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"The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is ruining the quality of our suffering." --Tom Waits

Thursday, July 14, 2016

To Read, or Not to Read?

There’s been a lot of talk on Facebook and blogs recently about readings and personal appearances. I’ve been told I have a (small) reputation for doing well at such events, so, willing to interject an opinion at the drop of a hat, I thought I’d weigh in. (Editor’s Note: “Small” is not meant in the Donald Trump sense of “small hands.” This is “small” as in, “He doesn’t have enough of a footprint in the industry to have a large reputation for anything.”)

I’m here to give tips so I don’t want to make too much of the hardest thing to teach: I’m one of those rare birds who likes to speak in front of other people. I can’t account for it. My musical career—such as it was—suffered mightily from bouts with performance anxiety but speaking in front of as many as several hundred people fazes me not at all. If you are one of those who fear public speaking more than death—and repeated surveys have shown more people do fear speaking more than death—I hope these tips give you some things to focus on to make the event fun for you because if it’s not fun, why do it?

That said, here are my

Top Ten Tips for a Successful Reading

  1. You Don’t Have to Read.
I mean, if you billed the event as a reading, then, yeah. No one likes a bait and switch. Work this out in the planning stages. If you don’t feel comfortable reading, don’t. It’s your gig.

  1. If You Do Read, Rehearse
A reading is a performance. Treat it accordingly. I read to The Beloved Spouse a lot, both my stuff and passages from other people’s work. I still go over the chosen selection at least once a day for several days before the gig. Experiment to see what works best. Record yourself and listen to the playback if you can bear it. (Bonus Coverage: When participating in a group reading where time limits have been set, rehearse with a stop watch. It’s okay if you run short, but you don’t want to have to hurry to the end—that detracts from your work—and you don’t want to be unintentionally discourteous to your fellow readers.)

  1. Don’t Read From the Book
Read a passage from the book, by all means. Just don’t read it from the physical book. Print it up double-spaced in a large font. (I like 14 point Arial myself.) Mark it up with a brightly colored pen during rehearsals. Note where to pause, where to breathe, which words or phrases should have rising or falling inflections. You’ll forget under pressure, so lay everything out in front of you.

  1. Listen to Other Good Readers
Live or via audiobooks. Gifted readers can bring a book to life in ways the author might not have thought of. This is not to say you should act out the parts or use different voices. It’s not a play; it’s a reading. You’ll still pick up many valuable tips even a relative amateur such as yourself can use. Example: good readers leave a small pause between dialog and any speech attribution or beat. Mark your printed copy (remember Step 3?) so you’ll remember them.

  1. Talk About the Book’s Origins.
People love that. Trust me. Not just “Where did you get the idea?”—they love that, too—but find something to connect them to the book. I stumbled onto this during the launch for Grind Joint. The bookstore was a few miles from the towns Penns River is based on. Everyone there knew the area. I told a few stories about my connection: “I was born in Citizen’s General Hospital in New Kensington. It’s not there anymore. My parents took me home to an apartment at 1396 Fourth Avenue in Arnold. It has since burned down. Many of my friends’ parents and my relatives worked for Alcoa or Jones and Laughlin Steel. Those mills are gone now. This book is about what’s left.” I could tell by their body language I had them.

  1. Answer All Questions Honestly
Don’t try to be someone or something you aren’t, and don’t try to make the book into something it isn’t. Readers come to readings—duh—and readers spot bullshit the way sharks smell blood. They’ll catch on and once you’ve lost them, they’re gone. Besides…

  1. They Came to See You
They left the comfort of their homes, carved time from their busy schedules, and, hopefully, will give you some of their money and even more of their time for your book. They are pre-disposed to like you, even those who don’t know you personally. No one is going to take advantage of the Q & A session to ask about your extramarital affairs or the time you shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. (Unless you put that into the book, which is your own fault.) If there is something inherently controversial in the book, own up to it. Welcome those questions and give forthright answers. Not everyone likes your reply? Fine. A little controversy never hurts book sales. The key is for them to like you, and people like those who are honest with them. 

  1. Funny is Good
Don’t try to be funnier than you are, but even if you have to prepare something, or have a plant in the audience ask you a set-up question, go for it. Just be sure it’s funny. If you’re not sure how funny it is, test drive it on someone before you go. While it’s nicer to be funny, it’s death for people to decide you’re not as funny as you think you are. It’s also a good idea not to be inappropriately funny. The audience may view it as a form of disrespect. On the other hand, if something unexpectedly goofy occurs, be a good sport. Run with it if you can.

