Friday, April 10, 2015

Falling Up, Suspense: Chapters 1 & 2

I'm going to be giving away copies of this novel in celebration of the publication of my second novel, The Mayan Secret.

I began to write Falling Up while living in a tent beside the Rhine river.  Each morning I would wake up and shower in the camp restroom sink, put on a second-hand clip on tie, and journey into downtown Cologne, to teach English in a private language school.

Here is the link if you'd like to buy a copy:  http://amzn.to/xSgDVm



CHAPTER 1

Jumping rope in the loft made strange hollow sounds.  As he jumped Jesse stared at the industrial window that spanned the wall, rain dancing on a hundred little panes.  When he raised his gaze to gargoyles on the building across the street, he thought of the men hunting him. 
He heard a noise in the corridor outside and stopped jumping and listened.
Were they in the corridor, backs pressed against the wall, about to burst through the door? 
Run, his mind shouted.  Squatting down for a better look, he searched the crack beneath the door for a surveillance cable.  A drop of sweat fell from his nose and soaked into a plank of the wooden floor. 
Very slowly he lay the jump rope on the floor and rushed to the window.  The hum of Cologne’s student quarter, of distant laughter and rumbling beer trucks, bicycles rattling over the cobblestone street, sounded normal.
 When the door burst open he ran a few steps before he saw who it was.
"You alone?"  Bartholomew said with a Jamaican accent, rushing inside with a bundle of bamboo.  He stood like a prize fighter with wide shoulders and trim waist and a smile that made everyone like him, the perfect smile for a ladies’ man.  The colored beads in his dreadlocks clicked together as he turned right and left.
"Yeah, I’m alone."
"Okay, now listen here.”  He dumped the bundle on the couch.  "Mahn, I have something to show you."
Jesse crossed the empty hall of an apartment, stepping on thick dark lines where walls once stood.  "Did you look at that car I told you about?"
Bartholomew turned from the question and opened the door, waving into the hallway.  "Come, come, come," he said, stepping back as a young woman led a group of African children into the room.
Because of the woman’s olive skin and green eyes Jesse thought her Greek or Egyptian.  As he nodded hello he pulled Bartholomew toward the corner kitchen of white pressboard cabinets, his face burning as he leaned close.  "You bring strangers here?  Our records are here.  Are you stupid?"
"Listen, mahn—" Bartholomew knocked his hands away and stepped back.  "Those children were smuggled here for the sex trade.  They need help.  Besides, you been running around with those street kids all week.  I thought you had the great escape plan worked out."
"The police won’t get any records if the plan goes well."  He wanted to strike Bartholomew, but instead whispered:  "You gave me your word you’d finish our car deal."  He lowered his head and walked toward the window, feeling disappointed and alone, wondering if the gargoyles on the building across the street were watching.
The floor boards groaned as Jesse walked.  "Maybe it's time for me to leave.  I’m sick of Germany … cold feet, months without sunshine.  I could go to Mexico and soak up the sun like a lizard, build a palapa with a palm leaf roof, and stretch out in a hammock—just leave the rat race behind."  He stared across the room where the projector of his mind was playing a movie about Mexico.
Bartholomew walked over.  "We can still sell the cars.  I just have to help these kids.  You understand, don’t ya?"
Jesse placed his hands on the sill and looked down at the street below.  On the sidewalk he saw a Turkish kid with curly hair juggling apples.  Fear jolted him upright as if he had seen a car about to run him over.  "Bart, it’s the signal!  We got trouble.  The police are coming!"  He ran across the room.
"What trouble?"  Bartholomew leaned over and put his arms around the kids, then rushed to the door and peeked through the spy hole.
"It's Rashnew on the sidewalk.  There’s police on the street. They must think you’re dealing hash again.  From the rack beside the door Jesse lifted his jacket, fumbled with the buttons, then cursed and gave up when his fingers wouldn’t respond.  "Come on!"
