Thrilling Detective is really
pleased to present the following excerpt from what's shaping
up to be one very promising private eye novel-in-progress.I if
Jack can maintain the mood through a whole book, it's gonna be
one hell of a read. See if you don't agree...
Truth Is The Perfect Disguise
An excerpt from a novel-in-progress
by Jack Curtin
........I gave a head
fake to the right and waited until the guy guarding me, who still
hadn't figured out that I was left-handed, leaped awkwardly in
that direction, then put up a jump shot over him as he came down.
It felt good leaving my hand but rattled wildly off the front
of rim. It was my eighth shot and eighth miss of the night. Disgusted,
I waved for a substitute and staggered over to the sidelines
to join wiser men than I who had already foresworn rumbling up
and down the hard asphalt court in the humid August heat. After
accepting such condolences as were offered, I wrapped a towel
around my neck and settled in to wait for another loss to be
put on the books.
white men play a young man's game badly is an unlikely spectator
sport, but this particular playground had a cachet stretching
back to the days before good professional players became automatic
millionaires merely by dropping out of college. Back then, not
yet victim to the mindless arrogance of too much money, pros
and would-be pros would participate in amateur leagues during
the off season to perfect their games in hopes of more playing
time or, more likely, hoping to be able to hang on for one more
winter to the best gig they would ever know. Watching summer
league games under the lights had become something of a local
habit as a result. That time was long past, but the habit persisted
and we always drew a decent sized crowd whenever we played. In
fact, the audience was often more interesting than the game and
my attention gradually shifted from the court to the clumps of
onlookers standing or sitting on the lawn around the playground
........I felt him
before I saw him, absurdly out of place in his coat and tie among
the weekly regulars. James Francis O'Brian himself--professional
Irishman, professional Catholic and all-round pain in the ass--a
man who most certainly had not arrived at this less than convenient
suburban playground by accident at nine o'clock of a Wednesday
night. I wasn't entirely surprised to see him. I definitely wasn't
happy to see him.
realized I'd spotted him, he moved slowly around the court and
came over to stand beside me. His hand moved tentatively then
stopped, as he decided not to offer it. A wise decision. Instead,
keeping his eyes on the court rather than meeting mine, he spoke
a single sentence out of the corner of his mouth like a gangster
in a bad movie. "Father Jack wants to see you."
the story which had been splashed all over the front pages that
morning. "I'll just bet he does," I said.
drives on campus without a permit."
no way the guard at the gate wanted to let me onto the campus.
It would make his night, maybe his whole week, if he could force
me to turn around and park in the lot across the street so I
would have to make the long walk back up the entry drive. Chances
are he'd give me a hard time again when I got to him on foot.
It was like I'd never been away. Twenty years, and still the
same old bull.
an appointment with Father Hanlon."
told me nothing about no appointment."
at me skeptically. Not entirely without reason, I suppose. The
university was less than a ten minute drive from the playground
and all I had done--after somewhat childishly but with great
satisfaction hanging around until O'Brian left, so he would have
to wonder if I would accept the command from on high--was throw
on cutoff sweatshirt over my tee shirt and shorts. I was still
damp with sweat and an unlikely candidate to meet with anyone
of any import at ten at night, much less the best known and most
respected university president in the entire Philadelphia area.
Not that it would have mattered if I'd been in a three piece
suit. Guys who ended up in jobs like this guy had enjoyed making
things difficult for anybody and everybody, as if that somehow
made their own miserable lives more tolerable. For all I know,
call the office. He'll tell you it's okay."
to call the office. 'Sides, Father ain't there this time of night.
He back in the monastery."
call. See if anybody answers."
........He shook his
head. "No need."
like I really cared if I got on the campus or not, I told myself,
even as I belied that comforting lie by taking a more direct
approach. A bully would always understand bullying. "Look,
friend, I'm either driving up this driveway or turning around
and going home. Either way, I won't be here two minutes from
now. And if I go the wrong way, you can bet your ass you won't
be here tomorrow."
For a moment I thought he was actually going to
get physical about this whole silly business, but instead he
spun around and went to the booth. He picked up the phone and
dialed. Talked. Listened. Wasn't at all happy about what he heard.
He came back out and, without looking at me, lifted the gate.
........He stood scowling in the roadway, shrinking in
my rearview mirror as I drove up the campus, moving slowly between
the dark old stone buildings where the wisdom of the ages was
imparted to a new generation which increasingly did not care
and could not learn. At least this guy was black, rather than
one of the alcohol-reddened Irishmen who manned the barricades
during my youth. Progress of a sort.
