Archive for the ‘Excerpts’ Category

The Spark

Posted: December 1, 2008 in Excerpts

Yes, I know, I promised myself I would concentrate on only one book at a time. Oh well. It all started with the NaNoWriMo thing, which I foolishly signed on for during the same month we were moving from our duplex to a lovely house here on the Lake (don’t even ask me how we did this on unemployment. Suffice it to say we’re paying less rent now than we were before – thanks largely to my lovely wife and her friendships).

Anyway, I started a new manuscript. Probably working out some post-election angst, but also addressing a story idea I’ve conceived of for quite some time now. It’s a trilogy about a second American Civil War, in which the battle lines are drawn not geographically, but ideologically. For the most part, such a war takes place guerrilla-style, until at some point the country erupts in a conflagration which is, at first, confused for mass riots and so forth, but continues to the point of a total societal meltdown.

Anyway, the first story in the trilogy is called The Spark, and I’ve included an excerpt from the first chapter below. Enjoy!

“It’s evil.”

“It’s the lesser of two evils.”

“It’s still evil. You can’t fight evil with evil. You know that.”

“So what are we supposed to do? Nothing? Sit around and wait for something good to drop out of the sky?”

I pulled away from the window and sat on the ledge. Martin glanced up from the easy chair, one leg draped lazily over the armrest. In his blue jeans and T-shirt he looked harmless enough. Not weak, though. Definitely not weak. Martin’s arms were knotted muscles from four years in the army, two of them fighting terrorists overseas. He smiled broadly, if only to keep me from mistaking his tone. He wasn’t mad at me. He was just mad.

His eyes. His eyes were dangerous. And I strongly suspected he would move this conversation from the theoretical to the practical if I lost the argument.

I had to try harder. “It’s not that you wait for something to ‘drop out of the sky.’ It’s that you wait for God to act. And you trust that He will. It’s called faith, Marty.”

He kept smiling and turned away, picking up the half empty bottle of Killian’s on the end table. He’d already ridden my case for not buying American beer. I pointed out that it was still bottled in New Jersey, but he just shook his head. It was his way of saying I didn’t get it.

“You ever heard of a Deus Ex Machina?” he said.

“God of the box.”

“That’s what playwright’s relied on when they wrote themselves into a corner.”

“Yeah, I know what it is.”

“The gods would just show up at the end, rising up from a trap door in the stage and make everything all right. Modern writers don’t use it anymore. Hell, you couldn’t even get a book or play or movie considered if you took that approach.”

“Is this about my writing career?” I hastily tried to change the subject. He was backing me into just such a corner where that kind of theophany would’ve proved useful. “‘Cause I’ve still got a real good shot at finding an agent.”

“You know why writers don’t use that technique anymore?”

He wasn’t going for it. I’d hoped the beer would’ve kicked in and help him jump the tracks onto a new line of thinking. Commenting on my thin chances of making it as a writer was one of Martin’s favorite subjects. At least it felt that way, sometimes. “My little brother,” he’d say. “World famous author. Oh wait! You’re not! How many books have you written now? Five? How many have you had published? Zero! What’s Einstein’s definition of insanity?”

Any moment now I hoped he’d start. Instead, he said again, “Why don’t they use that technique?”

It was not a rhetorical question, and I knew it. His tone demanded an answer. “‘Cause it ain’t realistic,” I mumbled.

“It ain’t realistic. I am not against faith, Peter. I carried a King James Bible with me every time I went into combat. Right here.” He patted his chest. “Wore it over my heart just in case something tore through the Kevlar. And if that bullet wasn’t stopped by my Bible, then at least it would carry its words and embed them in my heart. I can’t think of a better way to die than that.”

I nodded. “You’ve told me.” At least a hundred times.

“I am not against faith. But I am against using faith as an excuse for non-action, as a cover for cowardice.”

“That’s not fair. Just ‘cause I didn’t sign up—”

“I didn’t say that. I ain’t talking about you going in the service. It’s an all volunteer army. You wanted to pursue your ‘writing career.’ Can’t do that when you’re getting shot at, can you?”

I glared at him. He sipped his beer, bemused. Then all levity left his eyes. “I am asking you to consider for a moment whether or not God isn’t waiting for someone to step up and take action. Like Edmund Burke said. ‘All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.’”

“It wasn’t Edmund Burke.”

“Well, who was it?”

I shrugged. “No one really knows. It’s always been attributed to Burke, but no one knows for sure.”

“So he might’ve said it. So what? The question is: are you still gonna do nothing? Are you still gonna wait for your Deus Ex Machina? Or are you finally gonna say ‘enough is enough’, and pick up a weapon to defend what’s right?”

“I’m not saying we should do nothing.”

He stood up and faced me, one hand on his belt, the other holding his beer. Beneath his Cincinnati Reds ballcap, cold blue eyes took my measure, as if weighing whether or not I was even worthy of his time. I felt like our entire relationship hung in the balance. I shivered. He spoke quietly and firmly. “Then what should we do?”

I tried to meet his eyes, but found I could not. I tried a different tack. “Marty, we have elections in this country.” He sneered and walked away, presumably for another beer. “Free and fair elections,” I called to his back. “We’re supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” He came back into the room with two beers. He handed one to me. “The people have spoken. Just because we don’t like the results doesn’t mean we have the right to force them to choose otherwise. Freedom to choose must mean the freedom to choose wrong.”

He sat back down, this time on the armrest. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and uncapped his beer. “Ever hear that governments rule by consent of the governed?”

“John Locke.”

