Thursday, November 25, 2010

ONE LAST SHOT: Sample Chapter 2

I'm going to take a few days off to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.  Here's another sample chapter of my novel to keep you entertained. 


CHAPTER 2


Gryphon Tea Room
Savannah, Georgia
“Something seems to be on your mind today,” Ray Billings said casually, looking at Levi over the top of his teacup with his dark gray eyes. The cup looked tiny in his massive hands.

Levi said nothing at first. The remark surprised him since it was unlike Ray to pry. Ray set his teacup down and leaned back in one of the trademark orange wooden chairs of the Gryphon Tea Room. The chair creaked under his massive athletic build. In the morning light streaming through the front windows, his badge gleamed brightly from the pocket of his perfectly pressed khaki shirt

Ray, who was in his mid-fifties, kept his head shaved clean, but his most defining feature was a handlebar mustache, which he kept waxed and curled up at the ends—the kind of mustache not seen much anymore. Ray crossed his arms over his chest, looking confident that his assessment was correct.

“Why do you say that?” Levi replied.

“Levi, don’t bullshit a bull-shitter,” Ray said with a chuckle. “I’m a trained observer with more than twenty-five years experience. Little gets past me, as you should well know. When I pull over a teenager, I can tell by his mannerisms if he has beer in his trunk. I’m so good, in fact, I can usually guess how many.”

Levi grinned. Ray was good. He was often mystified by his friend’s powers of observation. He’d often thought of himself as Watson to Ray Billings’ Sherlock Holmes.

“You’re a wise man, Officer Billings. What gave me away? What little hint did I give you that something is wrong? ”

The giant man smiled broadly. His size and demeanor were intimidating, but when he smiled, all that melted away in an instant. He had a face people instantly trusted, a trait that served him well in his job.

“It was pretty easy, actually. You probably could’ve figured this one out yourself,” he said, chiding Levi.

“Really? So easy even I could’ve figured it out? Oh, please, share.”

The great observer thought for a moment about how he would reveal the answer.

“How long have we known each other, Levi?”

“I met you shortly after I moved to Savannah ten years ago.”

Gryphon Tea Room trademark orange chairs
“Has it been ten years since that night I caught you and that young lady in your car in the parking lot of the Crystal Beer Room? Come to think of it, you never did tell me what you and that girl were doing in that car.”

Levi grinned. “Nothing, thanks to you.”

“I believed your story.”

“That’s what you say now, but it sure didn’t stop you from running me in back then. And, by the way, I maintain the same story I told you then—I had no idea that young lady was a hooker.”

Ray shook his head, smiling at the memory, and continued, “And on that following Monday, I run into you here.”

“And I was thrilled to see my arresting officer again so soon. Of course, you invited yourself to join me at my table,” Levi said, sarcastically. “And you ate all my damned scones.”

Ray ignored him. “We get talking, and we become friends. And since then, we’ve met here just about every Monday”

“True,” Levi said. He had no idea where Ray was going with this.

“I’d say we’ve missed maybe one or two Mondays a year when you’re off on speaking engagements or frying chicken with Paula Deen on her show or signing books somewhere.” Ray often teased him about his celebrity. “So we’re talking about what? Five hundred Mondays all told that we’ve met here at the Gryphon?”

Levi nodded. “You’re pretty close.”

“And yet, when I came up behind you today and said ‘good morning’ as I always do, you jumped a damned foot. You didn’t expect to see me here on our regular meeting day. Now I know you come up here a few times a week, but your reaction means either you didn’t know it was Monday, or you are so preoccupied with something else you forgot it was Monday.”

As with Holmes and Dr. Watson, when the answer was revealed, it was always more obvious than expected.

“True,” Levi said, smiling and shaking his head.

“So what’s bothering you?”

Savannah Scottish Rite Temple looms above
Gryphon Tea Room
Levi’s smile faded. There were few men on earth he trusted more—maybe none. Ray had started out as a jack-ass cop, but he’d wound up as a friend and later a brother. Levi glanced down at his gold ring which featured a red stone with the gold square and compass emblem embedded in the stone. Ray wore a Freemason ring just like it. In fact, two stories up from where they were sitting at the Gryph, in a lodge room in the Savannah Scottish Rite Temple, Ray had raised his new friend a Master Mason. Levi had since become a 32° Scottish Rite Mason as well.

