Sunday, August 19, 2012

An Excerpt From My New Novel, "Perfect Money"

© 2012 Boyd Norton

Chapter One.

Timing is everything. When you think about events in your life, imagine how different things might have been if you had been delayed by a minute or so when an important event took place for you. You could have missed that chance meeting of an old friend who changed the direction of your life – maybe a stock tip, for example. Well, maybe that’s not a good example in my case, since I don’t own any stock. At least, not any more. Anyway, maybe he introduced you to someone who would have a profound influence – like that incredible woman that forever changed your sex life.
Or instead of being late, how about if you had been early by a minute or even ten seconds. The guy that ran the red light might have creamed you at the intersection. Minutes, sometimes seconds, make all the difference in our lives.
            If I had been a minute or two earlier I would have reached the trail junction and gone off in a different direction. I think about this a lot, now that I have a lot of time to think. We all have lots of if onlys in our lives, but in my case one minute did make a difference. If only I had turned off the trail. If I had, it is most certain that the Secret Service, FBI, IRS, Treasury Department, mafia, the CIA and maybe even the KGB would never have entered my life. And I would have missed the dog shit.
            I hate mountain bikers and this guy gave me reason to hate them even more. You see, I walk a lot in the mountain parks here in Sprucehaven. I do this two, three times a week – been doing it ever since I moved here 30 years ago. But nowadays the mountain bikers are totally out of control. Hells Angels in Spandex. And this guy came screaming down the trail straight toward me. I had no choice but to jump out of the way and that’s when I stepped into the big pile of dog shit.
            Sonofabitch. Man, I was pissed. I stood there scraping my foot in the grass, trying to get the stuff off.  These were a brand new pair of REI hiking shoes, the kind with vibram soles and Gor-Tex top to make them waterproof but breathable. They were breathing, all right, and right now they were gasping over some really foul dog-do. A few minutes later, when I looked up, I see the guy coming back. Only this time he’s walking, pushing the bike and holding his hand out in supplication. He’s out of breath and I can’t make out what he’s saying until he gets closer.
            “Listen, I’m really sorry,” he said between gasps. He stopped about ten feet away, maybe afraid that if he got closer I might beat the shit out of him. The thought crossed my mind, but, being basically a non-violent person, I dismissed it. Besides, he was pretty big. In fact, he was built like a Broncos linebacker – lean, mean and powerful looking. Before responding, I looked him over carefully, trying to determine if I had seen him before around town. I mean, we don’t have very many African-Americans living in Sprucehaven – almost none, in fact. Sprucehaven is a community made up of wealthy white collar rednecks, an hour’s commute from Denver, and most of those folks work in Denver at high paying jobs. But this guy didn’t look like one of those yuppie rednecks. So I figured he was one of those flatlanders from Denver that come up here to use our mountain parks.
            “I’m giving it up,” he said suddenly. “I mean, I gave it a try and I just don’t like it.”
            “What are you talking about?” I asked.
            “Mountain bikes. When I moved here my friends said if I wanted to enjoy the mountains, I had to get a mountain bike. Trouble is, I spend all my time looking down at the trail, trying to keep this thing under control, and I haven’t had a chance to enjoy the scenery.” He was still a little out of breath.
            I was beginning to like this guy. While he was talking I was moving around, scraping my foot in the tall grass, and that’s when he noticed what had happened. He starting giggling.
            “I really do apologize,” he said between giggles. “Listen, I’d be happy to buy you a new pair of shoes. I mean, those look like some really good hiking boots and I’m going to invest in a pair myself and I’d like to …”
            “Forget it,” I said. “These’ll clean up okay. I’ll hose ‘em down when I get home.” I was still a bit miffed.
            “Okay, at least let me buy you a beer.” He looked at his watch. I looked at mine. Four thirty. I had already been walking for an hour. A cold one sounded good to me.
            “Yeah, okay, I’ll take you up on that.”
            “Good, and maybe you can help me figure out how I can unload this damned bike. I’m Sam, by the way, Sam Carter.”
            “No shit?” I said.
            “Do you mean that literally or figuratively,” he said, looking down at my shoe.
            I laughed. “You’re not gonna believe this, but my name’s Carter too. Jake Carter. We must be related, somewhere back in the family tree, right?”
            “You really think so?” he laughed in response.
            “Ya never know. I hear my great grandfather really got around.”
            “Mine too.”

