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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novel Mute is available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lifting the curtain on my next novel - Famous After Death


I did it! I completed the first draft of my next novel, Famous After Death.

I still have Mute coming out in 2012 with Silver Leaf Books. I will take that baby through the editing process with my publisher and then we’ll announce the launch date. I haven’t been sitting on my hands all this time. I’ve been writing another intense story.

Famous After Death is a white knuckle thriller that takes murder viral. The storyline has been gathering inside my head for years as I imagined how the trouble I saw kids get into growing up would play out with this recent development of instant online videos. 

The theme can best be summed up by a 2010 column in the Miami Herald by Leonard Pitts. In describing bullying and prank videos posted on YouTube, he said: “There is always some video going around whose calculated effect is nothing more or less than humiliation on a global scale. Technology, it seems, has unleashed an ugliness in us.”  

In Famous After Death, three Miami-Dade teenagers take out their angst over their troubled family lives by setting up a roadside prank for an online video only to see a police officer drive to his death because of their trick. Chris Crawford, a high school dropout whose father ran off to start a modeling agency, and Kelso Stokes, an underachieving skater and son of a famous motocross rider, pressure Jorge Casanegra to post the video online anonymously. Given that his only friends are the horror movie action figures in his room, Jorge chooses to seek notoriety through murder videos to impress his new pals and attract a gothic girl he has a crush on. With an overwhelming number of hits on their video, the teens press on with more viral murders. But they aren’t doing it alone. Jorge solicits help from “Sir Black Market,” who runs a bootleg software website. Soon enough, Jorge’s mentor insists that they strike back at the police officers that are investigating them.

Clyde Deauville pursues online sexual predators with the vigor of his Born Again Christian faith as a “cyber cop” for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He helps Miami-Dade detective Olga “OC” Cohen track the viral killers after her ex-fiancĂ© becomes their first victim. With each new murder, OC becomes more vengeful and self-destructive while Clyde grows increasingly frustrated that the online audience is reveling in the bloodshed. When the teens realize that Clyde and OC are closing in, things turn personal.

In the end, someone will be famous for the wrong reasons. 

This novel won’t see the light of day until it’s thoroughly edited. I’m going to let it sit for a while – let the fruit ripen on the vine – and then dig in with an open mind. At some point, I might post part of it on Authonomy and request feedback from the generous readers/authors on there. 

I hope you don’t mind the wait. Trust me; this one will be well worth it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

E-Book Excitement at the Book Fair


I’d like to share some great insights on the e-book market that I recently picked up.

I introduced a panel on e-books at the Miami International Book Fair on Nov. 20. It was organized by Christopher Kenneally, of Copyright Clearance Center, and included Ami Greko, of the Kobo e-reader, and Argentinean publisher Ana Maria Cabanellas. The classroom was packed for their discussion and there were plenty of questions from the audience.

Greko was particularly giddy over Japan’s Rakuten recently acquiring Kobo for $350 million. Not only does that validate the importance of e-books, it should give Kobo access to more international markets, especially Asia and Brazil. Right now, e-reading is strongest in North America, Greko said, but international expansion could open doors for many authors.

“Small publishers have realized that their audience has been magnified tenfold because of the international market,” Kenneally said.

Still, downloading e-books is more difficult in Argentina and much of South America, Cabanellas said. They usually can’t be downloaded directly to mobile devices and there isn’t a large enough selection of Spanish books in digital format. Yet, the demand is there. Some “e-pirates” have copied thousands of books onto a CD and sell them all for $20, she said. 

“If the book is ready in digital and at a good price, the pirates don’t do it,” Cabanellas said.

Greko touted some of the unique features of e-books. Kobo allows readers to share their favorite passages of a book on their Facebook and Twitter networks. An optional feature allows readers to track their reading speed. Internally, Kobo is debating whether it should share information with publishers about when readers stop reading certain novels. 

Would it be helpful for publishers and authors to know that a certain chapter made many readers quit? By the time the book is already for sale, it’s probably too late to do much good. Greko noted that publishers are divided on whether they want this information.

