The Testament of James, sixth excerpt

Added to the previous five excerpts, posted on this site in recent months, the following takes the reader through the first 20,000 words – the first third — of Vin’s new novel, “The Testament of James,” now on sale at www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=14453647811 . Only 650 copies of the numbered, signed, hardcover first edition of ‘The Testament of James’ will be sold, at an introductory price of $32.50, limit seven copies per delivery address. Amazon Kindle edition also now available here. This material is copyright c Vin Suprynowicz, 2014, all rights reserved.

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CHAPTER FOUR

WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON

Chantal found Matthew in the far corner of the store, reorganizing “Math and Physics.” Some books that were showing their age on the shelves he would mark down, others got stacked in a box for the dollar rack or to be repaired or donated. The biggest problem, though, was that left to their own devices the customers would not only re-shelve books spine-in or with their dust jackets akimbo, they would actually pull down the erotica from the top shelf and leave The Misadventures of Janice face-out with the children’s books. They’d tried posting “Your mother is no longer available to clean up after you” signs; it did no good.

Tabbyhunter was sprawled on top of the bookcase. Occasionally he would reach down with one paw and bat at Matthew’s hair. Matthew would reach up and catch the paw, hold it for a few seconds, then let it go just before the gray tiger could bite his hand.

“Matthew? Marian says Jackson is here.”

Jackson was a good customer, ’50s TV and classic rock ’n roll, posters, signed albums, autographed books, anything that had to do with San Francisco in the ’60s. But he was generally phone and Internet; it was unusual for him to be in.

“Jackson!” They did one of those four-handed handshake things that involved grabbing the forearm, like teen-age lifeguards. Chantal rolled her eyes. “Wish you’d let us know you were coming, we could have put on dinner,” Matthew continued. “As a matter of fact, how long can you stay?”

“No, no, I won’t put you out, I was just passing through. Some damned federal prosecutor got a hair across his ass that my associates were violating the Wire Act, guy’s been in some kind of a Nembutal trance for 20 years. We had to file restraining orders and seek a declaratory judgment, you wouldn’t believe the time and money it takes just to run a legal business any more. Well, maybe you would.”

“I would. Talk to people who sell ivory chess sets.”

“Ivory? Oh, right! Endangered species!” The explosive laugh. Jackson was a big man and his whole body shook when he laughed.

“Matthew, don’t mean to put you on the spot, maybe I could look around a little, only have a couple hours in town, but do you have anything for me?”

“I think I do.” Matthew led Jackson back beyond the curtained room of pricier books, past the “Please check with staff” sign, to the old windowless pantry adjoining the kitchen that now held the safes. Matthew worked one of the dials, swung open the massive steel door, and reached in, setting aside first editions of Anna Karenina, Riddle of the Sands, and Tarzan of the Apes, all protected in heavy Ziploc bags.

“Here you go,” he handed Jackson a newer book in a flashy modern dust jacket.

“Ah, Have Mercy!” Jackson nodded as he held the book reverently. “I grew up with the Wolfman. Of course, it’s not that rare a book unless it’s . . .”

“Signed, yes.”

The famed disc jockey, who introduced classic Rhythm and Blues to a generation of young Southern Californians from his pirate station South of the Border and was rewarded with a pivotal role in George Lucas’ breakthrough film American Graffiti, had just finished the first leg of his book tour when he died of a heart attack at the age of 57, arriving home after recording his show, July of 1995.

“Not many out there.” Jackson opened the book to the half-title, where the Wolfman, born Robert Smith of Brooklyn, N.Y. had signed in his hard-to-mistake black felt-tip scrawl, complete with his iconic pop-eyed wolfman cartoon.

“‘To my pals,’” Jackson read aloud, “‘Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, thanks for –’” and now the big man actually emitted an involuntary sob. “‘Thanks for putting me in your song.’”

“You know the song?”

“‘Ramble On Rose.’ But no one knew this existed, Matthew. I mean, no one even. . . . Jerry died that same year.”

“A month later.”

“You can sell me this?” Jackson had tears in his eyes.

“Held it to give you the first chance.”

“And you’re pretty sure it’s, I mean . . .”