            The Cat House serves Fat Tire and Breckenridge ales on tap, offered up in pint glasses shaped just like the ones in English pubs. That’s one of the reasons I like it. Another is that it’s quiet, unlike that goddamned sports bar with all the cretins yelling over some stupid basketball or football game on those big TV screens. And it’s certainly quieter than Jugs, the sleazy biker bar on Main street that has loud rock bands every weekend. Both of those places attracted all the newcomers here, the rich yuppies just in from California or Texas and bored to death over living in the mountains. So far, the Cat House, actually Catherine’s Café, hadn’t been discovered and a small steady clientele consisting of some of us old timers enjoyed quiet evenings here, free from all the smoke and noise. Problem is, it’s also free of the loose women that just moved here. But you can’t have everything and the beer is good.
            “So what do you do, Sam?” We were slowly savoring our second round of ale, making small talk and nibbling on peanuts and chips from the big bowls Cat had placed on the table. Cat, the owner, is this really good looking forty eight year old woman that puts most twenty year olds to shame. She has what you would call great groceries and today was wearing very tight Levi’s with an open top blouse that, when she bent over to serve the beers, showed off a pair of the greatest tits this side of the Continental Divide. Not big tits, mind you, really big ones are gross. But, these are, you know, just right. Aesthetically perfect. Cat had moved here in the early 80s from Chicago, just after the peak of Sprucehaven’s hippie years, and just after the time I got here. We consider ourselves among the old timers now. We dated for a while – actually, screwed our brains out every chance we got – but eventually found other partners. We’ve remained good friends ever since, though I rarely see her anymore, even here. Her little café was run by a few employees and she showed up only on occasion.
            “Actually, I was a partner in a startup company, and suddenly became unemployed,” Sam said. He made a chuckling sound, but not one that indicated he was happy. It was one of those bitterly sardonic snorts that people make when they are really pissed at something.
            “You owned the company and you got laid off?”
            “Yeah, something like that. Actually, I was forced out. And before that really happened, I quit.”
            “So what’s the deal?”
            Before answering he took a long pull on his glass of ale, nearly finishing it. I got Cat’s eye and motioned for another round. This was getting interesting. Also, I wanted to check out Cat’s blouse full of goodies again. Been a long time.
            “A few years ago a friend and I started this company in Silicon Valley. I’ve got a degree in electrical engineering and a master’s in physics.” He paused to see if I registered surprise. I tried not to.
            “We came up with a solid state process,” he continued, “for certain high speed switching in telecommunication systems. Allows for millions of communication channels to operate simultaneously on existing fiber optic phone lines. My partner was a genius at raising money, so we started the company. Went public. Made a fortune the first year. Then my partner talked me into a deal. Seems a big company wanted to buy us out. So we sold. Made another fortune. And they kept us on to run the company as one of their divisions.” He stopped to take a sip from the full glass placed in front of him.
            “So, who’s the company?”
            “Your telephone company,” he laughed.
            “You mean . . .”
            “Yup, none other.”
            “So what happened?”
            He took another sip of the dark ale.
            “Same thing as happened elsewhere, same thing as Enron, Goldman, all the fuckers. Big boys lied about earnings, inflated the stock, quietly sold theirs, then ran off with big bucks while leaving the rest of us screwed. All my profits were on paper, worthless paper now.”
            “You lost everything?”
            “Almost. Fortunately, I sold some of the stock when the company was still mine. Salted it away. Not much, but enough to get by for a while. Problem is, I bought this big damned house here in Sprucehaven and payments are killing me. My savings aren’t going to last long at that rate.”
            “So, what do you plan to do?” I asked.
            “Don’t know. I’m mulling over some projects I’d like to do. I’d also like to get even with the bastards. It’s not bad enough they screwed me, but do you know what they did? Right after they bought my company, they started laying people off. Good people, people I had hired myself and knew personally. Downsizing. Popular term these days. You know, I’m a capitalist but I hate capitalism. They’re all greedy bastards and don’t give a shit about people. It all started when they had that shrub in the White House with the same philosophy”
