Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dirty Southside Jam (Kickstarter details and an excerpt)

 As I work to publish my second novel, Dirty Southside Jam, I have started a fundraiser on Kickstarter.  Obviously, I would be grateful for your support, so I'm providing a link here:

 Dirty Southside Jam on Kickstarter

You can learn all about the book and my goals for the fundraiser, as well as contribute, just by clicking that link.  Just think: you would be helping a starving artist to take the next step toward putting food on the table for three hungry children and one pregnant wife.  For the record, the kids are well-fed, but as anyone who has children can attest, they're almost always hungry.  Anyway, I wanted to provide you with something more here, so I'm going to drop the basic hook for Dirty Southside Jam and an excerpt on you.  I'm giving you the first chapter, and even if you don't elect to chip in and support me, any and all feedback is welcome.

Thanks, peeps!  You know I'd do it for you.

So, what's Dirty Southside Jam about?  It goes something like this:

Billie Boyd, better known to the good people of Bogut as Blue, is the kind of guy whose luck only comes in one flavor. Sometimes it seems that his entire life has been punctuated by one bad break after another, but that's okay. He's a simple guy at heart, a man who has learned not to expect much. Everything changes when Blue finds a small fortune and decides to keep it, believing that his luck has finally turned.

He should have known better.

Now, good old Blue is at odds with a drug-peddling brute, a ruthless killer, and a corrupt lawman. His only ally is an aging drifter who likes to smoke pot and drive fast.  A man who never asked for much has bitten off way more than he can chew, and it's becoming painfully obvious that his next bad break will definitely be his last.

Now, here's a sneak peek at the first chapter.  Enjoy!

Chapter One: Good Old Blue

Billie Boyd was enjoying another leisurely night at Cinema City.  Lately, leisurely nights were all the place had to offer.  Billie was better known to the people of Bogut as “Blue” and he was a quiet fellow who seemed to give off a bit of warmth, an intriguing outsider who was very comfortable in his own skin.
The lean projectionist was in the lobby, wiping down the counters with a rag that was old and worn.  Blue had long hair that he sometimes pulled back in a ponytail, but tonight it was hanging in his face as he worked.  Blue had never been employed anywhere else and the theater was like a second home to him, but he didn’t think it would last much longer.
The failing cinema had once been regarded as a terrific place to catch a movie.  Twenty years ago it was undoubtedly the local hot spot, particularly when a true blockbuster was playing.  In those days, the parking lot was often so full that late arrivals had to park at the pizzeria down the hill and hoof it from there. 
Blue had made that journey on numerous occasions in his time, but nobody had a hard time finding a parking spot these days.  The old theater was barely turning a profit and the parking lot was mostly empty, even on weekends. 
Cinema City had fallen into a sad state of disarray and it was getting worse with every day that passed.  The carpet was old and dirty, fraying in some places and stained in others.  In one spot the red wallpaper had peeled back to expose a filthy yellow expanse of drywall.   The video games lining the lobby were a primitive array of battered shells housing unheralded titles.
Blue watched as an old man approached the front of the cinema to study the posters advertising the movies they were playing.  The old man lingered in front of each sheet, trying to muster up some enthusiasm, but nothing caught his fancy.   Grimacing, he turned and walked away. 
Blue sighed.  He loved this place, and it pained him to watch it wither away right before his very eyes.  They hadn’t added any new features to their bill for three weeks in a row, a drought that would hamper any cinema’s business.   In fact, this was the worst Saturday night Blue had ever been on hand for.
They had sold a whopping sum of fourteen tickets for the three seven o’clock shows.  To make matters worse, the concession stand hadn’t made so much as a dime after the movies started.  Unfortunately, this was typical of late, as Cinema City was mired in a lingering slump that had Barry contemplating doing away with the latest show on each day aside from Friday and Saturday.  If it came to that, things were definitely coming to a halt sooner rather than later. 
Blue had held his job since he was in high school and he had always displayed a loyalty to the place that was inexplicable and wholly undeserved.  Barry made it clear that he liked Blue and appreciated his efforts, but he wasn’t about to provide a raise that matched his praise.   He seldom gave his star employee enough hours and the old coot was always too busy ogling the young females who operated the concession stand to truly appreciate Blue’s efforts. 
When Barry finally got tired of scraping by and decided to close the doors for good, Blue would have to move on to something else.    Until then he was getting paid for doing almost nothing, which was nice, but maybe it would be wise for him to start looking at other options. 
The next job he took would certainly be more difficult.  He had it made at Cinema City.  Most nights he spent far more time reading whichever book he was currently devoted to than attending to the patrons or the projectors.  Currently, he was plowing through an old copy of North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent.  His copy of the novel came complete with yellow pages and a musty odor.  It was one of his all-time favorites and it frequently inspired him to laugh out loud.

