Win some Mystery/Crime books!

ABM Tour badge by jen

My buddy Jennifer (BookDen) made me a cool badge for my blog tour. She’s awesome!

Embarking on the blog tour for my first Mystery/Crime novel A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS. I’m so excited and love the people that are participating. Make sure you follow along (I’ll post the links as they go live on the page for A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS BLOG TOUR + GIVEAWAY.) Read, comment and share for a chance to win paperback copies of ABM, Shock Totem #4 and #6, and to be in the running for the grandprize at the end of the blog tour! Comment on and share every stop to up your chances of winning!

So far, the schedule is set for:

1st stop (end of May): On my website here/So, You Want to Write

2nd stop (June 4th ): Author Les Edgerton/First Ideas (Are they worth writing?)

3rd stop (June 5th ): Shock Totem Publications/Ways to Measure Success

4th stop (June 19th ): Literary Mayhem/The Subconscious

5th stop (last week of June ): Author Lucas Magnum/Interview

6th stop (1st week of July ): Author Gef Fox/Interview

7th stop (July 3rd ): Author Mark Gunnells/Handling Rejection

8th stop (July 11th): Author Anita Siraki/Get More Done

9th stop (July 24th): Fabulous Jennifer of BookDen/Building Your Fan Base

10th stop (July 31st): Author Shaun Ryan/Finding What Matters to You

And August is still being scheduled. But follow along, and leave a comment on each blog, and reshare the post so you can win something awesome, yes? Stay beautiful, people.

About the book:

A Beautiful Madness novel cover

A Texas Senator and his wife go missing…On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood’s residence. Sammy, Wood’s drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. But there’s something more to these events…something deeper and festering just beneath the surface…

In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.

A brutal killer on a rampage of carnage…a hardened detective on the brink…an antihero from the shadows…a terrifying mystery that could destroy them all…

A Beautiful Madness, the harrowing new novel of dark crime and suspense from Lee Thompson.

Preorder on Amazon

Lee Thompson is the author of the Suspense novels A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS (August 2014), IT'S ONLY DEATH (January 2015), and WITH FURY IN HAND (May 2015). The dominating threads weaved throughout his work are love, loss, and learning how to live again. A firm believer in the enduring power of the human spirit, Lee believes that stories, no matter their format, set us on the path of transformation. He is represented by the extraordinary Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary. Visit Lee's website to discover more: www.leethompsonfiction.com

A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS BLOG TOUR + GIVEAWAY (Stop 1)

A Beautiful Madness novel cover

A Texas Senator and his wife go missing… On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood's residence. Sammy, Wood's drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. But there's something more to these events…something deeper and festering just beneath the surface…

In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.

A brutal killer on a rampage of carnage…a hardened detective on the brink…an antihero from the shadows…a terrifying mystery that could destroy them all…
Welcome to Lee Thompson’s A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS blog tour! At each stop, one winner will be drawn to win a paperback copy, and at the end of the tour we'll draw one grand prize winner who will receive a great bundle!
Throughout the book tour, I’ll be sharing fun facts about my first Mystery/Thriller, and also offering dubious advice to novice writers because I’ve had writers and editors farther along the path than myself give me tips that have helped me tremendously. If you want to up your game, pay attention and pass what you find useful on to those in your critique groups.
If you’re here as a reader, thanks so much. You’re every author’s life source. You’re the yin to our yang. The stories we set down on paper don’t seem to exist until someone else has read them, and the more the merrier.

