Monday, March 28, 2011

A Hundred Little Lies excerpt by Jon Wilson

Everyone knows Jack Tulle as a widower, a doting father, and an honest businessman. The problem is, it’s all a lie.

For eight years Jack has enjoyed the quiet life in the sleepy little town of Bodey, Colorado where he owns and operates the General Store. He sits on the town council. He dotes upon his eight-year-old, headstrong daughter, Abigail. He is even being sized-up as a prospective new member of the family by the bank president.

But when the local saloon announces plans to host a grand prize poker tournament, Jack realizes it could spell trouble. One of the many secrets he’s been hiding is that he used to be a con man — mainly underhanded poker, but he wasn’t above the odd swindle when the situation presented itself. And a contest like the one his town is planning is sure to draw some old business acquaintances — fellows Jack would really rather not admit to knowing.

Of course there’s one man in particular Jack is worried about seeing — Tom Jude is the only person who knows the truth behind all his secrets. Tom wasn’t just Jack’s partner-in-crime, he was also the love of his life. And Tom knows things — like the fact that the little girl Jack is raising, really isn’t his...

As Jack scrambles to maintain his deceptions by lying to friends and neighbors as well as the child he has grown to love, he discovers the real truth: when your world is built on A Hundred Little Lies, exposing a single one of them can bring the whole thing crashing down.

A Hundred Little Lies
Cheyenne Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-9828267-5-1

Excerpt from Chapter Four:

When I got back inside the store, Davie and Abigail were standing together in the center aisle conversing in high spirits about something. He was fifteen and smart, and she didn’t like him just a little, she liked him a whole lot. Old lady Vaughn was there with her spinster niece, being ignored and looking none too pleased about it so I asked Davie if he was still hoping to get paid as I retrieved my apron. As stated, he was smart, so he knew what I was getting at and went off in search of his broom. I told Abigail: “Chores,” and reminded her that Marley had been shut up all day in the barn and no doubt wanted to stretch his legs. Sam Owens lived in a nice house a few blocks away so I had taken over the space behind his barbershop and converted it into a sort of makeshift corral. It suited old Marley fine. After getting everyone that I was responsible for moving, I approached the Vaughns and smiled. “How are you ladies this fine afternoon?”

They were just the type of gals to answer that question honestly, and it was a few moments before I got started composing their list. The old lady was dictating one item at a time, pausing after each to ask her niece if they really needed that, hadn’t they purchased that only last week, and was she sure that she’d looked everywhere before deciding they were out of it. I was smiling back and forth between them, looking like I was paying attention to their discussion while simultaneously doing no such thing, occasionally suggesting items since they were the sort who blamed you when they forgot something, and generally passing my day as usual when I heard Davie say, “Can I help you mister?” and I looked up.

He was standing just about three feet in from the door where he’d stopped when he saw me. True to type, he was extraordinarily well-dressed, rather like Liam O’Mara…and then again, nothing like him. O’Mara’s embroidered satin vest had been golden and his was green. O’Mara’s jacket had been brown and his was black. O’Mara wore a fat necktie around the collar of his white shirt, and he stood there with a long thin piece of black silk bound into a bow. O’Mara’s face was horsy and angular and severe and his was fuller, rounder, welcoming. Whereas O’Mara wore his silver hair parted and slicked down, his hair was like a field of golden wheat shining in the sun. It was also longer and swept straight back from his square brow. His moustache was two shades lighter, like sunshine itself. His eyes were deep blue seas, flashing sunlight off their turbulent waves.

“Did you get that, Mr. Tulle? I said another pair of thimbles; Miriam is forever misplacing them. Mr. Tulle? Mr. Tulle, are you quite all right?”

I suppose she asked me that because I was standing there looking like I’d seen a ghost—well, the sort of ghost you’ve been watching out for all day—the sort you’ve been expecting to materialize any moment. I said: “Davie, come finish up for Missus and Miss Vaughn,” which certainly was not my custom, and then offered the boy my pad and pencil.

Davie stood a moment, looking bewildered, but hurried over when it appeared I was going to drop my pad and pencil to the floor. He caught them in time, and I pushed him on toward the ladies. All the while I never took my eyes off those of the man standing just inside the door. I couldn’t.

For what seemed a painfully long time, I also couldn’t coax my legs into doing anything. The soles of my shoes might have been nailed to the floor. Then I managed to take two whole steps and the man extended his right hand. He wasn’t offering to shake, but rather signaling me to stop. All of his fingers were slightly curled except for the index, which was nearly straight and pointed, not straight up, but mostly up. Just a minute, that finger told me plainly and—since stopping couldn’t but prove a hell of a lot easier than starting had—I complied. The very left-most edge of my lips curled up.

