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I’ll be writing about my writing: my novels and short stories, what motivates me, what moves me and the writing resources that help me. Alas, I am not yet published other than here, though I am trying hard to drop the un- prefix formative from unpublished novelist. In one sense that’s good, because an unpublished novel is not finished. I edit, and edit, and edit, always trying to make what I write better, more coherent, more in tune with the sub-head of my site. You, yes you, who love to read fiction, can influence the stories by participating in the dialogue I hope will develop. If you think it sucks, say so. If you think it sucks but can be salvaged by doing… whatever, say that too, especially the whatever. It’s a two-way conversation and I encourage comments.

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The FBI makes Jonathan Tyne an offer he can’t refuse

The FBI now has Jonathan Tyne’s nuts between a rock and a hard place.

This next scene from Rogue Elephants, Jonathan Tyne’s first encounter with FBI Special Agent Raymond Wright begins to reveal a plot twist in the story I doubt any of my readers will anticipate. It mentions a backgammon game between Tyne and his lawyer Miriam da Silveira. She is attempting to negotiate immunity from prosecution for Tyne for numerous crimes, principally homicide, with the attorneys general of Oregon and California. Without a context that reference to backgammon is confusing so I have included a few paragraphs from the preceding scene, which allows me to make a point about these excerpts.

In every case where I have asked someone whose literary opinion I trust to evaluate my work I pose this challenge, to wit: pretend you have found my book on the New Books shelf at Barnes & Noble. You buy a latte (try a flat white from Starbucks and smuggle it into B&N; superior by an order of magnitude), find a comfortable chair, open the book at random and begin reading. By the way, this is exactly how I decide whether to buy a book written by an author whose work I have never read before. This is exactly how I chose to buy and read, for example, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I opened the book at random, somewhere around page 110 and began reading about Bennie and Sasha. Twenty minutes later I bought the book.

My goal is to write so well that anyone performing this exercise will want to back up to where the scene/chapter begins and read for context, and of course, buy the book. My books currently are not for sale but it should be obvious by now that the sale I wish to make is to secure agent representation.

So, I have backed up into the scene in which Tyne and da  Silveira play backgammon, as if you opened the book to page 241. Please feel free to comment on this technique of asking for literary criticism as well as the prose itself, and remember, literary criticism is not an attaboy pat on the head for a job well done. Those, of course, are welcome but literary criticism is line-by-line dissection of the work, exposing every weakness, every misstep on the writer’s part. Alas, I have yet to find someone with a dispassionate, non-judgmental, professionally competent perspective on the fiction art to help me to see where I can improve. I’m optimistic that eventually I will.

For those of you reading this piece who have not read any of my stuff before, the first chapter of both of my novels are on this site as are many other scenes. You will find them in the site’s archives and as always, enjoy.

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“Stop for a moment.”  He had resumed massaging her feet.  When he did she went to the sound system and inserted the CD Tyne had given her: Cabaret by Catherine, with piano accompaniment by Merak.

The rich sound of Catherine’s voice filled the room.  He had made one mistake in the third track, “Two For The Road,” and he listened for it.  He went back to his chair and Miriam returned to the sofa and when the song was about to reach that point he said, “Listen for the error I made.

“There, did you hear it?  That four-note scale and chord should be sharp.”

“Only a professional would know it’s an error.  I certainly don’t.”

“I’m not a professional.”

“Well dear, whatever you are sounds good to me.”

Just then the downstairs buzzer rang and Miriam went to the speaker and spoke into the microphone.  “It’s the food I ordered.”

Tyne went down to the foyer and paid with cash tipping the delivery girl a couple of bucks.  When he returned to the condo Miriam had the dining table set including candles, chop sticks and a chilled bottle of Riesling.  Tyne was content to listen to Catherine’s music so they said very little while they ate, both of them sharing a little of each of the four dishes Miriam had ordered.  Afterwards, and after the CD ended Miriam said, “You can have us both.  I don’t mind sharing.”

