Flash fiction piece. For the fun of it.

The Men’s Club, by Scott Bell

Javier Lazano arrived earlier than expected, but later than he planned. The door hissed open and he stepped inside.

Men packed the waiting room. Wall-to-wall males, configured in every shape, color, and size, all stuffed into a place the size of a breadbox with the décor of a post office and the charm of a skin rash. The air smelled stale, and a little rank.

Javier squeezed himself into a seat between a silver-haired, square-jawed gent in a three-piece suit and a roughneck sweating in the same stained overalls he’d worn to work that day. The former poked at his phone with a frown, muttering about service, while the latter shaved grunge from under his nails with a clasp knife.

He marveled at the variety of guys filling the room, from the richest to the poorest, handsome, average, and bone-deep ugly. Small clusters of interviewees chatted like they were in a sports bar. Others held their phones up as Do Not Disturb signs. A few stared into space. One man cried.

The interior door opened. Even at seventy-two, a spark of appreciation flickered through Javier when a woman of Amazonian build stepped through and surveyed the room over a pair of black-framed glasses. Tall, brunette, green-eyed, with classically beautiful features, the young lady wore a skirt that terminated just short of heart-stopping, and the deep V-cut of her blouse plummeted into midnight fantasies. Every eye in the room was drawn to her—even those of the men Javier suspected were gay.

The lady consulted a clipboard. “Charles Gamble?”

A man in a bright-colored Spandex bicycling outfit cleared his throat and stood. “Here.” Tucking his broken plastic helmet under one arm, the man entered the far room at the woman’s gesture. She followed, closing the door behind her.

The roughneck stirred. “Damn, if all the help looks like her, this might not be so bad. Better than the book promised, anyway.”

A man in Arab garb smirked.

One by one men disappeared into the interview room. Occasionally the outer door opened and new arrivals filtered in. Many seemed very surprised. At one point three soldiers in matching fatigues marched in. They looked very young to Javier.

When his turn came, Javier was surprised by the tremor in his legs and the egg lodged in his throat. The doorkeeper flickered a professional smile and waved him into a bare-walled room with two metal folding chairs and a card table. Not so much as a picture or water stain adorned the bare, bland, off-white walls.

The doorkeeper scraped up a seat, gestured to the other chair. “Thank you for coming.”

Javier smiled. What was the line? All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.

“I just have a few questions,” the green-eyed beauty said. She consulted her clipboard, which Javier realized was really a tablet of the kind his grandkids used for their games and internet things. “Most of your life data we have already compiled,” the woman continued, “and your admission looks favorable. We do like to have these one-on-one chats though. To assess a client in a more personal setting.”

“Ah—of course.”

“To verify, your name is Javier No-Middle-Name Lazano. Most recent occupation, janitor. High school graduate, no college. Total income after fifty-seven years’ employment: six-hundred and forty-thousand dollars.” Green eyes fixed him in place. “Not much, huh? Tell me, Javier Lazano, what have you accomplished in your life?”

Javier blinked. His mind went blank. “Um…nothing really.”

“Did you save anyone’s life?”

“No.”

“Did you build anything of significance?”

“No.”

“Fight in a war?”

“No.”

“Start your own business? Win accolades in sports at the professional or college level?”

“No.”

And on it went. With every question, Javier sank a little lower in his chair, each no forcing its way past his lips with greater effort. It was dismal really, how small and insignificant his life had been.

“All right,” said the woman said with a sigh. “How long were you married?”

“Forty-two years.”

“Cheat on your wife?”

“No!”

“How many children?”

“Three.”

“Grandkids?”

“Four.”

“And did you raise them right?”

“I…Did I…?” Javier blinked rapidly. “What?”

“It says here,” the woman read from her screen, “Javier Lazano worked at various jobs, sometimes several at once. His children had food, love, discipline, and his unfailing attention. Though not perfect, Lazano showed deep commitment to his wife, his children, and his community. Is that it?”