  1. Give the Same Effort Whether the Audience is Two or Two Hundred
I used to be a musician and it bummed me out when the ensemble outnumbered the audience until something occurred to me: Fuck the people who aren’t here. Only three people showed up? Fine. Those three really wanted to see you. Speak to them as individuals and make them glad they came. (Hint: speaking to people as individuals also works well in large crowds as a way to get around the tendency to talk at people and lessen your nervousness. Pick a person and speak to him or her for a few seconds, then pick someone else. Pick attractive people, if available. You should get to have some fun, too.)

Which brings us to Item Number 10, the one all the others were leading up to:

  1. Have Fun
Personal appearances are a privilege most people never get because no one gives a shit about what they have to say. Your audience cares about you, which is supremely flattering. They want you to succeed, if only because they won’t have a good time if you crash and burn. Take their interest and consideration and make something of it. Just be sure to show their investments of time, effort, and money the respect they deserve.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Dangerous Lesson, "Goose" Satterwhite

Timothy Alston “Goose” Satterwhite is my unapologetic homage to Robert B. Parker’s Hawk. Named by his father for the first major league manager to write Jackie Robinson’s name on a lineup card, Goose grew up in the late, unlamented Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago’s South Side. He makes a living collecting things for people who lack legal means to do so. Goose reads two or three books a week and is in the midst of an endless process of gutting and rehabilitation an old house; he worships Norm Abrams as a god. In another book he leaves dinner with Forte to walk an elderly neighbor’s dog, yet “menace rose off him like heat from a parking lot, even when he smiled. Sometimes especially when he smiled.”

(Editor’s note: Mr. Satterwhite meant well, but Clyde Sukeforth was actually Jackie Robinson’s original big league manager.)

Goose answered on the first ring. We arranged to meet at my house, it being more or less on the way to Romeoville.
He beat me there, even after stopping at Mrs. T’s on Boughton Road for a pizza. We sat at my kitchen table with our coats unbuttoned, narfing pizza and drinking caffeine-free Cokes while we made up the plan.
“Not going to be the easiest place to be inconspicuous in,” Goose said between bites.
“You know it?” Goose had information on places that weren’t even open yet.
He shook his head while he swallowed. “Think about it. You a face Ellison not likely to forget. That means I go in. We be at a place called Crazy Joe’s in Romeoville. How many brothers you think hang there?”
“I could call Eddie Riefsnyder. He’d come, but I don’t think there’s time for him to get here.”
“Eddie a good man, but he smell like three shades of cop. I’ll go in, look around. You don’t hear from me in five minutes, come in and look for a high sign. Like you don’t know me.”
“Close enough to a plan for me.” I stood and put my plate in the sink. “Let’s go. I want to get there in time to scope things out, see how many exits there are.”
“Don’t I get to finish my sumptuous repast?”
“We’re pressed for time. Eat in the car.”
Goose closed the pizza box. “You flunked history in school, didn’t you?”
“What makes you think so?”
“Lincoln freed the slaves, honky.”
“All the thugs in the world, and I work with the sensitive one.”
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
“When’s the last time anyone made you bleed?”
“Getting bled on count?”
“No. It has to be your own blood.”
“You got me there.” He paused to catch my eye. “This better not be the night.”




A Dangerous Lesson, "Goose" Satterwhite

Timothy Alston “Goose” Satterwhite is my unapologetic homage to Robert B. Parker’s Hawk. Named by his father for the first major league manager to write Jackie Robinson’s name on a lineup card, Goose grew up in the late, unlamented Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago’s South Side. He makes a living collecting things for people who lack legal means to do so. Goose reads two or three books a week and is in the midst of an endless process of gutting and rehabilitation an old house; he worships Norm Abrams as a god. In another book he leaves dinner with Forte to walk an elderly neighbor’s dog, yet “menace rose off him like heat from a parking lot, even when he smiled. Sometimes especially when he smiled.”

(Editor’s note: Mr. Satterwhite meant well, but Clyde Sukeforth was actually Jackie Robinson’s original big league manager.)