........In my day
you could drive all around the campus once you got past the gate,
but the eruption over the years of enough new structures to accommodate
vastly increased enrollment had cluttered up what had once been
a sprawling green enclave. Now there were barriers tossed in
some undecipherable pattern across most of the roads and paths
which stretched from here to there. I wended my way through the
maze, taking some consolation in the fact that it was dark so
I wouldn't have to deal with the question that always plagued
me on my rare trips back to this realm of my wayward youth: why
in hell didn't they at least try to make the architecture of
the new blend in with the old so that there could be some sort
of aesthetic balance to the place? We used to joke as undergraduates
that the school's ultimate aim was to cover the entire campus
in asphalt and ugly buildings. Who knew?
........I got as close
as I could with the car, then parked on the grass next to the
cemetery where they used to bury all the dead priests until they
ran out of room. Now they're running out of priests. Possibly
there is some logic to the universe after all.
........It was only
a couple of hundred yards to the front steps of the administrative
offices located in the second oldest building on campus, a Gothic
monstrosity linked by an enclosed second story walkway to the
even more monstrous monastery, the oldest building on campus.
Walking that passageway, you crossed from a closed, cloistered
world darkened by centuries of repression and blind faith into
a modern world where the exchange of ideas and the explicitness
of science held sway almost instantaneously. It took a certain
kind of man to make that journey successfully day after day.
........A man like
Office was on the south corner of the second floor. Dim night
lights set at periodic intervals along the baseboard gave the
stairwell and corridors an eerie feeling but provided just enough
vision to enable me to make my way toward the light that streamed
from the open office door like a beacon. That was an image I'm
sure the present occupant of that hallowed place would appreciate,
which meant it was one I never intended to share with him.
........The two of
them were huddled in the far corner talking. They had to have
heard me coming--even in sneakers my footsteps had echoed loudly
down the empty hall--but neither looked up immediately when I
entered. O'Brian had that sour look on his face which those who
knew him well were all too familiar with, the look that he never
let his friends in the press see. He appeared to be talking rapidly.
Too rapidly, I'd guess. Hanlon was expressionless and seemingly
attentive, though I be willing to wager he hadn't heard a word.
As O'Brian finished whatever self-serving crap he was feeding
his lord and master, they both turned my way, almost in unison.
face broke out into the famous smile that was as much a part
of his success as his highly touted skills as a manager of men
and money. I knew that smile well. He crossed quickly to greet
me, hand outstretched. His was a hand I would shake, despite
differences between us at least as great as those I had with
O'Brian. I'd be hard pressed to explain exactly why this was
you'd come," he said as if this was nothing unusual and
we got together all the time. Putting his arm easily around my
shoulder, he steered me toward the desk so smoothly and naturally
that it almost felt like it was my idea. O'Brian hadn't moved
at all. He just stood watching us, his eyes angry and bitter.
James Francis O'Brian was the sort of person who'd tell you,
with sad eyes and doleful tone, that he lived by the old platitude
that you should hate the sin but not the sinner. In my case at
least, he was congenitally unable to separate the two.
up a folder from the desktop and got right to it without preamble.
"This is everything we know about the" He paused, searching
for the right word. "the event you read about in the papers
this morning. I'd like you to look into it."
what makes you think I care what you'd like?" I almost winced
as I said it. The words and tone were harsher than seemed necessary,
even for me.
didn't react, instead giving me the "Father Jack" serious
look, the one he used when pressing a rich alumnus for money
or a politician for a special favor. That look that said I've
got you right where I want you. He paused briefly to let
me feel its full impact.
care, old friend," he said finally, "because this is
your chance to get even with the Church, with the University
and with me." He allowed the smile to light up his features
again. "And your chance to bring Matt Riley down."
he hadn't nailed it cold. I looked Jack Hanlon, once my best
friend in the whole world, straight in the eye and smiled back
at him for perhaps the first time in nearly two decades. "You
silver-tongued devil, you," I said, and took the file from
Copyright (c) 1999 Jack Curtin
Jack Curtin has been a freelance writer in the comics
and craft brewing trade press the last few years (said few years
being the most recent in a freelance writing and editing career
spanning three decades). Most of that writing has been non-fiction
to date, everything from features and articles for national and
(Philadelphia area) magazines and papers to corporate histories,newsletters
and annual reports for businesses and institutions.
He began working more seriously on his fiction last year,
and has already sold his first story,"After Billy Died,"
to Mystery.Net, the online mystery site which publishes
new stories every week. Late last year, he entered the first
three chapters of his crime novel-in-progress, Truth Is the
Perfect Disguise, in a contest conducted by the Sisters in
Crime section of CompuServe's Mystery Forum and took second place.
And head here for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct comments on the above story
and inquiries about submissions to
the editor, or check out this page.
"And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking
to a man that likes to talk."
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