Later, after all the shows had let out, Blue finished his work upstairs in the booth, which was actually a large room.  He deftly threaded each film through the projector for the next shift, his fingers dancing through the process, his mind elsewhere.   Once he had assured himself that everything was in order with a cursory walk-through, he went to the box and shut down all of the appropriate breakers in rapid succession.  He went downstairs, set the alarm, and exited through the side door. 
Blue strolled over to his car, enjoying the crisp night air.  Some people seemed unable to shake their fear of the dark, but he had always enjoyed the night.
Blue drove a 1992 Toyota Tercel that had a heart of gold.  He had owned four cars and each vehicle aside from the Tercel had proven to be a total piece of shit.  He hadn’t called any of the others anything aside from random curse words, but the burgundy Tercel he had dubbed “Martha” and he treated this particular lady with tremendous affection. 
The old girl was rugged and dependable.  He had owned the vehicle for six years and she was steadily approaching three hundred thousand miles.  Blue was determined to take her to that plateau and beyond.  To date,  she had avoided major repairs. 
“That’s another one in the books, Martha,” Blue said as he climbed in.  He was smiling, but that wasn’t unusual.  Blue smiled a lot.  
Good old Blue.
Maybe his story is a triumph of sorts, but then again it could be a tragedy.  It’s a tale that begins and ends on a winding stretch of country road in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.   That ornery strip of asphalt is called McClusky Lane, except when referred to as plain old State Route 79 (often reduced to a raspy old 79) by those who have lived in Bogut long enough. 
They like to spin yarns about old 79 in these parts, and those yarns are frequently bloody nightmares that yield restless nights.  Many of them are true, or at least based in truth, for on McClusky Lane the straights are long and narrow and the twists come fast and hard.  The road begins winding about the foothills like a frightened serpent before skirting the lake, drawing perilously close to the water’s edge.  Later, long after most of the traffic has filtered onto other roads, it crosses Cold Rock Creek via a rickety covered bridge that has created concern amongst the populace for decades.  Thus far the decrepit wooden structure has held, but all the old-timers agree that it won’t be long before the whole thing takes a bath.
They’re probably right about that, and someone is bound to go with it.  Those old-timers know the lay of the land, and they also know the history of these parts.  McLusky Lane is a mean stretch of pavement indeed, a dangerous country corridor itching for blood.  In most places there’s a similar stretch of highway, a winding road in a lonely hollow with a few twists too many and just enough room for reckless youngsters to build speed and momentum.  Like those other passages in those other places, McLusky Lane has claimed far too many lives. 
It’s notorious not only for a number of horrific accidents, but also for a history rich with stories about moonshine, exciting tales of hotshot runners racing against the law and taking big chances on that devilish road.  There are a few major players whose names are familiar to all those who call Bogut home, and virtually everyone living in these parts still has some kin with access to a working still.  White Lightning has always been a welcome addition to any shindig in Bogut, and there’s seldom enough to suit everyone. 
Blue preferred pot, but he could never pass on a jar when it was offered. 
He hated the road, though, hated it with a passion.  He agreed with the old-timers on that score.  While some people scoffed at the road’s reputation and wondered how the locals could lend a strip of asphalt such personality, Blue was intimately familiar with the woeful history of McLusky Lane.  He had survived his ordeal, but he was a victim nonetheless.   
He was only eight years old when the accident happened, but he could remember it vividly.  It was never going to go away, he was certain of that.  No matter how hard he tried to force the episode into the darkest recesses of his mind, those memories were always crawling out to confront him at his weakest moments.
He was going for a ride with his older brother when a deer bolted across the road in front of them and Ronnie panicked.  Billie screamed as his brother yanked the wheel too hard, sending his rugged little Jeep into a dangerous slide that quickly became a violent roll.  The Jeep went off the shoulder and tumbled down into a ravine, flipping four times in the process.
When it ended, Billie was lying against the door with pieces of his brother in his lap.  He was drenched in Ronnie’s blood and the wreck had imprisoned him within the vehicle.  Physically he went virtually unharmed, but the mental anguish he suffered was almost too much for him to endure.
He was trapped in the wreckage for nearly four hours before they got him out, the stench of blood filling his nostrils as the wet warmth of Ronnie’s remains pressed against him.  Gradually the sticky lumps of meat that had once been his brother grew cold. 
It would be nice if he couldn’t recall that period of time, if it was lost in a fog, horrifying yet shapeless, a formless nightmare from the past.  Unfortunately that just wasn’t the case.  It was still all too real to him even after all this time.  His mind hadn’t drifted into shock or provided any distractions in the form of hallucinations.  His memories were vivid, a gruesome record of that terrible ordeal that had yet to fade and likely never would.
He had sat there, drenched in blood, pieces of Ronnie all over the place, the grim horror of reality refusing to release him into any sort of sanctuary.  Time had never passed so slowly, each moment stretching into an eternity, the hours crawling past like days.  His spirit broke and his hold on his sanity crumbled during that hellish passage. 
When they pulled him out of the mangled Jeep, he told the paramedics exactly what had happened, describing the accident in great detail.  Then he lapsed into silence and closed his eyes.  He couldn’t remember things so well for a while after that. 
It was better than six months before he spoke so much as a word and nearly a year before he spoke at any length about Ronnie or the accident.  He seldom talked at all and he began keeping to himself.  Some of the kids starting calling him “Little Blue Boy” and the nickname stuck.  Time whittled it down to “Blue” and he never resisted.  He didn’t particularly like the moniker, but he didn’t dislike it enough to object.  After a while, it become part of him. 
He found himself thinking about the wreck more and more these days, but he kept pushing it away.  It was far easier to find distractions than to contemplate that horrid experience.  It was over and he had suffered enough.  He had moved on a long time ago and he needed to forget it. 
Blue shook his head and grimaced.  Some things were easier said than done.