Goose answered on the first ring. We arranged to meet at my house, it being more or less on the way to Romeoville.
He beat me there, even after stopping at Mrs. T’s on Boughton Road for a pizza. We sat at my kitchen table with our coats unbuttoned, narfing pizza and drinking caffeine-free Cokes while we made up the plan.
“Not going to be the easiest place to be inconspicuous in,” Goose said between bites.
“You know it?” Goose had information on places that weren’t even open yet.
He shook his head while he swallowed. “Think about it. You a face Ellison not likely to forget. That means I go in. We be at a place called Crazy Joe’s in Romeoville. How many brothers you think hang there?”
“I could call Eddie Riefsnyder. He’d come, but I don’t think there’s time for him to get here.”
“Eddie a good man, but he smell like three shades of cop. I’ll go in, look around. You don’t hear from me in five minutes, come in and look for a high sign. Like you don’t know me.”
“Close enough to a plan for me.” I stood and put my plate in the sink. “Let’s go. I want to get there in time to scope things out, see how many exits there are.”
“Don’t I get to finish my sumptuous repast?”
“We’re pressed for time. Eat in the car.”
Goose closed the pizza box. “You flunked history in school, didn’t you?”
“What makes you think so?”
“Lincoln freed the slaves, honky.”
“All the thugs in the world, and I work with the sensitive one.”
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
“When’s the last time anyone made you bleed?”
“Getting bled on count?”
“No. It has to be your own blood.”
“You got me there.” He paused to catch my eye. “This better not be the night.”




Monday, July 11, 2016

Twenty Questions With Sam Wiebe

Several writers a year writers emerge who are “the next big thing” or “someone to pay attention to” or…the list of hackneyed phrases goes on and on. So I was less than impressed when Sam Wiebe’s debut Last of the Independents got a lot of buzz and award nominations. Another Flavor of the Month, I figured. People I trusted talked him up so I didn’t dismiss him out of hand, but, still. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the writers I already know I like.

Sam and I have several mutual friends and we got to talking at Bouchercon in Raleigh; I also went to his panel. This is not just some typist sitting at a keyboard pecking out whatever comes to mind. (True, no writer says he is, but read some of their stuff.) So I weakened. Bought Last of the Independents. Didn’t read it right away. No need to rush into anything.

Wow. That’s a hell of a book.

I see no reason to fart around on Invisible Dead. After reading what Sam has to say here, neither should you. There’s a lot more going on here than typing.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Invisible Dead.
Sam Wiebe: On the surface it's a detective novel about the search for a missing woman. While investigating the disappearance of Chelsea Loam, Dave Wakeland finds himself crossing paths with bikers, crooked lawyers, captains of industry--dangerous men who will stop at nothing to keep their secrets safe.

OBAAT: Readers love to ask where authors get their ideas and most authors reply with something along the lines of “we’re tripping over them. The trick is to find the idea that works best for me.” What made this idea worth developing, and how much development from the original germ was required?
SW: I think even as I was finishing up Last of the Independents, I knew that I wanted to write a book about missing women--one missing woman, specifically, and hopefully illustrate some of the systemic problems in the city.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Invisible Dead, start to finish?
SW: I started the book in the summer of 2012. Between then and now, the book found an agent and then a publisher, and went through edits. Publishing is a slow business, as you know.

OBAAT: Where did Dave Wakeland come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
SW: He comes from Vancouver--I know that's not quite what you meant, but that's my answer. Like me he has a conflicted view of the city he lives in, loving it but being very troubled by aspects of it. He's a bit of a smart-ass, too, which is a whole-cloth fabrication and in no way reflects on the author.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Invisible Dead set and why was this time and place chosen?
SW: Vancouver, present day. I chose that because there isn't a lot written about here and now. When Vancouver figures in movies or film, it's usually as a stand-in for New York or Los Angeles--think movies like Jason Takes Manhattan and Rumble in the Bronx. I wanted to not only feature the city as the city, but show how I see it, as honestly as I can. 

OBAAT: How did Invisible Dead come to be published?
SW: Through the hard work and good grace of my agent, Chris Bucci, and my editor, Craig Pyette.

OBAAT: Last of the Independents received nominations for just about every award it qualified for. Aside from the necrophilia, have you ever tried to pin down what it is about that book that resonates with so many people?
SW: Every few months you see another article proclaiming "the death of the private eye novel." I think the PI novel speaks to really important concerns about business, ethics, society and human nature, in a way that a cozy or a police procedural can't. No other type of mystery is so specifically about work--what we do for a living and how we feel about it, to paraphrase Studs Turkel.

