A Republic of Books

(a novel in progress)

By Vincent McCaffrey

Chapter One

It was a sun bright morn on the ides of May when the FBI came and took my files away. Sounds better in rhyme than it was. I went too—though not in the same truck as the files. To be taken away, like a character in a Cold War novel is purposefully frightening. The purpose, of course, was to instill a proper fear and awe of this secular god of theirs, ‘The Government.’ But I’d been in fear of that particular entity since the day when I was sixteen and realized I had not paid my income tax–had no clue at the time, in fact, about how this act of subservience was done. I worked for myself then, reselling the books I found at yard sales and such, not so much different than I do today, but a friend of mine who had a job at Woolworth’s enlightened me to the awesome fact that this was how they had finally nabbed Al Capone, and there my dread began.

In this more recent event I was taken away by a ‘Special Agent’ named Clifford who had little to say and said all of it. “Are you Michael McGeraughty?” He already knew the answer there. “You are being taken in for questioning.” Where had I heard that before? “You are not under arrest.” Thus I had no right to a lawyer. “The warrant covers both your business and your home.” I told him the door there was locked. He said, “That’s been taken care of.” I was reassured. Continue Reading →

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The knight’s tale: a story of the future

  1. [Sunday, June 6, 2162]

The last dark of night stole shape and substance from the shadows beneath the pine. A first waking of birds tested the air. The muffled crack of a limb, twisted by the gentle fingering of a cool draft, and the drop of a pine cone onto the thick mat of fallen needles went unnoticed by horse or man. But another sound, no more than an insect against the first soft bluster of oncoming dawn, pestered the larger silence.

One eye opened. Through a gray wisp off the ashes of his campfire, John looked toward Rosie. Wide-eyed, she backed against her tether, snorted, and returned his stare, her ears erect and turning nervously. John slipped a hand forward in his sleepsack to his gun, shifting the clasp with his thumb. A gathering chorus of catbirds, warblers and cardinals further tattered the quiet. Calculating that the lingering dark would hide the movement, John turned his head just enough against the undermat to better hear. Rosie saw his attention and stood still. The only odor he noticed was the warm whiff of insect repellent from within the sleepsack. A pine knot, still smoldering at the center of the ashes, began to buzz like a fly. But above that faint noise, there was another sound. A vibrating. Metallic.

A drone perhaps? Continue Reading →

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I imagine my salvation: a Menckenesque

1. The stolon and the radix: putting into words what cannot be said

I have learned to love Montaigne. This did not happened quickly or easily, but the affection began when I read this: “I write to keep from going mad from the contradictions I find among mankind, and to work some of those contradictions out for myself.”

These words felt true to me. Perhaps I did not always write for such a perfect cause, but at least I knew I should, and that I might as well be following in the steps of a better man.

Words were my first escape in more ways than just what I found on the page in the stories I read. There was also refuge in the meanings alone. There was secrecy to be had in their use in uncertain company.

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A Faith in Dreams

Faith in dreams, like the beliefs of small and ancient religions, is often lost with the simple passage of time. Mere time. Simply forgotten. A figment of a midnight dream at midday. Too vague to grasp. We all remember the faith we once had in our fathers, or mothers, for instance. Or the absence of such an absolute trust, perhaps. But what of those other beliefs, and their failure or strength, which were so instrumental to our being and to what we would become?

There were many such smaller religions in my past–a thousand convictions which I once held dear–all of them long since lost. The sure knowledge that summer would come and school would end. That Bill, the bus driver would always be there on the colder days or wait a moment longer. That Mel, the Good Humor man would let me the extra nickel needed for the orange-cream popsicle. That the profound chill and still-hollow of a winter night would soon be transformed into the lush dark of mosquitoes and crickets and tree frogs. All of those faiths were set aside when my first full time jobs showed little interest in the seasons and getting to work in time depended on the IRT. Continue Reading →

Seeley’s Surfside

The hanging road sign for Denton Real Estate offered a constant chirping against an intermittent wind. It was a small and familiar voice to Burk as he approached Seeley’s Surfside Diner. The murmur of tires on passing cars was dampened by the new snow. With the hood of his parka pulled tight against the cold, most other sounds were obliterated by the rub of fabric against his ears and he had to keep an eye out for the car lights through breath-fogged glasses as he made his way from his apartment.

The blaze of neon from Seeley’s was not comforting against the black and white of snow and night ahead. It never was. Even on a hot evening in the summer it was joyless. Tonight, it cut through the falling snow more pink than red. Burk had thought before that it was an odd thing, how the color in the sign seemed to change depending on the weather. He had mentioned it once to Pat, but the observation was shrugged at. Ignored.