The sky above was speckled with twinkling stars and the breeze was gentle.  It was a nice night for September.  Blue drove with his window down, listening to a cassette tape he had purchased at the flea market for a dollar a few weeks ago.  It was the timeless Outlandos D’Amour from The Police, a bargain at any price, and Blue was quickly wearing it out. 
He was only a few miles down the road when he spotted David Blanchard walking along the side of the road with his olive bag slung across his shoulder.  David was an old salt who had pulled three tours in Nam after earning quite a reputation for running moonshine in these hills when he was but a pup.  Most folks around here knew who he was, and aside from those wearing badges, most felt he was a good enough guy. 
The current sheriff was a chubby prick named Arthur Leopold III.  He had been sheriff for nearly a decade and his daddy had owned the post before his beefy son took his place.  Some time before that, his grandfather had been sheriff, but his time in office was cut short in a gruesome accident on McLusky Lane. 
He was chasing a young David Blanchard at the time. 
The first Arthur Leopold was pitched through his windshield and slammed headfirst into a tree at something like seventy miles per hour when he came into a sharp turn running hot and didn’t have the mustard to bring his good old Ford around.  His hat was found some sixty feet from his body.   
And so it was no secret that the current sheriff despised the old vagrant, and surely there were those who didn’t blame him, though in a place like Bogut most of the populace preferred a man who ran moonshine to a man sporting a tin star.     
Blue didn’t think much of Leopold, but then he didn’t think much of any of the authority figures he had dealt with.  In his opinion, most people who were given any small measure of power ceased with deliberation and began acting on impulse.  David, on the other hand, was all right as far as Blue was concerned.  Leopold wasn’t going to mess with the old drifter if Blue could help it.  He had given the old vet a ride on several occasions for the same reason, and the dude sometimes smoked him out in return for the trip.
They shook hands and Blue asked the old drifter where he was going.
“Nowhere in particular,” David said.
“That’s one of my favorite destinations.”  Blue put his foot on the gas and Martha rumbled ahead, slicing through the night. 
David settled back in his seat, stretching his legs, making himself comfortable. 
Blue found his mind slipping toward the past again, taking him to another episode from his youth that involved that wretched road.  The man sitting beside him was also a player in this memory.
When he was a kid, long before anyone ever called him anything but Billie, he had invited a friend over to spend the night.  This was when he and his family lived on a dirt road just off of McLusky Lane. 
Billie and his friend had decided to go for a walk and shortly thereafter the two of them were a few miles from home, heading toward the lake.  They were walking along McLusky Lane, approaching the boat ramp and enjoying the nice day as they went.  They were talking about comic books when a weaving truck sped by, nearly careening into them. 
            Suddenly the truck slid to a stop, pelting them with gravel.  As they looked on in mute terror, a stocky old man with a silver crewcut and a scraggly white beard lurched out, barreling toward them with a club in his hand.
            “Did you give me the finger, boy?”  He bellowed as he advanced, his eyeballs swelling in their sockets until it appeared they would burst.
            It occurred to Billie later that they should have run.  Though imposing, the madman was old and built for power, not speed.  They could have eluded him with ease, but foolish children that they were, they had stood there, frozen in the grip of terror.  Blue and his friend were practically rooted to the ground as the stranger approached with his barbaric weapon, his pupils so big they looked like black checkers to the frightened boys.
            “Huh?  Did you?  Did you flip me off, son?”
            Billie didn’t know if the man was addressing him or his friend, but neither had made any gesture whatsoever, so he said just that.
            “Bullshit, brat!  I’ll teach you to give me the damn finger.”
            He was poised to strike when David Blanchard came out of nowhere, calmly approaching this roaring menace with his arms before him, his palms facing outward.  Billie would never forget the way the drifter looked on that day, his black hair pulled back into a ponytail, his beard thick and unruly, his worn combat jacket providing a stark contrast to his red flannel shirt.
            “It’s okay,” David said in a soothing voice, almost as though he were dealing with an animal.  “We have a misunderstanding here, man, that’s all.  Let’s make sure no one gets hurt.”
            The man with the club sneered, but he lowered the club.  “Who are you?”