“That means that every government is ‘chosen.’” He put ‘chosen’ in quotes with his fingers. “Hitler was ‘chosen’ by the people. They elected a tyrant. Lenin was ‘chosen,’ if only in the sense that the Russian people were sheep, and they ‘chose’ to let him oppress them. King George was ‘chosen,’ or at least until we decided to choose differently, and took up arms against our oppressor. The American people are sheep, Peter. Just dumb sheep! They’ll follow anyone who promises to keep them warm and well-fed. This man we’ve elected is a Marxist. He can’t support and defend the Constitution, ‘cause he doesn’t believe in what the Constitution says. He doesn’t believe in the rights of man. He doesn’t believe in the right to life, ‘cause he kills unborn babies. He doesn’t believe in the right to liberty, ‘cause he wants to take our guns away, which is our very source and protection of that liberty. And he doesn’t believe in the right to property, ‘cause he wants to redistribute the wealth, instead of letting hard-working Americans keep what they earn.”

He rose from the chair and came over close, leaning into me, his eyes searching. I could smell the beer heavy on his breath. “Do you remember what Dad made us memorize?”

“Jefferson.” I shrank from the word, from him.

“He knew this day would come. I’ve thought about this over and over again. I can’t tell you how many times—when they were shooting at me over there—and I’d get back, and I’d hear what those liberals were saying over here. His letter to William Smith.”

“I know it, Marty.”

He quoted it anyway, measuring the words in his tone, making them his own. “‘God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.’” He beat the window sill with his open palm accenting his point. “‘The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.’”

I sighed and pushed away from him, ducking under his outstretched arm. “I-I don’t know, Marty. Assassinating the President? How are we supposed to pull that off?”

He smiled. Satisfied. I realized then he’d won the argument. The questions were no longer theoretical. He put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Just leave that to me.”

I swallowed the beer, and felt numb.

So there it is. Right now I have about 11,600 words done. It’s moving along in what I hope is an exciting direction.

My story The Autographs is also coming along quite well. I have better than 60,000 words on that, and I’m getting closer to finishing it. I’m confident I’ll have it done before a year has gone by. Not too shabby, actually. I’d like to be able to crank out at least one book a year. More, if I can stay on task and keep to one novel at a time. Given that I have so many in the works right now, and that I haven’t actually given up on any of them, I may be able to do better than that regardless.

Okay, back to work.

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Excerpt from St. Jude

Posted: August 8, 2008 in Excerpts

All right, so here it is: the long-promised excerpt from St. Jude. To set up, this is a conversation between a lawyer, Justin Tower, and his wife over morning breakfast. I’ll let it roll from there…

“You care more about your paper than you do me.”

He feigned hurt. “That’s not true! How could you think such a thing?”

“It is true.” She ran a finger by her nose, as if wiping a tear.

And so it began. The best advice he gave his clients was this: you’re innocent. Don’t let them make you feel guilty. He practiced it diligently.

“No, Muffin. You know I could never love anything the way I love you.” He held onto the paper.

“That’s not saying much.”

A touch! A palpable touch, he thought. But it was humor. And it was best he quit while he still had the chance. “Well, there you may have a point.” He folded the paper and set it down.

She smiled slightly, obviously not too proud of her victory. “I was saying the Ferguson’s have invited us to dinner on the fifteenth.”

“Oh, Mary. Not the Ferguson’s!”

“Well why not? We hardly see them anymore.”

“Well that’s because John Ferguson always hits me up for advice about his ongoing lawsuit. I told him months ago he should’ve settled out of court.”

“They’ve had a rough time of it.”

“I know. Everyone knows. They’ve made sure of that.”

She took a sip of her coffee. “I’m sure it’s just his way of making conversation.”

“I’m sure it’s just his way of hitting me up for free legal advice. Perhaps I should take up tort. Then we can go to their house for dinner and bill him for it all at once.”

She threw a napkin at him. “You’re incorrigible!”

He didn’t answer. Marilyn watched him pick up the folded newspaper slowly, frowning. He stared down at the article. It was just a small item, barely an announcement.

CONVICTED SEX OFFENDER RELEASED. Wellsleyville, NY. Convicted Sex Offender Jude Potter has been released, according to a statement issued by the New York State Department of Correctional Services. Mr. Potter completed an eight year prison sentence on Thursday. When asked about Mr. Potter’s whereabouts a spokesman for the Department of Corrections declined comment, saying only, “Mr. Potter has been informed of his responsibility to register as a Level II sex offender.”

“What is it, dear?” Marilyn asked.

He said nothing, but tipped up the headline so she could read it. Her eyes flared. She twisted the napkin she held into her fist and glared at him. He shook his head. “It’s not him.”

She released the napkin and fumbled with her coffee before spilling a few drops onto the linen table cloth. The liquid soaked into the white and stained it dark. He set the paper down and came over behind her.

“It never ends.” She glanced up at him and patted his hand. He bent down and kissed her forehead.

“I know.” He sat down next to her. “I’d take it all back if I could.” She said nothing. Both glanced up as their son entered the room.

“Hey Sport,” Justin said. “Good morning.” He quickly folded the newspaper article and set it face down on the table. Marilyn glanced warily at her husband, then met her son’s eyes.

“Mornin’.” Sean Tower leaned over and kissed his mom, and snuck a slice of bacon from her plate.

“I saw that.”

Sean slipped the bacon into his mouth and took a seat between his parents. He helped himself to some of the eggs and pancakes in the center of the table.

“So,” said Justin, “what’s on the docket for today?”

Sean dropped a pat of butter on his pancake and smeared it in. “Don’t know. Thought I’d wing it.”

“Don’t you have practice today?”

“Yeah. I wanted to talk to you ‘bout that.” He dabbed his pancake in the syrup. “I’m—I’m thinking about dropping out.”

Both parents exchanged glances. Justin said, “Why would you want to do that? You love football.”

“I dunno. I’m just not into it.”

“Well, what about going for scholarships? We talked about this. Football can open a lot of doors for you, Sport.”

“I don’t know if I want to go through those doors, though.”

“Well—I still think you should keep your options open. You’re still seventeen, Sean. You’ll think differently when you’re twenty.”

“Dad—”

“Keep the football. Finish out the season. And then we can talk about it over the summer.”

“What’s to talk about? You’re gonna force me to do it.”

“Sean—” Marilyn chided.

“I don’t want to! Why can’t I do what I want to do? It’s my own life!”

A muffled rendition of George Michael’s I Want Your Sex rang from his coat pocket. He reached in and muted the cell phone. “I gotta go.”

“Who was that?”

“Nobody.” He pushed away from the table.

“Was that that Thomas character?”

“What if it was?”

“I don’t like the look of him.”

“You don’t know him. You don’t even know him, and already you judge him. Why? ‘Cause I like to hang out with him? You already control what I do. You gonna control who I hang out with now?”

“Just sit down.” Justin’s voice was firm. Sean shoved another piece of bacon in his mouth and pushed past his father.

“Sean!”

Sean shrugged him off.

“Sean!” He called after him. “You’d better be at practice today!”

There was no answer but the slamming of the front door. Deflated, Justin sank back into his chair. He ran a hand over his mouth. “We’re losing him, Mary. We’re losing him and it’s all my fault.”

“It’s not your fault. He doesn’t blame you, and I don’t either.”

“I blame me. I should never have taken that case.”

“You couldn’t have known. Justin Tower, you are the best defense attorney in the county. Warren Meeks asked you for a favor.”

“I should have turned him down.”

“You were doing your job.”

“My job was to be Sean’s father. And I failed to protect him.”

She was silent for a moment.

“I’m sure this will all work out. He’s just confused right now.”

He stared after his son, his heart aching to chase him down and make it right, but knowing it would only make things worse. “I know,” he said.

Sean flung himself out of the house, feeling the eyes of his parents bore a hole in his back. Why did he have to say anything? Why not just keep his trap shut and head down? Why? Three steps off the porch he turned and pushed his way up the sidewalk. He doubted he could move much faster without breaking into a run.

A familiar face peered back at him from a lithe figure leaning against a tree. A grin spread over his face, and he did break into a run.

“Thomas,” he said. He chugged up next to him.

Tom peered at him from half-lidded eyes. “Hey,” he said. He wore a light shirt under the dark leather jacket Sean had picked out for him last Christmas. It still fit him like a glove. Sean traced the curve of his torso with his eyes, following it down to the blue jeans and worn loafers. He felt overdressed in his varsity jacket, khakis and blue oxford.

“You look good.”

Tom answered by flicking his tongue over his upper teeth and winking. Sean’s pulse quickened. “Come on.”

Tom tossed his head, throwing his reddish bangs out of his eyes. “What? No kiss?”

Sean glanced back nervously. “Not here. ‘Rents.”

Tom snorted. “’kay. I’ll try not to take that personally.” He pushed away from the tree and joined Sean on the sidewalk, letting his left hand fall to where Sean could take it when he felt safe.

Not that he ever would.

Excerpt from Age of Reason

Posted: July 10, 2008 in Excerpts

Okay, this is something completely different. I’ve been working on a screenplay I’m calling Age of Reason for a few months now. It’s a totally different way of writing. In this story, a researcher in Israel believes he has found the ossuary of Jesus (yes, I know about the James Cameron fiasco movie). The bones in the box have been crucified, and DNA testing has revealed a match to blood taken from the Shroud of Turin.

A TV special has revealed all this to the general public, and now the members of a local church are dealing with the wreckage to their faith. The whole movie hinges upon Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:14, 19 “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith…. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

So here is the excerpt:

INT. CHURCH CONFERENCE ROOM – NIGHT
Pastor Tom, HARRY LAWSON, and KEN JOHNSON are seated around a conference table in a heated discussion. Tom’s face is drawn and worried. Harry Lawson is a compassionate, middle-aged man with thinning hair. He is dressed casually. Ken Johnson is slightly older, with silver hair and an intense expression. He wears a white collared shirt with a loosened tie and the sleeves rolled partway up. The room is an adult classroom in the church. They each have a pad of paper and pens in front of them, on which they occasionally scribble notes.

KEN JOHNSON
This whole thing is nothing but a sham! People have got to see through this.

HARRY LAWSON
Ken, I know what you’re saying. And I’m inclined to agree with you. But I think we need to address the question: what if it’s not?

KEN
I can’t believe you just said that–

TOM BOSWELL (INTERRUPTING)
Hang on, Ken.

KEN (CONTINUING)
I mean, where is your faith?

HARRY (TERSELY)
My faith is right where it’s always been. But I won’t deny for a moment it’s taken a thrashing tonight.

TOM (TRYING TO PACIFY THEM)
At this point we don’t know–

KEN (INTERRUPTING)
Oh yes, we do!

TOM (GLARES AT KEN)
We don’t know how people are going to react to this. And we need to formulate a response. But we need to respect the fact that people are going to be struggling with it.

HARRY
That’s what I’ve been saying!

KEN
I don’t disagree that people are going to be struggling with this. That’s precisely why we need to be rock-solid in our response. They need to see we are steady in our faith, that we’re not shaken by this

(beat)
fallacy!

Tom and Harry exchange glances. Neither looks as confident as Ken claims to be.

INT. BOSWELL BEDROOM – NIGHT.
It is dark. Tom has changed into pajamas and is now slipping into bed next to his wife. He lies down, facing away from her.
Camera cuts to her side of the bed, where she is still wide awake. During their conversation, camera continues to switch between their two sides.

DIANE
How’d it go tonight?

TOM
You’re still awake?

DIANE
Can’t sleep.

TOM
Ah. Things went about as well as could be expected, I suppose. Ken’s all over it. Calls the whole thing a hoax. Harry’s not sure what to think.

DIANE
And you?

TOM (HESITANT)
I don’t know. Just kinda numb, I guess. I don’t know what to think. I want to look into it more, see what’s behind it all.

(beat)
Thing is, I just can’t chuck my faith ‘cause of one TV special.

(beat)
On the other hand….

DIANE (AFTER A MOMENT)
On the other hand what?

TOM
I just can’t figure out why God is doing this to us. I understand a test of faith. I get that. But this? This just seems a little-I don’t know-over the top. It leaves me to wonder.

DIANE
What?

TOM
Whether or not God is doing it. What if it’s not God? What if He’s not even there?

Diane doesn’t respond. On her side of the bed, we see her begin to cry.

Another Coppersmith Excerpt

Posted: July 4, 2008 in Excerpts

This one is a bit darker, less action oriented. I think it nicely sums up what I consider dark, edgy Christian fiction to be. I’d love to hear your feedback on it.

Marshall opened his eyes, staring momentarily at the swirling pattern on the ceiling and the paisley design that covered the walls. He listened for a moment, hearing nothing but the twittering of birds outside. Pale light illumined the silk curtain that cascaded in graceful folds from the top of the window to the floor. A digital clock on the nightstand said 9:17 a.m. He pulled the comforter off his naked body and sat up, looking around. Nothing was familiar. The dresser, bedposts and nightstand were all polished maple. A collection of jewelry boxes, hair brushes and pill bottles occupied most of the top of the dresser. Set near the clock with its glaring digits was a half-completed sampler. Throwing his feet over the bedside, he felt the cold, hardwood floor smooth against his soles as he stood up.

He walked to the closet, pulling the bifold doors open to reveal a packed collection of dresses, blouses, shirts, pants, and skirts. On a hook on the side was a fuzzy pink bathrobe. He pulled it out and slipped into it. The bathrobe barely reached his knees, left most of his forearms exposed, and smelled of stale perfume. But at least it was warm. Leaving the bedroom, he went to the bathroom and relieved himself, then down the hall to the living room and kitchen. The house was quiet, but its unfamiliarity and traditional décor made him feel unwelcome, as if the very structure were crying out, protesting his intrusion, his violence.

He entered the kitchen and searched until he found a can of coffee stored in the freezer and the internal apparatus to an electric percolator. The filters eluded him, so he settled for a paper towel from the rack under the cabinet. He prepared half a pot of coffee, plugged it in, and listened as the water began to churn from the heat. From the bread box he grabbed a couple of slices for toast, and found some eggs and butter in the refrigerator. Soon he’d whipped himself up a plate of eggs over-easy, toast and coffee.

As he enjoyed his breakfast he became aware of another smell mingling with the taste of his eggs. Reluctantly he put down the fork and entered the living room. She lay still on the couch, eyes closed and sunken. Her face showed distinct bruising from where he’d punched her. The color of her skin was pale, almost gray. A distinct, malodorous aroma lingered about her frame.

Marshall crouched down in front of her and sipped his coffee, trying not to breathe through his nose. He was repulsed and drawn. This was the first time he’d ever been this close to a dead body. Even the pastors he’d judged hadn’t died right away.

Most of them were so wounded by their trial they died soon after. But even for the one or two who’d died immediately at his hand, he’d never stuck around long enough to appreciate it.

The elegance of death.

It was really quite beautiful.

The Levitical code forbade him from touching a corpse. He was beginning to understand why. Something so serene, so sacred, should never be violated by human contact. It occurred to him that he’d handled her body last night when he’d laid her on the couch. He wondered if it made him unclean. Odd he’d never considered it before.

“No,” he whispered. “Surely not. It was too soon. The life is in the blood, and her blood had not yet left her.”

Nothing defiled him.

He rose to his feet and returned to his breakfast, opening a window to release the smell.

It grew worse through the day.

Marshall took a shower, and took care of his laundry in her washer and dryer. He redressed. He watched T.V. He made himself lunch.

Flies collected on the woman, crawling about her face and in through her nose and open mouth.

As the day grew long he returned to check on her, fascinated by the macabre progression of decay. Another thought entered his mind, one too compelling to dismiss.

It was the finality of it. The absolute, irrevocable inevitability of death. The way of all flesh to stop breathing, grow cold, and dissolve.

Perhaps that’s all there was. Nothing more. Nothing hereafter.

He pushed it to one side. Focused on the mundane tasks of the day. The Sabbath drew to a close. He washed up the dishes, although he didn’t know for whom. He made the bed and straightened up from the night before as best as he could, though it bordered on work.

What if there was nothing more?

He concentrated on what he was doing, forcing the thoughts away from his mind. There was life after death. There just had to be. Otherwise….

Otherwise it was all for nothing.

He shook his head. What did he know to be true? He knew that Jesus had raised himself from the dead. He had the power to do so through his perfect obedience to the law of God. Marshall would do the same. Would earn the power of resurrection. As Jesus himself said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

He was chosen. He would not be subject to the slow decay of years. He would rise again.

Unless.

He rushed to the living room, staring at the corpse on the couch. The woman before him might be an augury of his own future.

Could God be so cruel?

Excerpt from The Autograph

Posted: June 25, 2008 in Excerpts

This is an excerpt from The Autograph, a story I’m currently working on. It’s a little long, but I hope you like it.

“Brother Demetri, your garden looks well.”

Demetri Antonescu turned to his unexpected guest, surprised and somewhat pleased to have a visit from the Abbot. He immediately grit his teeth against the surge of pride forming in his heart, and fought for an appropriately humble reply.

“It is the blessing of the Lord that makes it so. He sends the sun and rain, and gives the increase to these simple tomato plants.” He fingered a leaf on one of the plants, then picked up his clipping shears and snipped off a large, round tomato from the vine. He held it up for the Abbot. The Abbot took it with a smile.

“You tend it with a faithful hand, Brother.”

“Thank you, Father.” The sun was bright today, and the breeze blew fresh from the Aegean over the peninsula, gently caressing the leaves in his garden and filling his heart with a warm contentment. “It is my task.” He turned back to the tomato plants.

“I have another for you.”