The woman’s green eyes knifed into Javier’s heart, stealing his breath and killing the words in his head. He had never been good at speaking, and now, with everything on the line, he found he had nothing to say in his defense. For it was true. He had never accomplished anything of note. Never done anything that would make a difference. Never got on TV, or made a speech, or rallied people to a great cause.

He managed to say at last, “Yes, it is true. That is all I ever been. I have worked hard to be true to my wife. Struggled to put food on the table and shoes on my children’s feet. Just a man, nothing more.”

“You have shouldered the burden of a decent man. Ungifted. Unrecognized. Rewarded only with love.” The woman’s full, red lips curled in a warm smile. “And that’s all we ever asked of you, Javier. Congratulations, you have the highest rating today.” She gestured to a door in the back wall that Javier had not noticed before.

A golden door, glowing with the light of love.

“Please go through,” said the woman. “And be welcome.”

With a body that no longer ached, Javier stood and shuffled past the woman, who encouraged him with another smile. His steps growing stronger and his back straighter, Javier Lazano went through the door. And was rewarded.

 

Advertisements

Red Adept Publishing is releasing Working Stiffs with a new cover and an introductory price of $2.99. Today, December 12th, is release day, so click and buy, buy, buy.

51nd3C30GeL__SS140_SH35_

American Book Fest 2017 Science Fiction Finalist

Joe Warren, an unemployed electrical engineer, has a terminally ill girlfriend and a bank account bumping rock bottom. Jobs are scarce in 2050, since nanotechnology has created the ability to animate the recently deceased, who are put to work performing menial labor at low wages. These Revivants have glutted the job market, leaving their living counterparts out in the cold.

Joe goes looking for a helping hand and mistakenly gets arrested with a group of freedom fighters. The only cause Joe wants to fight for is Joe, but federal agents coerce him into spying on the Children of Liberty.

When Joe reluctantly infiltrates the protest group, he finds something he never expected or wanted. Friends. And he discovers that maybe there are things in life worth fighting—and dying—for.

The news in brief, in case you’re confused…

The new anthology released November 8th, is available for sale in e-book and print. Called MAGA 2020 & Beyond, the anthology focuses on a brighter future and pokes some fun at our brothers and sisters from the other side of the aisle. My 51YSFkvzVVL__SS140_SH35_short story, The Last Hippie is the third one in, but don’t just stop there. Have fun with some cool stories by Brad Torgeson and Monalisa Foster, to name two of my favorites.

 

Second, Working Stiffs will be released by a new publisher, with a new cover, on 51nd3C30GeL__SS140_SH35_December 12th. The e-book will be release day priced at $2.99, so if you’ve been holding off because $5.99 was too much, now’s your chance to grab it. Working Stiffs was honored as a Finalist in the American Book Fest: Best of 2017 in the Science Fiction category.

 

And finally, April’s Fool will be refreshed with a new cover in preparation for the release of May Day (Date TBD). Here’s a look:

AprilsFool-10

Joe from Sales: Hey, thanks for considering Momentous Occasions for your business needs. Your transaction with MO will be so expensive, you’ll need to lay off the costs to a third party, but no need to worry, we’ll handle all your billing and you’ll never have to deal with any of that. We have great food prepared by culinary artists, free WiFi, cable television, and every amenity to insure your happiness.

Customer: Okay, sign me up!

Cindy from Customer Intake: Read all the documents, sign here, sign here, initial here, here, and here. I will now label you with your wristband that will hang loosely and catch on everything. That way we can make sure you’re not mixed up with another customer and screw up your order so badly you lose and arm and a leg doing business with us.

Customer: Okay! What next?

Cindy: Wait over there until we call you.

Jeff from Operations: Hi, customer (reads name from clipboard), come with me. Please change into our special torture clothing that you can’t tie because we ingeniously put all the strings in back where you can’t reach them. Wait here.

(Clock ticks. Nothing happens for a long time.)

