Today my guest is Martin Reaves. Lets not wait to see what he has to say–take it away, Martin:
Martin Reaves here. Happy to share an excerpt from my suspense novel, Relative Karma.
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This scene is sort of a respite from the building intensity. Jeff Vincent is in the midst of a nightmare. Dead bodies are piling up. His estranged love, Shelley, is being tormented by persons unknown. Here we find him with his old friend, Karl, soaked in bourbon and attempting to find order in chaos.
I was having a little trouble focusing.
We’d moved to the living room with a bucket of ice and the booze Karl had picked up at the liquor store around the corner.
“Damn fine having a house of spirits so close,” he’d said. “Up the hill, it would take me a good twenty minutes to get to a store where they sell anything worth drinking. Half the time I remember I’m not supposed to be drinking and change my mind before I even get halfway there. Hell of a thing, needing to be drunk and can’t be bothered to make the drive.”
We’d been at it pretty good for the last hour and my head felt too heavy for my neck. I’d had enough caffeine to keep me awake, but that didn’t stop the bourbon from doing its job. Karl had become more talkative, but otherwise seemed unaffected. If I didn’t go easy I was going to be passed out long before he was through settling his thoughts.
And Jewel had told me to go easy on the alcohol. Well, I could blame it on Daniel for not being there to watch out for me.
I got up off the couch to put some music on. The room lurched sideways and I had to stand still until things equaled out.
Karl smiled. “Ill-advised, Vincent. Ill-advised.”
“I was going to put some music on.”
“Something soft then. Something to tell stories by.” His voice was starting to deepen, becoming more gravelly but at the same time more soothing. Then again, at that point a cement mixer probably would have sounded soothing.
My stereo system is Surround Sound, and uses an extremely complex remote control to operate everything. I held the device up to the light to try and make sense of the rows of buttons.
Something rumbled up out of Karl that sounded like it was supposed to be a laugh. “My God, are you gettin’ ready to launch the space shuttle?”
“Shut up, Karl.” I managed to find the CD I wanted and somehow got the player opened and everything set to the mode for music. I chose the setting that simulated the acoustics of a large hall and put the player on repeat. I made it back to the couch just as the church bells began their rich tolling.
“Listen,” I said. “We’re entering the church now.”
The bells gave way to a haunting, swirling blend of deep harmonies that still gave me chills, as it had the first time Shelley and I heard it in the little bookstore in Mendocino. I remembered standing next to her, both of us riffling pages and sneaking peeks at endings; smelling the smells of books and concentrated imagination, then this music began and we both froze and looked at each other with the unspoken certainty that something wonderful had found us.
Karl had gone very still. “What’s this now, boy.”
“It’s sacred music,” I whispered, “sung by the Russian Orthodox Church. No instruments, only their voices. It was all recorded in one of those huge stone cathedrals.” I looked at the stereo and said, “What will Norma do when she finds out you’ve been drinking?”
He swirled the liquid in his glass. “You’re gonna tell her?”
“You don’t think she’ll know?”
He smiled faintly. “She’ll know.”
“And she’ll be okay with it.”
“No, she’ll be righteously pissed and she’ll rant and rave and call me a weak bastard.”
“Is it worth it?”
His eyes shifted toward me. “If I had a choice in the matter I could say whether it was worth it or not. It’s never my choice to hurt Norma. It’s never my choice to feel that I am controlled by a chemical. It just is and maybe someday it won’t be. Norma will not be happy, but she will understand.”
Karl sipped his drink and tipped his head back, allowing the deep resonant sound of the voices to wash over him. With his eyes closed he said, “Tell me about your family. That’s a story I’ve not heard.”
For the last forty minutes or so we’d been mostly swapping bad jokes and worse puns—a deliberate attempt to pretend there was not a tape in the kitchen with a hysterical woman screaming ‘My bitch’ over and over—but the mood had mellowed considerably.
I dropped a few pieces of ice into my glass and rattled the cubes for a refill. “It’s not a very good story.” I heard the last word come out “shtory” and decided I would definitely have to sip a little more slowly.
“The hell,” he said. “You’re young enough to still be wet behind the ears, but your bank account is bulging as a result of money allegedly left you from a father you say is allegedly still living.”
I started to tell him there was no “allegedly” about it, but couldn’t get my tongue around the word. So I just said, “It’s true.”
“So tell me.”
“There’s not much to tell.”
“Come on, boy.”
“Give me a second,” I said. I forgot I had decided to sip and swallowed some bourbon. Hard liquor was not a favorite of mine but it was amazing how much smoother it got as you worked at it. The past was not something I celebrated, unless it was the recent past with Shelley—and that was not something I chose to dwell on either because the past is a mean son of a bitch that inevitably leads to the present.
My forehead was beginning to feel like it was sliding down over my nose so I set my drink down. “Did you know my mom was an alcoholic?”
His voice was a sigh. “No.”