“Look at the bleed-through on the reverse. See where it’s uneven from the upward pen strokes? That at least tells us it was free-hand. Now, a good forger can forge anything, but they usually stick to Fitzgerald and Hemingway and your Harry Potters. And in that case you’d expect someone to be asking a high price. But this showed up at an estate sale, going for the same money as the Clive Cusslers.”

“Yes. Of course, yes. I want this. Can you, can you pack it and ship it to me?”

“Marian will handle it.”

“Insured. Take a scan or something, so we can prove what it is if anything happens, that it exists.”

“Of course.” Matthew placed the other books back in the safe -– including the first of Haggard’s She that had been sitting on top -– spun the dial, and turned to guide Jackson back out to the front of the store. “Anything else you’re looking for?”

“Where did it come from? Do you know?”

“I can’t find any record it was listed in the Garcia estate, you know what a mess that was. Things like that could go to the children, a roadie, they hang onto it for awhile and then there’s another death or a foreclosure and the estate gets cleared by an executor or a distant relative who just wants the house empty so they can sell it, they don’t even look inside.”

“Amazing. Thank you. Thank you for holding that. It’s wonderful. And yes, there is something else, I don’t think it’s really in your line, I’m almost embarrassed to bring it up.” They’d arrived back at the front of the store, where Matthew handed over the Wolfman Jack book.

“We’ll ship this to Jackson, Marian, registered and insured. Take a scan of the page with the signature, first.”

“Of course.”

“It never hurts to ask, Jackson.”

“Well, you know my mother would never leave the house where I grew up, so I had the whole house picked up and moved to where we live now, put it back just the way it was. The kitchen has the original coal-burning stove.”

“You showed me.”

“That’s right.”

“But I thought you’d lost your Mom.”

“Yes, she passed last year.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, she had a good life. She was proud I did well, she said so. Although I’m not sure she ever understood quite what I do.”

Jackson was a mathematician who’d grown up sheltered, probably a bit of a nerd. His life had changed when he’d figured out how to program a computer to run online poker and blackjack tournaments and even to bet sporting events with an adequate percentage of success. All of these activities had been legal and then illegal and then quasi-legal again in various jurisdictions thanks to the bumbling or else the selective bribe-taking of various courts and Justice Department officials responsible for interpreting “The Wire Act,” a 1961 anti-racketeering artifact, until Jackson found he had to keep almost as many attorneys on retainer as brokers to watch his money.

“The good china was the Fiestaware, of course, we kept that, and I replaced anything that was chipped.”

“Original colors.”

“Oh, none of that new pastel stuff, no!” The loud, explosive laugh. “We ate off the blue and green and yellow for Sunday dinner; the orange stayed in the cabinet because it was radioactive.”

“Of course.”

“I know it sounds funny, but sitting in that old house is the only place I really feel peaceful, the only place I can really relax and think, anymore.”

“Doesn’t sound funny, at all.”

“What was missing was the glassware. When I was a kid we weren’t rich, you understand. Nowhere near. We started out with Ball jars, canning jars, very trendy in the barbeque joints now, and then I saved all the glasses that came as premiums at the fast food joints, the tie-ins with the TV cartoons, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear.”

“Hanna-Barbera.”

“But we used to say ‘Hannah-Barbra.’ You remember.”

“Sure.”

“But so many of them broke, or the paint wore off.”

“You’re re-building the collection?”

“I guess I’m not as young as I used to be. I lose patience, haunting the garage sales and the antique malls. And when a piece does turn up, so often it’s chipped, or they’ve been running it through a dishwasher and it’s stripped almost bare.”

“So you’re looking for a kindred spirit, someone who’s been working a long time to put together a collection like that in pristine condition, a full set.”

“I know, impossible.”

“Just the animals, though? Not The Jetsons or The Flintstones?”

“Oh, God, that would be the ideal, yes. Those are the holy grail. Those and Top Cat. But maybe too much to hope for. I’ve been trying.”

“I know a set, Jackson. Now, whether the owner will sell, or at what price, I haven’t checked, because this is the first you’ve mentioned it.”

“You’re not joking? You wouldn’t tease an old buddy? In fine condition or near it, one of each? Including a Jetsons and a Flintstones?”

“Oh, not one of each, I don’t think. No. A full table-setting of each, eight or 10 of each, with all the different characters, your Bam-Bam, your Pebbles, your Mr. Sprocket — no, I guess it would have been Mr. Spacely. Scores of the things, if not hundreds, and they looked ‘as new,’ to me, although I wasn’t doing a detailed appraisal, you understand.”

