I revisted a novel of mine with unexpected results. This time I was touched by the characters and what happens to them in a way I hadn't been before. Was it me just getting older and sappier, or does the narrative really have the capability of doing that? Just what does this story do for readers? And does it do enough of whatever that is to make it worth paying for?
Gundown is a thriller, and it is speculative fiction in that it takes place a few years from now and there are things in the story that haven't happened (yet). Other than that, it’s grounded in today’s reality.
I've done some rewriting, retitled it, created a new cover design, and I’d like to find beta readers who can give me feedback. I just don’t know what/how to think about this book anymore (one reason there's no blurb here).
I've tried marketing it as a thriller and as an issues novel. Where do its best chances lie in its present form? How to present it, or should I just let it rest?
I can email to you a PDF, a Kindle file, or an .epub (Nook and other readers) file. All I ask is that you read it as a reader and give me your reactions—perhaps in review form or whatever you’re comfortable with. I’m not looking for line editing, but any notes you have are welcome. More than that, I'm interested in a dialogue with readers about how to think and talk about it.
In the tradition of FtQ, I’m posting the opening page to see if there are any takers (yes, there's a poll). But today you’ll also be able to read the rest of the chapter. Your comments will be welcome.
The opening page of Gundown.
Jewel wove through the lunchtime crowd that filled the plaza beside the Chicago River. A breeze reeking of car exhaust swirled around the skyscrapers, but she liked its soft touch. She imagined she could feel the spring sun turning her mocha skin a shade darker.
The Wrigley Building clock said she had time to do a little window-shopping, so she headed up Michigan Avenue for Water Tower Place, not that she could afford anything in the boutiques there.
Two white dudes slouching against a gun store smacked kisses her way. A green stripe ran down the center of the blond’s buzz-cut hair, and a red do-rag decorated the smaller guy’s shaved head—he cupped his crotch and puckered at her. Ugh. She picked up her pace, her miniskirt riding high. They pushed off from the store and swung into step on each side of her.
Green-Stripe crowded against her. His sour stink assaulted her, and the skin on her arms goose-bumped. He said, “Hey, Brown Sugar.”
She wanted to say “I’m not your sugar,” but no, just keep going. Staring straight ahead, she said, “There’s a cop back there.”
He laughed. “Yeah. Murphy.”
Wishing she wasn’t wearing high heels, she broke into a run and darted between a couple holding hands.
Click the link below for the rest of the chapter. If you'd like to go ahead and request a beta reader copy now, just email me with the format you want--PDF, Kindle, and Nook etc. formats.
(chapter 1 continued)
• • •
Striding through the gray trudge of pedestrians along Michigan Avenue, Jake puzzled over why the U.S. attorney general wanted a meeting with him. Sure, she had her hands full, but she had an army of agents—the FBI, DEA, U.S. marshals. What could she want from a hired gun? He’d thought he was done with government work since he quit, but he couldn’t say no—not after the president had called and hoped out loud that he could help..
A tiresome clump of a half-dozen gang jerks swaggered toward him with cocky menace, semi-automatic pistols dangling in their hands. The gangbangers blocked most of the sidewalk, forcing people to step off the curb or sidle along a building front. Jake locked his gaze onto the eyes of the tall kid in the center and walked straight at him.
The kid kept his cool as they came together, but one stride from colliding he dropped his gaze and sidestepped. Never slowing, Jake cut through.
He focused on what he knew of the attorney general. He’d heard from his old contacts in Justice that Marion Smith-Taylor was honest and devoted to the law, and that she hated the under-the-table deal-making of politics. He had, too . . . once upon a time.
• • •
Do-Rag flashed past Jewel and then stopped a few feet ahead, arms spread wide. A hand grabbed at her elbow from behind. She jerked free, cut around a woman with a stroller, and then ran back toward the cop. “Murphy!”
Green-Stripe caught her arm and yanked her to a stop. He swung her to face him and leaned close. “You need somethin’ to relax you, chocklit, and I’m it.”
She yanked free and spun. His partner stood waiting for her.
They grabbed her arms and hauled her backward toward an alley. She pulled with all her strength, but couldn’t tear free.
Thirty feet away, Murphy stood and stared at her.