I’m hoping that the launch of my novel Mute with Silver Leaf Books next year will be an international affair. I already have some fans in the U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand that I met on Authonomy. 

To hear this discussion from the Book Fair in full, check out the podcast at www.beyondthebook.com

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who would banker Alan Levan be in scifi/comics?


Alan Levan pulled off a galactic-sized deal today. The chairman and CEO of BankAtlantic Bancorp (BBX) agreed to sell the good assets of his bank to BB&T while leaving the more problematic assets and the corporate debt with the holding company. You can read the serious part of my story at the South Florida Business Journal. But, here I will ask the bigger question from the perspective of a novelist:

If Alan Levan was a scifi or comic book character, who would he be?

The deal came after many people were betting for shares of BBX to plummet. One stock analyst told me that he wouldn’t cover the company because he doubted it would survive. I got calls from stock traders who told me its shares were worthless.

And yet, it’s last laughs for Levan.

To accomplish all this, Levan raised capital from shareholders and his BFC Financial holding company at a time when few banks could do so. He endured a nasty class action securities fraud trial and got the judge to toss out the verdict against him. He had regulators all over the bank, including a “cease and desist” order, an SEC investigation and an overdraft fee investigation. And he swung a deal to sell the bank that avoided the immediate repayment of a ton of corporate debt. 

That’s sort of like dodging a speeding train, leaping over a pit of alligators and then climbing up a wet chain with fire at your heels. So is Levan the elusive Flash? 

Hmm, BankAtlantic is all about red outfits. But it’ hard to call banking flashy. 

It’s not fair to call Levan a runner. If anything, he doesn’t shy from confronting critics. He took on banking analyst Dick Bove and ABC News in court. He won a motion for sanctions against the class action securities attorneys that dragged him to trial – and then he appealed because he wanted MORE damages for the sanctions. He has waged public battles as a shareholder of restaurant chain Benihana and (briefly) Office Depot. 

And if you don’t pay your mortgage to the bank, well, just ask developer Dan Catalfumo what happens.

The bottom line: don’t mess with Alan Levan.

Maybe a more appropriate character for Levan would be Nightcrawler from X-Men. Not only can he teleport to escape danger, but he is an expert swordsman. If you can somehow catch Nightcrawler, he will make you pay.

Of course, Levan isn’t blue and nor does he have a tail. Moreover, Nightcrawler prefers to hide in the shadows and he rarely takes a leadership role with the X-Men. Levan is almost always the top guy at his companies and he certainly doesn’t hide.  

So who is a leader, evasive from danger and tough in a fight? Let’s travel to Star Wars and pick Han Solo.

Imperial Star Destroyer (federal regulators) on his tail? Light speed, Millennium Falcon! Leading the rescue of a princess (or his shareholders)? Blaster ready! Frozen in carbonite (wrong side of a jury verdict)? Friends and lawyers set him free. 

And remember that Han Solo was able to fend off Jabba the Hut, who wanted to collect on his debt. Levan has confronted issues with debt on soured real estate deals at Levitt & Sons and Core Communities but he exited those properties without the creditors coming after him.  

So there you have it: Alan Levan is the Han Solo of banking.

What does that make his son Jarett Levan, the president/CEO of the BankAtlantic subsidiary? I’m torn between the child prodigies of Children of Dune and Ender’s Game. Is running a bank at a young age more comparable to riding a giant sand worm or piloting a spaceship against an alien horde?


Monday, September 5, 2011

Latest Read: Think of a Number

I just finished reading John Verdon's murder mystery thriller Think of a Number, which I picked up from Books & Books in Coral Gables. This was his debut from 2010 and it left me impressed.

The story follows "retired" New York police officer Dave Gurney as he tracks a serial killer who intentionally leaves evidence meant to torment his victims, and the cops. I like how Verdon makes it seem like the killer is impossibly far ahead of Gurney every step of the way and that any evidence he discovers is what he's meant to see. It's a solid detective story that relies on evidence, logic and psychological profiles instead of car chases and flying bullets.

