Monday, November 15, 2010

ONE LAST SHOT: Sample Chapter

CHAPTER 1

“Hey, Levi!” Brittany squealed through the window screen. “You’re going to be on TV!”

Levi Garvey was finishing his breakfast on the front porch of his Savannah townhouse. Sighing, he ignored her as he leaned back in his chair, sipped his coffee, and watched the early morning joggers and dog walkers on Pulaski Square. Dressed, as usual, in a cotton button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, blue jeans, and tennis shoes, he took it all in from under the brim of his ever-present Panama.

The morning light in Savannah, Georgia, was especially breathtaking in Pulaski Square, one of the beautiful town squares in the historic district. The sun’s golden rays beamed down wherever it could find an opening through the live oaks draped in Spanish moss. The gauzy light illuminated the purple wisteria blossoms, the cobblestone sidewalks, and the palm trees. Early morning was Levi’s favorite time of day.

“Levi, come quick! You’ll miss it! They’re going to talk about your book,” Brittany called again from inside the house.

Glancing at his German shepherd who was sleeping at the top of the porch steps, he said, “Come on, Rosco. Let’s go see what Brittany is so excited about.”

The dog never flinched.

“Rosco!” he said louder.

Nothing.

Grinning broadly, Levi got up from his chair, walked over to Rosco, and nudged him with his foot. Rosco’s brown eyes blinked open. He raised his head and looked around slowly, not sure what had disturbed his nap. When he finally realized his master was standing behind him, his ears went up and his tail wagged, but he never got up.

“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t dead,” Levi said as he leaned down to scratch Rosco’s head. “You have to be the laziest dog I’ve ever seen. You’re good for nothin’.”

Levi walked across the porch to the screen door and disappeared into the house. Rosco looked after him for a moment, then put his head back down on his paws and fell asleep again.


* * *


Brittany was sitting on the arm of the couch, eating Lucky Charms right out of the box. She was the kind of girl most men dream of—young, blonde, and blue-eyed with a perfect tan on a perfect body. The slogan on the skin-tight t-shirt she was wearing described both her strengths and her weaknesses in one short statement—I wish these were brains.

“See, I told you,” she said, pointing at a morning news program.

A bit surprised to see Brittany was watching the news, Levi figured that she’d probably run across it by accident while looking for SpongeBob SquarePants.

The cover of his most recent book was on the screen behind the critic. Brittany smiled, her eyes blinking brightly as she munched on the cereal and watched the commentary.

“. . . and after reading his first book But for the Grace of God back in 1999, I truly believed Levi Garvey was well on his way to being one of America’s great writers. I found that same powerful storytelling ability and tense prose in his second book, Fear No Evil, in 2005. These were books readers not only enjoyed reading but also continued to think about long after they turned the last page. The popularity of his first two books skyrocketed again when they were adapted into blockbuster Hollywood movies. But after reading Garvey’s latest book, Thou Art with Me, I think it’s obvious that he’s lost his touch. This book has very little to offer fans of his previous books besides disappointment. Levi Garvey has gone from genius to hack in just three books.”

“Is hack better than genius?” Brittany asked.

“No, Brit. Being called a hack is not a good thing,” he said.

“Oh,” she said, cocking her head and looking a bit perplexed. The wheels turned ever so slowly. “So he didn’t like your book?”

“No, he agrees with everyone else that it sucks.”

Thinking that during the past few weeks had caused butterflies in his stomach to flutter. Saying it aloud caused him real pain.

Brittany’s short attention span was quickly whisked away by a buzzing sound. “Hey, your cell phone has been ringing every five minutes,” she said pointing to it as it vibrated on the coffee table.

Levi picked it up, glanced at the number, and shoved it into his pocket without answering it.

“I think I’ll take a walk, Brit. Maybe down to the Gryphon.”

As he walked towards the door, Brittany said, “Hey, Levi? What channel are the cartoons on again?”

I know that girl way too well, he thought as he shook his head and grinned. “Channel 162,” he called back over his shoulder as he walked out the screen door.

Rosco was still sleeping at the top of the porch steps—no big surprise.

“Rosco, you want to go for a walk?”

Rosco’s eyes opened sleepily, but he never raised his head. The answer was pretty clear.

“Suit yourself,” Levi said as he quickly descended the steps and walked out into Pulaski Square.


* * *


Levi loved walking in Savannah. He’d learned a lot about the history of the city in the past ten years. The city’s twenty-two squares in the historic district were just beautiful. In the center of each city square was a block-sized park with perfectly tended gardens, park benches, and of course the live oaks and Spanish moss for which the city was known—picturesque and historic places that were favorite sites for family picnics and weddings.

Many of the squares were named for famous Americans—Franklin, Washington, Greene, Warren, and Madison. However, one of the original squares, Liberty Square, was named after a founding principle of America. It was a parking lot now. Levi considered it ironic that Liberty Square was one of two original squares lost, since liberty was so often sacrificed in the name of progress.

Many of the squares featured fountains, statues, and memorials, each as visually stunning as it was rich in history. Most of the houses, churches, and buildings surrounding the squares were original. The squares were often used in Hollywood films, especially those that were set during the Civil War era. One of Levi’s favorite movies, one set in modern times, had also been filmed there. He wasn’t too far away from the square where Forrest Gump had sat on a park bench, waiting for a bus while telling the story of his remarkable life to those waiting with him.