“That’s confusing and I’m very old fashioned.”

“Isn’t it time you learned some new tricks?”

“Maybe it is but not today.  When Catherine and I reconciled I gave her my word that I understood the meaning of exclusivity; I was asking that of her and I would give it to her in return.  How could you ever trust me if she can’t?”

“I don’t require exclusivity and I’m not offering it to you but I am saying we should have sex.”

“Sorry Mimi, being with Catherine has taught me some things about life and loving I should have learned a long time ago and didn’t.”

“Do you know what it means to be polyamorous?”

The question and the direct way the woman was looking at him gave him a moment’s pause.  “I’m not sure.  Why don’t you enlighten me?”

“It means having a primary love relationship as well as one or more secondary love affairs.  The difference between polyamory and cheating is that everyone knows what’s going on.  Everyone knows who is doing what to whom.  It’s all done with shared knowledge, respect and empathy.  Right now I have a couple of secondaries but no primary.  I’d like you to audition for the part.”

It took him a moment to wrap his brain around what he’d just heard and even then he wasn’t sure how to respond.  Finally he said, “I’m not sure I can handle the complexity such an arrangement would require.  I’m also not sure I’m secure enough, emotionally, to not be jealous of the other men… or are there women too… that share you.  And I doubt I could keep my relationship with Catherine if she found out what I was doing… and I take it all the players are totally open with what each is doing?  I would have to tell her and she would tell me to take a hike… at least, I think she would… I would hope she would.”

“Once upon a time there was a woman… but no longer.  There could be again… I just haven’t met her yet.  She’d have to be like me… and there are very few women like me.”

“What you are suggesting turns my view of life completely upside down.  I have to think it through… before I can even consider the possibilities.  That’s fair, isn’t it?  I mean, you wouldn’t want me as a member of this select set if I treated the idea as just so much casual sex?  That’s what it would be if I didn’t… you know… give it some careful thought, and even then I might say no.”

After a moment she said, “Okay, I’ll accept that, for now.”  She cleared the table and hating leftovers, she double bagged the uneaten food and dropped it down the garbage chute in the hall beside the elevator.  There was still half a bottle of wine left so she said, “How about backgammon?  Wouldn’t you like to try me again?  I’m pleasantly tired and I’ve had some wine so you just might beat me?”

“I’d love to have another go at you.”

It was getting chilly so Miriam pressed the igniter of the fireplace’s gas log.  She turned out all the lights save the sconces that flanked the wet bar.  These and the fireplace were ample.  They shared the remainder of the Riesling and played backgammon sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace.  They played for five dollars a unit and by midnight Tyne was one hundred and fifty dollars in the hole, three times as much as he had lost to her on the boat.

Being a mathematician Tyne seldom lost at backgammon when playing against people less well versed in probability than he but in Mimi he had met his match.  She was a master manipulator of the cube and increasingly as the evening wore on she teased him that no self-respecting nerd should ever be beaten so consistently by a bottom feeder who could barely add two numbers together without using a calculator.  The harder he tried to beat her the worse he played and the more she needled him.  He knew he was in over his head when she proposed they play strip backgammon and the loser had to perform oral sex on the winner.

It would have been so easy to just let it happen especially when she lay down in front of him in the flickering glow of the fire and raised her arms over her head so that her kimono gaped displaying a breast and a nice flat belly and she said, “If you lose you won’t be cheating on Catherine, you’ll just be paying off your bet.”  Then she bent one knee and rocked her hips from side to side so that her thighs parted invitingly.  Tyne tossed off his wine, kissed her once below the navel and shoved the cube down inside her panties.

He stood, said good night and started for the guest room.  “Wait, I want you to have something to help you sleep,” she said.  She pushed the satin panel aside giving him a flash of dark hair, rubbed the cube inside her vagina and then threw it at him.  “Suck on this why don’t you so you know exactly what you’re missing.”  He caught the cube and stuck it in his mouth and said, “Tastes good like a pussy should.  Thanks for the game.  We’ll have to do it again real soon.”  She looked around for something else to throw but all she found was a pillow.  Her aim was good and it struck him in the back just as he was going through the door of the guest room.