So, You Want to Write
We writers might try, and tweak, a thousand different routines before we find how to come up with more ideas, better ideas, and faster output. We can struggle with this for years and still not know what stories we want to tell. We can know what kinds of stories we want to tell when we begin our journey, but the subject matter and our approach can change over time as we mature. It’s normal. Go with it.
I’m with the crowd that says the only way to be a writer is to find the discipline to sit down and finish the phases of the project: first draft, edits, polish, and submission. Too often I see people spinning their wheels, distracting themselves with a thousand little things that suck up all their time and energy, then they enter that vicious cycle where they beat themselves up because they feel like they should have gotten some writing done, yet they put this long list of other tasks before it. Break the cycle by becoming aware of it, acknowledging that you’re doing it to yourself and making a conscious decision to make writing your priority.
Another quality of importance is instincts. This comes simply by reading and paying attention and applying lessons you’ve learned from novels you love. It’s something we all have and something we must hone to carry off our stories in the most engaging ways. Instincts make the magic happen on the fly, which makes it kind of feel like, well, magic.
I think if you want to write professionally you need confidence more than anything. When you know you can do it, you just do it. When you’re sure of yourself and your abilities, there is less room for fear. This comes with practice fueled by passion for stories, and a hunger to reach your full potential. You want it? Go learn what you must to make it happen. A difficult thing for many beginners is knowing who to listen to.  There is so much writing advice, much of it from professionals and tons of it conflicting. Soak it all up. See what works for you. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula to our careers. You’ll need the unshakable confidence that what you’re writing will matter to total strangers. Give it time to develop and cling to it. Don’t give fear a toehold.
I think if you want to write professionally, you need stubbornness, too. I don’t know how other writer’s friends and families are about their crazy endeavor to be an author, but mine laughed at me. I was a horrible student in school. I didn’t begin reading books until in my mid-twenties. I was a drunk. A laborer. I moved all over the place. But once I began writing I never once considered giving up. I had to learn a lot, sure, more than most people could imagine, and I’m glad I’m as stubborn as I am because my career is gaining momentum now. Serious momentum.
Your stubbornness is your shield, deflecting the words and gazes those of little faith try to injure you with.
You also need courage. Lots of courage. It’s incredible how self-doubt destroys so many to-be published authors. Does what you’re writing matter to you so intensely and so personally that it’s one of the key themes of your own life? I think courage come easier to those who are writing about the things that matter the utmost to them.
I also think honesty is incredibly important. It’s okay to say, I know I’m not there yet, but I will be one day. It might be a year from now, or it might be ten, but I can’t surrender. Stories are special. The great ones move us. Don’t dare give up, and don’t shortchange yourself or your audience by writing stuff you don’t believe in. You only have a certain amount of time to spend at the keyboard, and in other people’s heads, so spend it writing about what deeply moves you.
Watch or read some of your favorite authors being interviewed. I bet that the majority of them are learning as they write to be more honest with themselves. We’re so conditioned by what our schools and parents and organizations teach us that we unlearn how to think for ourselves. Start thinking for yourself. Don’t be afraid to question anything, there’s raw story gold in that alone.
None of us are perfect. We all need work. Our characters need work, which is the whole point of a character arc. It’s through overcoming what appear insurmountable odds that we are tested, and by which we grow, and can pass on the observations and knowledge we walked through the fire to obtain. To teach our children, our younger siblings, to be the rock our partner needs when disaster strikes. And it’s through questioning what we believe about ourselves and others that we accrue wisdom.
Carry that torch.
Be the light through the characters you create and the story they’re inescapably caught in.
This is a reflection made from the fabric of our lives. It’s not a perfect reflection, but then reality as we know it individually is not without its imperfections either.
In A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS, my protagonist Sammy has to have a majority of the qualities I mentioned to see the story to its conclusion. I like to think of it as a box: four walls (outer obstacles), and a floor and ceiling (inner obstacles). I believe doing so has led to a well-rounded story full of tension. If you’re a writer, look for those four outer obstacles that trap him, and the two inward ones that were there before the story started yet drive all the characters’ decisions. I bet if you pay attention you’ll find them, and you’ll learn something valuable in the process that you can use in your own work. Don’t give up.
If you’re a writer who has had some success, what qualities do you believe have been instrumental in helping you sell your work and find an audience?

 

Buy on Amazon Kindle!

 

Buy the Paperback!

 

Track A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS blog tour + giveaway here.

Enter to win a paperback copy! There will also be a grand prize at the end of the tour where one winner will receive my novel, and four other DarkFuse novels in Kindle format!

Simply leave a comment on this blog and share the link.

Thanks to those who participate.

Happy reading~ Lee

Me and Austin

Author bio: Lee Thompson is the author of the Suspense novels A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS (August 2014), IT’S ONLY DEATH (January 2015), and WITH FURY IN HAND (May 2015). The dominating threads weaved throughout his work are love, loss, and learning how to live again. A firm believer in the enduring power of the human spirit, Lee believes that stories, no matter their format, set us on the path of transformation. He is represented by the extraordinary Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary. Visit Lee’s website to discover more: www.leethompsonfiction.com

