Friday, April 03, 2009

Thought You Were Dead: A Sample Chapter

Well, I'm out of here for a week at day's end, building castles in the sand -- pretty much what I do as a publisher -- and relaxing with the fam. Things might be a bit quiet around these parts while I'm away, there'll be a reprieve, no more ceaseless chatter. Though there's always the slight chance that a Rebecca or Mike or Cynthia or Shane might take over the controls. And if I bring my laptop, perhaps I might torture you with snapshots of a publisher at leisure (a rare sighting). Though, then again, perhaps it would be better if I did not: don't want to spoil the illusion.

Though since I care so much for my three dedicated followers, I'll leave you with a small gift: the first chapter of Terry Griggs's marvellous Thought You Were Dead. To whet your appetite, so to speak. And if you get lonely, you can always return and read it again: it merits a revisit or two.

PS: Click on the button in the upper corner and it will come up as a full screen.

Thought You Were Dead First Chapter

Thought You Were Dead a novel Terry Griggs THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD Thought You W er e D ea d A NOVEL T er r y Griggs BIBLIOASIS Copyright © Terry Griggs, 2009 Illustrations Copyright © Nick Craine, 2009 all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. f i r s t ed i t i o n Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Griggs, Terry Thought you were dead : a novel / Terry Griggs. isbn 10: 1-897231-53-9 isbn 13: 978-1-897231-53-1 I. Title. ps8563.r5365 t48 2009 c813’.54 c2009-900927-7 Cover design and illustrations by Nick Craine. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Heritage, and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program. pr i n t e d an d b o u nd i n ca na da For me 1 FAQs THE DOGHOUSE that Chellis currently found himself in was meant for a much smaller doggie, a bad pup the size of Bunion or Hormone. Two miscreants if ever there were. Rats with ruffs and canine pretensions. Their messes on the floor were substantial, considering, and not metaphorical in the least. Why was censure made of such inflexible material? The doghouse was clamped on his back, and he could feel it chaffing and wobbling as he edged snailwise toward the ringing phone. (Rotary – none of this trilling and burbling for Chellis.) And guilt? It was the toxic pressure-treated wood of the psychological lumberyard. Hello? Elaine, finally. It had been weeks. “Laney.” Hey, hey. Forgiven. “Chel. What are you doing?” “Eating my crusts.” “Good boy.” End of conversation. But still. The molecular structure of the doghouse shifted. It was not exactly spandex yet, nor a swish little retirement home for his misdeeds, but matters were clearly improving. Weren’t they? Mrs. Havlock called next. What a sociable afternoon. “Are you free, Chellis dear?” A summons disguised as a question. Would he like to eat something other than humble pie? And crusts? “As a bird.” “A body is involved.” She pronounced this bawdee, incarnating it in his ear, making it all vowelly and fat. “Another one?” “Don’t be cheeky. I’m not quite sure what to do with this one.” “I’m sure you’ll think of something brilliant.” 11 “Exactement. Six for drinkies?” “Six it is, Lady MacBee.” That woman had so much blood on her hands. Midday and Chellis was still in his jammies. Now that there was some cause to, he sloughed those off, and stepped into his Jolly Roger boxers, jeans, and pulled on a no-logo T. As Mrs. Havlock required maturity in the footwear that crossed her threshold, he slipped on his vintage Beatle boots over a pair of cotton Happyfoots. Black jacket, can’t go wrong with that, especially one with potato chips in the pocket. He performed a quick vanitas scan in the bathroom mirror. Ears, eyes, lips, teeth – nothing missing or untoward. Hunkus bolus. Not Dead Yet anyway, which was the family motto . . . of the extant members that is, of which he happened to be the only one. Orphaned by the whole irresponsible lot of them. Forget the Sunday roast, crokinole and Trivial Pursuit at Christmas, hand-me-down, crumbridden toasters and all of the other dubious fringe benefits of family life, he was a free radical circulating in the social blood stream. Chellis tipped his head back for a nose hair check, and stared admiringly up nasal canals so clear he could see all the way to Mars. Wait, that was his brain, a marvel in itself, red hot and whirring away, formulating question after profound question. Why, why, why? So many synapses were firing that his head sounded like a bug zapper. Here was a puzzler: how could she love someone with beige hair? That’s what he couldn’t quite grasp. The stuff was scarily synthetic. It looked as if it belonged in the bathroom, a hair doily for the one-ply, or something you might use to exfoliate your chest with. He traced the shore of his own darkish (more or less) hairline (okay, less), but respectfully, so as not to give it migratory ideas. His friend Hunt’s forehead was now so vast, you had to walk clear round the back of him to confirm its conclusion. When had