“When I was little, I used to think I had the best mom in the world. She was always rolling around on the floor with me and laughing.” I smiled at the memory. “Mom was always laughing. We’d set up Lego buildings and crash them with my Tonka trucks. She was so funny when she made the vroom vroom sounds, because she didn’t know how to do it and make it sound like a car—she’d say it like she was reading it off a page: ‘vroom vroom.’”
I glanced at Karl and it seemed that I could actually hear my eyes moving in their sockets. “She was drunk. Always. But I didn’t know that then. I didn’t know what drunk was until later; I just knew that my mom played with me on the floor. None of my friends’ moms played like she did—they all thought she was fun because they didn’t know what drunk was either, but I guess they told their parents and their parents educated them because after a while they stopped coming over.
“I remember getting out of school and there she’d be on the other side of the fence waiving and calling my name, ‘Jeffrey, yoo-hoo, Jeffrey!’ Except from her shit-faced mouth it came out sounding like ‘Jerry’. I always thought it was just her fooling around and I’d laugh at her along with my friends. She’d walk home with me and when we got there my toys were already laid out, not just in preparation for me, but scattered across the living room, like she’d been playing with them for hours. Back then, I didn’t understand why Dad wouldn’t play with us. He’d just sit in his chair, drinking his coffee and smoking his pipe, scowling at us. ‘Beverly, get up off the God-damned floor,’ he’d say in his five-foot-nothing, hundred-and-forty-pound whisper. Then he stopped saying anything. After a while, when she got like that—which in my memory seems like all the time—he’d just get up and leave the room. At night I’d hear them screaming at each other. I always thought he was so mean. Mom was fun. She died when I was eight.”
I looked at my glass on the end table and tried to decide if it was worth the effort to pick it up. Karl’s glass was empty and he’d made no move to refill it.
“The booze killed her,” he said.
I considered that. “I don’t know,” I said. “I think maybe not drinking killed her.”
I told him about that last year, trying to keep things in order because the images were jumbled: The two of us laughing until we couldn’t breathe; the time Mom’s robe fell open, revealing her sex to me—how she’d caught me looking because I had stopped laughing and couldn’t stop staring and then she was covering herself up and saying, Nothing but trouble down there, Jeffrey, and it was over and we were vroom-vrooming again.
“I got my first hint that things weren’t quite right the day she puked on my trucks. It wasn’t so much that she threw up, it was her reaction. She laughed…and started to finger paint with it. On me.”
“Jesus,” Karl said.
“In school, we were starting to talk about drug and alcohol abuse and I began to get an idea what was happening. I became her judge and jury and the next time she came to get me at school I ignored her. Just left her standing there calling for Jerry over and over.”
I reached for my glass, got my fingers around it and dropped it. It seemed impossibly far away and I stared at it for several seconds trying to determine any benefit in bending down for it. “What was I saying?”
Karl was staring at me with what looked like tears in his eyes. “I think you were finished.”
“Was I? No…I remember now…because I wanted to tell you that I finally confronted her. I was a self-righteous little prick too.”
My words were becoming liquid, with no definition, but I think I got the rest out. Out of embarrassment I’d told her she was a drunk and an alcoholic and she needed to get help. I stopped playing on the floor with her and she stopped coming for me at school. For a while, she would be on the floor when I got home, playing with my toys and crying. I ignored her and one day she was sitting in the recliner when I got home, eyes half-lidded, her hair falling over her face in sweaty strings and her nightgown a sodden mess that clung to her like a fever. She was shaking uncontrollably. She’d looked at me with gritted teeth and said in a strangled, guttural voice, “I stopped drinking, Jeffery.” It didn’t sound the least bit like Jerry.
“That was her last week alive,” I said. “As far as I know she never picked up another drink. My parents didn’t scream at each other anymore. All I could hear at night was Mom moaning, then their door would open and close and I’d watch from my door as Dad got a blanket from the hall closet and carried it to the living room couch so he could get some sleep. Somewhere in there Mom just died. I got home from school one day and Dad was at the kitchen table telling me she was gone and I knew by his tone he didn’t mean she’d gone to visit relatives.”
“Thank you,” Karl said.
I frowned. “For what?”
“For sharing your pain with me.”
I wasn’t sure that I had done him any favors. My eyes drifted around the room and I was struck by how unfamiliar everything looked. Karl sat stiffly, gripping the arms of his chair as though afraid he might float away if he let go.
I said, “You wanted to hear about my father.”
“You’ve told me what I needed to hear—and what you needed to tell.”
* * *
Martin Reaves is a writer primarily of suspense/thrillers with a psychological edge. And sometimes horror…or humor…heck, even romance. (Aren’t all these things connected on some level?). Upon turning 48 he realized he was no longer 47…he wasn’t sure what to do with this information so he moved on. Martin is very happily married to his childhood sweet-patootie, and has two incredible adult daughters who he considers among his best friends. Reading and Writing are twin first-loves, followed by music (he is a musician and singer and has been performing semi-professionally for longer than he’d care to think about). When not selling plastic to pay the bills, he (and his books) can be found here: