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

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.


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.