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NEW AND UNIMPROVED FICTION By H. Demeter

The following are selections from novels, short stories and trifles I've presented to my writers' group.

*  *  *   Updated January 2017  *  *  *

From an unfinished novel - The Background of M. Arden Vaux
With a steaming mug of Russian Caravan tea in hand and reasonably assured of Artie Manthano’s undivided attention, Liddy Wyatt embarked on a learned, detailed,  and exhaustive disqusition on the background of Marrston Arden Vaux. 
Apparently no one, since his days at Phillips Academy--Andover that is--ever referred to him as ‘Marrston‘. However, one would go far, far wrong in inferring that M. Arden Vaux did not take pride in his illustrious Marrston ancestors,  particularly Colonel Daniel Beech Marrston, who, with the Ardens, had founded the estimable town later known as Marrston’s Forge.
The Ardens ? Cousins of the Marrstons and their social peers. Though less celebrated,  they too played no insignificant role in the Revolutionary War.
Sad to say, later generations of Marrstons blackened the family escutcheon,  by allowing considerable investments in King Cotton to cloud their judgment, with respect to war with Mexico and the abolition of slavery, which the Ardens regarded as patently immoral and morally imperative, respectively.
The Marrstons, it was said, never met a filibuster they didn’t like, whether  William Walker or John Quitman,  no matter whether he proposed to annex Lower California, Nicaragua or Cuba as new slave states.
The Ardens, it was said, hardly ever met a transcendentalist they didn’t like,  and lent support to virtually every abolitionist who came their way,  whether William Lloyd Garrison,  Wendell Phillips,  the Grimké sisters, or John Brown.
When President Pierce dispatched federal troops to Boston and Governor Cushing mobilized the Massachusetts militia in order to enforce the new Fugitive Slave Act and return Anthony Burns to his owner in Virginia,  the Marrstons heartily huzzahed,  and drained many a decanter of fine Madeira, toasting Cushing, Pierce, and Pierce’s Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis.
That Pierce had thus subjected the Athens of America to military occupation, and that Governor Cushing had so openly and wilfuly contravened the Commonwealth’s own Personal Liberty Law, horrified and outraged the Ardens, who sipped their fine Madeira, re-read Thoreau, and fumed.
Years later, the Marrstons, diehard Democrats, found the company of then-Mississippi-Senator Jefferson Davis--he was vacationing with his family in New England—no less congenial than the views expressed in his Faneuil Hall oration. Needless to say, the Ardens, whom the Burns affair and the Kansas-Nebraska Act had transformed from Whigs into Republicans, were ill-disposed toward both. 
During the War between the States, the Marrstons were Copperheads, claiming they served the Union best by criticizing Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, his conduct of a war without declaration, his army’s failed leadership, conscription, emancipation, and so on.  Whether, as accused, some members of the family crossed the line between loyal opposition and outright treason, and, with like-minded New York friends, helped subsidize the purchase of not one, but two Clyde steamers, running the Yankee blockade out of Charleston, South Carolina, was never proven. But neither was the suspicion ever satisfactorily dispelled.
The Ardens and their marital relations, the Vaux’s, remained steadfast for President Lincoln and the war, even after a third member of their conjoined families sacrificed his life, at Cold Harbor, the others having perished at Second Manassas and Fredericksburg.
Their joy at the cessation of hostilities, understandably, was tempered.  Not so, however, their resentment at those who, with seeming impunity, had incited the conflict and provided succor to the enemy, a resentment no less bitter or intense for the Ardens’ reluctance to give it public expression.     
How much intervening decades healed these wounds became apparent when Colonel and Mrs.Charles Arden Vaux II observed young C. A.Vaux III--he was returning from two years’ study abroad--alighting the R.M.S. Umbria’s gangplank, with Sarah Marrston on his arm,  Sarah’s beaming parents close behind. As mortified as the Vaux’s must have been to see young Charles, the sole heir to their family’s noble legacy, enamoured with the spawn of wanton jades and wastrel traitors, so elated the Marrstons undoubtedly were, at the prospect of a reunion with their puffed-up puritanical cousins and, more importantly, with the provincials’ fortune.
Of course, anyone who has viewed John Singer Sargent’s Sarah Marrston at the Museum of Fine Arts would immediately appreciate why Charles Arden III would have been thus smitten. And from Sargent’s Portait of the Vaux Family,  which hangs nearby, one can readily apprehend why Sarah, even after having given birth to Marrston so late in life, should still have been regarded as the great beauty of her day.
*  *  *


