03/23/14

Free Sample: ‘This Location of Unknown Possibilities’

I’m gratified to announce that my second novel, This Location of Unknown Possibilities, has an official publication date of 15 April 2014. Feel encouraged to read reviews here, here, here, and here.
An excerpt appears below. It’s the first chapter of Part II, and describes the arrival of Jake Nugent at the airport in Penticton, BC, a city close to the location shoot of the TV movie he’s been hired to oversee. Enjoy!

Kerplunk

1.

   Jake spotted the Location Manager within a gathering crowd of elderly couples who’d donned khaki shorts and sleeveless fleece zippered to the neck. With a gadget-stuffed utility vest the man was unmissable. Jake waved him over.

“How do, Jake. Welcome to Penticton, Palm Springs north. ‘A Place to Stay Forever’ is plastered everywhere. Sounds like purgatory to me.” The man surveyed baggage claim’s points of interest grandly with the slow-motion sweeping Welcome Aboard! gesture of a caricature cruise ship entertainment director. “Or maybe death row. Please observe the exquisite architectural details, fresh from knock-off Miami-Dade 1985 shopping mall hell. I’ve been stuck in some shit-hole Podunk airports in my time, but wow, man, this one takes the cake.”

American-born, storied, and as maligned as tripe, Nikolas ‘Baby Dick’ Babadek attracted notoriety for a collection of all things Star Trek and the feather-ruffling habit of making stacked-deck comparisons between local destinations and ones further south. Shopping, buildings, restaurants, bars, art, sports, beaches, women, you name it: Canada ranked as third rate, a knockoff repository, all originals found in New York, L.A., or San Francisco. And those pronouncements were hard to miss: if honest, Nicos could not list personal space recognition as a top five attribute.

“Take a gander at Omaha next time you’re in the Midwest, Nicos,” Jake said. “Now there’s a tragedy.”

“Uh-huh. Been there, done that. This is worse. Bush-league, definitely. Let’s get outta here.” Nicos’s addiction to having the last word also made him no friends; raised in a Midwest household of armchair football tribalism, the man lived for pissing contests. Though he excelled at scouting locations, Nicos was no one’s first pick. Everyone mocked him with nicknames—Half-Black Napoleon and Baby Dick—when he moved out of earshot. Jake felt convinced the man loved the sound of his adenoidal voice; believing he kept his own self-satisfaction firmly in check, Jake rated visible narcissism in others as a glaring personality flaw.

With a hitchhiker’s thumb, Nicos indicated the empty luggage carousel. “How was the flight?”

“Mercifully short and smooth. No highballs or Ativan necessary.” Take off and turbulence jangled his nerves, and the (Just in Case)™ pamphlet peeking out from the seat pouch hadn’t helped. “And way better than driving through hours of non-stop treescape.”

The carousel lurched toward full speed. “Quick pit stop, hold on.”

“Sure thing, boss dude.”

Jake walked to the men’s toilet. He loathed flying, but airports made him randy. He roamed through their terminal wings restlessly, on the prowl for searing eye contact, agreeable idle gab at whose foundation stood the pulse of quickening sexual deal-closing, and the occasional—exceptionally, sadly so in an era of lurking terrorist underwear explosives and career-killing entrapment by security personnel—head jerk that promised furtive unzipped flies in an out-of-the-way stall.
The uniqueness of the airport environment was, he’d say, sorely undervalued. Airports, enormous livestock pens basically, housed an oily concentrate of emancipated drive—beast of burden vacationers gearing up for a week’s worth of unencumbered bar-hopping, solo business travelers leaving behind the sapping imprisonment of mortgage payments and minivans, and weary returnees keen to squeeze out one final drop of escapade before stepping back into the drudgery of 9-5 under fluorescent lighting, re-circulated air, and TGIF drinks at Shenanigan’s. Temporary freedom, and even the illusion of it, bounced between neurons as a heady aphrodisiac.

