Okay, it’s time. Mark those calendars, tell your friends, tell your enemies, call the newspapers. I just got the physical proof of HELL NIGHT, the second Alex Rains adventure, and me and my cat agree that it’s pretty awesome. So, let’s do this thing. And if you haven’t already, this would be a great time to check out the first Alex Rains Novel, The Devil’s Mouth
Thanks so much to all of you who have been waiting patiently.
Okay, I know I said that the book would be out in January. As it turns out, that was a filthy lie. But don’t despair, it’s coming soon! We had some minor production hiccups, and the manuscript went back to Santa’s workshop for a few weeks. Things are back on track now, but I’m still not entirely sure about the release date. I’d like to thank everyone for their enthusiasm and their patience.
Story time. As those of you who read The Devil’s Mouth early on know, that book had a fair amount of typos. Those were all my fault, and due largely to my own impatience, not to mention my vast overestimation of my own proofreading skills. The result was a final product that was less than it could have been. Those mistakes cost me with reviewers, and, I’m sure, with a fair number of readers. It wound up being an embarrassment to me, and to everyone else involved in the book.
Your enthusiasm has been contagious. I’ve been working my butt off to try and get the new book out as soon as possible, but I have to force myself to take a deep breath. And then let it out, because otherwise I wouldn’t be breathing anymore and I’d die. Seriously though, I hate to push the release date back, but I want to take as much time as is needed to make sure this one is as good as I can make it. If people hate it, I’d at least like them to hate it for subjective reasons.
You know the one. You were so close. Maybe you worked together. Maybe you were roommates or neighbors. You hung out all the time. You texted each other constantly. You were completely at ease together. You could practically read each other’s minds. They were as much as part of your life as that comfy old sofa in your living room.
But then, one day, something changed.
Maybe you moved, or you got a new job, or you started dating someone, or maybe they did. You promised yourself you’d keep in touch. You really meant to. But the sad fact is that most friendships are based on convenience and proximity. And so, what used to be a daily thing became a weekly thing, then an occasional thing. The texts dropped off. You kept up with them on Facebook, but otherwise kind of went on with your life.
You didn’t mean for it to happen like that, but it did. Pretty soon, the situation becomes self perpetuating. You don’t call because you didn’t call. You’re embarrassed that you let it go so long. You avoid making that call. Even if you have a perfectly reasonable excuse, you’re afraid that at this point you’ll be seen as self serving, only coming back into their life when it’s convenient for you. You’re sure they must just hate you by now. Surely they’ve written you off as another false, fair-weather friend. What’s the use in bothering them, forcing that awkwardness on them? Forcing them to pretend that they’re still your friend? That they still care? It’s better for everyone if you just them go on with their lives.
Slowly, inevitably, the friendship fades away. Until one day you run into your old friend in the grocery store, and neither one of you has much to say. You feel terrible about it, that you’ve let things go so badly. Like that houseplant you forgot to water until it withered and died. You’ve become two different people. Strangers. There’s some awkward, stilted chitchat, promises to catch up. How’s your sister? Did you ever … weren’t we going to …
And then you’re faced with a choice. Do you fess up and admit your mistake? Do you swallow your pride and make an effort to keep the friendship alive, to make sure you keep a place in your life for this person? Or do you just let go, just relax and let the last cords of that relationship slip through your fingers and drift out to sea?
So, on a completely unrelated topic, I haven’t posted on my blog in a while.
Okay, so this guy, Loki Lokash, did a great review of my book, The Devil’s Mouth, on YouTube. It’s quite entertaining and really very flattering, so you should probably watch it and all his other book reviews. But he brought up a great point. Namely, how can action heroes manage to stay so pretty when they’re getting beaten up all the time? As sometimes happens in my brain, this question inspired an odd little short story.
So, yeah. Watch the review. Read the story. Buy the book.
The Adventures of Captain Stalwart, Realistic Action Hero
Jeeves, loyal butler and manservant to the caped crimefighter Captain Stalwart, peered out the window of the limousine at the abandoned quad cane standing on the sidewalk. He pulled the car to the curb and got out.
The sound of angry yelling attracted his attention, coming from a nearby deli.