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She Knows Her Onions

So this is what I know. At least what I’ve heard. The part that I think is true.

Florrie was the first guy to get a hook on Zim. This was something of a surprise, because Florrie was the last guy you’d a thought needed the help.

You know Florenz Patterson. Sure you do. But you probably know him better by the name of Gunther Grab or Forrest Fern. You’ve probably read some of his ‘Ready Evans’ stories in Black Mask. He wrote under a lot of names. There were issues of Wild West that he wrote almost single-handedly using five different monikers. Not many of the New York guys have ever been on a horse or much else west of the Poconos. Hell, Clarence Mulford even writes his ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ stories from up in Fryeburg, Maine, for Christ sake! And they are all good at making the best use of what little experience they know.

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That Little Old Lady and Me

She brought me down with a two by four across the back of the knees. My head hit the doorjamb as I fell. Hard headed or not, I think I was a little dazed.

I was lying then on a black and white tile floor in the half dark of that vestibule and looking up at the mouth of a model 17, 9mm Glock semi-automatic, when I first heard that voice.

“What’da’ya’want?”

This is a single word, in common use, but has problematic spelling. When I write stories now I often just resort to familiar forms, like ‘What do you want?’ Rather than be accused of stereotyping or pandering. I was actually thinking about this while I was lying there only half conscious. I had spent the morning at my one room apartment over in Cambridge, writing and dealing with the grammatics—that’s my word for dramatic speech patterns–when Connie McGuire showed up and asked me to do him a favor. That meant he was going to screw with my regular schedule and put me on a job right away. He’s been doing that less lately so I didn’t complain. Just part of the job description. Besides, he’s short on cash because of the economy and I’m on salary anyway, so it doesn’t cost him extra to dump on me. I ran through a few more ‘grammatics’ in my head on the way over to the South End. I had to decide the way to go with the piece I was working on. It made a difference.

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Ghosts

I don’t believe in ghosts. Any more than I believe in a tree, or a rock. What the heck does a tree care what I believe in. Why does it matter what you call a stone, unless you’re a geologist or something. I just try to live with things–as is. ‘Take them the way they are, and work on your own self,’ like Daddy said. Like you have to take Uncle Bob. It’s not going to change anything about Uncle Bob if I object to it. He’ll just get more ornery and give Mama a harder time. He’ll just ignore me, same as a rock would. You can’t argue with a stone, and Uncle Bob thinks anybody still under the age of sixteen is as dumb as a rock anyway, so what’s the use.

I’ve been watching this one ghost for a week now. He thinks I don’t see him, if he thinks about me at all. He moves up and down the stairs like he’s carrying something but I can’t see his arms. Maybe he doesn’t have any arms. But he looks busy, like he’s getting something done.

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“The places that have known him, they are lost…”

1955

 

A tar blister, black and shiny, bloomed from the wooden crevice of a joint in the short bridge, close to Aran’s right foot. The glister of sun on the tar caught his eye. Aran shifted his sneaker away. His grandmother would not want the tar in the house.

The bridge, lengths of wood as thick as railroad ties and darkened with creosote, joined the rusted bones of an iron trestle that crossed the wider gully of the creek more than the creek itself–spanning the red gouge and the dark run of clear water, and a lush verge of vine and brush between a corn field and a pasture.

He whispered, “Aw, shoot!” his voice muffled by the dense quiet and his breath smothered by the sun. Everything had changed. Nothing ever stayed the same long enough.

Elbows planted on top of the warmed metal of the side rail, Aran stood in partial collapse at the middle of the bridge, his palms clasped to each cheek as he stared down into the gully and studied the ruin of his plan. A single large rock, black at the center like an eye, stared back at him from the sand. Continue Reading →

The Forgotten Order of Things

from BENEDICTIONS, an unfinished novel

This is what I remember.

But someone else could say, “I know that place, and you’ve got the names all wrong.”

I’d have to tell them that they’re mistaken. In any case, I don’t remember them being there.

They might answer, “The doorway was on the left. That woman was a blonde.”

I’d have to remind them that they were standing at a different angle, and the lighting was not as good.

This all happened before mobsters replaced cowboys at the movies, and long before government Indians and stock market brokers took over the business of gambling. I was a nobody then, the same as I am now, only then I was a nobody with promise. The unsecured credit of my youth opened doors which have since been securely locked. Reflecting on that time now, I am aware of the forgotten order of things. We all tend to place remembered matters in a sequence of importance determined by the lives we are presently living, and too easily forget the value we once held so dear. We judge our past selves by the logic of the present, as if we might have foreseen the unfolding of things we could not possibly have known.

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