The devil will find work for idle hands to do, Jake figured, and that wasn’t a bad thing. He’d long considered the shoulder-perched whisperer a trustworthy acquaintance when it came to provocative offers. No diabolical scourge, the silver-tongued, black-eyed tempter made no promises that opened the door to an underworld of everlasting doom. Selling real estate, of a sort, matched his character: “Now consider the excellent amenities of this fine property, the seller is very motivated.” Jake could inspect the details and close on the purchase, or say, “It’s not for me, thanks. I’m going to keep looking.” The choice? His alone: Yes, No, I’ll mull it over, thank you. No gun barrel pressed against his temple.
With the exception of the whistling gnomic near-retiree mopping the floor, the facility revealed only emptiness. No bedevilment today. Jake stood at the urinal for a minute and cupped his warm sack as he pissed. After pushing the silver flush handle Jake washed diligently at a sink. He’d read that a full thirty seconds of soapy suds took care of germs. The last thing he’d want for this obligatory week in the trenches would be a cold. Now alone, he checked the mirror: tired, but not too shabby. Jake’s gaze swept the room. This regional airport didn’t merit a second glance. Adventuring can be such a coin toss, he sighed.

2.

   Nicos stood, balanced cautiously, on the narrow edge of the battered metal luggage carousel. Jake had noticed that the man compensated for a jockey’s height as a matter of course, though apparently drew the line at the elevator shoes rumour placed on his feet. He pitched a bottle of water to Jake.

Jake asked, “What’s first on the agenda?”

“After luggage shows, I figure we can drop your stuff off at Kaleden and then I’ll show you our sites.”

“Kaleden? Never heard of it. What’s there?”

“Not much, pretty much as you’d expect. I can’t figure out why anyone actually calls it home. Anyways, Kaleden, aka Kaleden Junction. There’s the concrete shell of an old hotel at the base of a bone-dry embankment. That’s it, I think. Some orchards. It’s not like I requested a grand tour from city council. The guide refers to as a historic town, which means that in days of yore a train stopped there or something. I wouldn’t call it a town, maybe a pit stop if you need to take a leak. The place you’re staying at is cool, though. Adobe-style. At the top of a sandy mound on a back road. Nice swimming pool. Air conditioned. And it’s just fifteen minutes or so from the production office.”

“Okay, let’s get to it.”

“Ready to rock and roll?”

Jake sighed. Why couldn’t people learn to edit before they spoke?

The men drove away from the flat, overgrown town and ascended a long-haul hill on the black ribbon of highway leading south. Jake nodded, pleased that the location matched the photo slideshow Nicos had emailed. “Dehydrated as a mummy,” he’d written. The description seemed apt and a surprise considering the valley’s pooling lake water: but from the shoulder of the asphalt all the way to the tops of the blunt-edged mountains, the austere terrain refused to entice with bright shocks of greenery. Instead, Jake discerned sun-blasted grass patches, low scrappy brown-leaf bush clusters, rusty scars of raw rock, and no shade anywhere. A bitch to work in, he could tell, but it would be a perfect stand-in for eastern Mediterranean desert.

“Are there snakes out there?” Jake imagined rattlers basking on flat rocks.

“Probably. Looks like it. I’ll check into it if you want.”

“I would. Snake bites, crap, those would be a headache.”

“I’ll say.” Nicos tugged at a cigarette package in a pocket of the plaid cowboy shirt bunched on the seat.

“That’s not going to happen while I’m in the vehicle,” Jake said, deciding that They’ll stunt your growth tipped the scale into plain cruelty dressed up as guy banter.

“Right, I forgot. Gotcha.”

Jake stared out the window. In this blistering heat, a swimming pool might be the best part of the day. “Let’s go directly to the office. I’d like to check in with Lora. I’ll give her a call now, tell her to update them on my check-in time.”
“No problem. We’ll be there in twenty. That was Kaleden by the way.”

“Huh?”

“That fruit stand we passed a couple of minutes back, that was Kaleden. Next stop, Bridal Falls. No, make that Okanagan Falls. I heard there’s tourist traps there, a Foamhenge and something called Mystery Manor, but saw a grand total of nada.”

Jake slid a finger across the surface of his phone.

[Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in one more excerpt, I’ve posted one here.]