Savannah’s historic district was an American success story. After decades of neglect, many of the oldest, most historic blocks in Savannah had fallen into disrepair—the district becoming a ghost town with block after block of abandoned mansions and townhouses from America’s past boarded up and forgotten. It was only through the dedication of the Savannah Historic Society that many of the houses were saved through renovation and restoration. In order to own one of the historic homes, owners had to agree to maintain them exactly as they were when they were built. Savannah’s historic district had gone from an abandoned relic to a thriving community again. The great success story of its historic renovation had encouraged many more historic cities to do the same thing.

Levi’s townhouse on Pulaski Square was part of that success story. His home looked exactly as it had when it was built in 1844. Inside, however, it had all the modern conveniences along with five bedrooms, three baths, original fixtures, and hardwood floors—all that for a hefty price tag he could afford thanks to his first two books and the movies that followed.

As he cut across the square, Levi’s phone chirped in his pocket. A text message. Reluctantly, he pulled out the phone, then he froze as he read the message: U better answer!

“Oh, shit,” Levi said.

It was Wanda Sterling, his agent. And she was angry. He’d been dodging her calls for a couple weeks. If he kept dodging her, he knew she’d show up in Savannah.

Seconds later, the phone vibrated in his hand, startling him. That was quick, he thought. He sat down on a park bench, stared at the phone reluctantly for a moment, then answered. “Hello, Wanda,” he said.

Wanda never said hello, and she never said goodbye. She said what she had to say, and when she was done with the conversation, she hung up. That was her style.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” she snapped.

Levi knew her well enough to say nothing. He heard her inhale deeply. He could almost see her in New York, sitting at her desk behind mountains of paper, chain-smoking and slugging coffee. She was one of the most successful agents in the business, and she was not a woman easily ignored, especially since she’d been in publishing longer than he’d been alive—a fact she reminded him of often.

“I don’t know what the hell you’ve been doing,” she said, “but you picked a hell of a time to go off the radar. You don’t show up for two signings, you miss an important interview, and your publisher is not very happy about it.”

“I’m sorry,” Levi said. “I figure I’ve written my last book. Right?”

She sighed. “Although the critics hate Thou Art with Me, your adoring readers are buying it by the tens of thousands. This book could actually wind up being another bestseller for you. Don’t get me wrong. We both know it was terrible, but as long as it sells, Moon & Sons is willing to move on. You’ll lose a few readers, but you can easily come back after one bad book—you just can’t come back after two. You have one last shot, Levi, so don’t waste it. Write another clunker, and you’re done. You’ll never see your name on the new release shelf in a bookstore again.”

“I don’t know if I can write another book, Wanda,” Levi said flatly. “I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t think there is another book in me. I should’ve never written the last one.”

Silence. He heard her take a drag off her cigarette. He heard her sip coffee.

“You don’t really have a choice in this, Levi. You’re going to write another book,” she said gruffly. “You and I have a contract, not to mention the publishing contract with Moon & Sons. Like it or not, I do expect you to write one more book to satisfy your obligations. Now it’s up to you whether you write a good book or another bad one. Look at this as an opportunity to redeem your tarnished reputation as a writer.”

Leaning back on the park bench, Levi pushed his hat back on his head. “I don’t know, Wanda,” he said, shaking his head.

“You can do this. I’ve seen this a thousand times. You’ve just let yourself get swept up by the fame and fortune, and the most important thing, the writing, has suffered. I’ve seen lots of writers pull out of a slump and go on to write great books again.”

Ah, the inspirational speech, Levi thought.

“I don’t know what you need to do to get back to that place where you can write a great book. If you’re drinking, then stop drinking. If you don’t drink, then maybe you should start up. Maybe you need a new age-inappropriate girlfriend—or do that Hugh Hefner thing and get two more girlfriends. Maybe you need to go back to the place where you got that first idea. Whatever it is, you need to start thinking about the next book right now. Are you listening to me, Garvey?”

“I hear you,” Levi said.

He took off his Panama hat and wiped the sweat off his forehead. His hand was shaking slightly. It was suddenly very warm in Pulaski Square.

“Then stop all this self-pity garbage and get back to work,” she snapped. “You’re a gifted writer. That should be obvious considering the quality of your agent. Believe in yourself.”

“You’re right, Wanda.” He said the words, but he wasn’t sure he really believed them.

“And, Levi.”

“Yeah?”

“If you think you have problems now, you try ignoring my calls again. Don’t think for a minute I won’t come down there.”

Levi couldn’t think of anything more unpleasant than a personal visit from Wanda.

“I’m sorry, Wanda, I’ve been—”

But the phone was dead. Wanda was done speaking, and the conversation was over. He stared at the phone for a moment before putting it back into his pocket. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and the pain in his stomach. It’s all coming undone. There isn’t another book in me, he thought.

Levi glanced around the square, trying to decide if he was going to walk back to the house or finish his walk to the Gryphon Tea Room as he’d originally planned. The Gryph, as he called it, was one of his favorite places to think.

He got up and began walking towards Bull Street where the Gryphon Tea Room was on the first floor of the Savannah Scottish Rite Temple.


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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