Jeeves picked up the cane and entered the deli.
Inside, in front of the cold case, an old man stood on wobbly legs and swung his fist at the hapless deli clerk. The clerk fended his attacker off with a chair. He looked over at Jeeves when the bell on the door rang. “Hey man, help!” he cried. “Get this old lunatic off me!”
“Take that, Doctor Nefarious!” yelled the old man, windmilling his fists wildly. “I’ll not rest until you’re back in Stonegate Prison!”
“Master Jason,” said Jeeves sternly, taking hold of the old man’s arm, “stop this! He isn’t Doctor Nefarious! Doctor Nefarious is a senator now. You know this. Come along, let’s get you back to the mansion. You need to take your medication.”
“Eh?” said the old man. “But he—”
“Captain, no,” Jeeves said, sternly. “We need to go home right now. I’ve brought the car.”
The deli clerk said, “Thanks, man. That old lunatic thinks he’s Captain Stalwart.”
“Well actually,” responded Jeeves, “he is Captain Stalwart. Was, rather.”
The clerk’s face showed disbelief. “No way, dude. Captain Stalwart is… well he’s not ugly. Or old. This guy’s face looks like a bowl of mashed potatoes. And he’s like sixty.”
“Hrah!” Said Captain Stalwart, taking another half-hearted swing at the clerk.
Jeeves looked over his boss’s face: The massed scar tissue, the misshapen, flattened nose, the cauliflower ears, the split lips and the missing teeth. “Sad to say, he’s only 43. I’m afraid he’s gone downhill rather quickly. As it turns out, when one goes out and gets in bare-knuckle brawls with Doctor Nefarious’ henchmen every night for years, the damage tends to add up.” He handed Stalwart the cane. The superhero grasped the handle with trembling hands that barely flexed. Jeeves looked down at the swollen knuckles “Not to mention arthritis from all of the broken knuckles.”
The clerk scratched his head. “And, like, isn’t Captain Stalwart some kind of genius detective? This guy doesn’t even know what day of the week it is.”
“Yes, well,” Jeeves nodded sadly, “again, he’s gone downhill lately. As it turns out, despite what the comic books say, when one gets hit in the face with a pipe-wrench, it’s not the sort of thing one just shakes off. In fact, one spends two weeks in a coma. After ten years of being concussed, beaten with bats, and knocked out with lead saps on a weekly basis, it all starts to have an effect. Our Captain here is suffering from a nasty combination of dementia pugilistica, Parkinson’s, and the after-effects of a few dozen traumatic brain injuries.”
“Doctor Nefarious!” Stalwart screamed. He abandoned the cane and lunged towards the clerk, then promptly fell on his face when his knees gave way.
“And of course his knees are shot,” said Jeeves, helping his boss to his feet. “One can only jump off of a second-story rooftop so many times. We could get the joints replaced, if only he hadn’t squandered his family fortune on crime-fighting toys. I told him to save something for his retirement, but oh no, he had to have a fighter jet. To chase purse-snatchers.”
“Jeeze, the poor guy.” The clerk made a sympathetic face.
“Yes, well I warned him. Repeatedly, and at length.” Jeeves held Stalwart’s shoulder. He turned to the clerk. “Sir, I apologize for all of this hassle. I take my eyes off him for one second, and he wanders right out the front gates of Stalwart Manor.” To Stalwart, he said, “Come along, master Jason. We’ve got to get you home and change your colostomy bag.”
“Colostomy bag? Aw, man. That’s rough.”
Jeeves nodded sadly. “Yes, I’m afraid that was about the end of Captain Stalwart’s crime-fighting career. The surgeons had to remove twelve feet of his lower intestines, after he ran afoul of the Doctor’s secret weapon.”
“Holy shit,” said the clerk. “What was the secret weapon? Some kind of death ray? A diabolical trap?”
At one of my previous retail jobs, I was the plant guy. Which was great. No cash register, minimal customers, just pop in the headphones and water plants for a few hours.
I should also mention that this store, for being in a boring little suburb, had a surprisingly international clientelle. Which was great. So many amazing restaurants. We were right across the street from the local Sikh temple, and there was a steady flow of saris and turbans through the store.