From Colie's Late Delivery - How Fort McHenry Got Her Name

Shakina Hazzert McHenry was one fine-looking lady,  a perfect size six with hot-chocolate legs as long as the Hudson.  And most johns never guessed that beneath those luscious cinnamon breasts beat a heart of absolute stone,  or that behind those big, beautiful brown eyes lurked a cold,  calculating steel-trap mind,  or that from those plump,  voluptuous lips would issue the most sensuous  “ You have the right to remain silent,  and anything you say can and will be held against you…  ”  they would ever hear from an actual member of Law Enforcement.
‘ Fort McHenry ’,  that’s what they called her around the Nineteenth Precinct,    though never to her face,  and at present no man or woman seemed capable of penetrating her formidable defenses.  Not even Nick Poliorketes,  who’d given Shakina the nickname shortly  after she’d planted a thick wedge of lemon meringue pie smack dab on the fly of his uniform pants,  to the astonishment of his partner Dave as well as the patrons and the staff at Renee’s Café.  That was Shakina’s way of telling the damned Greek that his smarmy ‘ Patience and Understanding ‘ gambit wouldn’t work on her.  At that point all Nick could do was ask Renee for a bunch of napkins and rationalize his humiliating failure by claiming that ‘ Fort McHenry ‘ was  frigid. 
But Shakina didn’t start out that way.  Far from it. 
Long story to short  it was husband number two,  it was DeeAngelo who resumed the grim work begun by his predecessor.  It was DeeAngelo who, through various acts of promiscuity,  perversion,  and sheer stupidity  finally turned Sweet Shakina into a new Medusa.  Now if her own sister hadn’t been involved, maybe,  just maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad and DeeAngelo would not have given his left nut to do Latasha and so would not be stuck with that slight limp. 

From Henchmen's Anonymous - 'Hi, I'm Billy Bob Blue..'

Hi everybody.   My name is Billy Bob Blue,  and I am a henchman.
Obviously,  Billy Bob Blue is not my real name,  but then everybody else here’s a henchman,  right ?  So,  duh ?   
Like most of you,  I work for an organization which allegedly produces products or provides services to the public but in actuality is engaged in a relentless and ruthless campaign to dominate the world for one reason or another.  
Like most of you,  I don’t care what that reason is.  To be perfectly honest,  as long as I get paid,  I don’t care if I have to wear cheap plastic sunglasses and a pair of baggy coveralls with an oddball logo on it seven days a week,  and listen to endless harangues about our historic mission given by some guy who thinks he’s the new-model Hitler or something and has as much business ruling the world as,  I don’t know,  a cat.             

From In Season - 'Lesson in Hardball'

“Sophie, integration testing just bombed, bigtime, and your backup, Rick What’s-his-face, tells me it’ll take him at least three days to iron everything out. Which means--and please correct me if I’m wrong—the chances of our running the full test suite to completion within the next week are slim and none. Which means the revised project schedule is blown to shit, and we’ll have to postpone release of Version 11 for the third time this year. Which will royally piss off the entire customer base, because, as you know, Marketing told ‘em they’d get V11 in plenty of time to sunset V10, re-deploy or re-sell the ga-zillion servers they needed to run V10,  and show big, big hardware savings on their year-end earnings statements.
“As things stand now, our customers--current and our prospective-- will have every incentive to check out our competitors, who’ve already got next-generation products out and priced to perfection. Which won’t do a ga-dammed thing to boost FA’s sales or market share or profit margins. Or endear Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s to new FA debt. Or keep the investment bankers from reconsidering their ‘ firm commitment ‘ to underwrite Fennimore Automation’s Initial Public Offering. Which, if it doesn’t happen, won’t cost the Fennimores more than, oh, say, several hundred million dollars.
“That being the case, Sophie--  My guess is that nobody associated with this project should expect a fat bonus, plus the obligatory corporate ‘atta-boy ‘signed by Elton Fennimore himself and suitable for framing. Nope. Pink slips will be the order of the day, and not just for a few people. I’m talking whole teams here.  
"But that’s the bad news. The good news is that when the right people pitch in at the right time, they can literally perform miracles. For instance, if somebody got integration testing cleaned up, oh, say, within the next twenty-four hours, and finished system testing within the next forty-eight hours, we’d have a shot at getting back on schedule by the end of next week.
"Of course, it would take that somebody’s complete commitment and close supervision, her expert guidance and her hands-on involvement straight through the weekend. And that, Sophie-- That’s the right stuff, the stuff that separates success from failure. That’s what makes the difference between quaffing Dom Perignon from Waterford flutes in the Executive Dining Room, and sipping diet coke from a plastic cup while you’re scrunched up in coach, on the flight home.”
It was so very new, Tod’s playing hardball with her.  How he could that, to her ?