. . .

At breakfast the next morning there was no mention of the previous night’s backgammon game even when Tyne placed the cube beside Mimi’s plate of scrambled eggs.  She ignored it but poked her tongue out at him and ate her breakfast with an almost continuous smirk.  At one point she leaned back in her chair with her fingers laced behind her head and laughed to herself as if she had just heard the funniest joke.  When she was finally able to stop giggling she doubled the cube as if they were playing backgammon and again fell into a fit of laughter.  She then doubled the cube again and laughed even harder and finally Tyne started laughing too.

Miriam was already dressed for the office and she explained to Tyne that she would be in meetings all morning but that Maggie would arrange a conference call with Attorney General Grainger and Elizabeth Sullivan.  She would stay close during the call in case she was needed but he shouldn’t expect to see her before 1 P.M. She would then explain the details of the offshore account she had created and if he was satisfied he could transfer the money this afternoon.  He said that was cool and she gave him a cool kiss and departed.

At nine Tyne dialed the toll free conference number at GGS for the first of the three daily fifteen-minute scrums.  They went around the room and each engineer said what he had accomplished the previous week and then what he intended to do this week.  In the R&D scrum in which he was a pig as well as the owner Tyne reported that he had downloaded the latest release of the source code for an open-source project they were evaluating and his testing had revealed a bug, which he fixed.  He had submitted the fix and the tests he also wrote to the project maintainers’ e-mail list.  Someone on that list had further modified his code and a patched release was now available.  He asked the senior of the two engineers in the scrum to download the patch, build it, test it with whatever tests it comes with and then run his test suite against it and report the results to the e-mail list.  He told the engineer where he could find the tests.  He said he expected to be back in Palo Alto the next day and would spend the rest of the week reviewing recent code check-ins.

When the last of the meetings ended at 9:45 Tyne felt restless so he changed to sweats and went for a five-mile run and pushed himself very hard the last mile, doing it in the very fast time, for him, of just under eight minutes.  When he was in college and at OCS he could do five miles in thirty-seven flat, not bad but still a minute and a half too slow to qualify for SEAL training, but now, at fifty-six, he was happy to keep the run under forty-five minutes.  As he was jogging slowly along the path that led to the condo complex from Holman Park along Cornell Road he overtook another runner who as Tyne passed him said, “What did you do with the bodies of LaPone, Desantis and DiSalvo?”

Tyne stopped and stared at the man, ready to fight with his hands and feet if necessary.  The man did not appear to be armed and he made no threatening movements.  He was black and a little shorter than Tyne and not as heavily built but he looked fit, and his sweats were as wet as Tyne’s.  “I beg your pardon?”

“They were staying in Mount Vernon at the Blue Mountain Lodge until April 9th and then they disappeared, poof, just like that.  They rented a car in Portland and it too is missing.  LaPone and DiSalvo had airline tickets to Kennedy in New York and Desantis was booked on a flight to Oakland, all on the 9th, and those tickets were never used, nor were they exchanged for cash nor replaced with others.  Do you know why they were staying in Mount Vernon?”

“I’ve never heard of any of them so how the fuck would I know why they chose to stay one place or another?”

“Because they were hunting for you.  We know they were hunting for you, we know they found you and we also know that after the 8th of April, they simply ceased to exist, anywhere on the planet.  Does that suggest anything to you?”

“Who are we?”

The man slowly removed a leather case from a pocket in his sweats and tossed it to Tyne.  Inside the case were the credentials of a Special Agent of the FBI named Raymond Wright.  Tyne studied the picture and the man carefully, then he closed the case and tossed it back to the agent.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t think you do either.”  Tyne began slowly walking along the path in the direction of the condo and the man in the sweats fell in step beside him.