that happened? He’d have to call Hunt and enquire. But later. There were no epiphanic moments to be had driving through town, although Chellis kept his sensitivities on high alert. What would an epiphanic hour be like, he wondered? Or a whole day? Blow your brains out. He addressed a query to the Almighty Celebrity above, nothing too taxing, just making conversation, “Mein Gott, isn’t this a sleepy town?” In an effort to redeem a life sample, he 12 scrutinized painfully tidy houses with buff siding and seamless eaves troughs, lawns Killexed into astroturf, sidewalks blindingly white, cracks cleaned with a Q-tip. Where was everyone? Playing hockey? He flicked the dreamcatcher that was dangling from the rearview mirror (former owner) to keep it from getting clogged and sticky from the town’s subpar dreaming. Ah, but heading his way? Approaching his silver, second-hand, generic auto was another silver car, newer but exactly the same model, with a dreamcatcher dangling from its rearview mirror. Chellis gave the driver a comradely two-finger salute. His doppelgänger glared, attempted recognition, failed, drove on. “You shit,” he said mildly. “Carbon monoxide breath. Dangling participle.” As that was all the road rage he could muster, he motored on, satisfied. Was he too early? Mrs. Havlock didn’t appreciate early. Or late. He consulted his Vulgari, as Elaine called his ten dollar mall watch. At least it covered the vile and seemingly permanent rash he’d gotten from her Anti-Insomnia Bracelet. He should know better by now, but had unwisely agreed to test it out for her. With the cursed thing clamped on his wrist like a manacle, he had fallen asleep, but then woke up ten minutes later, screaming. After which he’d spent the rest of the night marinating in a vinaigrette of worry about unlikely occurrences involving asteroids, mice, and a severed head on a cake plate. It was only fourish, way too. Chellis didn’t want to end up in Mrs. H’s bad books, of which she had a few, although through no fault of his own. He does his bit. Clearly there was time for a detour, possibly down Elaine’s street, an accidental drive-by. No stopping? Not even if she happens to be standing in the middle of the road and flags him down? Not on your life. He sighed . . . my life. He hit the gas and came up behind a hybrid car with a Save the Adverb bumper sticker. Green sentiment, sense of humour, worthy cause, potential pantheist behind the wheel, bisexual haircut, colour that didn’t match the upholstery, man, Chellis approved of the whole package. His spirits lifted. He honked the horn as he peeled past, rolled down the window, and shouted, “Ya done good!” He pulled into Pnin’s Variety for a package of breath mints in preparation for a possible communicative incident. It wasn’t out of 13 the question, conversation could ensue. Hypothetically. Elaine had been known to stand stock-still in her driveway for minutes on end, clutching a bag of groceries, thinking. He’d arrive on the scene and awaken her from her reverie with his minty sweet breath – Zephyrus on wheels. Her bag of groceries would hit the blacktop, causing the eggs to tremble perilously in their carton and damaging Vaughan’s zucchini, or his bananas, whatever. They would engage in intercourse. Swift and hard, for she would promptly tell him to fuck off and die. Turns out smarty Elaine will have been working on the final, crucial details for her Axiomatic (a labour-saving device for the Lizzie Borden’s of the world), or some such invention, and he will have interrupted her yet again, sending her Go Train of thought zipping out of the station. Again? Yes, again, and would he please just go away. At least she said please. Hypothetically. And that was nice. Mrs. Pnin was behind the counter, looking grim. He had to wonder if the little Pninheads had pninworms again. Chellis chuckled, and she offered a tight smile back. “Murder, Chellis.” She held up a Star and pointed to the front page colour photo of two policemen and a suit crouched over a blanket-swathed lump on the ground with its feet sticking out. Unshod and bluish, none too fresh. “Tsk, terrible. Well, that’s Toronto for you.” “No, no, it happened in Claymore.” “Claymore? Good heavens!” “Practically next door.” “What does it say? Some family dispute? You know what they’re like over that way. Domestic deviants all, even the toddlers.” So that’s where everyone was, rubbernecking at the scene of the crime. “A man, unidentified. Not a local. A knife.” She stabbed a finger into the middle of her forehead. “Got that from Richard, you know Richard Major? He’s over by the low acid orange juice.” “Um.” Chellis almost broke his neck snapping it to look the other way, toward the door, thinking run away, run away. But he’d already been spotted and tagged. The guy was headed down the aisle toward him moving with a slick strut, as if his ankles were oiled. Richard Major, aka Dick Major, aka Major Dick, set a slim, shapely bottle on the counter – some ginseng-ginko-green tea-EDTA 14 concoction with writhing serpents on the label – and gave Chellis a brisk clap on the