She cried, “Murphy?”
The punks dragged her into the alley; her call ricocheted from concrete walls. “Help me! Somebody! Hey!”
Glances flicked at her from the throng on the sidewalk and then skittered away. See no evil, don’t get involved, stay safe; she’d done the same a thousand times.
Now what she had to do was live through this.
• • •
A scream cut into Jake’s thoughts. Ahead, two scruffy punks pulled a young woman into an alley. A reflexive impulse to go to the rescue tried to come up . . . but a policeman was headed her way. Let the cop deal with it.
The woman’s cry came again. “Murphy!” The officer, a wide man with multiple chins, halted at the alley entrance and gazed at the action.
Jake reached the alley and stopped a few feet behind the cop. What the hell, he could spare a minute if needed.
The shorter punk held the woman’s arms from behind while the blond with a stupid green stripe in his hair ripped her shirt open. She wasn’t wearing a bra.
She yelled to the cop, “Murphy! Murphy, it’s me!”
Quick, smooth, Clothes-Ripper slipped his hand inside his Bulls jacket, pulled out an automatic pistol, and gave the officer a screw-you smile. He didn’t aim the gun, just held it ready.
How would the uniform handle it?
The cop moved on, hands clasped behind his back as if out for a stroll in a park.
There was a time Jake would have chewed the guy out for not doing his duty.
The kid replaced his pistol and unzipped his pants. A cry from the woman shriveled into a wail. “Murphyyyy.”
The cop didn’t look back. People flowed past, unseeing, as if they wore blinders.
Jake looked north toward his waiting appointment.
Back into the alley.
The woman staggered her attacker with a kick to his leg. He slapped her, and then had to dodge a knee aimed at his crotch. Girl had guts.
Jake sighed, stepped into the alley, and drew his .45 Colt automatic from the holster under his windbreaker. He pulled the silencer from his pocket, twisted it on, and settled into a marksman’s stance.
The punk holding the woman saw Jake, and his grin O’d toward a shout. Jake couldn’t allow a warning; the one with the gun was fast. Jake’s bullet stopped the kid’s yell in his mouth and slammed him back. His hands didn’t know he was dead and pulled the woman on top of him when he fell.
Jake shouted, “Freeze!”
The tall one spun toward Jake. He jerked his gun out of his jacket as he yelled, “You’re dea—”
Jake shot him in the heart. The kid staggered back, looked down at his chest and then up at Jake, his eyes wide like a scared little boy. His knees buckled and he collapsed, his gun clattering on the pavement.
A familiar rush of nausea hit Jake. He swallowed the sick feeling and focused on the mechanical rhythm of removing the silencer and stuffing his pistol into his holster.
The woman scrambled to her feet. Clutching at her torn top, she stared at the mess that had been her attackers, then at Jake. A strong face: ice-blue eyes, a dark scar curving down from high on her cheekbone.
He turned his back on her and stepped into the mindless herd. His thoughts went back to his meeting.
What did the attorney general want him for?
Would he give a damn?
Could he give a damn?
• • •
Jewel trembled, the scar on her cheek throbbing as though it remembered old trouble. She breathed deep and settled herself down. Her mama had always said, “In this world, you got to be hard. Ain’t nobody there for you but you.” Hallelujah, Mama.
She’d been lucky this day. She had to thank the guy, even if he was white—Mama’d taught her manners, too. Jewel hurried after him, trying to arrange her torn top into decent coverage, but one tit or the other kept falling out. Great, now she had to walk down Michigan Avenue with her boobs on display. And wouldn’t they love it back at the office.
She ran to the mouth of the alley and spotted her rescuer slicing through the crowd. She really should get back to her job, but, hell, he’d pretty much saved her brown ass. She shouted, “Hey!” No response.
He crossed the street. She hurried after him; damn, the man could move. The crossing signal switched to “Don’t” as he entered the Chelsea Hotel.
Jewel ran for it.
If you want to read Gundown and give me feedback on it, please email me with the format you want (PDF, Kindle, Nook etc.). Many thanks for your help and advice.
Full disclosure: I published this novel under the title We the Enemy. While reader reviews are strong, it hasn't thrived. I'm hoping Gundown is a better read.
© 2013 Ray Rhamey