Smoke for Free This Weekend

My novel Smoke in a revised, second edition, is available for free on the Kindle store Saturday and Sunday April 1-2.  This book is very different from Departure Day, a lightly humorous mystery set in a small southern town very nearly exactly like Thomasville, Ga.  Here is the first chapter.  Please download for free!

Chapter 1

Blood is a more persistent element than sweat. Indifferent to the contours of my face, I could feel the warm red stream course from the cut above my temple down to my chin and points farther south. The sweat, on the other hand, jumped, fritted, and fell in rhythm with the movements of my body, but my racing heart simply pushed blood out of the gash where it slowly submitted to gravity. I had never had the sensation of these two bodily fluids mixed together, at least not in these quantities, but they conducted themselves so differently I could tell I was bleeding even though I couldn’t see it.

My front tire went off the pavement again, this time onto a low shoulder and dragged the rest of the bike off the road. I maintained my balance but then hit a fallen tree branch and stumbled to the ground. I cursed and got back to my feet. I put the bike on the road and then realized the man with the shotgun wasn’t behind me anymore; the only danger was the canopy road itself.

Darkness, the impenetrable haze of lightlessness, was new to me. Every bedroom where I had ever slept had been dimly lit by the blue light of a nearby streetlamp. Movie theaters and airplanes had exit signs and floor lighting. Nightlights, green lights on smoke detectors, LCD screens on VCR clocks, computer power buttons, urban light pollution in city parks, cracks under doorways and the moon itself had all introduced some element of illumination to every darkened space I could remember occupying. The tunnel of trees was a perfect, black hole, vertigo’s home address.

I got back on the bike and road more slowly this time, expecting a car to come by I could wave down.   I continued slowly down the centerline, using the reflectors like road Braille. After five minutes or so the dark and the quiet were pierced by a truck approaching in front of me, so I moved to the right and slowed to a stop. I waved at the truck to stop but instead some teenagers yelled and threw an aluminum can out the window. I got back on the bike and started down the middle of the road again, picking up speed as I got accustomed to the dark and regained my equilibrium. K vsemu mozhna previknut, I remembered was my grandmother’s, and Russia’s, mantra: One can get used to anything.

It took me another thirty minutes to get out of the woods where the streetlights made the road visible. I uttered my thanks to Edison and sped up, heading straight to the police station near downtown. I need not have bothered; the police department was already headed my way, four cruisers racing with a fire truck following a half-mile behind. The last car screeched to a near-stop and U-turned on what was now a four-lane highway and accelerated to about a hundred feet in front of me, the driver slamming on his breaks. Both doors opened and the officer on the passenger side hopped out, took a knee, and trained his 9mm at my chest. I stopped.

“Freeze! Get your hands in the air!” he hollered.

A now-familiar head of stylish silver hair perched atop a thick neck and shoulders emerged steadily from the driver’s side. Detective Hightower walked around the squad car and spoke calmly in his sandpaper voice, “Easy does it, Mason. I’m sure Mr. Silovich isn’t going to give us any trouble.”

How in the hell did I get wrapped up in this, I thought to myself. Oh, yeah, Amber took that job at the asylum.

Please share with a friend!  Smoke is free for the weekend!

A night at the Bradfordville Blues Club

MOSES LANE IS CUT from Georgia red clay like all streets in Leon County, Florida, once were. The road narrows in places so cars cannot pass, but they don’t need to anyway because this is an old blues road and it has a rhythm of its own — cars enter early, cars leave late, all together now. A quarter mile up the lane from the hard ball is a small cinderblock building set within a curtain of Spanish moss sprouting some oak trees. There are just a few small holes in the concrete for windows, several of which are plugged with air conditioning units. The blue vinyl tunnel leading to the front door is the foyer of the concrete structure, the lone welcoming detail that announces this is the Bradfordville Blues Club and not a meth lab. Continue Reading

It’s different for everyone (a message for new and soon-to-be parents)

“Do you love him yet?” my dearest of friends Vance (not his real name) asked me over the phone. If you’ve ever had a friend who knows your secrets and actually prefers your dark side, then you have an Vance in your life. I have no reason to fear being honest with him. I was a month ahead of Vance into fatherhood and he was home only a few days from the hospital with twin boys. He was referring to my first-born Zander. “No,” I answered without hesitation.

