Last weekend, my first novel, "Your Truth is Out There," went live on Amazon.com in both Kindle and paperback formats. The paperback is available for immediate order, while the Kindle version can be pre-ordered for delivery on March 14.
Here's the first chapter. Enjoy (and then go buy the rest of the book!)
I Lost My Job Today
Henry glanced up at the clock behind the bar, saw that it was almost 2:30 in the afternoon, and realizing it was much too early in the day for his third shot of whiskey, proceeded to take the full glass in front of him and knock it back.
“Another one, please,” he said to the bartender, “in fact, after what I’ve just been through, you should probably just leave the bottle.”
“Look my friend,” said the bartender, “I don’t want to get into your business, but I can’t leave the bottle unless you pay up front.”
“No problem,” said Henry, pulling out his wallet. He took out his one and only credit card, hoping through the buzz in his head that he had enough credit left to pay for the bottle, and slapped it down on the bar. “There ya go, put it on that.”
“You sure about this, buddy?” said the bartender, giving Henry a once-over. “You’re not one of my regulars, and you don’t look like the kind of guy who polishes off a bottle of Jack in the middle of the afternoon.”
Henry nodded. “Take it,” he said.
“Suit yourself,” said the bartender taking the card and turning back to the register. “It’s your money … and liver.”
Henry looked at the clock again, and then chastised himself after seeing that it was now exactly 2:37. Why the hell should he care what time it was? It wasn’t like he had anywhere to be. It wasn’t like he still had a job or anything.
“What’s your name?” he said to the bartender when the man turned back around with his credit card, the approval slip, and the nearly full bottle of Jack Daniels.
“Craig,” said the man, who didn’t seem much older than Henry’s twenty-nine years. He took the slip back after Henry signed it, and looked at the generous tip Henry had left him. “Thanks for that, Mr. Backus.”
“Mr. Backus … hmmm … almost makes me sound important when you say it like that. Call me Henry, please.”
“Sure thing,” said Craig absently, as he put the ticket into the cash register and went to check on another customer at the other end of the bar.
“Almost sounded important,” said Henry quietly to himself as he poured another drink, “almost.”
Henry downed the shot, then looked around the darkened room through eyes that, even though hazed by alcohol, were still perceptive enough to quickly understand the place. It was a bar, sure, that was easy enough to see. There were booths lining the far wall and tables in the middle of the room, all empty at this time of day. Then of course, there was the bar itself where he sat, along with the establishment’s only other customer, the one Craig was tending to now. Yes, this was a bar, but it was more than that; it was a kind of resting place, a place where the wounded of spirit came to find a small modicum of respite from the pain that tortured them.
His counterpart at the end of the bar, for example, was clearly a regular. Henry could tell that easily enough by the way he and Craig interacted. The man was quite comfortable with his surroundings, much more so than Henry. He clearly knew his way around the place, too, reaching behind the bar and grabbing a stack of cocktail napkins and stuffing them in his pocket while Craig had his back turned, then going for a can of peanuts the next time the bartender wasn’t watching. Aside from his kleptomania, it was clear this man had an affliction of some sort, a disease upon his soul. Otherwise why would he be in here and not out amongst the living? As Henry began to wonder what his situation could be, the man turned toward Henry and made eye contact with him. It was brief, but it may as well have been an eternity, for in that moment, in those eyes, Henry saw a darkness, a level of broken despair he never thought possible, even knowing how deep his own pain went. Henry turned back to his bottle, poured another shot and downed it, deciding that the rest of the world was none of his damn business.
“You know, I’m not one to tell someone how they should drink their bottle,” said Craig, as he returned to Henry’s side of the bar carrying a glass filled with ice, “but shooting the whole thing is a pretty tough way to go. I might suggest taking it a little slower and trying some on the rocks. You might even think about mixing it with something.”
Henry looked up at the bartender as the man set the glass down in front of him.
“Thanks, that’s probably a good idea,” he said, doing his level-best not to slur his words. He poured the whiskey over the ice, watching the two forces of golden liquid alcohol and frozen solid ice interact with one another. The liquid melting the solid, doing its best to tear it down, while the solid, not giving in without a fight, quietly diluted the liquid, leaving it less potent than it once was. He wanted to believe there was a lesson to be learned there, inside that glass, some parallel he could equate to his own life, but if there was, he couldn’t find it. He picked up the glass and took a drink, but just a sip this time.