shoulder. “Chilly Willy, man, is that really you?” “Hey, Dicker.” High-school acquaintance, say no more. He’d check for a bruise later. “Man, this I cannot believe. Someone told me you were . . . uh, gone.” “Been keeping a low profile Dick, but not that low.” “Ha, so you back for a visit, or what? Can’t believe we all used to live in this hick town, eh?” “Yeah, ha. Yourself?” “The Big Smoke. Reputation management. Love it.” Dick gave the pocket of his slinky, pricey suit a promiscuous pat, slid his hand in, and pulled out a platinum card. This he presented to Mrs. Pnin, who was furiously scratching her head. “You?” “Me? Consulting.” Chellis delivered this not-entirely fabulist piece of information in a brusque, manly tone, as if blocking a punch. “That Lexus out front yours, Dick?” The one he’d dinged ever so slightly on the passenger side while wrenching open his own cheap, piece-of-crap car door? “Yep,” Dick smiled. “Nice.” Chellis smiled back. While waiting for Dick to sign for the drink, Mrs. Pnin was now absentmindedly scratching her plump white arm with his card, scooping her DNA onto it like dip on a cracker. This reminded Chellis of that cadaverous appetizer Elaine made last year for Halloween, goblin green it was and served in a cunning pottery skull. Exhumus she called it. It was quite a hit. “Say, what about this murder business?” Chellis asked. “I hear you’ve got the inside story, Dick?” And didn’t he always? “Nah, not me. Know some of the cops involved, but they don’t give much away.” He turned to sign the receipt and retrieve his card. His signature amounted to nothing more than a tail with a tiny head, a perky sperm. “Thanks, Mrs. Pnin. Gotta go. Good seein’ you again, Chilly. Wait’ll I tell Di, man, she always thought you were hilarious. Ever in the city, eh, look us up.” “Sure thing.” How about that, old Dicker had gotten hitched to Diane Ryder. One of the glyceride twins, Di and Mona, very bad for 15 your health. And now it was Dick and Di? There was a moralistic little slogan for you. “Drive carefully,” was his chirpy addendum. It was the most bruising thing he could think to say, but apropos, considering that Richard Major had killed Elaine’s best friend. Chellis perused the breath mints, moodily. “So, Mrs. Pnin, how are the kids these days? They enjoying school?” Mrs. Pnin resumed her grim expression. “Lice,” she said. * Chellis entered the Twilight Zone, the nob-hilly part of town where the Big Bad Wolf didn’t even bother to stray, for the houses were all made of brick and solidly mortared with privilege. Here serenity lay so thick it had a nap you could rub between your fingers. The windows were bowed, the gardens lush, the maples towered – although not for long, seeing as the trees were being quietly undermined by the Asian longhorned beetle – the meek busily inheriting the earth. Elaine resided in this luxe neighbourhood thanks in part to her Comedo Vac, SuckZitUp, one of her more lucrative inventions, but mostly because of the Perfect Man’s pedigree and inheritance. He did also have a joblet. What was it, again? Oh yes, lawyer. Patents mainly. The Perfect Man’s perfect part-time play profession. Otherwise he picked pecks of pickled peppers. And being 100% ideal, he uncomplainingly performed other menial chores, and to prove it there he was in the driveway of 13 Hitchcock Crescent washing his Jag. Having forgotten his shades at home in the pocket of Uncle Bob – his leather jacket and only relative – Chellis was attempting to peer out of the corners of his eyes without turning his head. He didn’t want to get caught gawping. Viewing dear Vaughan was like observing luck incarnate. So much good fortune had been invested in the man that it was hard to see how he contained it all. No wonder his muscles bulged. Chellis did feel that muscles in general, and the Perfect Man’s in particular, were highly overrated. There was something alarmingly geographic about them. High maintenance, too. If Chellis wanted a six-pack he’d head for the beer store, as would any intelligent individual. Vaughan had on a Stanley Kowalski undershirt (as 16 played by Marlon), a pair of Khaki shorts straight out of some Asian sweatshop (go beetles go!), and appeared to be wearing a shammy cloth for a hat. No, wait, that was his hair. Perfect. He could polish the car with his head. Might as well use it for something. No sign of Elaine. She’d be hard at work, ferreted away somewhere deep in the house, hand sunk up to her elbow in a bucket of wingnuts. Chellis considered stopping on some fictional pretext. He could ask to use the phone – there was that urgent matter to discuss with Hunt – or the bathroom, speaking of urgencies: veni, vidi, wee wee. Although it was usually a bad idea to venture into Elaine’s bathroom, locus of many trial-inventions. One’s most valued extremities were always in danger there. Stepping on a weigh scale could be like stepping on a land mine. The last time he’d visited, he stuck his finger in what he took to be a sample of Vaughan’s hair product – a clear gel substance prematurely ejaculated from its fancy tube onto the counter – and had ended up dancing around the room in excruciating pain as his finger sizzled and burned. Nah, no stopping. He was already in her bad books, and only today apparently had begun to worm his way out. No point in blowing it. He had been unjustly accused, mind. How was he supposed to know? And . . . what was that? Having finally divested his gaze from the spectacle of the labouring husband, Chellis noticed a peculiar conical-shaped, tent-like structure on the front lawn. It appeared to be made of straw (Big Bad Wolf take note). What, the Champions had company? From the South Seas? Mysteries were compounding as the day progressed. The thing shuddered slightly as he drifted past. Time to kill, he drove up and down the streets of the well-heeled on the lookout for an Open House. Finding a Hunt Realty sign stuck on one of these prim lawns would be sweet, for that would amount to a Wide Open House and possibly some liquid refreshment. No dice. There wasn’t a single faux-Georgian or pseudo-Tudor on the market. Everyone happy happy happy. Not an itchy foot in the whole place. Unless the residents had already fled to their play houses in Tuscany, where they could live more intensely and experience anecdotally rich crises with the plumbing, their lean cheeks plumped out with fatta in casa con il rosmarino e la salvia. Seems Chellis remembered a time when KKK stood for something else other than the price tag of a house. 17 Hunt wouldn’t mind getting his hands on one of these babies, but usually got stuck with the handyman specials over in their part of town. Funny, you didn’t really need to travel halfway around the world for cheap wine, colourful peasantry, and no-show contractors. The other side of the tracks would suffice. He dawdled along, taking in the scenery, and spotted two Beware of Dog signs, and one Beware of Human. Beware of Wag, more like, although some jokes did constitute useful advice. How did someone end up with a knife slotted in his head like one of those wooden kitchen blocks? Too busy watching his back? Montenegro, he thought. Good film, although the only part he could recall was the guy wandering around with a knife stuck in his forehead, a genuine sinus buster. He decided that it was a shade corny this murder, as far as genre goes. A cozy – if not for the victim. Tempus fugit and so did Chellis. Somehow he’d messed around too long and was late. He sped out of town toward Mrs. Havlock’s country place. The town sign pleaded ingratiatingly in a tourist script, begging for a return visit: PLEASE COME AGAIN, WE’D LOVE TO SEE YOU!!! The flip side was even worse: WELCOME TO FARCLAS! CANADA’S PRETTIEST TOWN HOME OF THE CHAMPION POWER TOOL BIRTHPLACE OF DELORES ‘SHAKE IT’ DELANGE FRIENDLY, SAFE, FUN!! A GREAT PLACE TO GROW YOUR HAIR!!! Oh yeah? 18 About the Author Terry Griggs is the author of Quickening, which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, The Lusty Man, and Rogues’ Wedding, shortlisted for the Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize. Her children’s books Cat’s Eye Corner, The Silver Door, and Invisible Ink have been nominated for multiple children’s writing awards. In 2003, Terry Griggs was awarded the Marian Engel Award in recognition of a distinguished body of work. She lives in Stratford, Ontario. photo: david burr About the Illustrator Nick Craine has illustrated two acclaimed screenplay adaptations for filmmaker Bruce McDonald: Dance Me Outside: The Illustrated Screenplay and Portrait of a Thousand Punks: Hard Core Logo. His illustrations have appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, UTNE Reader and elsewhere. He is currently at work on a collaborative book project with author and book designer, Angel Guerra. He lives in Guelph, Ontario with his lovely family. photo: sandy atanasoff M eet the Perfect Man... no, no, he’s not the hero of Thought You Were Dead. That would be Chellis Beith, literary researcher, slacker, reluctant detective, and a man bedevilled by every woman in his life. There’s his lost love, Elaine Champion, a now happily married inventor who uses him for market research, his best friend’s dotty ex-wife, Moe, his two vanished mothers, and his menacing boss, Athena Havlock, a celebrated writer who herself becomes involved in the dark side of fiction. The humour is wild, the language a thrill, the mystery within marvellously deft and daft. And as for the Perfect Man... well, nothing is as it seems. Is it? Thought You Were Dead is the most unconventional of all murder mysteries, turning the genre completely on its head, skewering clichĂ© and staid sensibilities with evident glee, and is further evidence that Terry Griggs is sui generis: an original and completely inimitable literary voice. “Griggs’s talent for creating engaging characters, both major and minor, her inventiveness with language, her mischievous humour and her refreshing sense of the absurd are sure to please and delight.” —The Kitchener/Waterloo Record $19.95 CAN / $18.95 US BIBLIOASIS EMERYVILLE , CANADA w w w. b i b l i o a s i s . c o m

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