Maria from Operations: Hello, customer (reads name from chart). I’ll be jabbing you with this thing to make it easy for us to administer your account. We’ll be taping it to the back of your hand, where it will stay for duration of your transaction with us.

Gus from Operations: Ditto name thing. I’ll be blowing stuff up your nose to keep you completely ignorant of everything we do for the next two hours. Trust me, this will be a good thing.

Mal Cutter, Chief of Operations: What are we doing today? A full business review? No, just removing a slice of your internal organization. Good. I’ll be back when I’m ready and we’ll get started.

(Post transaction)

Mrs. Ratchett from Customer Care: Now that your transaction is complete, my staff will check in at oddly-spaced intervals and wake you at the point you’re about to go to sleep. We’ll poke you, stick you, squeeze your bicep to the point of pain, make you get up and walk the halls in your ridiculous gown and colorful socks, and bring you the dried chicken and cold peas prepared by our culinary artists.

Customer: Sounds great. I can’t wait to come back for more!

Okay, I’m done fooling around. There’s been a definite hiatus in output lately, I admit. I’ve been hacking away at a novel that JUST AIN’T WORKING…so I finally threw in the towel. Fuggedabowddit. Tank it. Trash it. Give it up, already. Ignore the MONTHS spent trying to make a diamond out of a pig’s ear.

It’s back to all Yeager, all the time, until #3 in the that series is done. Happy to report, progress is being made on Yeager’s Getaway, where Abel and Charlie go on a much delayed honeymoon to an island paradise that turns…well, nasty. There is no easy day in Yeager’s world.

Sample from Chapter One:

An epic hangover cracked Abel Yeager’s morning egg of contentment. The yolk of good cheer dribbled out, leaving nothing but an empty shell of misery. His head squatted atop his shoulders like a bowling ball, heavy and hard, while chimpanzees trampolined off his stomach lining. The pocket-sized cruise ship, Fair Breezes, bobbed more than a cork on a fishing line, and the only thing keeping his insides from erupting in a volcanic expulsion of stale beer and pretzels was the uncertainty of making it to the head without falling over from dizziness. The bed of their stateroom embraced him in sweat-damp sheets, and there he planned to stay until the paramedics came to carry him away.

He groaned and covered his eyes in the crook of an elbow.

“Serves you right.” An e-reader braced on her belly, Charlie reclined near the balcony doorway, sunlight streaming through her coppery hair and a breeze ruffling the collar of the cotten cover up she wore over her one-piece swimsuit. Her long legs were propped on the corner of the bed, crossed at the ankles, treating Yeager to a view of the soles of her feet. “How late did you stay up drinking with your new best friends?”

“I don’t know,” Yeager mumbled. “One o’clock, I think.”

“No, you came in at three a.m.”

If you knew, why’d you ask? He kept his mouth shut.

“Reeking of beer, I might add.”

You just did. This, too, he kept to himself. The warning flags were out: Charlie was a tiny bit PO’d and didn’t need any nitroglycerin added to the tank to get her going. Normally, Charlotte Buchanan Yeager was a joy to live with. Smart. Funny. A naturally happy person. Like Victor. On the rare occasions when she did lose it, Yeager found it best to lock up the breakables and hunker down for a storm. His bleary-eyed reading of today’s weather indicated a squall approaching, and it could either blow over, or brew up to hurricane force.

“Just my luck,” Charlie spoke without looking up from her reader. “I finally ditch the kids and go on a much delayed honeymoon cruise with my husband, the Marine. And guess what? The ship is packed with Marines.”

“Three is hardly packed,” Yeager said. “And those guys were salty. Vietnam vets. Telling stories of the Rockpile, Ca Lu, Hill 881. Hue City. Khe Sanh.”

“And while you’re out swapping war stories with the Leatherneck Legends, your wife is waiting up for you in her brand new nightie. See-through, like you like it.” Charlie stabbed her reader with a finger and “flipped” a page. Yeager could almost hear the page snap. He lifted his pounding head with ponderous effort.