“Here?”

“Less than a mile away.” Les had arrived at the front door, was standing outside looking hopeful, not unusual at this time of day. Chantal waved for him to come in, which he did.

“Hi, Les, do you know Jackson?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Jackson, this is one of our neighbors, and a member of the Horrors, Les McFarlane. He helps in the store, sometimes.”

The two men shook hands.

“Not the Leslie McFarlane, author of the Blue Moon books?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Oh, no. I mean, I knew you were from Providence, but I never thought . . . Oh gosh, I haven’t brought any of my copies of your books for you to sign. I mean, assuming you’d be willing.”

“We have sets of all the firsts, Jackson. We’ll pull together a stack Les can inscribe for you. What I was hoping, Les, is — you know the Mighty Quinn, right?”

“Sure.”

“The kitchen above the store on Thayer Street, does he still have all that collectible glassware?”

“Last time I was there. It’s like a museum. But he doesn’t let just anyone up there.”

“If you took Jackson and introduced him, though? Jackson is a good customer.”

Matthew figured Les, even suffering hunger pangs, would catch the meaning, that Jackson occasionally spent actual money. The Golden Whale of the West.

“Well, actually, I was . . .” Les looked longingly toward the back of the store, which meant toward the kitchen.

“You haven’t had lunch, yet?”

“Right.”

“But I’d love to buy you lunch,” Jackson said, feeling himself back on solid ground. “And your friend Finn, too.”

“Quinn. But I’m not sure how much he’ll want to sell,” Les warned.

“No, no, just to see such a collection, I’d be overjoyed to buy lunch, or an early dinner, for both of you. I’m sure we’d find so much to talk about. You choose the place, whether we can arrange a purchase or not.”

“Matthew?”

“Tied up here, Les. Grab a piece of fruit and a water in the kitchen,” Les shuddered at the mention of water, “take Jackson along. If you can find Quinn tell him Jackson has come a ways to see his collection, that he’s seriously interested, then after he gives you a tour see if he wants to talk some business over a meal. Red Stripe, Taste of India, wherever you think, as long as it’s someplace with table service. Marian will set aside a stack of your books for you to sign later, we’ll ship them to Jackson’s address.”

When they’d gone Matthew told Marian to try and reach the Mighty Quinn by phone.

“If anyone can find him, Les will,” she said, breezily.

“Marian?” There was a note of warning in Matthew’s voice.

“Ah. A message to reach Quinn before Les and Jackson get there.”

“Exactly. Tell him under no circumstances is he to name a price. He’s to wait for an offer. Got it?”

“Got it.”

Two little girls who lived next door, maybe seven years old, came in the store to ask if Tyrone could come out and play.

“Yes, if you’re careful with him,” Marian replied, tucking the phone against her shoulder as she let it ring at one of Quinn’s haunts. “But it’s almost two o’clock, already. Make sure you have him home by five; you know we close at six.”

“OK, Marian.”

They were often open later if there were customers in, but the children would be due home at Captain Jack’s for supper and some margin of error was wise.

The giant orange cat made no move to escape as the waifs approached where he was lying on the rug. It took both girls to carry him, lying quite limp in their arms, out the door and down the steps to their empty baby carriage, one to carry his front and the other to maneuver his hindquarters.

They loaded him into the carriage lying belly-up, adorned his head with an elegant white baby bonnet, and headed off down the sidewalk. Unlike his evil twin, Mister Cuddles, Tyrone was a gentle giant.

A slightly older micro-bopper now showed up, 15 or 16, long legs, straight hair out of a shampoo commercial, mini-dress, looking for Les. Marian broke the news that she’d just missed him, refrained from telling the jailbait that she should go seduce someone her own size.

Now Rashid’s brother Hakim returned, with news that Rashid’s rental car had been found, parked neatly at the curb and decorated with parking tickets, a couple miles south in Fox Point.

Beckoning Chantal over to join them, Matthew showed him the letter that had been dropped on the front desk.

“I believe this is his mark,” said the Egyptian with the hawk beak and the big mustache, scowling a bit. “As you know, Rashid is no scholar. Of course, he would never have dictated a letter like this in English, it’s ridiculous.”