Gearing up

With my first Crime/Mystery/Noir novel, A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS, coming out in less than three months, I'm gearing up for a blog tour! I hope you'll take part and share the links as they go live with your friends. Each blog will give away a signed paperback copy of A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS, and there will be a Kindle grandprize for my novel plus four other DarkFuse titles. Very cool.
Right now I'm writing my guest posts, setting up interviews, etc. If you run a blog or a podcast and are interested in interviewing me just shoot me an email with "Interview" in the subject line to perpetual_voodoo (at) yahoo (dot) com.
I'll be sharing all kinds of cool topics about becoming a professional writer, interacting with readers, the craft of writing, the art of growing as a person, and tons of fun secrets in the creation of this novel.
Right now there is also A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS Goodreads giveaway. Be one of those people who win one of ten paperback copies! You can enter here or click the link/badge on the right upper side of my website! In the first three days 170 people have entered and you should join them. Thanks!
And a big thanks to everyone who has already preordered the novel! If you haven't, you can do so through Amazon here.
And thank you to those who have shared about my first Crime novel on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc. I really appreciate it!

A Texas Senator and his wife go missing…On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood’s residence. Sammy, Wood’s drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. But there’s something more to these events…something deeper and festering just beneath the surface…

In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.

A brutal killer on a rampage of carnage…a hardened detective on the brink…an antihero from the shadows…a terrifying mystery that could destroy them all…

A Beautiful Madness, the harrowing new novel of dark crime and suspense from Lee Thompson.

A Beautiful Madness novel cover

 

 

Still on the Top 100 Amazon Bestseller List

Thanks to those who ordered and helped spread the word about my first Crime/Noir/Mystery novel A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS. I'm super pumped that the preorders are doing so well. It's a very neat feeling to see one of my books on Amazon's Top 100 Bestseller List with some of my heroes like John D. MacDonald, Lawrence Block, Benjamin Black, etc. I couldn't have done it without the team at DarkFuse, and all the terrific friends and fans I have. I'm really fortunate. Thanks for everything you do.
I'll be working on the blog tour for that novel soon as well (it'll have an awesome grand prize), and I'll start a paperback giveaway on Goodreads this week.
If you haven't ordered the novel yet, you can do so here. If it sounds like a novel one of your friends would be interested in, please send them the link. Wishing everybody an amazing week!

A Beautiful Madness novel cover

Preorder A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS

DarkFuse just posted that my first Crime novel, A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS, is up for preorder on Amazon. You can get it in Kindle or paperback format. I'm excited about it and I'm really happy that my publisher is also excited about the direction my writing is going. 

I dedicated this novel to two professionals--author Tom Piccirilli, and agent Ethan Ellenberg--who were a huge help to me, and one reason I started selling professionally. 

The novel will come out in August 2014. Make sure you grab a copy, and if you know someone who digs gritty Crime fiction, share this with them. Thanks!

 

A Beautiful Madness novel cover

A Texas Senator and his wife go missing… On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood’s residence. Sammy, Wood’s drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. But there’s something more to these events…something deeper and festering just beneath the surface…

In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.

A brutal killer on a rampage of carnage…a hardened detective on the brink…an antihero from the shadows…a terrifying mystery that could destroy them all…

 

Fun contest over on Chuck Wendig’s blog

If you’re a writer, go share the opening sentence of your WIP on Chuck Wendig’s blog. Three contestants will win 500 Ways to Write Better. I don’t usually do things like this because I’m lazy, but they’re fun.

Here’s my opening sentence to my WIP…

Up until last week I’d thought the worst night of my life was when the O’Connell brothers nailed my dad to a tree.

I like first lines a lot. I usually hear them in my head and they lead to a novel so I jot them down and save them for when I can get to ‘em. 

Looking over the novels and novellas I’ve published, I’m pretty happy with most of them.

From DOWN HERE IN THE DARK (A Division Mythos novella)

It was Frank Gunn’s third day at New Wave Hospital when he saw the man wearing the skull-like mask leaning over some Jewish kid with haunted eyes.

From THE DAMPNESS OF MOURNING (A Division Mythos Novel)

Mark wishes I could cry. We both watch for the woman I knew as Catherine and he knew as April to materialize in the thickening mist, a lost soul searching for the motel room where her dead son sleeps.

From my novella AS I EMBRACE MY JAGGED EDGES

The duty of shemira has fallen upon my shoulders and I’ve spent all night in the back room of our trailer with this corpse.

From my novel IT’S ONLY DEATH (January 2015 release)

They clubbed me and tossed me into the trunk of a new pink Cadillac shortly after midnight.

Go enter his contest. Have fun. 

 

A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS Hardcover Sig Sheets

Just received the limited edition signature sheets for my Crime/Suspense novel A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS that DarkFuse is releasing in August 2014. Can’t wait until it’s available to readers! The hardcovers will be beautiful and collectible so make sure you invest in one. It will also be available in paperback and digital formats. I dedicated it to two professionals–agent Ethan Ellenberg and author Tom Piccirilli–who have helped me out tremendously.

You can add the novel on Goodreads here. I’ll have lots of great news to share this year so make sure you sign up for my newsletter, too. Have a great week!

ABM sig sheetA Beautiful Madness novel cover

The opening of We Walk by Night…

With my last novel (As Above, So Below) in the hands of my beta readers, I’m getting deep into the meat of the next while I wait for feedback. Here’s the rough first chapter of the novel I’m writing.  It’s going to be a fun one and get very, very dark before it’s finished. Enjoy.

 

One

There was a gunshot in the distance, and then ten minutes later, sirens.

It was a few days short of July 4th and Grace MacDonald had just turned eighteen. It was her third day living on the streets when she first saw Max. She didn’t know him yet; she was just walking aimlessly around the small cul-de-sac subdivision off North Grand Traverse near the river and his house was nearest the road. The houses here were nicer than those just a few blocks over, so many simply abandoned ruins, stripped of anything valuable, others play things for arsons, a few shelter for people like her who had no one to call family or friend and spent the endless moments drifting through the city of Flint like ghosts.

Max was standing half-in half-out of the door of his house, his hands on his wife’s plump hips, as he leaned forward to kiss her. She was not a big bodied woman, Max’s wife, but her body looked soft, slightly doughy, the way people of comfort and security often appeared. Grace looked away from them, nearly tripping into one of the neighbor’s lawns. She was starving, thin and small boned, and the smell of eggs and bacon and toast was strong in the warming summer air, wafting from the house… Or maybe she only imagined it; she seemed to be smelling food everywhere she went. Since yesterday all she could think about was eating. It felt like her insides were shrinking horribly by the hour. All she possessed was a backpack containing three changes of clothes and a couple books. The last foster home she’d been in sent her back into the system a week before her eighteenth birthday and when her birthday came Mrs. Striker threw her out like a hot coal to burn itself away in the night.

She was a little bitter about that because Bill and Nancy had seemed like such a nice couple. Not that she blamed them, she truly wasn’t their responsibility. They’d had her a year and she was sometimes morose and unresponsive those days she thought too long on her birth parents and why they had given her up in the first place. Bill and Nancy couldn’t understand because she didn’t share how she felt or what she was going through.

Grace had always thought that grief was a drink best consumed alone, but now she wasn’t so certain. If she had opened up more, appreciated more, tried harder to be the daughter they’d wanted—both to her birth parents and to Bill and Nancy—maybe they would have kept her.

She looked back at Max and his wife and thought: How nice it must be to have such a home and someone to love you…

Then Max was headed out onto Grand Traverse, headed toward the trail that led along the river and over to Saginaw Street where downtown loomed beyond the murky water. He said, “Good morning,” as he passed her standing there helplessly near the entrance to his community, and he glanced back once over his shoulder, and she thought he looked sad for her. He had a long stride and looked as if he were marching off to war. He looked like a lawyer, or something similar. His suit was a little baggy on him, dark blue, recently pressed. The scent of his aftershave lingered even after he was out of sight and on the trail a bit south of her. It was a tropical scent that made Grace dream of distant beaches, endless sand, endless ocean, and smiling sunburned children.  

With nothing else to do, she followed him south, kept twenty or thirty feet between them on Flint River Trail, and she almost expected, hoped, he’d notice her and ask her if she needed help of some kind.

And what then? She hated the idea of begging, but if she didn’t she would die. How long could a body go without food? She didn’t know, and she remembered hearing somewhere that once you hit a certain point, like you could with lack of sleep, you would begin to hallucinate.

Over the last few days she’d walked into restaurants and used the restroom tap to bathe her armpits, the smells from the dining room she passed through like a stab in the guts, so intense and lovely that she considered grabbing someone’s plate and running outside with it because it’d be worth going to jail over having something to taste other than the toothpaste she sometimes squeezed onto her tongue or rubbed on her gums.

She knew she would have to do something soon, something she didn’t want to do, because she couldn’t go on like this. She barely had the energy to walk, and finding some doorway to sleep in, as hard and unforgiving as concrete tended to be, where she could dream of a lusterless future, would have felt too much like giving up.