“We don’t really care if they’re dead or not, we’d just like to know how you managed it?  LaPone was a stone killer and DiSalvo was his apprentice.  Desantis was… well, what can I say, a two-bit grease ball from Oakland, but he could pull a trigger too, if the victim was looking the other way.  How did you take them down?”

“I screwed up my face and gave my war yell and they ran away crying mama, mama.”

“That’s very good; the director will appreciate that.  He will also be pleased to learn that I could barely keep up with you on that run.”

Tyne entered the garage and went to the stairwell and keyed the pass code and then as he held the door, he said, “The lady I’m staying with is an attorney.  Do I need to ask her to join us?”

“Miriam da Silveira, excellent choice as legal representation and moving in with her was a master stroke.  I have to hand it to you Tyne, you sure know how to pick them; let’s see if my list is complete; there’s your attorney David Hardin’s wife and Paglia, Duvall and now da Silveira in a little less than a year.  Did I forget any?  Wait a minute, I did forget that real estate fox who sold your condo.  Now what was her name again… oh yes, Muñoz?  Now why would you think you need to sic your attorney on me?  I’m on your side.”

“How can you be on my side?  You think I killed three men who like to hang out together at cheap motels.”

“Eight.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Eight men; we think, no… we know you took down eight, or ten actually, if you count those two in the restaurant.  There are two more missing and presumed dead but if you did them you fooled even us.”

Tyne let the door to the stairwell close and stared at the man.  “Come on agent Wright, if the FBI actually believes I killed eight men I will need a dream team of attorneys like Ms. da Silveira.”

“Let’s see if I have the complete list; first was Francesco Tosca, Maruca and Dellacroce, the three from the Mount Vernon motel and Jimmy Tosca and his protégé Donnie Apia.  If I missed any, please feel free to fill in the blanks?  The two MIAs are Frank Rizzo and Mario Sabatini, part of a crew that works for a guy named Napoletano.  They were last seen May 19th.  If you did them there’s no reason to be shy with me; take credit for them.  All eight were soldiers in the undeclared war you waged against the Tosca family.  We’re not quite sure why you didn’t do Napoletano, maybe he’s next, given what he did to the Duvall woman, but had you done him or if you do him it will be personal.  You have to be careful not to do that too often.  Making it personal dramatically increases the risk… by an order of magnitude.

“The two Toscas, Dellacroce and LaPone were manna from heaven; the others were gravy.  We guessed you were going to do Jimmy, since he was the last one left who was hunting you so we made a little mischief of our own and the results are very promising.  If you are wondering why no one connected you with Jimmy, well that was our doing.

“By the way, it’s always wise to be careful when people like the Toscas have a hard on for you but please don’t kid yourself that you are safe because both Toscas are in the ground.  It doesn’t work that way.  You killed several made members including two from the Genovese family and the other families will not tolerate such a direct challenge to their authority.  To whack a made member takes a special kind of permission and without it, the shooter is marked for life.  They will never stop looking for you, never.  They’ll put out an open contract on you that anyone can collect.  It’s cheap too, the going rate can be as low as twenty-five hundred bucks.

“Oh, one other thing, that was me who called you at your Martinez condo the night you killed Francesco Tosca.  I thought you were at work; I didn’t know you worked from home that day.”

“It sounded like a bad telemarketing sales pitch to me; I really wasn’t buying any of it.”

“Really, I thought it was quite pithy and right on point.  I used the phrase that singer you’ve been shtuping to refer to the fact that you lived with Catherine Duvall in Bend for three months last year and spent a couple of nights in a Vancouver hotel in December having sexual relations with her.  Surely you remember me saying that?”

Tyne rubbed his fingers through his hair and smiled and shook his head in dismay, and said, “Do you actually expect me to admit to any of this?  You want something from me so why don’t you just say what it is so I can get out of these sweaty clothes.”

“We want you to keep doing what you’ve been doing.”

Tyne stared at the man but did not trust himself to respond.  Finally he said, “You are going to have to put that in words a six year old would understand.”