“I’ve always dealt with your family based on a man’s word and a handshake.”

“Exactly. Written letters like this are for lawyers to play their fancy tricks. Plus, written papers can be used in court, they can get you hanged.”

“But you think he signed?”

“Yes, I think so. His full name, though, not the way he would sign to me or to a friend. This is good news, because it means he was alive when this was sent, and they have not yet cut off any fingers on the right hand. But of course, someone has a gun to his head, there’s no question. The reason he would sign, he would know this would tell us he was alive, and not acting of his own will. How did it come? We can question the courier? I have a good knife.”

“He came and left, a pale young man dressed in black, possibly one of our burglars from last night.”

“Yes, that would make sense. It’s too bad no one held him. The Italians shriek like hens once they feel the blade, they’re not even a challenge.”

“I should also tell you, Hakim, there was a perfumed fellow here from your Egyptian Ministry of Culture, looking for Rashid’s book.”

“Looking for the book? Not to buy it?”

“He spoke of the book being removed from the Islamic Republic of Egypt without the proper export permits.”

“One of those bastards has been here? May his soul burn in hell. You know what they are, these pigs of the ‘Ministry of Culture’? They are thieves! They can claim anything that’s old, claim ownership on behalf of ‘all the people.’ They are collectivistes. What is that in English?”

“The same, collectivists,”

“Yes, communistes. They would destroy commerce, private profit, private ownership. Do you know what happens to an economy when nothing can be owned, when no title is secure?”

“I do.”

“Everything freezes. The farmer can’t sell what he grows for cash, so it rots in the field while the people starve. Of course, there is always a marche noir, this is where my family comes in. But there must be havens. These scum demand documents of ownership, or else they seize everything. Well, what documents exist for things that have been handed down by the desert people for generations? Let me tell you, that pig doesn’t dare enter our village without a military guard. You know what such thieves deserve?”

“I believe your people once cut off the hands.”

“Hah! That would be too good for this scum. Someone steals bread to feed his family, that’s one thing. Such a person knows he’s a thief, he doesn’t claim he has a right to your loaf of bread. For them, losing a hand might be enough. But these scum of the Ministry of Culture would be lucky to survive long enough for the cutting of the hand. In my village, should this beast show up without a squad of soldiers, I must tell you, he would immediately be butt-fucked.”

Chantal smiled. Matthew had to keep reminding himself she was not a fragile flower.

“He would … what?”

“This is not good English, butt-fucked? His anus would be penetrated –”

“No, no, it’s clear enough.”

“Yes, butt-fucked by a camel, you understand.”

“The camels cooperate in this?”

“It’s a very special punishment, you understand, reserved only for such self-righteous liars and scum, usually from Cairo, that den of thieves. The bastard is stripped naked and tied to a grate. Then his buttocks are smeared with the fluid from the female camel in oestrus, how do you say it?”

“In heat.”

“Exactly. At that point, the male camel goes quite mad. He cannot restrain himself, you understand, he cannot resist, no matter how pale and ugly the buttocks in question. Ah, it is a very satisfying thing to watch. The men from Cairo shriek like little girls. The women and children enjoy it particularly.”

“I imagine it cuts down on recidivism, as well.”

“Yes, yes! You have that word, too, recidivistes?

“You’re a man after my own heart, Hakim. Tax collectors, too?”

“Oh, unquestionably.”

This concludes the first 20,000 words — the first third — of “The Testament of James,” by Vin Suprynowicz, copyright c Vin Suprynowicz, 2014, all rights reserved. What method will Matthew Hunter — now joined by Chantal Stevens — use to locate this long-lost book? What secret about the ministry of Jesus — a secret dangerous enough to the established dominator order to draw relentless pursuit from three continents, even after two millennia –- does that book contain? Only 650 copies of the numbered, signed, hardcover first printing of “The Testament of James” will be sold. First editions of Vin’s 2002 book “The Ballad of Carl Drega,” in a trade paperback edition of 5,000, originally sold for $24.95, and signed copies of that book now fetch more than $100, online. Signed, hardcover first-printing copies of “The Testament of James” now available at $32.50, limit seven copies per mailing address, at http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=14453647811 . Amazon Kindle edition also now available here.

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