            “I’m no one,” David said flatly, “No one at all.”
            “The fuck did you come from?”
            “Nowhere,” David said in a soft tone.  “It doesn’t matter, anyway.  Everything’s cool.”
            As young Billie watched the two men talk, he was sure that if the surly man with the club made the wrong move, David was going to tear him to peaces.  There was nothing in the vet’s manner or stance to suggest this ferocity, but young Billie sensed it lurking just beneath the surface.
            In the end, nothing grave happened.  David talked things out with the man and that old nutjob actually apologized before leaving.  Billie and his friend were quick to depart as well, curtly thanking David and setting off with quite the tale for their chums. 
It had been a long time since Blue thought about that incident, but it passed through his thoughts as his trusty car raced through the darkness tonight, David Blanchard riding shotgun.   The strip of pavement framed in the glare of his headlights was as a grey blur churning beneath them. 
            He suddenly felt the need to discuss the episode.  “When I was a child,” he began, “I was attacked by a man with a club-“
            “I remember,” David interrupted, a tired voice emitting from somewhere within his tangled mess of a beard.  His thick unruly hair hung about his shoulders, his grey locks frayed and dirty from a lack of grooming.  “I remember just fine. Never could figure why the two of you didn’t just run, but I remember the whole thing well enough.”
            “You knew that was me?”
            David smiled and took a joint from his pocket, lighting it with a devilish grin.  The aroma of marijuana, tantalizingly sweet and unmistakably pungent, filled the Tercel.  “Of course I knew it was you, boy.  Of course I did.  The real question is what did that crazy old bugger have a club for?  Really now, who carries a club?”  The old drifter shook his head and laughed.
            Blue was surprised.  They had never discussed anything of great importance before, but this acknowledgement seemed to suggest a far deeper bond than Blue had imagined.  What was his value to this strange old bird?
            After several deep drags on the joint and few rattling coughs, David passed the joint to Blue.  He provided a sound imitation of his predecessor in this regard.  Almost at once, the warmth began to spread through him and his body began to relax.  The Police were still tearing it up in Martha’s cassette player, and the old stoner took note.
            “This is back when The Police were the shit,” David said, smiling as he lost himself in the music.  “They had their own sound.  I suppose it was only a matter of time before one of the guys got uppity.  I just never imagined it would have been Sting.”  The old drifter laughed.  He took the joint from Blue and took two big hits in rapid succession before continuing.  “I mean, who would have thought?  What are the chances of a guy named Sting having an ego?  Especially if he’s a revelation on bass and he’s got a pair of pipes fit for an angel.”
            Blue felt the need to say something, but he didn’t know what he could possibly offer. “I’m really enjoying this album,” he said.  He was clearly out of his depth.
            David pressed on.  “Truly gifted.  But he never did anything to rival this one.  Or maybe Reggatta De Blanc.  That’s the one with Message in a Bottle.  Nothing in his solo career could touch The Police.  They had their own sound, man.”
            “You already said that,” Blue said, wishing he hadn’t.
            “Well, maybe I said it twice because I wanted to make sure you got the point.  I mean, a man driving around with Outlandos D’Amour in his tape player should understand these things.  The Police weren’t some addition to some scene, man.  They were a scene.  They had their own thing going.  You dig?”
            “I get it.  I got it.  I’m the one who bought the cassette tape.  I’m listening to it, aren’t I?”
            “No, that’s what I’m trying to tell you.  You may be listening to The Police, but you aren’t hearing The Police.  Not yet, anyway.”
            An uneasy silence followed, broken only by Martha’s steady hum and The Police’s efforts on Next To You.  Before long, Blue’s mind drifted to the past again, taking him back to that strange episode on the side of the road.  “Why-“ he began, but it was a question that would go unanswered. 
Later, Blue would be unable to recall what he was going to ask.  He would remember little of what had transpired leading up to the accident.  Had they shared something?  That gentle moment before the storm would be lost forever in the glare of headlights and the scream of burning rubber. 
            For the second time in his life, Blue was part of the dance as steel met steel and flesh collided with machinery in a pulverizing display of power.  Once again, he screamed as he was thrown forward, his wail drowned out by a metallic squeal that filled the night. 

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