“Okay, you took down the heads of a local crime family and several key lieutenants.  You’ve seeded chaos and confusion from Mexico to as far away as New York, with a little creative help from us.  You did it without any assistance from anyone and with minimal resources.  You kept the collateral damage to a minimum, we are very impressed and we think with our help, you can do even better.  Incidentally, Sylvia Rotolo, a very smart girl indeed, is one of ours.  If you had whacked her along with Jimmy we would have been very sad and the fact that you didn’t convinced us you are one of the good guys.”

“I don’t know anyone named Sylvia Rotolo.”

“She was Jimmy’s girlfriend, and one of our informers.  She lives on Fairbanks Avenue in Oakland and was in the house the night you did Jimmy Tosca and Donnie Apia.  She couldn’t identify you but you didn’t know that and we actually thought you would not want to leave her alive.  Right after you left and before she called the police she called me.  I knew it was you because she was alive.  Funny thing what fear will do to someone’s ability to recollect.  She did not recognize you even when the police included your image in a photo array.  Deaf, dumb and blind was what you told her to be.  You scared the shit out of her and that bit about a short heavy-set shooter wearing a fedora was masterful.  There are several Mexican shooters who fit that description so I told her exactly what to say to the police and then I spread the word on the jungle drums that Jimmy’s killer was a Mexican killer for hire.  Thanks to you we have a nice little war going between the Mexicans and the Italians.  You showed remarkable professional restraint and for that we are very grateful.”

“You knew someone was coming to kill Tosca, possibly me and you did nothing to protect your informer?  You were just going to let her take her chances and hope for the best?  With friends like you one hardly needs any enemies.”

Wright shrugged and said, “Women like Sylvia are expendable.  We’re in a war Mr. Tyne, or do you prefer Mr. Ware… and there are always casualties of war.  Besides, just because we believed you would take out Tosca didn’t mean we knew where or when it would happen.  It was only after the fact that we realized she had been at risk.  We had no idea you even knew about Sylvia.”

He ignored the reference to his new legal name.  “What exactly do you mean, with your help I can do better?  What sort of help would that be?”

“A new identity, mission specific identities, money within reason, weapons, communications, training if you think you need it; you tell us what you need.  Oh and one other thing, ADA Sullivan is a very competent prosecutor.  We could make her investigation go away, permanently.  And one last point that will serve as a reality check, we don’t run the witness protection program but we know the people in it.  If what you want or need is a new identity we can supply perfectly good credentials but those from WITSEC are better.  They dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s while we just create the documents.  For example, they’ve perfected a very clever arrangement for salvaging your 401(k) or your IRA.  You should definitely go forward with the arrangements Ms. da Silveira is making but if you think that identity will be compartmentalized and we won’t know it, well, you need to think again.”

“I’ve heard enough.  If any part of this were true I’d be in custody and even Miriam da Silveira wouldn’t be able to help me.”

Tyne re-keyed the pass code and started up the stairs, when Wright said, “November Four One Niner Six Tango.”

Tyne stopped halfway up the first flight and stared at the man.  “I thought that would finally get your attention.  How long do you think it would take Ms. Sullivan to figure out the flying time between Concord and John Day in a plane like a DHC-2 if she knew you were a licensed pilot?”

Tyne turned around and slowly walked back down and stepped through the door to the stairwell and let the door close behind him.  He started walking towards the rear of the garage where there was a small green-space with some mature shade trees with benches.  The man who called himself Raymond Wright walked beside him and said nothing until they were seated in the shade of one of those fine old trees.  For the first time since they began talking Tyne saw the agent’s profile and he had a long scar along his cheekbone that ended under his left ear.  He saw what Tyne was looking at and did not look away and Tyne said, “I have one of those too but in a place you can’t see.  Would you mind taking off your sweat shirt?”

“Not at all,” as the agent pulled the shirt over his head.  “Go ahead, pat me down.  I’m neither armed nor am I wearing a wire.”