Verdon gave Gurney a great back story with equal parts accomplishment in his professional life and heartbreak/shortcoming in his personal life. Of the other characters, a few more are developed in depth but the other officers are there for amusement or to get in Gurney's way.

Based on this novel, I'm thinking about buying Verdon's follow-up Shut Your Eyes Tight. Although, next on my list is How Firm a Foundation, the fifth book in the Safehold series by scifi author David Weber.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Gearing up my novel Mute for release


My novel Mute has been making rapid progress towards its publication this fall. Believe me all is not quiet in my house.

Silver Leaf Books has my author page up. Thanks to South Florida Business Journal photographer Mark Freerks for my author photo.


http://www.silverleafbooks.com/Authors_Bandell.htm



I acquired an amazing photo from talented Australian artist El Cesana that will be used for the cover. Silver Leaf is in the process of finalizing the cover design, but you can view the photo here on my Authonomy page. The story on how I found El and her ironic connection to the story will be told at a later time. Let’s just say that it was worth it to reach across the globe to find her.

http://www.authonomy.com/books/17138/mute/


Meanwhile, I’ve been expanding my reach. For those of you on Linkedin, I encourage you to join the Science Fiction Group and the Crime Fiction Group. I have started and participated in some great discussions on there. For Facebook users, try the Mystery Reader Group.

I’m eagerly anticipating the moment that Mute will be available for download throughout the world. Many people want a print copy as well and that could happen on day, but I’m glad that the focus is on the ebook. Publishers Weekly reported that ebook sales at the largest publishers increased 160% in the first quarter while print edition sales fell 24%. In fact, ebook sales were greater than paperback sales – and it wasn’t even close.

My main focus isn’t to become rich off of this. If that was my goal in life, I wouldn’t be a print journalist, now would I? I want to give people a thrilling read and Mute will deliver.

And after that, I’ll introduce the shell shocked readers to my next project: Famous After Death.

Pay me in smiles or pay me in screams.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Job options for Anthomy Weiner

Poor Huma! Not only is hubby Anthony Weiner a twitter cheater and a pervert, he is unemployed now too. Barbara Walters said she is worried about Weiner getting a job because politics is all he knows. So I will help him and Huma out by offering some bold choices for Weiner's next career move.

- Weiner could join up with Miami city manager Tony Crapp Jr, who is ready to resign. They could form Weiner Crapp Consulting.

- Perhaps Weiner should be an image consultant for other celebs who want to improve their image through Twitter. What tweeting advice would Weiner give to LeBron James?

- Run for mayor of Cockeysville, Maryland.

- Reality TV could be in his future. How about a house with Weiner, Jesse James, John Gosslin and Scott Peterson? Call it Real Horrible Husbands.

- Another great TV fit for Weiner would be Israeli star Guy Penis (I'm not making that name up.) It would be the Weiner Penis Show. What would they talk about there?

- Weiner should be a male stripper. He loves taking his clothes off. He has studied the fine art, as shown by his emails to stripper/porn star Ginger Lee. What's the difference between a political fundraiser and getting dollar bills stuffed in your briefs?

- If Weiner wants to stay in public service, he should work for the post office. As he said in his emails to Ginger, Weiner's always concerned about his package.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wake up! Worst professions to be caught sleeping at

In honor of the FAA and the air traffic controllers all across the country getting busted for sleeping on the job, I've compiled this list of the worst professions to be caught nodding off.

Middle school teacher: Imagine what the kids would do the the classroom, especially a science lab with chemicals and burners. 

Border security: Truck full of missiles, right on through.

Cameraman for live sports: The viewers would wonder why the camera continues focusing on the empty side of the court.

Firefighter: I know the house is burning, but the bed looks so comfy.

Public speaker: For once, I'd like to see a speaker fall asleep standing up and start snoring into the mic. That's what half the audience is doing anyway.

Bartender during a soccer match: Getting in between hooligans and their beer is a bad idea.

Surgeon: Can't you take a cat nap during that eight-hour surgery? It's not like the patient will notice. 

DJ: What happened to the music? This party sucks. - Extra points for at a wedding.

NASCAR driver: Many amateur drivers have trouble sleeping behind the wheel, but nodding off going 180 mph would be a little worse.

