Novel Excerpt

This sample is an excerpt from a novel in progress.

The Worst of Luck (Chapter 1)

Lucked sipped his pint as he watched the rain through plate glass. A blue and white bus slushed across the window, glowing in the midday dusk.  He looked down at the bubbles in his glass as they rose from the bottom and burst the top. Some came in rows and others careened alone to the ultimate bubble frontier. When the bubbles breach the surface they ceased to be “bubbles” though their contents don’t vanish, they just diffuse into the common air of the room. Pressure from the beer and the relative lightness of the carbon dioxide conspire to both form these pockets of gas and seed them with their own destruction. The thing that makes the bubbles makes them become not bubbles.“Your beer telling you secrets again?” Randall interrupted from the other side of the bar.“Yeah. You should hear the shit it says about your mother.”

“That’s alright. It’s just mad because I poured it into a dirty glass,” Randall chuckled as he placed a pair of shot glasses onto the bar between them.  The bottle clinked against the glasses as Randall pours Maker’s Mark. The clinks hang in the empty air of Rachel’s Pub.  The familiar smell of Maker’s, part chemical, part cinnamon, and a part more memory fills that air.  This is the cologne of a common drunk and Luck wore it often. Too often, he thought as he knocked back his shot. He turned the glass upside down to keep Randall from refilling it.

“Should probably get out of here.”

“Okay, Luck. See you later, buddy.”

Luck slid of off his stool and walked to the coat rack near the door. He put on his overcoat and with his hand on the door handle, turned and looked back down the narrow space of Rachel’s.  He walked the length of the bar to the back and stepped into the men’s room, pushing up the switch and waking the fluorescent light.  The bulb flickered on and revealed a tiny urinal, a tinier corner sink, and forty years of graffiti.

The bulb flickers in the park restroom.  He opens each stall after a tentative knock, each time there is no response. It is noon on a clear July day but the flickering light and concrete floor with its cracked drain made him feel like he was underground in a sewer. One stall remains closed and when he knocks a small whimper answers from inside.  He knocks again, another whimper.  He throws the door open, clanging it against the partition. It echoes against the cinderblock walls.  The reverberation ceases and the toilet valve whimpers again.  He turns and leaves.

Luck closed the door of the bathroom behind him and again walked to the exit.  Randall ignores him, engrossed in a news clip about a missing Highland Park woman that looks not unlike Luck’s wife, Cynthia.  Fuck, have to call Cyn.  He stepped out into the rain.  Slogging down the block he could just see the bus stop – or at least the adverts on the bus stop canopy – glowing in the gray air.  His pocket began to hum and he raised his hand to his ear expecting his wife.

“Hello?”

“The weather in your city is shit.  Why is raining every time I come to Chicago?”

“Elisha?” asks Luck, surprised to hear his sister’s voice. “You’re in town?  What for?”

“Work, researching some basement dwellers with tinfoil hats.  Fun stuff, doing a story for Circuits.  I’m staying at the Wellington, you know it?”

“Sure,” he replied, not really knowing at all.

“Great, we’ll get together for dinner later.  I haven’t seen Cyn and Edmund in a long time. Also I have some things we need to talk about.  It’s about Abe.”

“Yeah. Okay.”  Cold rain slid down his sleeve as his hand remained cupped around is ear.  It pooled in his sleeve, clammy.

“Well, give me a call later.  I have to get out of O’Hare.”

“Okay, goodbye.”

Elisha hangs up the phone in the waiting room and Luck thinks about how old it looks with its beige dial pad buttons.  The entire parlor looks antique but of no particular period in the way that these places always do.  Maybe it gives people the idea that things keep going after their useful time has been expended.  Maybe it just matches the elderly that made up most of their patrons.  He still stares at the phone as Elisha walks back and sits beside him on the bench.

“Dad will be here soon he got stuck in traffic.”

“Okay.”

“How is Edmund doing?  I haven’t seen him.”

“He’s been with his grandmother, Cyn’s mother has him.  Mostly been keeping him busy with his shows and a couple of new toys but he keeps asking about Clarisse.  He wants to ask questions and we haven’t had much time to answer anything other than the obvious that his sister isn’t…” Luck chews the inside of his mouth and stares at the phone.  He closes his eyes but the phone is still there, growing larger, then shrinking, and then expanding.  Elisha squeezes his shoulder.

The bus stop canopy was overflowing with people trying to escape the rain.  Seeing Luck approach, a man made like he is going to cram himself and others further in to let Luck under the canopy but Luck shook his head.  He sidled up to the building behind the stop and gained some protection from the rain, but not much. Cars slished by in the rain.  An old panel truck rumbled by on its gasoline engine.  When the bus arrived it was already over full and only a few more bodies squeezed in.  Luck was not among them.  He considered returning to Rachel’s but knew that doing so would mean another pint and he did not want to answer to Cyn.  He headed further up the street instead, stepping into a bagel shop.

The bagel shop was bright and clean, and the warmth from the oven a bulwark against the gray day.  Luck ordered a black coffee and sat down in view of the bus’ approach.  On the other side of the shop eating muffins were a woman and her daughter wearing matching blonde bob haircuts.  Beside the daughter sat a RoboFriend Dolly with its purple skin and its dead eyes.  Luck remembered the first run of the RoboFriend Dolly toys that had been made with more human skin tones and features.  They tested well and flew off of the store shelves but inside a month people were already finding out the dangers of the lifelike infant and toddler RoboFriend Dollies.  A man in Portsmouth had smashed the window of a car thinking he was rescuing an abandoned toddler only to have it cheer the ruckus of breaking glass and repeat its mantra.

“Yay! Play with me!  Play with me!  Play with me!  What’s your name?  I’m Dolly!  Play with me!  Play with me!  Play with me!”

A broken window, an embarrassment.  These were not major problems but the things were just creepy, not quite able to bridge what in robotics is called the corpse factor.  The dolls were just close enough to live human in appearance to seem alive but just far away yet to seem uncanny and dead.  The final incident that changed the RoboFriend Dollies and their like forever though had been the drunk in New York that put his infant son in the toy box and tucked the toy into the crib.  One suffocated infant later there was a recall, and all RoboFriend Dollies were from then on produced with clearly inhuman skin tones of purple, hot pink, etc.  Green did not test well, they looked ready to puke at all times which, in Luck’s experience as a father, was actually a more realistic state of children.

Sipping his coffee he remembered Cyn.  He raised his hand to his ear.

“Call Cynthia.” Ringing.

“You get lost?”

“No.  It’s pouring like hell and the bus is backed up.”

“For an hour?”

“I stopped for a coffee.” Technically this was true.

“Well just take a cab.”

“I don’t need to pay for a cab.”

“We can afford a cab, just get one and come home.  I have a conference call in an hour and I’d rather you were here to look after him while I am on the line with New York.  Anyone else, I wouldn’t mind but Richardson is a real shit, thinks I spend all day playing with my kid instead of working.  If he so much as hears Edmund during the call we’ll get a memo.”

“Okay I’ll be home in a bit. Love.”

“Love.” The call chirped off.

The rain had stopped and some amount of sunshine returned to the Chicago street outside the window.  Luck looked out at the people emptying form the crowded canopy.  Among them was a that man that must have been a bum based on the fact that he was the only person from the group that was wearing clothes made exclusively from dirt.  Except for the soaking wet Members Only jacket.  Jesus, hadn’t seen one of those in years.  Not even in the vintage shops were you could generally overpay for any number of such useless shit items as a Members Only jacket.

While good for conveying imagery of jeks with popped collars from the 1980s, what that coat was not any good for was keeping someone dry and warm.  Luck looked down at his own waterproof and quick drying coat and thought about how little work he had done in the last month.  Shit, I’m just about as much a bum as this guy.  Luck got up and tossed his empty coffee cup into the bin and went to the counter and waved at the girl behind it.

“I need another coffee and a muffin to go.”

“What kind, of muffin, sir?”  Her muffin serving gusto and smile coordinated perfectly with her orange sherbet collared shirt and visor.

“Whatever’s popular.”

“Well, we have…”

“I clearly want you to make this choice for me.”

Her eyes widened and her face sank backward into her skull.  She seemed unwilling or unprepared for choosing muffins.  “Well I think we sold fifteen of these yesterday…”

“Great one of those.”