His eyes caught it—I saw them dip for the briefest of instants—but he kept his expression grave. He took two slow steps of his own, to the side, as if he were preparing to circle around me, then stopped again, finally moving his eyes to look me completely up and down and he said: “That is one handsome apron.”

All I could say was: “Tom Jude.”

He smiled as if pleased I remembered his name, and reminding me of one of the things I used to live for. That smile. That smile that could make you forget just about everything else. He came on toward me then, extending his hand again and this time it was to shake. “You old jackass.”

Miss Vaughn gasped and her aunt nearly choked. Tom turned to them looking abashed but with just a sliver of that smile. It was more than enough to do the trick. When he said: “I beg your pardons, ladies; I lost my head in the heat of the moment,” I’ll be damned if that old lady didn’t smile right back at him and bat her eyelashes.

I slapped his hand and held it tight, looking straight into his eyes when he brought them back to me. I was shaking my head, smiling and somehow feeling on the verge of tears again. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come.”

He laughed and shook his head too, like what a crazy fool was I. We stood there shaking hands for a long time, too many things wanting and needing to be said for any of them actually to be articulated, and then realized we were being watched. Davie hadn’t so much as looked at the ladies, and the Vaughns had clearly forgotten all about shopping. The trio was staring at us as if expecting some sort of trick. I released Tom’s hand and rubbed mine on my apron. It was tingling as if the circulation had been blocked, yet warm and pulsing with life in a way I suspected it hadn’t in years.

“Don’t keep the ladies waiting, Davie,” I said, which still didn’t spur him into action, so I told Tom: “Why don’t we step outside?” I gestured back out the open door as I said that and Tom preceded me onto the sidewalk. As I followed him, I untied my apron and tossed it onto the floor just inside the door.

Of course, nothing much was changed outdoors. We stood looking at each other sideways, both waiting for something, or maybe searching for it, cautious and hopeful and primed to detect the faintest clue.

“When did you get in?” Among the many questions I might have rummaged up, that probably weighed in just above asking him what he thought of the weather, but I had to say something.

His smile was pleased, however, as he told me: “On the three-thirty.”

Since it couldn’t have been later than three forty-five, I’d wager his answer pleased me even more than my question had him. “Pleasant trip?”

He laughed, not loudly but sincerely, and shook his head again. “Jackass.”

I laughed too, and looked dopily down at the sidewalk, thinking twenty other bad things could have happened to me that morning and the afternoon still would have made up for it.

“How you been, Jack?”

I looked back up when he asked that to find him gazing inquiringly at my face. He seemed to be studying it, either reminding himself of it or confirming that it was all still there the way he remembered. His mouth was just slightly open, and just slightly smiling, and as I looked at it I felt the whole weight of our encounter push suddenly down on me. The world seemed to spin in a torrent around me. My eyelids drooped sleepily down over my eyes. I feared for a moment my knees might buckle. It was the most glorious and terrifying moment of my life.

I smiled as the sensation passed, leaving a queer mixture of contentment and anticipation in its wake. “I’ve been good, Tom. Really good. How’ve you been?”

For just an instant I thought I saw something dark flash over his face, a splash of confusion or maybe a spasm of fear. But he gave me a lighthearted shrug. “Oh, you know me. Life is an adventure.”

I chuckled. “Some things never change.”

He shot me another look as if my remark had been loaded, then shrugged again, not so lightheartedly. “Some things do.” He stepped away from me, putting a bit more distance between us before turning to face me directly. “Look at you. Shopkeep. Who would’ve thought?”

“Not me,” I admitted.

He studied me a moment more, as if truly amazed by what he saw. Finally he shook his head. “How did— How did you end up here? Bodey.” And then, as if that wasn’t quite enough: “Colorado!”

I scratched my ear, saying: “That’s a long story,” which strictly speaking was an untruth. I looked over at him and smiled out of the corner of my mouth. “Not quite fit for a casual conversation on the sidewalk.”

His head bobbed up. “Yeah? You feel like a drink? I passed a promising-looking tavern on the way down here.”

I grinned, thinking he couldn’t but be talking about the Diamond Plow, and that was too much irony for a start. “I can’t.”

He took a step toward me. “Sure you can.”

“No, I…” I gestured vaguely over my shoulder. “I have—”

“A store to run, sure, I know. But that boy can handle it ’til you get back. Come on, let me buy you a drink…for old times’ sake.” He reached out and took hold of my upper arm.

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1 comment:

Victor J. Banis said...

I've had the pleasure of reading this in advance, and I can truly say it's a delight. You really want to see these guys make it work, but the road to true love is a bumpy one. Great stuff.