TV news anchor: I'd love to see the show return from a boring news segment to find the anchor completely out, drool running down the chin.

Fighter jet pilot: Worse than a commercial airline pilot, who has a co-pilot and crew for a wake up call. Plus, bombs on board.

Astronaut on a spacewalk: You're drifting away! Come in!

Zookeeper: Not a good idea to doze in the cage with the gorillas.

Of course, there are professions where I wish the people would go into a deep sleep. Telemarketers, for instance.

I would have mentioned the regulators at the Federal Reserve and the SEC, but it's already obvious they were asleep at the switch during the banking crisis.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

NASA scientist's discovery of aliens sprouts amazing possibilities

Scientists and novelists have long dreamed of extraterrestrial life. Thanks to NASA scientist Richard Hoover, we now have good evidence that there is such a thing.

See the story in Reuters and looked up the Journal of Cosmology is you're a die-hard: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/06/meteorites-life-idUSN0627219120110306

Summing it up, Hoover examined meteorites and found fossils of bacteria that almost certainly aren't found on earth. I know this isn't exciting as ET flying a bicycle over the moon. Yet, it proves a point that could lead to greater possibilities. Earth isn't the only place that has life.

How advanced is extraterrestrial life? Should we be afraid of it? Those are themes you'll see explored in my novels, including The Centauri Generation and Mute. Samples available on www.authonomy.com.

There's a big difference between the aliens dreamed up by writers and what Hoover found. Bacteria is very resilient. It can live in acid, in Arctic ice, in sulfur deposits and in frozen soil. In fact, the bacteria that Hoover discovered were on meteorites that likely came from a comet. Seriously, comets are flying around with microscopic aliens hitching a ride. Think about that next time you see one streaking through the sky.

Bacteria is resilient, but animals are not. They are slower to adapt to extreme climate conditions, which can be found on many planets. Because they are larger, it's harder to live sheltered from the radiation in space. Animals need stable conditions to survive. We know there are millions upon millions of planets and moons out there, but it's hard to say which ones have conditions that would support not just life, but large, complex organisms.

As for intelligent life, it's an even bigger mystery why that forms. I say it's in God's hands. That's the only way I can explain why so many things about Earth are perfect for humans, like it was designed for us.

Evidence of extraterrestrial beings is a message. Life has few limitations. If life can exist on a comet looping from deep space to the sun, why can't we recognize how fortunate we are and make this big rock a more pleasurable ride?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

When 'Journalists' Cross the Line

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been catching flak in the media for his anti-union statements in a secretly recorded phone conversation with a man he thought was David Koch. The person who should be getting the most heat from this is Ian Murphy the self-proclaimed "journalist" for the Buffalo Beast who deceived the governor to get the story.

Murphy makes no effort to conceal that he called Governor Walker posing as businessman Koch, a supporter of his campaign. Regardless of what Walker said, where is the condemnation of Murphy's conduct by the media? Are we telling the public that we support lying to sources and airing their private conversations to the public? I hope that's not the message here because it's the wrong one.

The credibility of the media is near an all-time low. It's not that every journalist stoops to these tactics, but when we see misbehavior and fail to condemn it then we're guilty by association. I don't care that it's an online news site with an agenda. That's a growing segment of the new media. Professional journalists should draw a line in the sand and make it clear that we have a higher standard of conduct.

What Murphy did wasn't "going undercover" like the old days of muckraking. It was entrapment. There's a difference. Undercover means that a journalist is posing as an average citizen, such as a home buyer or a shopper, and that doesn't require assuming a false identity. But Murphy assumed the identity of a person that Governor Walker confided in and then asked him loaded questions. What's next - hacking into his mother's email and sending him fake messages to see how he responds?

We're headed to a dark place if we accept Murphy's conduct as journalism. I call on journalism organizations to stand up for honesty and integrity by condemning his actions.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Borders books goes bust? Not all is lost

Most accounts of the fall of Borders bookstores into bankruptcy have blamed digital media - ebooks, iTunes and movie downloads - for making its products obsolete. While that is part of the story, that's nothing more than an excuse for a company that couldn't adapt to the changes in its industry.

When you can order most anything online, it becomes more important for retail stores to have an atmosphere that customers want to habitat. Not merely pop in and out, but spend time there in a social sense. That's what a great bookstore must offer to have any value.

A book is the same whether it's purchased in a store, ordered online or downloaded. It's the experience of the bookstore that is valuable and that's something Borders hasn't promoted enough. That starts with engaging with the community of passionate readers and authors and attracting them to the store with events. Not just sales and book signings, but cultural events and discussion groups. Funny, but isn't that what small books stores used to offer before the national chains wiped many of them out?

As an author, it's a shame when the number of places books are available is cut by 300, as in the stores Borders reportedly plans to close. We have to accept that a new model of publishing is coming into focus. The bookstore and even the publisher are becoming disposable middlemen. The future is author-to-marketing-to-reader.

But the transition to that future will be messy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Try out this free chapter

A lot of people have been asking me about the new novel I'm working on. It's call Famous After Death.


It is still early in the writing process, but I'm going to post a sample chapter up here to give you a taste. Let me know what you think.

Brian


Chapter 1: Pranksters

            “He’s gonna swerve man,” Kelso said as he peered over the wall at the car nearing the overpass. “He’ll stop and bust us.”
            “No way. He’s going through that bitch full bore,” Chris said. He smacked his fist full of rings into the wall. With the thick muscles of his chest and forearm, and maybe a little beer gut, behind them, the rings left imprints of their gargoyles in the cement.
            Jorge had never seen Chris fight, but he had heard stories from the kids in school. He didn’t that doubt a few unlucky punks had gargoyle brands on their faces. The victim tonight would fare far worse.
            “Get the camera ready, Kelso, and don’t say a word until you turn it off,” Jorge said. He swatted a mosquito away from his sweaty forehead, sending the bloodsucker off into the humid night on the western fringes of Miami-Dade County. Jorge had found a spot close enough to the swamps that no person would venture outside without getting tackled by a horde of pests. They didn’t need any witnesses, or competing footage.
            Kelso trained the digital handheld on the car as it sped toward the overpass. Jorge had his phone send the encrypted signal to the pulley, which instantly released the dummy. God bless his money and his fake ID to get into the sex shop, Kelso had sprung for a blowup doll and dressed it as a leather dominatrix. That poetic dropout Chris had scrawled, “I eat cock” across her face. Too bad the driver wouldn’t have much time to admire the teens’ handiwork as the wire dropped the dummy in his way a split second before his car reached the overpass. It didn’t slow.
            Feeling like he watched a bomb about to blow in his face, Jorge wanted to run. His nerves tangled him to the wall. It’s just a blowup doll. What could happen?
            The ton of roaring steel bashed into the doll with a thump. The doll swung high into the air like a child on a swing pushed by a raging gorilla. A stiletto heel went flying. Chris hooted with laughter. The giggling Kelso tilted the camera all over the place. Jorge kept his eyes on the car, a Cadillac with huge golden rims. He had lived in South Florida long enough to know those aren’t the people he should fuck with.
            The car jolted to a stop. It rolled down both sets of windows. The teens’ laugher came to a screeching halt.
            Seeing that Kelso stood there with his camera on like a wooden target in a shooting range, Jorge grabbed his baggy shorts and dragged the gangly kid below the wall. “What are you doing? Turn that off.”
Chris was already down and gritting his teeth behind his locks of blond hair. The mauler hated lying low, but he had no choice this time.
“You wanna laugh at me bitches?” shouted a husky voice from the car “Come on out and I’ll jam my glock up your asses!”
Kelso lunged forward to scramble away. Chris caught him with only two fingers hooked on the sleeve of his designer t-shirt. “They’ll hear us if we run for it. Just sit here and wait.”
They wouldn’t leave. When he realized that there were four distinct voices coming from the car, Jorge felt his heart beating in his throat. If they searched long enough, they’d find them over that wall. They’d rip them apart like the hungry zombies in Night of the Living Dead. Jorge didn’t even have a knife, not like his stubby arms could swing one past the reach of a full-sized adult.
He didn’t hear the car doors open. He heard a car speeding by, but Jorge didn’t know whether it was a new passerby or the giant rims rolling out of there.
“Jorge, check it out,” Chris ordered.
“Me?” He had known the dropout for a few weeks, so he hadn’t squarely placed him in the friend category yet. They had shared joints and shots of vodka, but that didn’t mean Chris would have a problem pushing him around. None of the kids at school did either. His black trench coat, platform boots and classic horror movie t-shirts were enough ward off all smiling faces.
“Yeah, dipshit. See if they’re gone and then we’ll rig the doll back up,” said Chris as he rubbed the back of his neck, where he had a tattoo of a pair of sinister eyes.
“I got the footage man. This’ll make for a sweet post, like thousands of hits,” Kelso said. “Let’s get out of here before we get nailed.”
“Dude, that was okay, but I wanna go hardcore,” Chris said. “What, can’t you guys hang?”
Kelso had a pro skater for a dad, a blue mohawk and the freshest skater gear, but the skater crowd he aimed to impress called him a poser. Even so, he wouldn’t let anyone in high school know that he had an “off the books” friendship with Jorge. If forced to name his best friend, Jorge would have to say it’s Kelso, as pathetic as it sounded. What kind of friend doesn’t speak up when kids stuff mud in his backpack?
Shaking his head, Jorge stole a glance over the top of the wall. “They’re gone. I’ll reel her up.” He sent the code to the pulley and it raised the battered blow up doll out of view of the road.
“Well, all great directors like to get a second take,” Kelso said. He flicked his tongue stud between his lips like a frog gobbling a metal fly.
“Exactly. And I got me some creative inspiration right here.” Chris placed a fat stogie between his lips.
“Are you totally baked?” Jorge asked. Chris responded with a blank look. That confirmed his suspicions. “We’re creating a crime scene here. Major property damage. Why do you think we couldn’t touch the doll without gloves? That joint has your saliva all over it. That’s DNA.”
“Hey man, I’m not gonna leave this baby here,” Chris said as he drew out his lighter.
“And the smell, what about that?” Jorge asked. “If those guys had sniffed out the pot from over this wall when they stopped the car, dude, it would have been ugly.”
Kelso nodded. Chris put the joint away. “I’ll save it for the drive home. Hope you got more air freshener in your car.”
“I’m always stocked,” Kelso said with a grin.
They were interrupted by the hum of another car approaching. Kelso focused the camera. Jorge clutched his cell phone against his chest with his finger hovering over the “send” button. He watched the high beams approaching on the deserted road until they reached the point of no return. He thought for a second about the last car. What if they hadn’t given up so easily? What if Kelso had freaked out and given them away? Jorge had taken his licks in the schoolyard and the hallways and he’d languished in detention often enough, but the consequences he would face if he misfired here were severe. They were adult consequences.
Jorge had seen firsthand what adult consequences did to his wealthy uncle – his formerly wealthy uncle, now under federal lockdown. Alberto came to the U.S. with nothing and that’s what he was left with. But, oh how he lived in between. Better to live on a roller coaster than treading water.
It felt even more right than it did before. Jorge hit the switch, releasing the dummy into the road. The disfigured blowup doll was captured in the pillars of light like a partially dissected rabbit under the lab lamp. Jorge waited for the horn to sound. Instead he heard a “whoop!” His stomach shriveled. The sound was unmistakable. For a split second that felt like ten minutes in ice water, the car’s black and white frame drifted under the streetlight alongside the overpass. Those were sirens on its roof. The words on its door said “Miami-Dade Police”. That was a cop with a goatee and shaved head in there.
Scooting back, Jorge felt his instincts urging him to bolt out of there. That would give his presence away when the officer stops, he realized. He’d never hear the end of this from his mom. He’d rather go to juvenile detention than house arrest with that woman.