“I think life is about to change for me,” Levi said. “I’m forty-two years old, and I’ve been successful, but I’m hemorrhaging cash, and I think the cash cow is about to dry up.”

“Ah,” Ray said, “what a strange day. We’re on a topic we never discuss. We’re talking about your books—right?”

The strength of their friendship was based on the fact there were some things they never discussed. One topic that seldom came up was Levi’s books. Ray always got the feeling Levi wasn’t completely comfortable with his celebrity. Even upstairs, amongst his Freemason friends, Levi didn’t want to be known as “the famous writer.” He bristled every time someone introduced him that way or brought up the fact he was a published writer. Ray didn’t understand Levi’s reaction, but he respected his privacy.

Levi’s past was another topic they never discussed. Levi was very adept at steering conversations away from his history. Ray had picked up a few things over the years since Levi had occasionally let comments slip. For instance, Ray knew there were problems with his parents, and that Levi hadn’t been home in nearly two decades. And, of course, there was a ten-year gap between the time Levi had graduated from the University of Illinois and when Ray had met him—a blank slate about which Levi had never dropped even one hint. Ray knew he could find out more if he wanted to, but again he respected Levi’s privacy.

Ray leaned back in his chair, sipping tea as he listened to Levi’s story about the declining quality of his three books. He knew Levi was getting to the crux of the problem.

“The book I just published, Thou Art with Me isn’t very good. My agent tells me it will sell, but another crappy book will put me out of business for good.”

Ray finally leaned forward and looked Levi square in the eye.

“So you wrote two good books and one bad one. Write another good one,” he said simply. “Try harder. Spend a little less time chasing tail and a little more time writing books. I mean, that was the problem last time, right?”

Levi looked at him blankly. He’d just heard this same lecture from Wanda. When Levi didn’t say anything, Ray suddenly understood the real problem.

“Ah, I get it. It’s deeper than that, isn’t it. You, Mr. Garvey, are going through a mid-life crisis. You’ve reached that age when you begin to think your best years are behind you. You think you’ve already reached the peak of your craft, and everything to come will pale by comparison. Y0u don’t think you can write another good book.”

“Another good book?” Levi snorted. “That’s the problem, Ray. In all honesty, I’ve written only one good book. I spent years thinking about But for the Grace of God before I wrote it. I don’t mind saying it was a great book. The second book was a variation on the same theme—a cheap knock-off. The third book was another carbon copy. Every incarnation of that same theme has been a little weaker than the one previous. In truth, I’ve had only one brilliant idea and one good book. I’ve been plagiarizing myself ever since.”

Ray nodded. “You’ve been half-assing it because you never really believed that first book was anything but a fluke. You’ve been riding that success for all it’s worth. That’s why we don’t discuss your success—you don’t think you deserve it. And now that you’ve ridden it as far as you can, you realize it’s time to either put up or shut up, and you’re scared shitless. You don’t have another idea, and you aren’t convinced you’ll ever have one.”

Levi was stunned. Ray had nailed it.

Ray leaned forward and took a scone off the table. He took a large bite, then leaned back and chewed it as he eyed Levi. There was a long pause as Levi waited for more, but Ray had said what he wanted to say.

“So what do you think I should do? You can’t buy book ideas at Wal-Mart.”

“Well, think about it,” Ray said. “How did you get that first book idea? You said you thought about it for years. Where were you? What were you doing? What was the one experience you had that got you thinking about writing a book? You weren’t a writer when you got that idea, but once you got it, you couldn’t stop yourself from thinking about it. You were just going through life, and that one thing stuck. Right?”

Levi thought for a moment, then slowly nodded his head.

Suddenly, Wanda was there, her words echoing from their conversation an hour before—“Maybe you need to go back to the place where you got that first idea.”

“You’re a good friend, Brother Billings,” Levi said.

“Did I help?” Ray asked.

“Oh yeah,” Levi admitted. He reached for his Panama sitting the edge of the small table between them and picked up the newspaper he’d bought from the machine outside. “If you’re not doing anything, why don’t you come by tonight and bring a few beers. We’ll sit on the porch.”

“Sounds good. I’ll be there.”


One Last Shot will be released by Moon & Son Publishing in Spring/2010.
Copyright 2010 Todd E. Creason. All rights reserved.



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