Demetri paused, hand still holding the clipping shears. There was something in the Abbot’s voice that quelled the peace in his heart. His fingers tightened on the shears, and for a moment it felt familiar, reminding him of the gun. He set the clippers down and stood to face the monk. Drawn to his full height of six foot two, two hundred and twenty pounds, he towered over the smaller Abbot, and in his black cassock and brimless kamilavkion cut an intimidating figure. In his previous life in the Romanian Securitate, he could take a man like the Abbot and send him to God with a single strike to the Adam’s apple, or heart, or any of a dozen other vital targets on the human body. Such thoughts troubled him now, and why he should have them toward his spiritual mentor—a man who had shown him nothing but kindness—filled him with sorrow. He’d come to the holy mountain two years after Comrade Supreme Commander Nicolae Ceauşescu’s execution in Târgovişte on Christmas Day 1989. It had been almost twenty years since he’d taken a life. He’d spent a decade reliving the faces of those he’d killed, his willfully deaf ears now awake to their pleading. He hated himself for the monster he’d become, and he marveled at the grace of a God who could forgive such a man as he. His spiritual training at Mount Athos purged him of the nightmares he’d earned enforcing the Romanian dictator’s will. But there was a deeper training, one ingrained from a generation of hunting down dissidents and foreign operatives which rose to the surface now. There was something in the Abbot’s voice which called to it.

“How may I serve?” he asked, praying to God his instincts were wrong.

The Abbot smiled, oblivious to his torment, and invited him inside the skete. Demetri swallowed, staring up at the thatched roof and cinder block walls of the skete. It had been his home for more than a decade, but now it felt foreign. A fragment of scripture trailed through his mind. ‘Eu sînt străin şi venetic printre voi.’ ‘I am an alien and a stranger among you.’ The three pillars of monastic life were poverty, chastity, and obedience. He’d willingly given up material possessions to serve God. He’d never had much to begin with. Long ago he’d lost interest in sex, except for the occasional indiscretion. Here on the holy mountain women were forbidden, and he deliberately allowed the feel of a woman’s body to fade from his memory. And obedience? His years in the Securitate taught him to obey without question—a virtue here on the mountain.

And yet, he hesitated. The Abbot poked his head out of the skete, a puzzled look on his face. Demetri fondled the clippers, then flipped them in his hand so he clutched the sharpened blades, with the handles pointed safely downward. He ducked through the door and set them in their place on the shelf, next to his Romanian Bible and book of prayer.

The Abbot swung the teapot over the coals of the fire pit in one corner, tossing a few more briquettes into the glow and stirring it with the simple poker by the hearth. Demetri picked up a pair of cups from the shelf and set them on the low table by the only window in the skete, draping a single tea bag in each one. The Abbot took his seat across from Demetri, leaving him the chair closest to the door. He sat with his back to it, trying not to feel uncomfortable.

“Where to begin?” said the Abbot, folding his hands. “Are you familiar with the Domo tou Bibliou?”

Demetri furrowed his brow. He’d heard of it, once or twice in idle conversation—speculation among the monks about relics yet uncovered. Always it was dismissed as a legend, on par with those who sought the Holy Grail.

“It is a myth,” he replied.

“It has been found.”

He laughed nervously. “Surely, Father, you have made a joke—a story to play sport with me.”

The Abbot poured his tea. He looked at Demetri from over the kettle, his eyes veiled by the steam. “Dear Brother, I would not trifle with you. The legend of the Domo is true. This most holy relic was entrusted to a simple priest by the Bishop Crescens, before he left to join his brothers in glory at the hand of the pagan Caesar Trajan. The priest carried the secret with him to the grave. Even his name has been forgotten. But in nineteen centuries of sleep he did not fail to keep this sacred trust—until now. A week ago the Protus learned an unbeliever has disturbed his rest.”

“The crypt has been found?”

“It has.”

“Then it is lost?”

“No brother,” the Abbot shook his head. “The Lord has smitten the unbeliever. But the man was an archaeologist and would have told others of his discovery. We must protect it, my friend.”

Demetri stopped in the act of sipping his tea. He swallowed and set the cup down. His instincts had been right. “You wish me to leave the mountain.” It was a statement, not a question.

The Abbot sighed. “We have prayed about this mightily, my friend. There is no one else here who possesses the skills needed to accomplish this great work.”

“Skills?” he stared down at his hands. “Father, do you know what it is you are asking of me? To go back to that life? To become that which I have crucified? Eighteen years I have tried to forget these ‘skills!’” He put his head in his hands, trying to flush the memories from his eyes. “Long ago I beat my sword into a plow. Please do not ask me to remake it.”

The Abbot rose and came around the table to place a kindly hand on the monk’s shoulder. “Dearest Brother, we would never ask such a thing. And if you do not wish this assignment, someone else may go. Someone far less likely to succeed, I am afraid, and perhaps at greater cost.”

Demetri turned and looked hard at the Abbot. “Who?” he asked. There were more than sixteen hundred monks in the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos. He knew of none who could do what the Abbot proposed.

“Consider this, my friend, with all that you are, and all that you once were, whether or not you were saved for such a time as this. Perhaps it is God’s will.”

God’s will. He folded his hands and rested his chin on them. So much he had tried to forget. Could it be? Might God even redeem his past for His service? His eyes wandered to the window. Outside the sun shone on the leaves and trees—a field of green rushing endlessly down to the perfect, forgetful blue of the Aegean Sea. Maybe he wouldn’t have to be the man that he was. Maybe this time would be different. He turned around and looked up at the Abbot who leaned against the doorframe, watching him with silent, patient eyes. When Demetri spoke, his voice was even and smooth—a ready soldier willing to lay down his life for his Captain.

“What would you have me do?”

Excerpt from The Coppersmith

Posted: June 13, 2008 in Excerpts

Okay, so since I keep talking about The Coppersmith in this blog and on various forums so much, I thought I’d give you an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters. Enjoy!