OBAAT: When I asked how your life experiences prepared you to write crime fiction you replied—this is a direct quote—“No clue.” While I cherish your honesty I’ve read Last of the Independents and there’s clearly something about crime fiction that resonates with you. Let’s spitball a little. What do you think it is that allows you to catch the tone and actions so well?
SW: Really it's just about trying to read widely and when you talk to people, really listen to what they say, how they say it, and what they don't say.

OBAAT: When last we spoke you had started re-reading Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series. What is it about that series that brought you back? How did you view the books on second look? Not as good as you remembered? Better? Did different things jump out at you?
SW: It was a treat. I think MacDonald is brilliant on setting and character. I like how un-heroic Archer becomes. He loses more fist-fights and gun battles than he wins, and his victories tend to be about revelation instead of resolution--he gets to the truth because he's willing to pay the psychic cost.

OBAAT: How often do you write?
SW: Five pages or 1000 words a day, when I'm working on a draft. A similar set amount when I'm editing. I try not to take days off.

OBAAT: Endings are hard and can make or break a book. Americans as a whole tend to like happy endings, and those are the books that tend to sell best. What do you look for in an ending? 
SW: Resonance. An answer to the question posed by the book. The director Paul Thomas Anderson said he goes for "the saddest happy ending possible." I take that to mean an ending which satisfies the audience's curiosity, yet doesn't strain credulity.

OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
SW: I try not to worry about that. I will say that middle-aged women are one of the most unfairly stereotyped demographics--the idea that they only read cozies, or abhor realistic depictions of violence, or any of the old canards, are in my experience complete bullshit.

OBAAT: What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
SW: I don't know. If all a reader gets from a book is entertainment, who am I to say that's wrong? I do enjoy when Vancouverites tell me the book accurately reflects the city. That's a good feeling.

OBAAT: Here’s a loaded question for you, just to provoke a response: How do you battle writer’s block (if this happens to you)?
SW: Writer's block usually comes at the same point in the manuscript--the middle. "Second act problems" are common because, like the hero in the hero's journey, you the writer have set out on this impossible task and found yourself at a point where you either need to innovate or fail. That's a good thing! It means when you do find a solution, it'll be original, and it'll come from the material rather than being forced on it.

OBAAT: Last time you cited your primary influences as “Francis Ford Coppola, David Milch, Bret "Hitman" Hart. Also my parents.” I know my influences change over time. Has anyone or anything worked its way into your toolkit lately?
SW: I just read E.M. Forster's A Passage to India and holy shit is that a great book. Also Marilynne Robinson, whose essays on religion and philosophy are brilliant. In crime fiction, it's been great to see the field become a bit more diverse. Writers like Danny Gardner, Henry Chang, SG Wong, and Naomi Hirahara, are bringing different sensibilities to the field.

OBAAT: What moves you most in a work of literature?
SW: I like being surprised, when the surprise is credible and drags you deeper into the story. TV shows like Deadwood, The Wire, or Breaking Bad are great at thwarting expectations in a way that you can't anticipate. Deadwood especially--the most violent characters are shown to be capable of great sensitivity and even grace.

OBAAT: Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
SW: I like heroes that are themselves no matter the cost, and I don't like supernatural villains--the scariest monsters are the ones walking upright, in broad daylight, among us. I could probably put Falstaff down for both hero and villain, since his character is so multifaceted. Lew Archer comes to mind as a hero. For villains, the protagonist in Joyce Carol Oates's Zombie is terrifying.

OBAAT: Approximately how many books do you read in a year? How do they break out by genre? Heavily crime? Non-fiction? “Literary” fiction?
SW: It depends. When I'm working on the draft of a novel I'm usually reading research, or fiction that's markedly different. Then when I'm between drafts, I can indulge in crime fiction.

OBAAT: What author, living or dead, would you most like to meet, and what would you like to know?
SW: David Milch, easy. He recently gambled away the fortune he made on Deadwood and NYPD Blue--we're talking tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. And when he was interviewed recently, he was back writing. I think that's heroic, in a way--accept your mistakes and get back to the writing. No matter how much you succeed or how much you fuck up, the blank page awaits.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
SW: I just sent book three off to my publisher a couple weeks ago. I have two scripts I'm working on, a few stories...I find the only way to keep from overthinking and worrying is to just focus on the next thing. So much of the writing business is out of a writer's hands, it's better to focus on what can be controlled--the quality of the next thing you write.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Happy Birthday, Doc and Gus

Stepping back from writing today to celebrate a couple of birthdays of people who have influenced my life in various ways, though I can’t say I really know either of them. One I never met.