One fine spring day, there I was, lost in the music and watering a flat of impatiens, when this old Indian guy rode up on an equally old, Schwinn-style single-speed bicycle. He had a scraggly white beard and wore a blue turban and a simple white cotton kurta. He parked his bike and started browsing the vegetable section. I smiled and nodded. He smiled and nodded. no problem.
Then he came up to me, with a glare like Victor Wong in Big Trouble in Little China, holding two six-packs of tomato plants in his hand. With his other hand, he held up two fingers. He said something that sounded like, “Twah.”
The plants were more than two dollars. One thing you’ll quickly learn in retail is that explaining complex pricing concepts like, “Two for five dollars when you have a membership card” is nearly impossible with a certain segment of the senior citizen population, even when those senior citizens speak fluent English, which this one absolutely did not. Still, I tried. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I helpfully pointed to the sign which said the same thing.
Again, immigrants, I love ’em. They’re good people. They add flavor to my bland suburban existence. They make great food and great neighbors. They brightened up the place with colorful turbans and saris, and made me feel like I was somewhere more exciting than the electronics aisle of a corporate retail pharmacy. But stubborn old men who don’t understand that haggling isn’t done in the US represent a special kind of hell for retail employees.
My Indian friend, he just thought I was driving a hard bargain. He thrust the plants towards me, forcefully, and shook those two fingers in my face. “Twah. Twah.”
I rounded down for the sake of simplicity. I shook my head and held up three fingers. “Three,” I said.
Three was lower than the advertised regular price. He was making progress and he knew it. “Twah.”
This went on for quite some time. Inside the store, my coworkers watched the show with great amusement.
I realized that I don’t get paid enough for this shit. So I relented. I nodded and said, “Okay, two.” I held up two fingers. He was very happy about this and quickly became my best friend. I brought him inside and rang up his purchases at his discounted, hard-bargained price.
But I’d made a fatal mistake. I’d shown weakness. Now he knew. He knew he could break me.
Just a few days later, up he came again, weaving along the side of the road on his rickety old bike. I was inside the store at the time. My coworkers saw the old Indian man and vanished like smoke, leaving me alone with him. He waved and smiled at me. I waved back. He said something in his language that I didn’t understand. I said something in my language that he didn’t understand. We were great friends.
Once more he approached me with tomato plants. He fixed me with his cataract-clouded gaze, held up two fingers, and said, “Twah. Twah.”
He got his damned tomato plants.
“How’s your bestie today?” said my coworkers, after he left.
This went on for some time. He’d come in, and I’d risk my job by discounting his plants. Once I helped him find a new tube for his bicycle tire. He got to like the place so much that sometimes he’d just hang out and eat lunch while I watered my plants.
One of those days, he was eating his lunch, food in a white styrofoam takeout container from a local Indian restaurant. I recognized his food. In the name of international relations, and because ninety percent of the foreign words I know have to do with food, I said, “Pakora.”
This made my Indian friend very excited. He pointed to his food. “Pakora!”
I nodded and smiled. “Pakora!”
He said, “Something something something pakora something something!”
I smiled and nodded and eventually went back to watering the plants. He went on about his day, and I went on about mine.
And he showed up again the very next day. “Matt,” said my helpful coworkers, “Your bestie is here!”
He gestured me over. When I arrived, the old Indian man dug deep into the pocket of his shirt. He fishing around for a moment and came out with a handful of, I don’t even know what they were. Some kind of baked dough-ball bread things.
These he held in his bare hands. No packaging. No wrapper. Just five dough balls that had been floating around loose in his pocket while he rode his bike over, that he now held out to me, cupped in his sweaty hands, with an expectant smile on his face.
I smiled back, bravely. “…Thank you!” I said. I held out my cupped hands and he released the dough balls to me.
Behind him, my coworkers bit their lips.
He smiled wider and nodded expectantly. “For lunch,” I said. I doubt he understood. Still holding his gift of food in my hands, I walked towards the back of the store.
Snickering, my coworker followed behind me. “Well, are you going to eat them?” she said.
“Do you want them?” I replied.
“Oh, come on,” she continued. “I dare you to eat one.”