*****

Max hadn’t noticed Grace following him. Most of his attention was directed inward. His wife of the last six years, Isabelle, was cheating, and she was not hiding it well, although she thought she was very clever. Her attempt at cleverness annoyed him more than anything. For such a shallow, desperate, clingy creature to believe herself smarter or above him was ridiculous. As he neared downtown, the path newly warmed by the recently risen sun, he could still taste the ashen taste of her lips, the horrific scent of her breath. She thought she was slick in sneaking that filthy habit too, but nothing she did could hide the smell on her clothing, the way it clung to her first knuckles, slightly yellowed, her idiotic I-love-yous like an ashtray flung in his face no matter how many mints she chewed as stubbornly and as unabashedly as a donkey.

He was aware that he was not truthful with her either, not completely, at least in one area. It was a simple indulgence for him, really, and one that he could not share with her or anyone else. For the last year he’d been journaling about it. He doubted it helped, if it was therapeutic in anyway, but to put his thoughts down on paper, to lock them in the desk drawer in his den, seemingly innocent-looking next to his Beretta semi-auto, gave him a thrill all its own.

He neared a corner on the edge of downtown. The sky overhead was gray and crowded by darkening clouds. He didn’t care if it rained or not. The smell of wet wool would drive others at work a little out of their minds, but they would never say anything about it, and when he caught them looking he knew that part of them would see his father’s face in his own, and they would quickly look away, which would bode well for them since he carried a boot knife strapped to his right calf. It made him feel edgy in a way, dangerous, and it was another secret that not even Isabelle knew about. He planned to keep it that way as long as possible.

The CB weather ball, perched atop the former Citizen’s Bank, now owned by First Merit Bank, blinked a steady blue signaling both a drop in temperature and a rise in precipitation. When he’d been a child and his father had first been a lowly administrator, Max would climb the fire escapes of surrounding buildings to perch near the edge of a roof and imagine that he controlled the weather, or that the globe was his crystal ball and he was a mighty wizard, looking down on the all the little, insignificant snivelers, his father among them.

He hadn’t realized he’d stopped walking until a gentle rain awoke him. It quickly pasted his hair to his scalp and he got moving again, smiling, and paused near the bus stop, taking a moment to look at the poor whites and the poor blacks gathered beneath the glass structure by the corner. A school bus approached. Some of those waiting were so strung out on crack that they approached the curb, believing this was their ride. He shook his head and wondered where they were going. He could imagine a place for such trash, could imagine that they went willingly, given a ticket to destinations unknown, and why not take it, why not ride that bus into oblivion, or simply in circles around the city, because their lives offered little else in way of entertainment or meaning.

The school bus parked on the curb next to him and the driver bent over to reach something he’d dropped on the floor. The kids inside, a few dozen of them, pressed their faces to the glass and gawked at him, some of the little shits pointing and laughing, and although he couldn’t hear what they said, he could imagine. The knife strapped to his calf made his skin itch. The rain obscured them slightly, made the children’s faces somewhat ghostly. Max thought many of them would grow up to be nothing more than they were now: snotty, backstabbing, judgmental, clique-abiding hypocrites.

He could end their suffering now. It would not be hard.

He smiled, and listened to the driver yell for them to sit down and shut up. Then he was in one of his fantasies again, tapping softly on the door, hearing the hiss of it opening and the driver’s bland, fat face confused there for a moment as he asked Max if he needed something… and Max walking up the three steps that had always seemed too steep for the littlest ones, that last step especially, and he would pull his pant leg up and remove the knife from its sheath.

The fat bland face on the doughy white body would open its mouth in a perfect O, having glimpsed the knife in Max’s hand. But it would be too late for the sad, pathetic creature. Max would drive the knife high up in the soft exposed skin of the throat. The children, unable to process what was happening for a second, would sit numbly in their seats, as perfect as wooden sculptures…

But as the driver bled out, Max would turn to the aisle long and dark, the rain growing stronger and beating like thousands of demon fists against the roof. And the kids would scream then, but no one would hear them as he pulled the lever and the door hissed shut.

The good, shy kids always sat in the first seats, the older kids and trouble makers in the back. Even here the hierarchy started, didn’t it? And that was too bad, that they would not know why he had to release them; there was no time to explain it.

He’d think about driving the bus to a more secluded area (there were many of them in Flint), but there wasn’t time for that either and the children, the older ones, would open the back door to escape before he made it around the block, and he couldn’t have that, now could he?