Doc Severinsen was born 89 years ago today in Arlington, Oregon. I’ll not waste your time
filling you in on his details. As bandleader of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, he’s probably the best-known and certainly the most easily recognizable trumpet player since Louis Armstrong. When I was in grad school and freshly married to The Sole Heir’s mother, business associates of hers would sometimes ask me if Doc—the only trumpet player they knew off the tops of their heads—was as good as people said, or was that all Hollywood hype. I had a standard answer: “No matter how good you think he is, he’s better.”

A good guy, too. For several years I played first trumpet in the McLean Orchestra, led at the time by Colonel (retired) Arnald Gabriel, for years the legendary conductor of the Air Force Band in Washington. Doc and the Colonel were friends, so when the Colonel asked Doc to headline a concert for us as a way to balance the orchestra’s budget, Doc was happy to oblige.

There was a catch: Carson’s (and Doc’s) tenure on the Tonight Show was nearing an end. NBC didn’t want him to take any more Fridays off for weekend gigs, as had been his custom. So Doc, in his middle 60s at the time, taped the Tonight Show early Friday evening and caught the red eye to Dulles Airport to make a 10:00 Eastern Time rehearsal with a local amateur orchestra. Took a nap and a shower at the Colonel’s house and came back and nailed the concert that night. It was a privilege to play behind him.

After the gig was almost a lot of fun, too. Some rich McLean swell volunteered his house mansion for a reception. Eager to show what a patron of the arts he was, he allowed the orchestra to attend without making us serve drinks or bus tables. Doc made every effort to hang with the trumpet section and a couple of abortive conversations began only to be struck down when yet another suit grabbed Doc for a picture with a kid who sat next to another kid who played trumpet in his sixth-grade band. The kid had no interest and couldn’t have spelled “trumpet” if you spotted him both Ts and the vowels, but Doc knew the suit was a potential benefactor to the Colonel’s orchestra and came through every time.

Best wishes and happy birthday, Doc. I hope you have many more. It was a highlight of my life to play behind you and your work has given me more pleasure than I can recite. You’ve been an inspiration to trumpet players everywhere, even after they hung up their mouthpieces.

*  *  *

Sixty-seven years to the day before Doc made his first appearance in Arlington, Gustav
Mahler was born in Kaliště in what is now the Czech Republic. I’ve read quite a bit about Mahler and have no reason to believe he would have been other than a prick most of the time, one of those whose idea of his art trumped all other personal concerns. To be fair, he did inspire great loyalty and affection is those he took a liking to, such as Bruno Walter and Arnold Schoenberg, and he did marry one of the most remarkable women of his time. (Alma Maria Schindler, who lived until 1964 and, after Mahler’s death in 1911, married architect Walter Gropius, novelist Franz Werfel, and was the consort of several other prominent men.)

To say Mahler was a bit of a prick is not to say he was anything like the bastard Richard Wagner was. (Wagner may well have been the most detestable person ever to walk the earth. I’d rather spend a month cleaning Donald Trump’s bathroom than ten minutes doing anything with Wagner.) He was also the greatest conductor of his time and among the first trans-Atlantic musical phenomena, accepting positions with the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic near the end of his life.

Mahler was primarily renowned as a conductor in his time, his symphonies noted primarily for their length. I know of no recordings of Mahler as conductor, so no one alive today can speak to its brilliance first hand. His orchestral music, especially the symphonies, became more prominent after his death, especially in the 1960s thanks to the efforts of Leopold  Stokowski, Dimitri Mitropoulos, John Barbirolli, Aaron Copland, and, most famously, Leonard Bernstein.

Mahler’s music is not for everyone, but I find it an almost constant comfort when I need to
excuse myself from the world as I find it. Bits of the Second, Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Symphonies are not uncommon earworms, and I sometimes enjoy listening while reading over the trumpet parts. Mahler was 45 years dead when I was born but I’m happy to be able to play Four Degrees of Separation with him: Me to Charlie Schlueter (retired principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony and my teacher at New England Conservatory) to William Vacchiano (former principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic and Charlie’s teacher at Juilliard) to Bruno Walter (whom Vacchiano played for in several NYPO recordings of Mahler symphonies) to Mahler (to whom Walter was a trusted assistant and friend).