“I’m sorry I missed that.” And he meant it, too. Charlie could make his heart race wearing a spacesuit and face cream; Charlie in sexy lingerie made him lose his mind. He groaned again and flopped back. “I really, really am.”

She must have taken pity on him, because she got up and brought him a bottle of water from the mini-fridge. “Here. Rehydrate, caveman. You’re going to need it today.”

“Why’s that—? Wait.” A memory clawed its way up through the corpses of dead brain cells. “Oh, hell no.”

“Oh hell yes, Staff Sergeant Yeager.” Charlie stood by the bed with her hands on her hips and a smug expression painting her face. “We hike the nature reserve today. Three hours of exercise should sweat all the beer right out of you.”

“God hates me,” Yeager groaned.

 

 

Hear ye, hear ye, or expressed in Texan: Listen up, y’all.

I have a short story due out November 8th, in the anthology titled “MAGA 2020 & Beyond,” titled The Last Hippie.

Here’s an excerpt:

Broken glass covered the street like gravel. It crunched under Mackay’s boot.

If there was an intact window left in the city, Mackay had yet to see it. Or an intact car, or functioning light, or working toilet, for that matter. What a waste. A proud and rich people, descended to savagery, living in a garbage pit of their own making. The smart ones had left early, jumping the border walls in droves, an influx of illegal immigration that took decades for the US to settle out.

“It looks like a sheet of diamonds,” said the rookie, Ponte. He flicked a glance at Mackay. “You know, the way the light shines on all the glass.”

“Shut up, Pontoon. Watch the corners and fa’God’s sake, look up. There’s tall billins on either side of ya. Called skyscrappers, ya pintz.” Mackay deliberately spoke like a goon to Ponte, got words wrong, mixed up his syntax. It drove the OCD, double-major-graduate, four-plus-GPA, walking Wikipedia rookie right into an electric tizzy, given that he knew better than to try and correct his squad leader.

“Yes, Sergeant.” Ponte kept his face blank as an android. In Mackay’s experience, the stiffer Ponte became, the more torqued he was on the inside.

Mackay stifled a grin. He checked the three men behind him, verified spacing and vigilance. It was easy to get complacent, here in this almost—stress almost—deserted city. Fitzke, Blake, and Ortega were solid though, two sweeping up and to the sides while one swiveled backward, checking their six. SkyEye should alert them to any movement, but Mackay trusted drones about as much as he trusted teenage boys with his daughter.

Eternal vigilance was the price of virginity and long life. Oo-yah.

 

Pre-order your copy today!

 

MAGA 2020 & Beyond will feature stories of a bright, new future. And mine.

Me, as writer

My friend and co-author, Marina Fontaine blogs about her upcoming story, Exile in the soon to be released MAGA:2020 & Beyond.

When I first heard of a pro-Trump anthology intended to show the bright side of Trump’s election, I was curious about the concept, but had no thought of contributing. For one, stories of a great future are hard to write. There is less conflict in a utopia. Typically, positive future stories tend to be science fiction, with Star Trek being probably the prime example. The appeal of Star Trek at its best comes from the sense of wonder and adventure, and the conflict, when it happens, is usually external in nature, be it hostile aliens or technical difficulties.The Federation is essentially a utopia, but the show doesn’t linger on the details. If someone decided to tell a story of the greatness of life in The Federation, it would…

View original post 62 more words

Yeager’s Law

Posted: August 30, 2017 in General Topics of Interest

Add your thoughts about the book on The Naked Reviewers.

The Naked Reviewers

5159jqHf5WL._UY250_

Abel Yeager is dead broke, down on his luck, and suffering from a serious case of what-the-hell-does-it-matter. His transition from active Marine to stateside long-haul trucker hit a wicked speed bump when his rig was involved in a wreck that claimed the life of a pregnant woman and laid him up for several months.