So he’d walk down that aisle—stabbing, stabbing, stabbing—without looking at the faces of the little ones, the slightly larger ones, then the older ones in back there, the last few rows of seats, pale and wide-eyed, the girls crying, the boys trying not to, fourteen and fifteen year olds, jocks and geeks, virgins and sluts, whining desperately for God, and for their parents, and to each other…

And he would finish them, expecting some to at least fight back, but they were weak, only slightly weaker than their parents, and their blood would flow so easily into the non-slip grooves of the aisle, and it would coat his clothing and his face and his hands, hot blood, cooling blood, their cries trapped in it, trapped in his head, and he would feel nothing, not a thing, and he thought that would be a shame, to not feel anything after doing something so incredible…

He snapped back to the present, to the real world, and saw the bus driver looking at him oddly, and Max could feel the sweet, boyish smile on his own face. He raised a hand and waved to the driver, and the man waved back nervously and opened the door to get a better look at him and then quickly shut it.

Max looked around and saw Grace then. She was thirty feet or so behind him, her backpack slung loosely over one shoulder. He cocked his head and studied her for a second, almost suspecting that she sensed what he’d just fantasized. There was a knowing look in that young face, a wariness. He smiled at her and then winked just to see what she’d do.

She stood in the rain unmoving, a hundred pounds soaking wet, small enough that she appeared a twelve-year-old child. An interesting creature in a way, Max thought, if only for the desperation he could sense. When she didn’t approach him, he shrugged and turned back toward work. He was going to be a little bit late and his father would give him a hard time about it, saying that he needed to set an example for all the other employees, and he thought he would set an example all right.

The day held possibilities…

*****

Grace watched him stare at the bus full of kids, and she thought that he was one of those poor guys who wanted a son or daughter of his own—like Bill and Nancy had—but for a reason with him or his wife, were unable to. He looked at those kids with such love and passion that it made Grace’s heart break a little.

When it started raining she flipped her hoodie over her head and imagined she looked like just some other street trash, those broken and destitute who didn’t all get there by addiction or debt. People like her were around, most of them still sleeping this early in the morning, others out picking up pop cans and scrap metal they could make money off, but she didn’t know that then. She was thinking that the rain was going to make her stink even worse and it caused the foul scent of the Flint River to grow stronger.

She looked around again, unsure if she should approach Max or not. He seemed like someone with a kind heart, that small bit of understanding or sympathy was all it took, wasn’t it? For someone to see you there and know you were hurting and didn’t have shit to offer except your dreams of some kind of stability and certainty.

She thought, Approach him. Just talk to him…

But then Max turned and smiled at her and actually noticed her, and she wanted to say: Mister, I know you don’t know me, and I don’t want to bother you or anybody else, but I’m starving, like literally, I haven’t eaten in three days, and I don’t even know where I can go to take a shower, I stink, you know? But I need to eat; I’ll do whatever you need if you could just find it in your heart to give me five bucks. It’s not much. You won’t even miss it, and like I said, you know, I’ll earn it, all right? Doesn’t that sound fair for both of us?

But he was turning away then and he walked on down the street and crossed the intersection. She followed him down Saginaw Street, across the intersection, and watched him walk boldly into First Merit Bank on the corner of Saginaw and Union. The cobbled streets downtown reminded her of something old and forgotten. There were smiling and hurried college kids across the road, teeming outside the doors of the University of Michigan-Flint. It was a beautiful building, the foundation brick, the middle all windows and teal-colored sheet metal, teal sheet steel along the roof and fascia. The other kids didn’t seem to notice her. She wanted to cry, just watching them, but she wouldn’t let herself.  

She thought, Things are going to turn around, they’ll get better…

*****

Max’s father took him into his office. He performed his duty of correcting his son’s tardiness with the most solemn expression as he sat on the corner of his desk and looked down at Max, his beefy arms folded tightly across his chest. Max nodded along in the proper places and did his best to look chastised. When his father finished, Max said, “I’m so sorry, Pops. I know there’s not any excuse, and I understand why you’re so disappointed. I wish there was something I could say to make it right but I know you’re a man who believes little in words and mostly in action. I will do my best not to be late again.”

He looked at his watch. It was nearly eight-thirty. If he had much to do he would have already been behind schedule, but he didn’t care much for schedules and cared even less about his job, his father, or the people who came to the bank with such unabashed shame or inflated pride.