There was a long pause during which I imagined Vance looking around to make sure no one could hear him. “What a relief,” he sighed. Continue Reading

Where there are no teens (or, the Generation Gap Explained)

The 7-11 was a five-minute walk from home and a good place to get eggnog at Christmas, candy the rest of the year.  In middle school I figured out I could buy cigarettes for friends at school after the Chi Chi’s on Dale Mabry took out the cigarette vending machine (it was a different time) and in high school I could buy beer if the right guy was working the counter.  Embarrassingly, this convenience store was also a good place to hang out.  They had a Tron video game but it was pricey, 50¢ a play, and I rarely had the money for that and candy.  The Rosewood Center, a strip mall built right next door had a sidewalk that abruptly ended with a four-foot drop to the concrete property of the 7-11, no stairs, no switchbacks, not even a safety rail.  It really was a different time.  The Rosewood Center sidewalk was an ideal place to drink a soda, eat a Zero bar (a white chocolate Snickers, if you’ve never seen one), and watch people come and go, such were the entertainment options on Greentree Drive in the late 1980s. Continue Reading

Maren’s Flat

Maren is a complicated person.  Let’s see where she lived when the world was whole

The truck entered the shadow of an elevated road running parallel to the Potomac River. Not for the first time Captain Stakan muttered, “It’s so weird.”

“Yes,” Maren agreed.

“The cars are all still parked nice and neat, not as many as I would expect during the week, but still. If it wasn’t for all the overgrowth this would look like a normal Sunday.”

Maren turned left on Wisconsin Ave and immediately parked against the curb under the elevated road. “Here we are,” she said looking out the windows all around them for threats.

[This is an excerpt from Ciphers: Departure Day Book III]

“Seriously? You lived here?”

“Yes,” she replied looking at him in confusion. “Why?” Continue Reading

Through the Looking Glass

It looks like transit, sounds like money, and smells like politics. It must be Philly’s Girard Streetcar Line.

Philadelphia is home to over 118 miles of bona fide, in-the-asphalt, exposed streetcar rails, the greatest quantity in the country. Many are not in regular use but they are left in place and uncovered and, like a strip tease, leave open the titillating possibility that regular streetcar service will return. On route 15, the Girard Street Line, it has. The green, silver and cream PCC cars hit the rails September 4, 2005 after a 13-year absence. Ridership is high, the city is happy to finally have these rolling museums back in service, and the area around Girard is slowly revitalizing. But for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) that operates the route things could not be much worse. Continue Reading

Palaces without Windows

In 2003 I visited all 170-odd stations of the Moscow Metro and wrote this for the 70th Anniversary of the system

To say that Park Pobedy (Victory Park) station is deep is to say the Moscow Metropolitan Underground Railway is just a good way to get around. Mounting the escalator, one immediately recalls the posters in the metro showing a station attendant, young, blonde, and cute in her blue uniform. She smiles beguilingly and the text reads: “Yest’ Vykhod.” There is an exit.

This is reassuring. The escalators, among the fastest in the world, whisk passengers along at almost a meter per second. So quick are they that, in 2003, six German tourists were hospitalized when the speed of the steps tripped one, who knocked over the other five. Speed notwithstanding, it still takes exactly three minutes to ride from the top to the bottom of the Park Pobedy escalator. If you begin listening to an average pop song as you mount this monster the tune will end right as its teeth spit you out the other end.

This station serves its namesake, once the grounds where Napoleon and his army staged before entering Moscow, and is now home to a complex of museums, memorials and parks. As a trainload of passengers arrives, there is a collective gasp, a buzz that runs throughout the car. Park Pobedy gleams. The walls and floors are orange, gray, and white, representing the colors of Russian’s first military order. The marble has been smoothed and polished to a metallic luster.

On the occasion of Victory Day most of Moscow seems to be heading to Victory Park to watch the fireworks. As the train empties into the hall, there is the rarest of sights: thousands of Muscovites, mouths agape, staring in wonderment at a metro station. A foreigner turns to his Russian companion to ask why Russians are acting this way. Continue Reading