Sneak Peek! Prologue!
Posted on 10th July, 2022
Noted historian, Thomas Fuller, once said, “A good salad may be the prologue to a bad supper.”
Let’s hope not.
Here is your first sneak peek at my can’t-tell-you-the-name-yet novel. If you enjoy it, please let me know!
Eighty-five thousand, three-hundred and seventy-two words. Each one painstakingly typed, edited, and nurtured until all twenty-six letters of the alphabet came together to form his novel, his thesis, his first-born son. There was only one problem: Instead of eighty-five thousand, four-hundred and seventy-two words, Tag Maynard had none.
Tag tore through Columbia’s Lewisohn Hall, one sneaker and one dress shoe thump-clacking against the floor, his laptop clutched to his chest. Papers leapt from the backpack slung over his shoulder. He rounded the corner to Professor Hawkley’s office and found himself face to face with The Line of Last Chances: a grab bag of students in pajama bottoms, t-shirts, and distress. Tag darted toward The Gate of Hell or Hope. Shoes—all matching—pivoted in his direction. Knuckles whitened around coffee cups. Mouths grunted like revving engines. Red, spider-webbed eyes demanded his death or even worse, his condemnation to the back of the line. A glance downward connected his thumb to the lever.
Tag stumbled inside and slammed the door. His backpack slid to his elbow, then the floor.
On the far side of the desk sat Professor Winston Hawkley, a man whose nose suited his surname. His Oxfords were propped next to his computer monitor. Surprise disturbed his officious countenance.
“Excuse me,” Hawkley said, gesturing toward the brunette girl seated between them. Her greasy top knot bobbed with her sniffles.
“It’s fine,” Sniffles said. She stood, wiped her nose with sweatshirt-mittened hands, and slunk out the door, leaving muffled sobs behind.
And then there were two.
A ball of what Tag hoped would remain nausea ping-ponged in his stomach. “My, my thesis, it’s gone. Drafts, notes, my emails,” he stammered. “They took everything!”
HOW HAD THIS HAPPENED? Tag hadn’t let his laptop out of his sight for the past four years, much less the past twenty-four hours, aside from momentarily lending it to that hot girl at the library last night. This is what he got for being a consummate gentleman? Tag sagged toward the floor and gripped the leg of a nearby chair until the room stopped spinning.
“Please, you’ve got to believe me,” Tag said, panting.
Hawkley crossed his ankles and peered over the edge of the desk. “Tad-”
“Right. Tag, see that line out there? They all want extensions-”
“I don’t need an extension! I need to find the bastard who stole my work!”
“-and they’ve all got excuses.”
Tag pulled himself upright and tried to catch his breath. “And their excuses are relevant to me because?”
“A manuscript is a lot of paper for a dog.”
“Steinbeck’s dog ate Of Mice and Men!”
“Is that so?” Hawkley’s gaze drifted as though debating the thickness of manuscripts and the strength of canines’ canines. “Fascinating. Nevertheless, Mice was, well, a mouse-sized work.” Hawkley stifled a smile and shook out his wrist, bringing a gleaming silver timepiece into view. He eyed its face before finding Tag’s. “Gift,” Hawkley said. The watch slunk beneath his sleeve with another flick of his wrist. “I don’t suppose you have any proof?”
“If I had proof, I’d have a thesis.” Tag dug his nails into his scalp. “Please, I’m sorry, okay?” He indicated the monitor with his nose. “If you look it up, you’ll see I turned in every chapter, both sets of edits, character arcs, everything.”
Hawkley sighed and pulled his keyboard close. He plucked the ’T,’ ‘A,’ and ‘G’ keys in a perfect airline-agent performance, then raised his brows toward Tag.
“Maynard, “M-a-y-n-a-r-d,” Tag said.
“Sometimes this kind of thing does happen.” Hawkley spoke as though referring to a flat tire or an overcooked steak, “People get desperate right before graduation and buy another student’s work. ‘Course, it’s hard to get away with actual thievery nowadays. Usually, there are notes, drives, clouds-”
“Everything has been cleaned out.”
“-IP addresses, bits, firewalls, bandwidths-”
“Those are just internet words!”