Happy birthday, gentlemen. In your unique ways you have both made my world a better place.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

June's Best Reads

Went back to some old reliable authors in June and they came through for me, as usual.

L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy. The weakest of the three LA Quartet novels I’ve read so far, but still wonderful stuff. Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson did yeomen’s work converting this sprawling magnificent mess of a book into a lean, satisfying, and damn near perfect movie. The book shows the continued evolution of Ellroy’s style: using snippets of police reports and newspaper articles to show the passage of time, increasingly percussive sentences, and three-dimensional plotting as everyone schemes around everyone else. That’s where the problem arises: it’s too much. Credulity is strained and the ending is so complicated Ellroy has no choice but to revert to the traditional mystery’s hoary convention of having characters standing around explaining what the hell just happened. And he has to have them do it twice. Read the book if you want to get off on the writing. See the movie for a better story.

The Whites, Richard Price. There’s nothing about Price’s writing that stands out, which is why I think he sometimes falls through the cracks in my reading. His style isn’t flashy like Ellroy’s. His characters aren’t as glib as Elmore Leonard’s. The dialog isn’t as transcript-ready as George Higgins’s. What Price does best is to do everything right. His books perfectly balance story and characterization, he knows exactly how much description to give, and you believe everything in them. The Whites isn’t as good as Clockers, but few books are.


Rain Dogs, Adrian McKinty. In his famous essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” Raymond Chandler wrote, “The fellow who can write you a vivid and colorful prose simply won’t be bothered with the coolie labor of breaking down unbreakable alibis.” Chandler never read Adrian McKinty. (Ray is excused. McKinty wasn’t born until nine years after Chandler died.) Volume Five of the Troubles Trilogy may be the best yet. Sean Duffy is still slogging away as the only Catholic cop in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland in the 80s and he continues to take his lumps. Not blessed with Sherlock Holmes’s brilliance, he’s a hard man in his own way, never afraid to push the buttons he thinks need pushing, but neither is he some Lethal Weapon renegade. Mostly he’s a guy in a consistently difficult position who is offended that people keep thinking they can put one over on him. Duffy plugs away until he gets at least some measure of satisfaction, if not always justice. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Dangerous Lesson, "Goose" Satterwhite

Timothy Alston “Goose” Satterwhite is my unapologetic homage to Robert B. Parker’s Hawk. Named by his father for the first major league manager to write Jackie Robinson’s name on a lineup card, Goose grew up in the late, unlamented Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago’s South Side. He makes a living collecting things for people who lack legal means to do so. Goose reads two or three books a week and is in the midst of an endless process of gutting and rehabilitation an old house; he worships Norm Abrams as a god. In another book he leaves dinner with Forte to walk an elderly neighbor’s dog, yet “menace rose off him like heat from a parking lot, even when he smiled. Sometimes especially when he smiled.”

(Editor’s note: Mr. Satterwhite meant well, but Clyde Sukeforth was actually Jackie Robinson’s original big league manager.)

Goose answered on the first ring. We arranged to meet at my house, it being more or less on the way to Romeoville.
He beat me there, even after stopping at Mrs. T’s on Boughton Road for a pizza. We sat at my kitchen table with our coats unbuttoned, narfing pizza and drinking caffeine-free Cokes while we made up the plan.
“Not going to be the easiest place to be inconspicuous in,” Goose said between bites.
“You know it?” Goose had information on places that weren’t even open yet.
He shook his head while he swallowed. “Think about it. You a face Ellison not likely to forget. That means I go in. We be at a place called Crazy Joe’s in Romeoville. How many brothers you think hang there?”
“I could call Eddie Riefsnyder. He’d come, but I don’t think there’s time for him to get here.”
“Eddie a good man, but he smell like three shades of cop. I’ll go in, look around. You don’t hear from me in five minutes, come in and look for a high sign. Like you don’t know me.”
“Close enough to a plan for me.” I stood and put my plate in the sink. “Let’s go. I want to get there in time to scope things out, see how many exits there are.”
“Don’t I get to finish my sumptuous repast?”
“We’re pressed for time. Eat in the car.”
Goose closed the pizza box. “You flunked history in school, didn’t you?”
“What makes you think so?”
“Lincoln freed the slaves, honky.”
“All the thugs in the world, and I work with the sensitive one.”
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
“When’s the last time anyone made you bleed?”
“Getting bled on count?”
“No. It has to be your own blood.”
“You got me there.” He paused to catch my eye. “This better not be the night.”