“But we sold more of these others the day before…”

“Just give me whatever it is those fucking people are eating,” he said, his arm going rigid in the direction of RoboFriend party of three.  The face sank deeper in the now silent shop.  Luck looked back down his right arm pointed like a rifle barrel at the woman and her daughter, both of which were looking at him now also with their faces sunken (which on the mother produced two new chins, signifying two levels of dismay above regular dismay).

We’ve got level three dismay, folks.

Flanked by astonished blonde haircuts, though, was what fell directly in the path of Luck’s finger.  Recognizing that it had become the center of attention of a new pair of eyes, the RoboFriend Dolly’s face went wide with a rubber grin.  It sprang upright, jumped on the table and began to dance, pumping its fists up and down at the floor.

“Hey Mister!  I’m Dolly! Let’s sing the friend song!” the castrato doll machine yelled.

“This thing…turn it off, Bailey!” The woman turned her attention to the singing doll. Luck put his arm away and turned back to the counter.

“Blueberry.”

The girl thrust a bagged muffin at him and he raced out of the door.

——————————— * ———————————

The warmth of the shop followed Luck as he emerged from the door but as it shut behind him that warmth dissipated and he was again cold and damp.  The bum was standing on the sidewalk, staring out at traffic.  In addition to his Member’s Only jacket, he wore wool slacks and a novelty conductor’s cap like you might see on someone running a model train set in their basement.  As Luck approached him he could see that the bum’s shoes were full of holes.  What the fuck am I doing? he thought.  A cup of coffee is not going to close the hole in the toe of that shoe.  “Say, buddy…” said Luck, still from behind.  The bum did not respond.  Luck stepped around the bum and placed himself squarely in front of him.

“Hey buddy, you want a muffin and some coffee?”

“I ain’t do tricks.”

“What?”  Luck wondered if that was a thing that people did, bribed bums to pull quarters from behind ears and endless scarves from their pants.  It was the image of something being pulled from his pants that clarified the meaning to Luck.

“Oh..uh..no that is not why…I was just sitting in there and you were out here in the cold and…I’m not…I just wanted spot you a coffee, Okay?”

The bum focused one eye on Luck for a moment before reaching for the muffin and the coffee.  He chewed down half of the muffin in two bites without taking his eyes off of Luck and then thrust the other half into the pocket of his jacket.  He swigged the coffee, one eye still on Luck.

“Whatchoo want then?”

“I told you, nothing.”

“You still standing here, though.”  He stepped close and leaned in.  “You wanna buy some meat?”

“Do I want to what?”

“Buy some meat.” The bum dragged up the front of his jacket and shirt revealing a T-bone steak in vacuum sealed plastic jammed down his pants.  Where did he keep the salad?

“Where did that come from?”

“You a cop?” The jacket slide down.

“No, I just wonder where a man finds a steak laying around.”

“Wasn’t laying around, got it at Jewel.  They got good meat. This one’s thirty dollars there but I’ll take fifteen.  You must not be a cop ‘cause you don’t know shit.  Cops take my damn meat all the time.  One time me and Joe was driving in Joe’s car and we got pulled over with a trunk full and they dragged us through the station for eight hours and never put any charges about the meat but they took it.”

“Well, fuck those guys…right?”

“Haha! Yeah that’s right buddy.  You okay, thanks for the coffee.  My name’s Eddie.”  He extended a dirty hand with a blueberry on it.  Luck stared at the hand for a moment not wanting to touch it but realized that he had bought the ticket for this ride when he bought the berry on that knuckle.  He took Eddie’s hand in his own and gave it a shake.  Eddie grinned and breathed out a scent of cheap beer and cigarette butts.

Then he coughed.

A wet, beer and cigarette cough.

Right into Luck’s mouth.

“Oh for Christ’s sake!”

“Haha sorry been real sick.  Hey man you wanna get some meat or hang out you find me at the KFC on Roosevelt.  That’s my spot.”  This information was mostly lost on Luck as he attempted to spit his mouth clean.

“Gonna get on this bus,” Eddie said as a bus opened its door at the curb.  “Thanks for the joe, Joe! Bye bye joe Joe!”  With that he was on the bus and gone while Luck stood bent over with his hands on his knees, not quite sure if he was going to vomit.  He decided he was, and did as he watched his bus drive away.