“You have hit every deadline this semester.” Hawkley clicked the mouse several times.
“Tag, have you been getting enough sleep?”
Enough sleep? I’m a grad student.
“Grades aren’t supposed to come out ‘until next week but it seems the TA’s have already graded your work,” Hawkley said. “Congratulations. 92.”
Tag cocked his head. “That can’t be right.”
“The Trusting of Giants. 92.” Hawkley turned the monitor toward Tag, its base screeching against the desk. “Why do all my students want to debate an A-? In my day, we-”
“The Trusting of Giants?” Tag neared the screen until it became pixilated. His stomach twisted. “That’s not my book.”
“-We worked for our grades but kids these days, so entitled.” Hawkley froze. He pulled his feet from the desk. “Excuse me? What did you say?”
Tag’s throat rolled up like wrapping paper. He fanned himself with his t-shirt but nothing would stop the sweat from pouring, the blood from pounding, the HOW and WHY and PANIC and AHHHH from flashing across his mind.
“Mr. Maynard, have you been turning in someone else’s work?” Hawkley reached toward a black phone on the far corner of his desk.
Tag watched as dust appeared to float off the phone, the specks multiplying until the room faded into a haze of heather gray. Hawkley squawked in the distance, “A serious offense… no second chances… I do hope… Mr. Maynard? Tag, you with me?”
But he wasn’t.
‘Cold and dark.’ Those were the tame words Tag had used to describe his basement for his eigth grade creative writing class. When he presented his inadequate wordsmithing to his best friend’s mother, author extraordinaire, Mrs. Sarah Taline, she blindfolded him with her scarf and marched him down their cellar stairs. There, he discovered silted stones that stuck out from the wall like jagged, unwashed teeth; a mothball scent so pungent, he could almost taste it; and an eerie, concrete chill that sank into his bones.
Eighteen years later, he was blindfolded again.
Tag detailed his surroundings for what would be, should he survive, the impending police report: Spiral steps, their centers eroded from years of use. Too loud for carpet, too slippery for wood. Stone, perhaps? He shuffled sideways until his palm met the wall. Grainy but clammy, as though it held a slight fever. Brick. The air cooled as he descended. When a lift of his chin found the faintest flicker of light, Tag began to catalog the descriptions: Benumbing. Tenebrous. In other words, cold and dark.
Tag recalled the events that had led him here. The pub below his apartment. He’d left his drink to go to the bathroom but the bartender had kept an eye on it, right? Later, Tag had stumbled into bed and dreamless sleep before waking in a vehicle, blindfolded and wrists bound. Pulled from the car, his screams had been smothered by a thick hand; his kicks and jerks, weakened by narcotics.
The deadly clinks of a lock and a door opening brought him to the present. Hands set him on his feet and slipped from underneath his arms.
“Come on,” said a voice. Heavy and scabrous, the syllables were drawn out as though the abduction of a 6’1” shaggy-haired Columbia grad had been a chore delayed until necessity trumped inconvenience, like changing one’s sheets.
Either his abductors were murderers with a procrastination problem or they wanted something, but Tag, as they had ostensibly discovered, boasted the contents of a shitty studio apartment. What then, revenge? He’d had a tab at the pub ‘on good faith’ for the last year but too many Maraschino cherries, Tag reminded himself, DID NOT NECESSITATE KIDNAPPING. DEAR GOD, WHAT WAS IT? Was it Tom, the father of his ex-girlfriend, who’d never failed to mention his underground bunker and extensive gun collection? ‘No one would miss you,’ he’d said. Or a prank by Paul? Paul would be the usual suspect except FRIENDS DON’T ROOFIE EACH OTHER.
The scrape of wood against stone. A medley of clearly non-kidnapped voices. Another door opened and shut, taking with it the festivities and potential escape. A chair dragged over the carpet, then stopped, and Tag knew he was not alone the same way one knows when a ‘nothing’ is really a ‘something’ in the middle of the night. The flip of a switch brought a mustache of light beneath his mask. Tag tilted his nose upward and puffed his nostrils: A midnight carpet, its sheen cheetah-patched where pushed against the grain, peeked out beneath embroidered throw rugs. Baseboards of ornately carved wood anchored antique filing cabinets.