            I nodded in agreement. I didn’t quite know what to say. Suddenly he changed the subject.
            “What about you?” he said.
            He caught me by surprise. I was getting a bit mellow from the beer and was fascinated by his story. It took me a moment to collect my thoughts.
            “Uh, well, I guess you could call me a freelancer, meaning unemployed. I used to work as a graphic designer for a big Denver company. They got bought out by a Fortune 500 company. Kept me on. In fact, made me head of the graphics department, but it was pure hell. The company was run by bean counters and no one had any imagination. I used to come up with these great graphics ideas for advertising and promotion and the first thing they wanted to know was how much it would cost. Shot down most of my ideas.” I took another sip of ale to lubricate my voice.
            “I stayed on long enough to get a great retirement package, then I took early retirement about five years ago. I lucked out, because they were downsizing too and to get rid of some of us high salaried folks, gave us a good retirement deal. But just last year they fucked me over.”
            “Another of those big corporate scams – almost like yours. Company started going down the tubes, began selling off assets, finally filed chapter 11. And guess what? They had been dipping into the employee retirement fund. There was almost nothing left and nothing any of us could do about it because they were in bankruptcy. Of course, the big execs made out like bandits – literally – with multimillion dollar bonuses and retirement packages. The rest of us got screwed.”
            “So what do you do now?”
            “Like I said, I freelance. Graphic design, web sites. Also, I’ve been a closet writer and photographer for years. I sell an occasional article to small magazines. Travel and adventure stuff here in the Rockies. But my real dream is to start my own publishing company to do guide books and travel books and stuff like that. I know, I know, the publishing business is going down the tubes these days. But you know what, small publishers that have a niche market seem to be doing okay.”
            My monologue really caught his attention. He leaned forward excitedly, almost spilling his beer.
            “Incredible,” he said. “That’s something I’ve always wanted to do too - publishing. After a while science and engineering got to be too – I don’t know. Too sterile, I guess. Uncreative. So I started writing. I began a novel, but never finished it. And I got into photography too. Bought a whole big Leica outfit. This was in the days when I could afford it.”
            “Well, I’d be happy to take you on as a partner, but I don’t see much of a future for our publishing empire, what with the two of us being broke. Or almost broke.”
            Just then Cat came to the table with another round of beers for us.
            “This one’s on me, guys,” she said, setting down the ales in front of us.
            “Hey, Cat, I haven’t seen much of you since you got employees running the place.”
            “Yeah, it’s been nice having time to myself. But I’m not sure I can keep my staff on, what with the economy tanking these days. It’s a struggle. Anyhow, Nancy called in sick today, so I had to fill in.”
            “Cat, I’d like you to meet a new friend, Sam. Sam, this is Cat – Catherine, owner and CEO of the place.” While they shook hands, I continued. “Guess what? Sam is a Carter too. We’ve decided we must be long lost brothers – my African-American side of the family.”
            She laughed. Cat has this sensuous, melodic laugh. I mean, it’s a genuine laugh, not the phony kind that so many affect these days. Hers is so beautiful and musical, with a real sexy naughtiness to it. When she laughs there isn’t a limp dick in the room.
            “That is one dynamite woman,” Sam said after Cat had left the table. “Are you two, uh, you know …”
            “Used to be, but, well, we drifted apart years ago. I just broke up with a woman and haven’t seen Cat in a while. Actually, I’m kinda thinking …”
            “Well, if you don’t, I will,” he said, laughing.
            The whole rest of the evening became something of a blur. There were more beers – too many more. We ordered a big pizza – Cat’s chef makes the best in town - washed down with still more beer. Sometime after midnight Cat drove us home – she had to because neither of us could walk very well, let alone drive, dropping Sam off first at his place, then taking me to mine. She stayed for a while and had a drink. I learned that she, too, had broken up recently from a very long relationship. I won’t go into details about the rest of the night, but those goodies were as good as I remembered.

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