (though he is so much more insightful) and has them caught up in fraught situations partly due to their own clumsiness and partly due to random acts of fate. His leads are the inverse of Patricia Highsmith creations – softies at heart who hesitate to hurt a fly even as the sticky paper of their nature gets those very flies in trouble anyway.
I smiled at references to Slaughterhouse Five (a recent blog comment reference), to the vanishing art of reading, to bookstores and self-publishing, all while totally absorbed in the mystery and the tangle of poor Mike Garatt, who had only good intentions but the law, the mobs, social media, the world outside align their forces against him for the mere fact of his having smiled at a pretty customer. As in many of his novels, Graeme’s Hamletic hero once again finds himself befuddled and bewitched by an array of women he can’t hope to comprehend. They will have their way. He can only hope to survive.
Shirley Holmes took it all in at a glance. The man had clearly not been home for days. His jacket sleeve told her he’d had a questionable pot roast the night before. She thought Nebraska from the residual aroma. He’d had two, maybe three hours sleep after that. He’d been boycotting big box stores for some time now, judging by the fraying neck band of his tee and the logo on its pocket. His wife was screwing the handyman. That much was obvious. Shirley sighed with a weariness born of unlimited insight, and continued wiping the counter with the freshly laundered rag. No one was going to complain about residual aromas at her counter. The man looked up as she gestured at his half-filled coffee cup. He declined with a slight shake of the head. She almost ventured to inform him that his son was going to be okay, the current setback was temporary only, but she’d learned her lesson too often in the past. Nobody wants to know. They were satisfied with the vague, gnawing anxiety that propelled them ever forward into their own confusing time lines. She paused for the slightest moment, reconsidering, before moving on to the next patron.
“What’ll it be, hon?” she asked the weary trucker sitting there.