“Sit,” said the voice. A downward force on Tag’s shoulder. A clip of the ties on his wrists. “You may remove the blindfold,” the voice added.
Tag steeled his breath and removed the mask. Glass lamps, shaped like open, upside-down books, hung from the ceiling at various heights. Rich, stenciled wallpaper covered the space between shelves. He blinked but the massive executive desk and gold-trimmed throne in front of him, while perfectly suited to a subterranean villain, remained empty.
Tag had just turned to locate the criminal who surely stood behind him when a hand with piano wire tendons clasped the edge of the desk. A white combover rose into view before the man beneath it jolted upright wielding an ornate, silver and red pen as though it held an idea.
“Found it!” said the man, wrapping the pen in his fist. He had a craggy look: Deep lines undulated above prominent brows. His silver-blue stare was as sharp as his nose and a ruddy, mottled hue broke over his cheeks. He donned a salesman’s smile and shoved a stiff arm over the desk pad. “Hellllllllo, Mr. Maynard! My name is Allister.”
“You’re not going to hurt me?” Tag said.
“Most certainly not,” Allister said, “and I’m sorry about your eye.”
Tag pressed the soft spot beneath his left eye. Nothing. He tried his right. Ow.
“We’re a bit out of practice. Hard to find quality… help these days,” Allister said. When Tag did not move to meet him, Allister placed his hand at his side, tea-pot style, and sat. The chair’s cushion let out a whoosh. “Well then,” Allister continued, “thank you for coming to meet us. I know it was an atypical journey and I do appreciate your understanding as we do find ourselves under atypical circumstances.”
Allister’s voice was measured and friendly. Not the voice that brought me here.
“What do you want from me?” Tag said.
“I understand you’ve met Finny,” Allister said. Tag followed Allister’s gaze to the corner about ten feet behind, where a slight, jowly man with thick, gray hair and a shadow of a beard reclined against a dimly-lit bookcase. Though his tweed suit gave off a stately, welcome-to-my-private-collection vibe, the angle of his brows said Do Not Touch.
“Finnegan,” Finnegan said gruffly.
“Can we get you anything, Mr. Maynard?” Allister said. “Water? A libation, perhaps? Our bartender will make you anything you like.”
“Who are you?” Tag demanded, turning to his host. “Allister who?”
“Ooh! Mckinna. Allister McKinna.”
“The son of The Great Lawrence McKinna,” Finnegan added.
“The Lawrence McKinna? Lawrence James McKinna, the author?” Tag said. Lawrence McKinna had a quiver of forty-two; three of which comprised the Shadows In The Fog trilogy. Exalted by both readers and critics alike, Shadows was as ubiquitous as toilet paper. “Lawrence is your father? I thought he was young-er, younger.” Tag swallowed.
Allister laughed, peppering the desk pad with spittle.
“Fictionally, he’s fifty-two,” Finnegan said.
“Let me back up here, if I may?” Allister said. Finnegan surrendered the floor with a particularly affected bow. Allister mimicked him as much as the desk allowed. “To clarify, the true Lawrence McKinna, not the corporeal figure-”
“Corporeal figure,” Finnegan said. “Redundant.”
“Again,” Allister said. He pointed above and behind him, where velvet curtains framed a faded portrait of a forty-something man with flared nostrils and hair that matched his own. “The true Lawrence, not the man-person on the book jacket,” he winked, “is indeed my father. And yes, he is ‘famous’ and now ‘old,’ and, I’m afraid, the reason you are here.”
“Which is?” Tag said, glancing around, “And where is here?”
“Finnegan, did you tell the boy nothing?” Allister’s palm stretched from chin to forehead, “Mr. Maynard. Tag? May I call you Tag? While I cannot disclose our exact coordinates, you are, as you may have gathered, somewhere underneath Manhattan. And we,” he opened his arms skyward, “are…”
Wait, that’s the end of chapter one???
No, but that’s it for now! Stay tuned for more sneak peeks and updates!