He stared over the surface of Onondaga Lake, marking the small whitecaps as the wind pressed against the water, shoving it repeatedly against the shore like some abusive step-dad. Ahead he saw the white facing of the Carousel Mall, its teal roof and spire pushing ahead into the air, the kitsch steeple of a mega church to consumerism. The city of Syracuse sprawled out to the right toward the end of the lake, a vast display of commercial and industrial warehouses decaying through time and disuse. Deeper in, the city showed signs of life and urban renewal, especially in the inner city near Clinton Square and the various government buildings, and also in Armory Square, with its bars and cafés appealing to the student body of Syracuse University. But the residential side streets of south Syracuse were garbage strewn and graffiti stained, graphically highlighting the street gang problem city officials had long denied. The city’s renaissance was less a rebirth than a refusal to die completely. A combination of political maneuvering and inherent cynicism stifled the entrepreneurial ambitions of even the most ardent developers. The consequence was the city, like many in the United States, lay exhausted on the ropes of twenty-first century progress, not willing to concede the bout, but unable to score a knock-out either.

He breathed in, filling his lungs. The vague fishy smell of the lake mingled with the cool dampness of the air. A storm was on its way, probably lake effect sweeping down from Ontario in one of its frequent reminders of the great lake’s presence to the northwest. A small prayer of unknown tongues slipped through his lips, and the interpretation that pressed itself upon his mind was thanksgiving for the weather. The storm would hold out long enough for him to accomplish his mission. Torrents of cleansing rain would wash away the evidence of his passing and obscure his retreat. Slipping his hands inside the fingers of the work gloves, he stepped in the boat and examined his cargo.

Pastor John Ellingworth glared at him from where he sat in the bow, not quite as fearful as he’d been when Marshall first tackled him in the lavatory at the Full Gospel church on Salina Street, but not confident, either. He was secured across his ankles, knees, arms, and hands with duct tape. A final piece was fastened across his mouth. He continued to work at the tape with his jaw and tongue, but it showed little signs of loosening. Marshall had pressed his hands together and wrapped them in tape. A mocking posture of prayer. He further strapped them both across his neck and behind his knees with several layers of tape. It kept his hands in an uplifted position but prevented him from standing up.

Marshall inspected the bindings, then patted him on the head while he returned to the stern. He sat down beside the motor and filled the tank from the gas can on the floor of the boat. He took what remained of the gas and began sloshing it liberally around the deck and sides of the boat, pouring a generous portion over the top of Pastor John’s head. John squealed beneath his tape. He leaned to one side, examining the water.

“Go ahead,” Marshall said to him. He sat bolt upright. “I really don’t care if you drown here or drown there, heretic. But it’d be nice if you’d stay with me a little bit longer.” He fired up the motor and grinned. “Helps with the message, you see.”

John sank back down in his seat as the boat moved away from the pier. A shout caused them both to turn their heads. On shore, not a hundred feet away, a man ran toward them, pointing. Marshall’s breath came out in a sudden laugh as he gunned the motor, driving the boat into deeper water. John eyes went wide, fixed on the figure on shore, his nostrils flaring with every breath, unmindful of the acrid fumes that penetrated his nasal cavities. He glanced at Marshall, the corners of his eyes creased in what could only have been a grin. Marshall wanted to reach forward and slap the grin off his face, but to do so would require letting go of the tiller, and the boat would stall. He settled for glaring at him menacingly, and ignoring the weakening shouts of the man on shore.

John’s eyes reverted back to the shoreline, squinting under the burning of the fuel that dripped on his eyelids. The man pulled out a cell phone and talked into it, watching the boat disappear in the waves.

Soon they were in deeper water, though the shoreline was visible in all directions. John found the gasoline had loosened the glue of the duct tape, and by rubbing his face against his shoulder and the tips of his fingers, the flap of tape peeled away. It fell from his mouth, still clinging to the other side of his face. He rubbed the other cheek, but it hung there resolutely.

“You won’t get away with it,” he said.

Marshall glanced up, studying the pastor a moment. He shrugged.

“That guy on shore had a cell phone. He’s called the cops. You know they’re coming.”

“You’re probably right.”

“What do you think they’ll do to you when they catch you?”

Marshall smiled and looked away before answering. “It doesn’t matter what happens to me. This isn’t about me.”

“What is it about?”

“This is about what my Lord requires. I am merely the Lord’s instrument, dealing out justice to his enemies, and wrath upon those who prophesy falsely in his name. Whether he wishes me to stop now or see his gospel to completion is up to him. But I will not stop until he takes me.”

“Listen,” said John, “you don’t have to do this. You-you could find someone else. Just put me down on shore and get away before they find you. You could try again later, when they’re not watching.”

Marshall felt the urge to vomit rise in his throat. Worm, he thought. He said nothing.

John pressed his lips together. A twinge of conscience quietly informed him he was encouraging someone else to die in his stead. He angrily shoved the thought to one side. He was only trying to buy some time! If he could convince this lunatic to see reason, he could give the cops a complete description. He knew his face, his car, everything. They’d catch him before he hurt anyone else. Please, God! Jesus, please make him believe me!

“Is that what you’d like me to do then?” said Marshall. “Take you to the docks?”

John’s breath caught in his throat. Oh God, yes! Thank you, Jesus! He nodded his head. “Yes! Please.”

Marshall looked away, a small smile spreading across his lips. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said.

He angled the boat toward the end of the lake and pushed the throttle to full. John turned his head to see where they were going. Over the sound of the boat’s motor he heard another sound, loud and throbbing. Both he and Marshall looked up when a helicopter passed overhead. The chopper circled and came back, settling down low over the lake. A uniformed policeman put a bullhorn to his lips and shouted through it, “Shut down your engine and put your hands on your head!”

John stared at the helicopter, watching it grow larger as the boat sped toward it. His captor showed no signs of slowing down. John turned again in time to see Marshall hold up a large muzzled gun and point it at the helicopter.