Max kept his money in a separate bank so that his father could not keep tabs on his account, which he would, Max knew, given the chance. Everything the old man did was geared toward security, had been like that all of Max’s life, and probably before, but Max didn’t care about that either.

His father was not a bad man, and most people in his social circles thought him an outstanding one. He knew the mayor of Flint (not that Max thought that some great accomplishment) and his father had manned the decades with Citizen’s Bank and handled the transition of their sellout to First Merit with relative ease. If he ever stressed about work, Max had never seen it. There was admirable strength in that, he was certain, but he didn’t see how it really made the world a better place.

So, sitting there, he imagined his father moving over to the third story office window and looking over the street. And he imagined that he, Max, would stand, approach him, open the window while mumbling about the pitter patter of rain like the sound of fleeing children’s feet, and he’d point, his father would lean forward, and Max would step behind him and grab just below his knees and tip him over the sash and watch him fall, the old man screaming until he splatted like an overripe watermelon on the sidewalk below.

He didn’t like the police much either, so he brought his father back up to the window and placed a patrolman on the sidewalk below and then replayed it, killing two birds with one fall.

His father snapped his fingers in front of Max’s face, the flick of his thumb or forefinger brushing Max’s nose so sharply it stung.

He looked up at the old man and said, “I’m sorry, I was so deep in thought about how I could make this all up to you.”

“Just show up on time, all right?”

“Of course,” Max said.

His dad uncrossed his arms and dug his fingers into the edge of his desk. He said quietly, “Is everything going okay?”

“Perfect,” Max said.

“Really?”

“Certainly.”

“You can talk to me if you need to, and if you don’t feel comfortable with that, you could always talk to your mother. You hear me?”

Yes, Max thought. You’re saying you see something wrong with me and want me to confide in you or Mother, but how am I supposed to do that? How could either of you understand what sometimes goes through my head?

Max nodded. “Thank you.”

His father waved him away. Max left his office and retreated downstairs. There were three tellers working, and two other loan officers like himself. They tried not to make eye contact with him, but he saw that Rodney Fortson had a smirk on his thin, scrubbed face. The girls behind the counter were keeping themselves busy. Lucy was old and plump and smiled at the photographs thumbtacked next to her computer. She’d just gotten her first grandchild, a little girl, and she never shut up about how magical and gifted the child was. Max sometimes thought he’d like to steal the blessed babe and make it into hotdogs for the next company picnic, which was coming up soon, over the 4th of July weekend. He smiled at her when she looked at him and he called out, “Good morning, Lucy! How is the beautiful little girl?”

She answered and he closed her out after a minute, pretending to go over some loan applications he hadn’t noticed until just that moment. But Lucy wasn’t deterred; she prattled on to the young brunette, Suzy, who had recently started the job, and by the look on her face would put in a request for transfer before the week was out. Max smiled at her too as he organized his paperwork, but for a split second he saw her glance his way with such a baleful expression that he wanted to walk up to her, take the scissors from her tray, and stab her in the eye.

Really, he wondered, what loss would the bank suffer for that? She was barely functional, and if she couldn’t listen to Lucy without learning how to block her out or redirect her then Suzy would never last in the banking industry or any other job. But she was young and he tried to keep that in mind.

He was doing okay, not wanting to gut her or anything, when he heard Rodney clear his throat loudly several times.

Rodney Fortson’s desk was to the right of his. Max glanced at him. The man was younger than Max. Perhaps twenty-five, so thin that if Max flipped him upside down he could use him and his full head of straw-colored hair as a broom.

“Do you have something to say?” Max asked him. He leaned back in his chair. He thought he should feel more anger or something similar when looking at his wife’s lover, but all he felt was a quiet impatience.

Rodney leaned back in his chair too and crossed his legs and cupped his hands beneath his chin. There was a question in his eyes but for some reason Max couldn’t fathom, the younger man refused to ask it. “Do you need help with something?”

“Not really,” Rodney said. His voice was thin, nasally, and he brushed the tip of his nose with his thin fingers and looked off into the distance in the direction of Max’s house, as if he were imagining what Isabelle was up to at that very moment, possibly imagining her in the shower, cleaning up for their lunch break romp in the sheets. When he glanced back at Max, he was smirking. Rodney said, “How is your wife? Is she going to be at the 4th of July party?”

“I imagine she will,” Max said. “You?”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

“She seems to like you,” Max said. “She mentions you often.”

