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About the author:
By day Ian works in Information Technology as the Director of Operations for an IT consulting firm. At night, while his family is sleeping, he writes; trying hard to strike a balance between creative and business worlds. Ian lives in Orlando, Florida, with his wife, two sons, and their neurotic dog.
What inspired you to write your book?
This was a film script idea I had been kicking around for about 5 years. I had mapped the whole story out and realized that it would likely be easier and more impactful to write as a novel first.
Here is a short sample from the book:
It’s cold. A single incandescent bulb glows hotly in the night air, its fire luring mosquitos and moths, daring them to break through the clear glass shell. The light paints shadows on the narrow alleyway below.
The walls of the buildings reach high into the sky, ten stories at least. Sounds from the bustling night-time city are only muted echoes here, in this hidden alleyway, this cave within a vast metropolis.
Ernie, scruffy and unshaven, urine stains blanketing the front of his two-sizes-too-large trousers, tucks himself further into his makeshift pillow. He coughs; pieces of phlegm fill his mouth. He gathers them up with his tongue and propels them out past his lips, and out of the “door” of his “home.”
–Fucking New York. Fucking poisoned air.
The words that come out of his mouth are just a jumbled approximation of his actual thoughts. His body is fevered and his head is still poisoned with drink. Scotch? The Vicar’s stash? Or is it the Sterno?
He tires of these deep thoughts and rolls back on to his right side, tucking his arms under his head and right knee to his chest. The left leg doesn’t bend. It can’t. The scar tissue from Charlie’s shrapnel has calcified. The VA hospital has treatments for him—gout medication, therapies, physical therapists—but he’ll never go on his own. And the chances of his daughter finding him, well, they are slim. Without her, he won’t be convinced to go anywhere or do anything.
Ernie misses her. He wants to see her. Desperately. He just hates disappointing her. He hates watching that concerned look of disbelief at how bad he’s gotten wash over her face. Hates the thought of her eyes resting on him. He is a failure in all ways that a person can fail, a vile shell of a man. He’d have killed himself years ago and saved the pain of it all, if he wasn’t such a selfish coward.
In fact, it has been almost a month since Marie has seen him, and not for her lack of effort, either. Somehow, even in his drunken fog, he’s been able to avoid her—to avoid her open arms and gifts of care packages, filled with food, clean clothes and baby wipes, the small vestiges of civilized life that he left behind years ago when he wondered just how far he could fall into the bottle. The answer: all the way in. How can he see her again, looking like this?
He lets out another cough. The backs of his teeth are sandpaper on his tongue, the gaps where teeth once resided a painful reminder of the man he’s become.
He has seen her flyers around the city. They have been placed near most of the locations he can often be found passed out and soiled. The picture of him is maybe five years old, with a lovely young Marie, her arm wrapped around him, smiling joyfully from the inside of some soup kitchen. She’s had someone else at the shelter take the photo for her, and the image simply highlights what a wreck he is, and how undeserving he is to have her in his life.
He pulls a neatly folded copy of the missing person flyer out of his pocket. He ripped it down from the north corner lamp post on Thirty-Second St and Lexington last week. It is also the reason he finds himself heading further downtown, well beyond the usual self-imposed boundaries.
He can’t remember what “happy” feels like.
He loved Marie, still does, but his shame has become too painful to bear. She wants him to get better, to sober up. He won’t, so the debate simply becomes an argument, and the pain of watching her tears becomes more reason to drink.
His lips smack at the idea. He’s still fevered, but no longer spinning, which means it is time to plan where and how to get the next drink.
He found the Vicar’s stash at Our Lady of the Resurrection on Nineteenth Street. He went there earlier in the day when they were having one of their sparsely attended outreach efforts and jimmied the lock open to a room on the far side of the vestibule. He was hoping to nick something of value to sell for booze, but then he saw the bottle, golden filigree dancing around the base and opening. It was hidden in the back of a cabinet. He figured that his quest could just cut out the middleman, skip the stealing, skip the selling and get straight to the drinking. He had no idea what it was. Some fancy port? Sacramental wine? Whatever it was, it was more viscous than some of the other things he was used to drinking, but still put a fire in his belly, even if it did taste of rust and raisins.
The name plate on the desk in the office read “Vicar Anton Parese.” He’d taken a few sizeable pulls and put the rest of the bottle back in the case. It didn’t have the kick that his refined palate was accustomed to, the tear-wrenching burn of chemical degreaser, but it was something. He imagines it will have been replaced by now, knowing how the Catholics are.
Ernie’s mind starts to drift and plan as he drops in and out of consciousness for the next half-hour. Suddenly there is a sound out of place. You wouldn’t know it from looking at him and his oft grotesque mannerisms, but he’s always been a particularly observant person, able to memorize the patterns of his surroundings, connect dots that others don’t even know about.
Even in his compromised state of mind he knows by heart the sounds of the alley: the moths and flying insects on their kamikaze mission into the sole light bulb in the alleyway, the scuttle of nearby roaches and vermin rummaging through garbage, the hum of distant city traffic and excitement, the hollow bang of the latch to the rear exit of the Korean restaurant two doors down. He knows their cuisine rather well; the discarded leftovers are responsible for some of the food stains in the front of his pants and for all of the post-dining stains down the back. At least that is the case with this pair of pants. He hasn’t been a “clean” man by any definition in a very long time.