“No!” he cried as his eyes were seared by a blinding flash of light. A glowing ball of pink flame arc toward the aircraft. The aircraft lurched in mid air and spun on its axis. The tail rotor whipped around ninety degrees. The copter barely missed the flare that whizzed toward them. In a second, the boat sped under the helicopter. John turned back to watch it. He saw Marshall reloading the flare gun with one hand. The other firmly grasped the tiller of the boat. With a gurgled cry he flung himself at Marshall. Marshall rose in one fluid motion and lashed out at his forehead, palm holding the weapon. It smashed into his face.

John’s vision exploded into a dizzying array of light. For a moment he thought the flare gun had gone off in his face. Then his vision cleared. He stared at the azure vault of the sky. The endless blue was broken by a dark bar that passed above him, then blue again. He blinked. His face throbbed with pain. The coppery taste of his own blood mingled with gasoline seeped past his lips to assault his tongue. He was on the bottom of the boat, and they’d just passed under a bridge. Behind them, closing fast, came the helicopter. Ahead, another bridge loomed. A green sign hung across it said Hiawatha Boulevard.

They were coming to the inner harbor. He pushed himself into a sitting position. His whole face ached. He was certain his nose was broken. Behind them, the helicopter came in closer, then inexplicably it rose again. In the distance the flashing lights of several police cars converged on the harbor. The second bridge flashed overhead, and the helicopter came down again, almost on top of them. Marshall glanced up to watch it for a moment, then back down at the man who cowered near his feet. “Don’t you just love being out on the water?” he exclaimed.

John blinked his eyes in disbelief. This guy was really nuts. Turning around again, he saw the final bridge before the harbor coming up fast. Bear Road, he thought. He looked back.

Marshall crouched on the boat’s aft bench. He winked at the pastor. “It’s time to pay for your sins, Paulist!” he said. John furrowed his brow. “I convict thee of breech of the holy Sabbath, teaching heresy, and blasphemy against the Most High God!”

Marshall rose partway to his feet as they neared the bridge. He pointed the gun at John. “No! No, wait!” John cried.

“And I sentence thee to death!”

The flare exploded from the gun, and Marshall leaped backward off the boat just as it passed under the bridge. The fuel caught fire. Pastor John Ellingworth quickly knew the searing heat of the Coppersmith’s judgment. He screamed.

What everyone else saw was a fiery craft of roiling black smoke careening toward the harbor. It veered toward the right as it chopped across the waves. It struck bow first into the pilings along the pier. The stern of the boat lifted clean out of the water, catapulting a flaming figure toward the wall before crashing down again. The body slammed against the wall with a resounding thud. It dropped straight down, disappearing beneath the water. The half-empty gas can exploded first, rocketing into the air, followed by the louder boom of the gas tanks themselves. Pieces of debris flew high up before dropping back down to land and water.

As rescuers dove into the water to recover what was left of Pastor Ellingworth, a slender form crawled out of the water beneath the Bear Road Bridge. He ran a hand over his forehead, pushing the water out of his eyes. He watched the glorious display of God’s power before climbing up the embankment beneath the bridge. He stripped off his coat and jeans and stuffed them in the plastic bag he’d kept in his pocket before stepping out into the sunshine. He climbed up the embankment to the sidewalk above.

“What was that?!”

He turned to the voice. A young man about his own age stared at the remains of the boat. “I dunno,” he said. “Looks like some crazy fisherman caught himself on fire and blew up his boat.”

The kid glanced at him. “What happened to you?”

He looked at his jogging shorts and T-shirt, still soaking wet. “Yeah. The explosion. I freaked out and fell in!”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, I gotta go change.”

“Peace.”

Excerpt from Jezebel

Posted: June 11, 2008 in Excerpts

Time for a new post. This one is from my story Jezebel, a second sequel to The Coppersmith. It takes place right after Topheth. Now that I have a couple of people reading this, I hope you like it (that, and it might distract you from the palm leaf).