Back at work but deeply in debt, Yeager meets bookstore owner Charlie Buchanan in St. Louis and jumps at the chance to haul a load of remainder books to Austin for her. On the way south, a crew of truck thieves tracks his every move. But none of them know what Charlie’s ex has smuggled inside the book pallets, who he stole it from, or how far the owner will go to get it back. Charlie’s the first person Yeager has cared about in a long time, but as their bond deepens, so does the danger…

View original post 2,812 more words

Where is my John Wayne
Where is my prairie song
Where is my happy ending
Where have all the cowboys gone?
–Paula Cole, Where Have All the Cowboys Gone, This Fire.

 

The Real Man Dead Pool is filling fast. The hero archetype in novels is dying of testicular divestiture.

Remember those authors who filled their pages with testosterone instead of chardonnay? Recall the days of whiskey-drinking, gunpowder-stained, hairy-armpit alpha males who could punch a thug in the face, fire off a quip or a cannon, and then melt a woman right down into her nylons with a wink?

In other words, remember when men in books had balls?

These are some of the many icons of masculine writing gone to that gin joint in the sky: Elmore Leonard, Louis L’Amour, Ernest Hemmingway, Donald Hamilton, John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Shell Scott, Earle Stanley Gardner, Frank Roderus, Zane Grey, Robert A. Heinlein, Mack Bolen, Richard Sapir/Warren Murphy, Elmer Kelton, Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark), Evan Hunter (as Ed McBain), Clive Cussler…well, Clive’s alive, but his fiction is a walking dead replica of his original work. And before you ask, Robert B. Parker doesn’t count, because although Spenser and Jesse Stone were tough sumbitches, they needed way too much psychoanalyzing to be true icons of the American Male Hero, Mark I, Break Glass in Case of Danger.

“But, but, but,” you say, “Lee Child!”

Yes, and do you wonder why Child has been so wildly successful writing the same damn book over-and-over (and over-and-over) for so long? Because Reacher is a take-no-shit, all-male Hero with a capital Take No Shit From Nobody. A tarnished knight worthy of Travis McGee. A ronin. Richard Boone as Paladin. The kind of hero all too rare in this day of emasculated, emotive, environmentally-aware, psychoanalyzed plastic cutout characters used in place of Real Men.

Thank God for Robert Crais (Joe Pike) and R.M. Meluch (Tour of the Merrimack), Michael Connelly (Bosch) and a few brave souls who carry on against the tide of politically correct protagonists who abhor guns and want to empower women instead of tumble them into the sack. (I would have included Stephen Hunter in this group, except for G-Man. SPOILER: The gunslinging hero in G-Man has a secret. Guess what it is? “I want to lay with men!” Oh, for fuck’s sake, Steve.)

They say men don’t read much anymore. Well, let me take a wild ass guess as to why that is. Let’s take a look at the Bestseller List. Which one? Doesn’t matter. Any Bestseller List will do.

  1. Female author, female character being treated badly by men.
  2. Any author, gay character being treated badly by men.
  3. Male author, liberal. Anti-gun polemic with a side of angst.
  4. Gender unknown. Examines feeling for 600 pages.
  5. Any author. Capitalism bad. White males bad.
  6. Harvard-educated author. Two gay male main characters whine about men.
  7. Lee Child. Same book he’s always written.
  8. James Patterson. Tripe written by a no-name hack, covered by Patterson’s name.
  9. David Baldacci. Boiled tripe, poorly written.
  10. Nora Roberts. Romance being labeled as something else.

Geh. I can’t even…It’s enough to make a man want to go write a book.

Oh. Wait. I’ll be back.

 

From now through May 9th, I’m giving away three signed copies each of my four published novels through Goodreads.

Beginning today: Yeager’s Law and April’s Fool

Beginning April 24th:  Yeager’s Mission

Beginning May 1st: Working Stiffs*

*I’ll add the link when the giveaway goes live.

(You’ll need a Goodreads account, but they’re free for the price of a click or two.)