Just as Jorge was thinking about how he’d pose for his mug shot, he realized that the cop car wasn’t stopping. It was swerving. The car ducked onto the shoulder, avoiding the blowup doll but striking a mangled fender left from a previous accident. It shredded the tire and stabbed the metal guts underneath the car. The vehicle careened off the road and disappeared. No, it hadn’t. The cruiser had plunged into the canal.
“What the…” Chris plugged Kelso’s mouth with his baker’s mitt-sized palm. He pointed to the camera still rolling footage. Jorge couldn’t believe they were still thinking about posting it. He had expected a few cars getting dented up, not this.
The officer wasn’t getting out. Jorge looked to Chris and Kelso. The skater resembled a flustered kid on a plane plunging into the ocean. Kelso gazed upon the submerged car with concern, but he looked more worried about keeping his $500, diamond-studded watch away from handcuffs. The dropout wore a broad smile underneath his blond horseshoe moustache. It reminded Jorge of when he sat with Chris watching a pro wrestling match with barbed wire and shattered glass all over the ring. Chris adored the blood-stained canvass like it belonged on the walls of a museum.
Jorge could have leapt over the wall, run in full view of the camera and tried his best to save the officer. But why? That man might not have been one of the officers that investigated his uncle Alberto’s clinics for Medicare fraud and dragged him out of Jorge’s birthday party and into a squad car, but it had been officers like him. If it had been his assignment, he wouldn’t have hesitated, just like he wouldn’t show Jorge and his friends mercy if he had the skills to safely navigate his car around a blowup doll.
The three of them watched it sink. Kelso directed the camera from the doomed vehicle to the dummy dangling harmlessly from the rope. It pirouetted in the wind in a farewell dance to the officer who had spared its inflatable life.
Jorge giggled. He couldn’t help it.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Kelso said a moment after he turned off the camera. “I bet the cops have a collision notification system plugged into a GPS on there. They’re on their way.”
“Holy shit, man, we fucking rock!” Chris said, throwing up the devil horns with his two fingers. “I gotta see the video. Let’s go.”
They scampered away from the wall hunched over like soldiers treading through waist-high grass. Jorge expected a strong hand on his shoulder or a bullet through the back of the skull at any moment. Skirting around the abandoned houses left in their bare concrete states, they made it to the other side of the stalled home development project. Kelso had parked his yellow Mustang just inside the entrance wall, near where the gate had been steamrolled by a pack of ATVs. Seeing the guardhouse, Jorge feared a flashlight beam catching him and the face of one angry security officer with a spiked collar and tattooed arms popping his head out. He couldn’t walk on by. With his heart pounding, Jorge peaked inside the guardhouse. Besides the bird nest, it was empty. Jorge sprinted to Kelso’s car and threw open the door. When he ducked for the passenger seat, a hand grabbed him by the back of his neck.
“It wasn’t me! I swear!”
“You know the rules pubs-for-hair,” Chris said as he tossed Jorge on his ass in the dirt. “Backseat.”
He folded the front seat down so Jorge could take his place. At least his little legs fit fine back there, even as the hefty Chris caused a bulge in the seat in front of him when he sat down. The dropout had taken his first hit off the joint before Kelso had even started the car.
“My brothers are going to flip when they see this,” Kelso said. “How many hits you think it’ll get on YourShow?”
“A million man.” Chris took another drag. “Naw, 10 million.”
“Are you kidding?” Jorge asked Kelso, knocking him on the shoulder as he drove. “This isn’t one of your stake board stunt videos. You can’t tell your brothers you did this. If anyone sees it, we’ll do hard time. Pull over. I’ll throw it in a lake.”
“Naw, you’re tripping,” Kelso said. “This is the most bad ass footage ever. I get that we can’t put our names on it, but we can’t toss it.”
“Ten million, baby, 10 million,” Chris repeated as he exhaled the herbal vapors. “You’re the Cuban computer geek, Jorge. You post it, like anatomically…”
“Anonymously,” Jorge corrected him. “I guess I could try…”
“Don’t try. Just do it,” Chris said. “I bring the mayhem, you post it and you…” His glassy eyes glared at Kelso. “Make your dad pay for it all.”
While the two of them cracked up, Jorge clamped down. The camera had landed in his lap and it felt like a tarantula.