A faint knock sounded through the apartment.
Jesse pressed his shoulder against the door and whispered, "Rashnew?"
"Yeah.  Open up."
He opened the door a crack.
"There's a cop watching your building.  He's dressed like a bum, but it's a cop."  Rashnew shuffled his feet and looked right and left.  His fingers raced over the buttons of his wrinkled, plaid shirt.  Every few seconds the teenager jerked his hand up and flicked a strand of curly hair from his eyes.
"Are you sure he's a cop?"
"Jesse!"  A loud noise, like someone moving a sofa in another apartment, reverberated along the corridor and the adolescent jumped like a cat startled into full alert, poised to attack or flee. "He's a cop.  When I was six I could spot one in a crowd.  You have to believe me."
"Okay.  Make the call and get your friends in place, just the way we practiced.  Here's fifty Euros."
"Fifty?  You think we’ll risk jail for fifty lousy Euros?"
"All right. Here!  Remember the signal."  He shoved several notes into Rashnew’s shirt pocket, closed the door and turned the dead bolt with a shaking hand.
"Bart!  Someone's watching the building.  I have to get the records out of here."  He raced across the room to the desk and shoved a stack of papers inside, then pulled an ice pick from the wall.  The calendar it supported dropped to the floor.
"Oh no!  What about the children?  We got big trouble, brudder."  Bartholomew ran from the door to the window, gripped the sill and stared at the street below.
"Erase the bulletin board.  Burn the answering machine.  Follow the plan.  Go!"  Jesse swung the pack over a shoulder, pulled his collar tight around his neck and flipped the dead bolt.
"I’m trying to tell you something!"  Bartholomew fired a volley of punches into the air.
"Oh shit!  Bart, why are you wearing that jacket?"  Jesse turned from the door and closed it.  His mouth hung open and the pack fell to the floor.
"I be talkin’ big here.  I have children to protect.  And you’re asking about my jacket?"
"You have three jackets:  Your strutting ladies’ man tuxedo you cut the tails off with my scissors, your Texas blazer, and that one, your bad-ass dealing jacket."  Jesse marched across the room and snapped an open hand chop to Bartholomew’s throat that stopped just short.  His hand and face contorted and painful sounds emanated from his throat as he fought for self restraint, anger and sorrow screaming inside him for violence.  "How could you?" he whispered, lowering his gaze.
"I been trying to tell you."  Bartholomew shook his hands in the air.
"Listen," shouted the woman, unlocking the door.  "I have to take these children away from here.  Call me later."
Jesse couldn’t think about her or the children.  Right now his life depended on getting the records away from the police and staying free.  "Why didn’t you tell me?  The police could crash through the door any second."
"Brudder—"
"We had a deal!  We sell some cars.  Maybe we don’t pay tax, but it’s not dope."
"This is hash, ganja mahn.  It makes you laugh and happy.  No one dies from the ganja, brudder.  Besides, it’s not yours."
"Tell that to the police when they break down our door."  Jesse lowered his head, feeling sad and tired.
"Look, the money from the hash is for those children.  That’s the only thing that could make me sell again."
"Serious?"
"They touched my heart, brudder."  Bartholomew patted his chest with a forceful blow.  "I know this is a good thing."
"What about our business?  The money from the cars keeps me alive! People are hunting me.  If I don’t get out of Germany soon they’re going to crack my skull like a melon."  He moaned and rubbed his face as if waking up.  "Damn, how could you put me in this spot?  You know I don’t touch that stuff."
He ripped open Bartholomew’s jacket.  Buttons fell to the floor and rolled about as he pulled a block of hashish from the inside pocket.  "Either I get this out of here or I go to prison.  Don’t ever put me in this position again, you understand?"
He put the hash into the pack, shoved it against Bartholomew’s abdomen and ran to the door.  "Wait for the signal.  Tomorrow we’ll talk, if we’re not in jail."