Tyne quickly but thoroughly searched the man and found nothing other than the pass case containing the ID he had already examined, a cell phone and a set of car keys.  When he handed these back to the man, he opened the clamshell on the cell, pressed a few buttons and then showed Tyne the screen.  “That is your cell phone number, isn’t it?”

Tyne held the opened phone in his hand and looked at the display, but instead of confirming the number, he turned off the phone’s power, closed the clamshell and handed it back to the agent and said, “Let me see if I have this straight, you want me to kill mafia gangsters by order of the FBI?  Do you have any idea how fantastic, no surreal is a better word, how surreal a notion that is?  And even if I was willing to do what you are suggesting, a special agent hardly has the authority to make such an offer.”

Wright pocketed the cell phone and said, “Excellent, the director said you are very intelligent.  You are correct, I can’t make such an offer; I’m merely the messenger of someone who can.  Mr. Tyne, do you remember the name of the marine whose life you saved in Vietnam?”

“Sgt. Charles Ryan Carpenter.”

“When was the last time you had any contact with Mr. Carpenter?”

“Let’s see… we were evacuated together to a hospital in the Philippines, then after rehab at Balboa Naval Hospital we stayed in touch through college.  I know he went to Boston College and was accepted at Holy Cross Law.  I attended his wedding to Carolyn Abramson after he got his undergraduate degree.  I went to Berkeley for graduate school and we lost touch after that.”

“Does the name C. Ryan Carpenter mean anything to you?”

“If that’s the name Charlie is using, it happened after we lost contact with each other.”

“Am I to understand you aren’t aware that C. Ryan Carpenter is a Deputy Director of the FBI?”

“You seem surprised that I don’t know that fact but I don’t follow what goes on in Washington.  I usually try to vote none of the above or write in the names of one of my horses for president and my dog for vice president.  I know the Director is a political appointee but I assume the Deputies are all career cops.”

“Director Carpenter will be pleased to hear that you are apolitical and yes, he is a career officer, with responsibility for suppressing organized crime.  He would like to meet with you personally to explain why we want you, why we need you.  Will you meet with him?”

Tyne studied the man’s face for a long time, then he smiled and said, “I don’t know what the fuck you are talking about but I would love to see Charlie Carpenter again.”

“I’ll set it up and I’ll be in touch.”  He started to get up and Tyne gripped his forearm tightly and he sat back down.

“E-mail only, always encrypted; no phone calls that are not planned in advance.  Let’s exchange PGP keys.  You can use my initials, j, e, t at wildhorseconsulting.com.  If I get any e-mails that aren’t encrypted I will delete them as SPAM without reading them.  Do we understand each other?”

“Perfectly.”

“Are you to be my controller?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will only ever deal with you or Charlie, never anyone else.  Are we clear on that?”

“Yes, not without the mutual approval of you and the Director.”

“Agent Wright, when I was a boy growing up in Chicago I had a collie dog named Ginger.  You will include the phrase Ginger sends his regards each time you send me e-mail.  My call sign in SEALORDS was linebacker; you will know you are reading e-mail from me if it contains the phrase linebacker misses Ginger.  Is that understood?”

“Do you want me to share those phrases with the Director?”

“Absolutely not.  Those phrases are for your eyes only.  I will work out a pair with Charlie that only he and I could possibly know.”

“Anything else?”

“How was it possible that the media and ADA Sullivan were unable to discover I have a VFR ticket?”

“We put a little check mark in an FAA database that protected the record from disclosure without a special security clearance.  That check mark can be removed just as easily as it was made.  And one final thought I’d like to leave you with, just in case you’re thinking of declining the Director’s request; it would be a shame to go to all the trouble of getting a new WITSEC identity and then have it disclosed to the very people you are trying to avoid, you dig?”

Tyne stared at the agent and finally shook his head and the agent offered his hand.  Tyne took a long time to decide whether to accept the handshake but finally he did.  The man immediately began jogging up the path towards Cornell.  Tyne watched him until he went out of sight, then he moved his rental car from space seventeen and parked it on the street facing the complex.  He then went back to the condo where he found Mimi on the phone.

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