From Tall Rider from Tejon - ' Rules to Live By '

Rod couldn’t get Augie Blick’s ga-dammed stories out of his head. ‘Object lessons, baby, object lessons ’, that’s what Augie called ‘em,  and they were reminders of things Rod used to know, rules he used to live by.
Rule Number One : know when to leave.
Whether it’s from a country that’s about to go to hell in a handbasket ; or from some one-horse town, where you’ve seriously worn out your welcome and they’re this close to issuing warrants ;  or from an après-awards party, where, if you hang around long enough, odds are you’ll run into some clown who’s been begging, just begging to have his jaw broken, or you’ll trip over some idiot O.D.’ing in the john who turns out to be the money-bags wannabe-producer you delivered safely back to his hotel suite a couple of hours ago, or you’ll find that the stiff floating face down at the shallow end of the pool is, or was, the friend you dragged to the party,  so you could hook him up, ‘cause he really needed a lift… 
Whether it’s from a hotel room in Albuquerque, or a brothel in Athens, or a boudoir in the Hollywood Hills or anywhere else where no good can come from sticking around one minute longer than it takes you to pull on your shirt and pants… 
Know when to leave. Rule Number One. 
Rule Number Two  ? In the words of the late Doc Lefkas, Rod’s one-time primary-care physician, occasional dispenser of recreational drugs, and unlicensed philosopher, “ boy, don’t you go putting it where it don’t belong.”
There was more than an ounce of wisdom in that short, simple sentence. For damned sure it sounded like Fritz Kamelbeck could’ve benefitted from that advice. Or maybe not. Anyway, at this stage of his life Rod was beginning to believe that Rule Two applied to, oh, say, ninety-nine percent of the women who passed his way.
Why ?
Because no matter how normal healthy sane adult consenting and unattached they appeared to be, there was just no telling about any one of these women, no telling who she really was and what she really wanted, no telling how many men women children or other life-forms had been in her bed before him or he’d find waiting there, no telling what this broad had buried under her bouganvilleas until it was way too late.  In which case, a guy could easily find himself being handcuffed and read his Miranda rights,  or being dragged into a back-alley and beaten senseless, or end up floating face-down at the shallow end of the pool.


From The Goon Constant, or The Billiad, Book I -  ' How I, Fred, Met Bill '

The good doctor gets impatient. The good doctor gets impatient.
It sounds like an mnemonic,  but it is the present fact. The haggard Dr. Ray sits before me,  posing the same question over and over. I know that Luther lurks without,  wearing the white coat synonymous with his trade and ready to intervene should I become violent.
Good doctor.  Good doctor. Were you not a slave to verisimilitude and the fool that you are,  I would maybe,  just maybe go through the whole story again.
* * *
He was five feet tall,  and I could see the plastic buttons of his irridescent brown jacket under my horoscope.  There they,   it,  and he remained until I lowered my newspaper.
“  B’l’Nh ! “,    he said,  or something like that.
I turned to the comics.
“  B’l’Nh ! “
“  No spare change. “  
“  B’l’Nh ! “
Now I had stood on the platform at the Kenmore Square Subway Station many,   many times,  and never,  not even after a Red Sox twi-nighter,   had anyone ever so much as said,  ‘ B’l’Nh  ! ‘  to me,   asked me where to find it,  how to get there,  or what to do with it.   
No.   No,  not even in New Haven had anyone ever done that.    

From An unfinished novella, ' How Wally met Susan Cotton '
As Wally told the story, it was a clear night and unseasonably warm for November. He and Timilty responded to a call from Locke-Ober’s. Seems a party in one of the private rooms had gotten out of control, Harvard kids whooping it up ‘cause the Crimson had beaten Yale’s butt up and down the Stadium.
Did someone say Harvard kids ?  They were thirty-something bankers or brokers or lawyers,  and the girls they were entertaining, or more accurately were entertaining them, were very, very young, and, in Wally’s parlance, hotter’n August asphalt. Of course, these Harvard humps immediately gave him and Big Jim the old, ‘ Do you know who I am ? ‘ routine. Which was bad enough, but then one of the broads, a blonde spitfire, started running her mouth. Only let up to sink her teeth into Timilty’s gun hand.
Seeing as how his partner was this close to wringing her pretty little neck, whereas he himself was partial to women of spirit--so what if they swore and screamed and clawed and bit ?--Wally gladly took charge of said spitfire. And one thing leading to another, before you know it,  Wally had knocked her up, ‘ her ‘ being Susan, ‘Suze’, Cotton.
Now Wally, who had grown up on Fidelis Way, and had graduated Brighton High School on sufferance,  and had since risen, if you can call it that, to the rank of patrolman in the Boston Police Department, didn’t exactly move in the same social circles as the Hon. Stephen Alexander Cotton and Cecilia Mayfair Cotton. And knowing how easy it was for people in such circles to dispose of the odd fetus, which their daughter Suze’s definitely was, Wally figured they’d do just that. 
Suze, on the other hand, insisted that she and Wally get married,  more to outrage ‘ Stevie and Cecie ‘ than anything else. And for the same good reason, Suze also insisted on having the kid.  Of course, staying married and bringing up baby appealed to Suze just about as long as it took the average Bill Lee eephus pitch to reach Landsdowne Street, so within days of giving birth she gave the kid up for adoption and filed for divorce.
Wally did not object. First off, he knew he wasn’t daddy-material. Second, ‘ Stevie and Cecie ‘ made a generous one-time offer to help him advance in his chosen profession. Which is to say, they handed him an envelope fat with folding green, more in exchange than in gratitude for his permanently pissing off.


From Vision in the Dark, ' This Screenplay's Perfect for Us...'
“Anyway, Thor, you’ve got much bigger problems.”
“You mean the financing. ”
“I mean the legal title. If you can’t acquire the rights quick, and for whatever we can afford—"
“Lunch at the Pig ‘N Whistle.”
“Bottom-line, Thor, Pik better have the legal title in hand when he talks to the money.”
“This thing is so out of control.“
“Tell me about it.”
“ We got Stanley Mayhew over at May-Day, spending every waking moment --and you know he’s a ga-dammed insomniac--telling everybody that T/A’s got bupkes. And we got Uncle Pik’s Frankenstein-publicist Augie kicking his bullshit machine into overdrive. Listen to this, ‘ Martie Barrington, creator of Doktor Malestrom and auteur of The Long and the Longing, slated for hot new project ’. And this, ‘ Barrington and certified Hollywood legend collaborating on shooting-script at secret location. ’ And this, ‘ Cinéastes wonder if the eagerly-awaited reunion of L and L’s fabled production team is in the offing.’
" 'In the offing ', my ass. Sure as hell Martie’s not holed up in some high-desert shotgun shack, matching tequila shots with a mad-monk screenwriter and banging out new pages on his Underwood in between. But where he actually is, what he’s doing or planning to do-- Jesus, Arne, you know as well as I--”
“That Martie’s still pissed ? Well, Thor, we both warned Pik not to screw with Martie and his buds at Hermanos/Corazon, at least where L and L’s ancillary rights were concerned. Half a loaf--”
“Damn it, you’d think Uncle Pik didn’t know any better ! But the absolute, first thing he taught me about this business was never never ever fuck anybody over completely, until they’re absolutely no use to you. And boy, could we use Martie now. We need this picture, Arne.“
“We do ?“
“Yes. And it’s perfect for us.”
Walzer picked a folder up from his desk. Flipped through it ‘til he found the coverage sheet. It was yellowed. Made his fingers itch. “ Yikes. January, ‘Seventy-Three. Who’s ‘G. Bettmann ‘ ?”
“Gilta Bettmann, one of Ricker Amundsen’s better readers. ”
“Let’s see what Gilta had to say.
Political intrigue, derring-do, and dangerous and as well as strange liaisons, set against the backdrop of the battles at Lexington and Concord. Frenetic sex…
"'Frenetic sex '--Well, that’s the very best kind.
 Frenetic sex and mindless violence, à la carte or table d’hôte, deftly garnished…’
 " 'Deftly garnished' --Think Gilta was dieting ?
Deftly garnished with mostly monosyllabic dialogue, for which there is only one word, and that word is onomatopoeia.’
"' Onomato--'  I'd say she was a tad overeducated too. 
Rough is rancid meat, served raw and au jus. Rick, let’s take a pass on this ptomaine.
 "Let's see.  ' Rancid ', ' raw ', and ' ' ptomaine '. Yup, that sounds like a P. K. Stromberg Production alright. Anything else in the pipeline ? Thor ?”
“ Like Poles. Uncle Pik seems to think it’s got something to do with Polish sexual mores. You know, doing it... like Poles ? “ Thor gestured.
“That mean anything ? Maybe where Pik came from ?”
Mitteleuropa ? Who knows ? Actually, the operative metaphor is magnetism. Emotional opposites attract… ” Thor’s voice trailed off.
Walzer closed the folder.
Thor had his head in his hands. “We are so screwed. Rod’s just gotta come through.“