Jesse descended the stairs in huge leaps and bumped several people as he burst out the front door.  The smell of lamb kebobs and falafels filled the air.  Bars and caf├ęs lined the narrow, one-way streets. Turkish markets added color with pyramids of apples and persimmons on sidewalk tables.  The sidewalks were full of hungry students being called to the Mensa, the university cafeteria.  Twice a day it called its faithful home for a cheap, balanced meal.  And every student, every street person, knew the schedule.
He walked on tiptoes, peering over the heads of people around him, searching for movement in shadowy doorways, among groups of loitering students, between parked cars, but saw nothing unusual.  Just as he exhaled a sigh of relief, he noticed a man standing in a doorway across the street.
"You see him?"  Rashnew bumped his arm.
Jesse looked at the stranger once more, the dirty, torn overcoat, bits of leaves in his hair, and the hat held out to pedestrians.  "Look at his shoes."
"You always go for the easy stuff first."  Rashnew laughed.
"Easy stuff?  Okay, Mister Street Smart, let me hear your deductions."
The adolescent cleared his throat, stretched his arms out before him and wiggled his fingers like a circus magician.
"Oh, brother."
"Listen to a master at work:  First of all, his hands and nails are clean."
"How the heck can you see his nails?"  Jesse leaned forward and squinted.
"Second, not taking into account the black leather shoes that every cop in Germany wears, how many winos have a gold chain around their neck?"  Rashnew nodded and held out his hand.  "Five Euros!"
"Five Euros?  For what?"
"The lesson."
"But you missed something."  Jesse held up a finger to make a point, and glanced across the street.  Instead of holding the hat before him, as he had a moment earlier, the man stood shouting into a cell phone.
"Shit.  Go Rashnew, go!"  He pushed the boy away and watched him run along the sidewalk.  Now he knew the threat was real.  He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, accepting his fear and letting it flow through him.  If the police found his business records it no longer meant a simple tax violation.  The hashish in the bag meant prison time.  That he could not risk.  He would sacrifice his own life before getting captured.  In his mind he saw the escape plan: get the records out of the apartment, carry them to the Nippes strassenbahn stop, and let the street kids do their magic.
When he opened his eyes he counted, five, four, three, took out the ice pick, twisted the handle into the palm of his hand, which caused a searing pain to burn up his arm.  Anger rose inside him with the pain, making him anxious and alert.  And standing on the corner, surrounded by pedestrians, he saw no one.  He was alone, free, not part of any person’s life, and he loved it that way.  His hand burned as he lowered the weapon and waited for the traffic light to turn red.  When the signal changed and several cars stopped before him, he stepped into the street and placed the tip of the shaft against the lead car’s tire.  In the sidewall, he knew, there could be no patch, and by puncturing two tires, a spare would not solve the problem.  New tires would be needed, and that meant no movement along the street.  Leaning forward, he pushed the ice pick until a burst of air touched his hand, and then moved to the next tire, the next car.
When the light changed the cars rolled forward and stopped.  Horns blared.  A fat, balding driver jumped from his black sedan, looked at his flat tires and shouted into a cell phone.  Jesse sprang forward, weaving among pedestrians as he ran.  With traffic clogging the narrow street, it would be about an hour before a police car could get close.
He turned into one of the narrow driveway tunnels built for horse-drawn carriages, and sprinted to a brick wall behind his apartment building.  There he leaped and climbed a bit before his muscles locked up, an arm and a leg on either side of the wall, sirens screaming in the distance.  His heart pounded like a hammer on an oil drum, and he panted, wiped his face and looked at his shaking hand.  Staring at the swollen, red fingers and knuckles, he remembered his four-year-old son holding that hand, singing as they walked from the Danish summer house to buy bread on a warm morning.  He remembered the sky filled with singing birds.  As love for his son filled him, his muscles unlocked and his breathing returned to normal.  Jesse gulped in air, jumped to the wet concrete and ran across the parking lot.  When he reached the rear of his apartment building, he tapped on a drainpipe until a window opened.
"Here, don’t miss it."  Bartholomew dangled a red pack in the air.
Jesse caught it and shoved it beneath his coat.  Over the screaming sirens he heard whistles and the shouts of police within the building.  Inside his jacket he now carried a prison term, and doing time meant no more running, no more freedom.  If arrested he would be locked in a cage, waiting to be butchered, unable to flee the men who had pursued him for so long.
"They're breaking down our door!" Bartholomew shouted.
Jesse hopped from one leg to the other and lunged forward, his feet barely touching the gravel as he ran, and jumped the wall.  He remembered his son’s face, and felt rage tingle in every muscle.  All he had to do was reach the strassenbahn and ride to the Nippes station, where the team was waiting.  If he got that far the threat of prison would vanish.
"Get him!" someone screamed.
He landed on the far side of the wall, legs hurling him forward, pushing for greater speed, arms swinging high, scrapping the fabric of his jacket.  At the end of the tunnel he stopped running and sauntered along with shoppers on the sidewalk, never looking back or wiping the sweat from his eyes.  After several minutes, he pulled the pack from beneath his jacket and swung it over a shoulder.  Everywhere he looked he saw students with back packs. Finding him would be a policeman’s nightmare.
Something struck his shoulder as he crossed the streetcar platform.  He gasped, snapped his arm up for protection and spun around ready to scream and strike, to crush a windpipe or a man’s testicles, anything to escape.
"I'm sorry," a woman said.  "You're just kicking everyone today."  She tapped the foot of the child in her arms and cooed.
He felt his panic escape like air from a balloon, and waited among shoppers and students as the streetcar creaked and glided forward.  People shuffled into the carriage ahead of him, stamped tickets at the machines and moved to seats.  He dropped into a hard plastic bench, but felt too nervous and confined to sit and jumped up as an old man moved to sit beside him.  Jesse said excuse me and moved past him, into the standing area of the car, pressed his back against the window.  The doors closed with a burst of escaping air, but that noise seemed weak compared to the screech of brakes which shot through the carriage.
He bent down to get a better view of the intersection, and watched a green and white squad car skid to a halt in a cloud of burnt tires.  A civilian car tried to avoid it, spun out of control and hopped up the curb.  The police car doors burst open as four patrolmen jumped out.  Two ran toward Jesse and pounded on the streetcar door.  As the strassenbahn groaned and rolled forward, he blew them a kiss.
Three stops down the line, in the long underground station of Nippes, he left the streetcar with most of the shoppers and searched the station, knowing the police would soon arrive.  When he couldn’t locate his helpers he panicked, jerked the pack from his shoulder, ran a few steps like a javelin thrower, and just before letting go, he saw a familiar face.
A bum in a filthy trench coat, lying at the end of the underground station,
six beer bottles beside him, climbed to his feet, pulled his shopping basket away from the wall and argued with himself as he lumbered toward the crowd.  Suddenly the bum snapped to attention and looked beyond the passengers, toward four policemen running onto the platform."Go!" shouted the bum, shoved two fingers into his mouth and whistled.  Before the whistle died, he pulled a blanket from his shopping basket, revealing two packs identical to Jesse's, and sent the cart speeding across the platform.  With a quick movement he knocked the hat and wig from his head and dropped the trench coat, becoming a fit teenager in a jogging suit.
Jesse grabbed the cart, dumped his pack inside, and sent it speeding back.
Two adolescents joined the runner, making a trio of identical jogging suits.  Each grabbed a bag, leaped onto the tracks and disappeared into the tunnels.
Whistles and shouts filled the station as Jesse ran up the stairs.
"Halt!" shouted a policeman.  As Jesse passed the patrolman jumped over the center railing and hit him across the thigh with a night stick.
He dropped like a bag of cement and struck a step with his forehead.  His vision turned black.  A jolt of electricity shot through his brain and tingled in every nerve.  Warm blood ran down his face.  He struggled to open his eyes, felt his arms twisted behind him, and cold handcuffs clamped on his wrists.  Someone patted him down.  His feet struck each step as policemen dragged him along.  When the movement stopped something warm and smooth pressed against his cheek, and Jesse managed to open one eye.
"The same damn shoes," he whispered.




CHAPTER 2


The cold falling mist pricked his scalp like tiny needles.  Falsen rushed along the alley to a back door.  There he stopped and took several deep breaths, sweeping his gaze over the surrounding apartment buildings, looking for movement at the windows, searching for witnesses.
Could he do it?  Could he murder Tasha, the only person he cared about?  He removed a pair of surgical gloves from a coat pocket and listened to the rubbery noises as he pulled them on.
 Beneath his coat he checked the knife clipped to his belt and inhaled deeply, telling himself not to think about the things she whispered during passionate moments.  He had to focus.  The order had been given and in the drug trade no mistake went unpunished, especially in Amsterdam.  It was just another job.
He twisted the doorknob with slow, minute turns.  When the latch clicked, he opened the door slightly, grabbed the warning bell before it jingled and entered the hallway, crouching and staring into the darkness, straining his ears for the slightest sound.
Down the hallway he saw a muslin curtain.  Two chairs stood before it where Tasha’s clients secretly watched her perform.  From the other side of the curtain he heard a man's voice.  A woman answered and giggled.  As her voice aroused memories, Falsen paused and shook his head.  It was not Tasha’s normal voice, but that deeper one full of daring bravado she used during sexual episodes.  How could she use that voice with another man?
A burning sensation spread across his cheeks.  He stood still, not knowing whether to stay or go, love and pain and fury mashing his thoughts together.
Then he heard the growl, deep and vicious, the type that warned intruders of the dog’s size before they were torn apart.
He gasped, seized the knife, grinding his teeth and panting.  The knife hand shook from side to side, vibrating with the fear pumping through his muscles.
With lowered head, the Great Dane moved into view, ears back, fangs exposed, eyes flashing red in the light.  Its legs quivered as it turned its head, about to leap.  Suddenly the dog lifted up on its hind legs.
Falsen jumped back and flinched, ready for the pain and blood, ready for those massive jaws to clamp down on his leg and shred the flesh.  But instead of attacking, the animal whined and he knew it was not fully grown.  The puppy in it was uncertain and wanted to play.
The tension stretching every muscle in his body like a taunt rubber band instantly snapped.  He almost dropped to the floor, holding his body upright with a hand on his knee, shaking his head.  After a moment he wiped the sweat from his brow and held out his hand.
"Come on, big dog," he whispered.
When the animal finally came close, he patted its head and rubbed its ears, whispering the entire time, the rough tongue sliding across his hand.
He patted the animal and whispered as he crept toward the voices, the knife held up like the tail of scorpion, ready to strike.
His eyes never moved from the curtain in the doorway ahead.  Two yards from it he heard feminine yelping noises and moved the tips of his shoes to within an inch of the fabric.  The white muslin rippled as he leaned close, gazing through it into the room beyond.  Tasha, wearing her professional outfit of thigh-high leather boots and black corset, straddled the man on the bed beneath her, while another enjoyed her movements from behind.
"No, Tash'."  He closed his eyes and raised his face toward the ceiling.  Pain and sorrow rose inside him, twisting like a dagger in his heart.  While staring at the ceiling, the web of cracks in the plaster, the dog nudged him and grabbed his pant leg.  With one shake of its head it shredded the fabric.  He raised a fist to smack the idiot, but feared the noise might alert the threesome.  In disbelief he looked at the wet, shredded cuff, and thought about slicing the animal’s throat, but couldn’t risk alerting his prey in the next room.
He inched back from the curtain.  The rascal lowered its head to the floor, wanting to play, then ran over and grabbed his other pant leg.  That was too much.  Once Falsen got far enough from the curtain where a commotion might not be heard, he did a little dance, swinging fists in the air, releasing anger without a sound.
The Great Dane turned its head sideways and wagged its tail.
With a lot of pats and whispers the dog lay down.  He couldn’t risk waiting any longer.  The trio might finish any second.  Gripping the knife with a new anger he stepped toward the curtain, curled his fingers in the fabric, calculated the distance to his victims and the instant he should charge into the room.
From there he reached out to his prey, stretching his senses, wanting to connect with them through taste, smell and sound.  With long steady breaths over and over, he closed his eyes and rocked his head until he smelled them, their cologne, sweat oozing from their skin, the stinking tobacco, and heard their moans and cries, the bed creaking, the sexual squishing noises.  He even felt their hearts beating, pounding with ecstasy.  Nothing else in the world existed. This was his reason for living, this sliver of life poised on the edge of death where his mind throbbed with these sensations, where he felt more alive than a million other moments combined.  This moment was an orgasm of consciousness.
When the exact moment came to charge into the room the beast grabbed his pant leg again.  This time his anger overrode his common sense.  He jumped back and grabbed a carved chest from the table to crush the dog's skull.  But one of the little drawers fell to the floor.
He froze, turned toward the curtain. The only sounds he heard were moans and giggles.  His intended victims had not heard.
"Stay away or I’ll put your testicles in the food dish," he whispered, turning to see what had spilled from the drawer.
For a long time he stared at the object, and each time the woman in the next room giggled, memories of her flashed before his eyes.  He remembered Tasha laughing and rolling in the snow at Verbier, her skies sliding down the run.
When the dog moaned and scratched his back, Falsen snapped the knife past its nose.  "I'll cut ‘em off."  But when the puppy whined he had a change of heart and patted its head until it lay down.
Moments later he slipped his hand off the dog’s snout and picked up the little vile of white powder that had fallen from the drawer.  He was now confronting the fear that had plagued Tash’ for so many years, calling to her from the shadows like a secret, unforgettable lover, tempting her to return.  He exchanged her vile for one from his pocket, put it in the little drawer, and sat the chest on the table.  Now even a small dose would be fatal.
"I'll leave it up to you, Tash’," he said.  "The final choice is yours."  He crept around the room collecting his belongings.  Robe and slippers, photo album, and Star of David medallion he stuffed beneath his coat.  Now he could set his plan into motion.
The bell jingled as he opened the back door.