“Really?” Rodney sat up quickly and leaned forward, lowering his voice. “What does she say?”

“Oh, the usual, asking if you have a girlfriend yet, things like that,” Max said. “It’s hard for her imagine someone as handsome as you not having a girlfriend. I think she worries you’re lonely or something of the sort. I really don’t have a clue. Half the time I get tired of listening to her talk.”

“Maybe you should listen to her more,” Rodney said.

“What do you know about it?” Max said, his voice level, calm. “You haven’t been married yet, have you?”

“No. But if you love someone, shouldn’t you listen to them?”

Max scratched at the hidden knife tight to his calf, and said, “Who said I loved her?”

Max turned back to the paperwork on his desk. He could sense someone staring at him and at first thought it was Rodney, but then he looked up at the higher levels around the rim of the ground floor and saw his father leaning against the railing, a sad expression on his face. He figured his old man might have overheard him talking about Isabelle. That could work to his favor in a way. His old man was a family man first, or so he liked people to believe, and if he thought Max was late for work because he was attempting to iron out something in his marriage, then the old codger would cut him some needed slack, which was good, because Max didn’t need people looking at him too closely.

*****

Isabelle spent most of the morning cleaning the house. Max tended to be a slob and he’d only grown worse as year after year he grew lazier and expected more from her. He left his dirty socks in front of the couch every night, these balled up black socks as thin as nylon that stank to high heaven, and she spent every morning picking up magazines he’d read and tossed aside and gathering up dishes he left in the living room, the bathroom, their bedroom. When she raised a fuss—sometimes hysterically, since that seemed to be the only action that got a response from him—he would do better for a day or two, and then slide right back into his reliance on her to play at being his mother.

She was sick of it.

When the house was cleaned she grabbed a bottle of wine from the kitchen and poured a glass and sat on the couch. The day was wet yet warm and she felt the same way inside as she thought of Max and then Rodney. At first, when her and Rodney had stumbled into that exhilarating, awkward romance—it was almost like she was a teenager again, fumbling in the dark, at a loss for breath and eager to meet his needs and fulfill her own—she had expected it to be a one-time thing. But the quick intimacy they’d shared had sparked that most ancient of fires, and her loins felt loose and hot any time she replayed their couplings and their conversations in her mind. Max had thrilled her that way, a long time ago. Over the past few months she had tried to figure out why he’d lost his vitality, his passion, his imagination. He used to be spontaneous, a vivid soul full of uncontrollable energy. His love making had been inventive, whereas now it was nonexistent, unless he was experimenting on someone else.

She sipped more wine, finished the first glass and poured another, forcing herself to take more time with it, to not rush, to avoid becoming a lush and lost to her own complex emotions. She wasn’t sure if she was simply using Rodney, it was possible, and if she was, she didn’t want to break his heart, but little else would shake Max enough for him to see how close their relationship was to the brink. And that was a pity, she thought. What they’d had in the beginning had been good. She’d had three ho-hum relationships—one in high school and two in college—before meeting Max. When he swept into her life, it was like the ebb of the ocean drawing her out into the dark and the unknown, and it was an exhilarating feeling. He took her throughout the city, unafraid of any place or any one, like a thief in the night, or the king of shadows. Looking back, after their quick courtship and marriage, she sometimes worried that he had purposely put both of them in jeopardy for some cheap thrill. He had corners in him, and would sometimes laugh at the scariest things, and as much as it bothered her, she liked that part of him most. Now, as lazy and unresponsive as he was, she realized she didn’t really like him at all. She’d heard stories from girlfriends and cousins and aunts about men changing, and she’d always thought that the only men she’d seen change were men who had changed for their wives. But she had not shaped Max into the unimaginative boring slug he was now, had she?

She finished her wine and looked at the clock hanging to the right of the front door. Rodney would be on his lunch break soon. Just a half hour. She almost didn’t want him to visit her because it too was getting old, the sneaking around, the way it made her feel about herself. Not a good feeling. She’d never cheated on anybody before and never thought she would have reason to. She still wasn’t sure that she had reason to now, and did her best to justify it to herself by saying that she had needs too. And sometimes she’d wake, or step from the shower, so horny that she felt like a goddess, or at least twenty again, and she’d want Max, badly, and she’d try to coax him to the bed, or to bend her over the kitchen table and take her from behind. But he wouldn’t. Not anymore. She suspected he had something on the side as well and it was it made her feel small and childish in hoping that he felt as dirty and unsatisfied as she did.

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