One
“You’re not gonna believe this.” Bobby Fulton stepped up his pace to stay ahead of his older brother Ray. His breath came out in a wispy vapor. It flashed briefly in the morning sun before vanishing. Ray shook his head and lengthened his stride.
“What are you yammering about?” He took a puff from his inhaler and tried to be nonchalant. It was probably nothing. When his little brother approached him five minutes ago he was chatting amicably with Jessie Curran, one of the cooler boys in school. Always good to buff your image, he thought, just like his old man said. Ray never had been the most popular kid in school, a fact largely due to his chronic asthma. He’d spent most of his middle school career falling further and further down the social totem pole—a worry that plagued him relentlessly. Even the new cell phone he showed off after Christmas was met with a dismissive nod. That’s why striking up a conversation with Curran was such an opportunity. Jessie’d actually asked him how to get past the fourth level in Halo three, and Ray was more than happy to oblige.
Then Bobby was tugging at his coat and whining, “Raymond! You gotta come see this!”
He rolled his eyes and told Jessie it was probably a dead bird or something stupid like that. Bobby persisted, and he finally pulled away to follow him. It annoyed him that Mom insisted he watch his brother. He’d rather have been shooting hoops or scoring at the arcade—anything. Mom seemed possessed by this ridiculous notion that he and his brother should play together. There was five years difference between them. Playtime consisted of nothing more than a walk to Lincoln Park where Bobby’d clamber on the monkey bars while he sat and played with his Gameboy. Sometimes he’d watch groups of other kids gathering for a pick up game of football nearby—kicking up clouds of dust and shouts of action as one team pressed the other down the field. There’s no way he’d ever be allowed to join them. Even if he wasn’t under strict orders to keep an eye on his sibling, his parents would hit the roof if they caught him playing football with his condition. And his little brother had no compunctions at all about telling on him. He hated him for that.
Still, Bobby had his curiosity piqued.
They made a left turn down an alleyway and Ray grew wary. This was Chip Geller’s turf. Geller was an eighth grader who stood about a foot taller than everyone else in his class. It was widely reported he carried a real switchblade. Last year he’d beaten up a ninth grader with a baseball bat in the fields behind school. Ray wasn’t sure the story was completely true, but Geller was no one to mess with at any rate. In the football games he watched Geller always played quarterback. He’d have made a better linebacker with his size and strength and utter lack of a throwing arm, but nobody had the guts to tell him that—leastways not to his face.
He pulled his hands out of his pockets and searched the alleyway. Bobby went on confidently ahead, oblivious to the danger. He looked over his shoulder when he sensed his brother wasn’t following and urged, “Come on Ray! You gotta see this.”
.
Swallowing, Ray followed him into the shadows.
The alley was cooler than the street outside. With no sun to warm it the alley took on a damp quality in the early winter air—a chill that seeped through his jacket and pants and left him feeling like he wore nothing at all. Rivulets of water seeped from downspouts and pooled along the edges of the brick and mortar walls, soaking and staining the decaying remains of broken bottles and empty cigarette packs. Trash cans lurked beside the locked rear doors of shops and apartments, occasionally letting their pungent contents spill to the asphalt below.
He glanced nervously at the shadowed doorways he passed, half-expecting Geller to leap out from any one of them and—well, do something unpleasant—but nothing happened.
“Come on, Ray! Come on!”
“What is it, already?” His voice sounded whiney and impatient. He hated it. Hated Bobby for making him sound this way. Stupid kid.
“He’s up here.” Bobby pointed to a silver gray car parked in the side alley. The chrome and paint were both highly polished, reflecting the ice-blue of the sky even down here in the darkness of the alley, like a diamond glittering in mud. It clearly didn’t belong here. Raymond slowed as he approached the car, his brow furrowed. It was a Lexus. A new one, too. What was it doing here?
“He’s in there, Raymond. I just saw him like that.”
Him? Him who? Ray crept up to the driver’s side window, where the figure of a man was clearly slouched in the front seat. He put his hands on the glass and stared down. The man’s eyes bulged in their sockets, with pinpricks of brownish-red spots dotting the whites around his lids. His face was bloated and gray, and an ugly purple welt stained the flesh under his skin. His right hand clutched at his throat, claw-like. A part of Ray’s mind told him to look away. He shouldn’t see this. It was then he realized he couldn’t move.
.
“That guy’s dead, ain’t he?”
“Don’t use ain’t, Bobby. And yeah, he’s dead. We should—uh—we should call the cops or something.”
“Think there’ll be a reward?”
Raymond turned and stared at his little brother. Bobby stuck his jaw out. “I found him.”
Raymond turned back to the dead guy. “This isn’t like finders-keepers, Bobby! Sheesh!” He shook his head and pulled out his cell phone. He dialed 9-1-1, and waited for the operated to pick up the phone.
Bobby pouted.

Excerpt from Topheth…

Posted: June 7, 2008 in Excerpts

Fire blazes before him, roiling clouds of black smoke smelling of burning vinyl, fuel and rubber. Glass shatters and crackles as the flames press against the van’s windows. Inside is Ashley. Little Ashley. He screams to her but she doesn’t answer. He reaches for her but a wave of heat slams him to the ground. Ashley, Ashley!

Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.

His sob broke the silence and he looked up, startled by the sound.

Let me go, Daddy.

No, Ashley. It’s time to come home.

Please, let me go.

Come home.

Daddy—

Now.

He picked up the bottle and the lighter, striding quickly to the front of the church. He splashed the fuel across the altar, the pulpit, and the new screen for the projector. He ran a line of it along the back bench of the choir loft, watching it dribble in sagging streams down the back of the pew. He dumped more on the carpet in front of the altar.

No, Daddy!

“It’s time to come home, now.” He bent forward and lit the cigarette lighter, holding the flame close to the fuel-soaked carpet.

“Obey your Daddy, now.”

A burst of orange and blue flame shot out along the carpet, flickering whimsically under the altar. It reached the line of gasoline that had fallen down the right leg and started lapping greedily up the table. He stared at the flame, fascinated by the demon’s pulsations. The fire climbed up the altar, and the line on the floor spread to the pulpit. Heat pushed against his face. It was a dance of hunger, a gyrating pulse of pure desire caressing, embracing, licking, gorging itself upon the wood.

Ashley.

The heat stroked his face, inviting. He gave himself to it, fingers of warmth his neck, his arms, his torso, his loins. He was aroused. Later, he’d feel guilty for this foreplay. Right now, he wanted to give himself to it, to let the spirit that claimed his daughter’s life bring him to climax. He pushed out a heavy breath and retreated to the far pew. He fished out a fresh cigarette and stuck it between his teeth. The heat hadn’t reached the rear of the church, and the back of the pew still felt cool to his touch. His desire subsided.

That was always the danger. The demon wanted him. It craved his flesh, to possess him body and soul—a lover whose embrace would kill. But the demon also carried his daughter’s essence. He could bring her back, but only through fire. The succubus brought her with it, dangling her presence, her smell before him, bait to lure him into the infernal coitus. It was a treacherous courtship, letting the demon woo him. He gave the spirit the churches instead, letting it satiate its hunger on those who’d wrought his grief.

He took a drag from his cigarette and leaned his head against his closed fist. God, how he missed her! Firelight flickered before him, brightening the church with its intensity. A clump of ash fell away from his cigarette, collapsing on the floor like a delicate, gray snowflake. A single touch would smear it into oblivion.

Something fell up front, sending a shower of sparks toward the ceiling. He started, looking up at the front of the church engulfed in flames. Outside the church, flashes of red pulsated against the windows. He’d stayed too long. Swallowing hard, he pushed himself from the pew and darted for the exit. He grabbed the handle and pulled, stunned when the door refused to budge. He tugged again, but it wouldn’t open. Behind him, he heard the demon laugh. He turned around, staring wide-eyed at the entrance to hell he’d opened up. The abyss of fire and smoke stood yawning before him. He turned and yanked on the door.