Perhaps it’s instinct, perhaps it’s some relic of his military training, or perhaps it’s simply a sense of self-preservation, but there is no denying it. Some new sound has been introduced to the environment, something that doesn’t belong.
There has been a lot of talk at the soup kitchen about the homeless disappearing lately. He has no conjecture on what the cause could be, but the Food Pantry is alive with speculation—aliens, covert relocation efforts, squatters taking up in abandoned luxury condos. All he knows for certain is that there is always violence against the “residentially challenged,” and that it’s better to avoid conflict one hundred percent of the time. Using what little coordination he has left he balls his body up as tightly as possible, breathing soft deliberate breaths.
A low rumble moves closer as a black Range Rover with darkly tinted windows rounds the bend and rolls slowly through the poorly lit and narrow alleyway. The tint is so dark that Ernie cannot see any faces, only shadowed movement from the people inside.
The vehicle maneuvers to avoid all the obstacles: overturned trashcans, the pile of garbage bags that have torn, spilling their guts (often Ernie’s dinner) into the street. As it moves further through the street it comes dangerously close to the refrigerator box that has been Ernie’s home for the last four or so days. He stays frozen. Cars don’t come through here. Even the Koreans from next door don’t bring their car through the alley.
The SUV slowly passes Ernie and comes to a halt at a small opening in the alleyway about forty feet away, a gap between two brick buildings constructed well before codes and building standards. The gap is maybe three feet across and has a poorly constructed fence blocking entry into it. The alleyway is filled with rubbish and puddles of standing water. Ernie has walked past it a dozen times, but only once when it was night time. Something about the nature of the space and how the only light that made it into the gap between the buildings was from the stars and moon. It gave him the creeps.
The SUV stops, its brake lights illuminating the alleyway like a red spotlight. Three doors open and three men exit. Ernie can see them through the square hole made by the overlapping bottom flaps of the box. They look like young business professionals, clean-shaven, neat clothes. One of them looks like something down on Wall Street: thin lapels, smartly tailored jacket, black dress shoes that shine like onyx. No flamboyant accessories or jewelry. These are the kind of folks who could spare a few thousand dollars, but are reluctant to even hand over a few Christmas-time quarters.
Ernie’s breaths are shallow and soft. He wonders to himself, Who the hell are these guys?
The driver takes up point at the front of the vehicle and the passenger from the back positions himself as rear guard of the vehicle. Both men stand with their arms crossed, surveying opposite sides of the alleyway.
The man who was riding shotgun makes his way to the fence. There’s something about how he moves—it’s fast but graceful. As the man approaches the chain-link fence he sniffs the air and then looks around, surveying the alley, before putting his fingers to his mouth and making a high-pitched whistle. Within half a moment there is another figure standing in the alleyway just behind the fence, their face cloaked in shadows. Only the white skin of their arms can be seen in the light. The pale man pulls the chain-link mesh aside and slides a steel briefcase through the gap in the fence, into the gloved hands of Mr. Armani, as Ernie is now referring to him in his thoughts. Mr. Armani signals to the man at the rear of the vehicle, who opens the boot of the SUV and takes the briefcase from Mr. Armani and places it into the back.
This process repeats itself a dozen times, until the back of the SUV is completely full of silvery briefcases. Ernie knows that he should not be witnessing this, that his watching this drug deal or whatever it was could cost him dearly. Sure, no one would believe a bum, and no one would give a fuck if one went missing. Ernie leans back, his face nowhere near the thin slit in the box that has been his window to this event, and remains as still as possible, taking controlled breaths.
His chest crackles slightly with his exhale. He feels a tickle and knows a cough is coming on. He limits his breathing to something akin to panting, short in-and-out breaths. It’s just a matter of time. His broken-down and polluted body has been brewing a lung-er and it is going to come out in a few moments, whether he wants it to or not.
Mr. Armani nods to the man behind the fence, who recedes into the shadows of the alleyway, and then turns back to the car. The other two men close up the back of the SUV and get into their original places in the vehicle. Mr. Armani gets back into the front passenger seat.
Before he closes the door to the SUV, Ernie lets out a throat-clearing cough. His mouth fills with hard balls of phlegm.
All three doors immediately swing open. The men jump out and eyeball the alleyway, making a quick assessment of what could have caused the out-of-place sound.
Ernie doesn’t move. He doesn’t breathe. A few seconds pass, but it is an eternity to this feeble and broken man. The sounds of several sets of feet echo down the alley from another gap in the buildings in front of the SUV.
–All right, nigga, we show ourselves, but you going to step back from that ride.
Five black youths in baggy jeans and an assortment of oversized shirts step out. Bright yellow handkerchiefs across their faces cover everything but their eyes. All of them have some form of weapon. Ernie can barely make it out, but it looks like at least two handguns and some kind of shotgun: a formidable array of weapons. The tallest banger calls out again.
–You mothafuckas hear me? That’s our ride now.
Mr. Armani calls back.
–You aren’t taking this vehicle. If you leave now, we may let you live.
–Ha. We ain’t just taking your ride, son, we taking your product too. Ya dig? Now back the fuck up ’fore we ghost your ass.
None of the men move.
–That’s not happening.