“So, what brings you into my corner of the world dressed in business casual in the middle of the work day?” asked Craig, breaking Henry’s downwardly spiraling train of thought.
Henry looked up at the bartender, his eyes definitely hazier than they were a few minutes before. He was almost certain he wouldn’t be able to answer this time without slurring.
“It’s okay,” said Craig, “you don’t have to tell me, I just thought you might need someone to talk to. It’s kinda what I do.” He started to turn around, back toward the other end of the bar.
“I lost my job today,” said Henry, suddenly not caring if he slurred or not. Someone had actually asked about him, had actually cared enough to ask why he was where he was, and not in a negative, angry way. He couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. In fact, he couldn’t remember that ever happening. Not his parents. They barely noticed him, much less cared about where he went or what he did. They were too busy with their own lives to be concerned with his. And certainly not Lucy. No, definitely not her. But Craig actually seemed interested in the answer. He couldn’t let him walk away.
“I didn’t actually lose my job,” he said, correcting himself as Craig turned back to face him, “I pretty much threw it away all by myself.”
“I see,” said Craig, “and how did you do that? More importantly, why? I can’t imagine you just up and decided that you wanted a bottle of Jack more than you wanted your job.”
“No,” said Henry with a snicker, “nothing so simple. I was giving a presentation to my boss, the company’s CEO, about a new ad campaign I was proposing. I’ve spent the last three months working my ass off putting this thing together and before I even got halfway through it, he cuts me off and tells me it’s no good.”
“Sounds pretty harsh,” said Craig.
“You’re telling me. But hey, I remained calm. I stayed professional. I restrained myself and politely, but firmly, I defended the campaign strategy.”
“And … he didn’t budge. He said he wanted me to start completely over and he wanted to see six new concepts, and he wanted them in two weeks. Six! In two weeks!”
“Wow, the guy sounds like a total ass. What’d you do?”
“I lost it. I mean, I completely lost it. I called him every name I could think of, and I know quite a few. I threw things, knocked other things over, and basically made a complete fool of myself.”
“I don’t know,” said Craig, “it sounds like you were just standing up for what you believe in, right?”
Henry looked up from his drink. Someone was taking his side. That had never happened before. Never.
“Right,” he said, “that’s right. I put a lot of work into that campaign. The least he could have done is let me finish the presentation, but no, he had to stop me right in the middle, tell me I wasn’t worth a crap right in front of everyone.”
“Yeah, that’s messed up, especially since other people had to have seen the campaign before he did, right? I mean they would have approved it before it got to him, so it’s not all on you … right … Henry?”
Henry didn’t answer, he was too busy taking a long drink from his glass and doing his best to avoid eye contact with the suddenly too-inquisitive bartender.
“You did let someone else review it before you showed it to the head of the entire company, right Henry?” Asked Craig again, as Henry lowered his glass.
“Well,” said Henry, “not exactly. But it wasn’t like I was hiding anything. That’s the way it’s always been, nobody sees my work until I’m ready to show it, and then I show everyone at once. I’ve been there for almost a year now and it’s never been a problem.”
He stopped to take another drink, and as he did so, the words the bartender could have said, but didn’t, hit home, making him realize something he hadn’t before.
“Then again,” he said, looking back at Craig, “I’ve never had a project like this before. It’s always been small, one-page flyers and stuff like that, never anything on this scale. Even so, it never crossed my mind to consult with anyone else.”
“It couldn’t have hurt,” said Craig, “it’s tough to go it alone all the time.”
“That’s all I know how to do,” said Henry softly, staring into his now empty glass, “it’s all I’ve ever known.”
“People change, Henry. It’s never too late.”
Henry didn’t respond, but continued staring at the empty glass. Something as small as asking someone for help might have changed everything. Understanding so simple of a social norm might have been the difference between achieving success within his company and the reality of what happened today.
But even as he said those words in his head, they rang hollow. A second, more insistent, inner voice said: Who would you have asked for help? Which one of those philistines would you have trusted when it came to matters relating to creativity? The accountants? The lawyers? The engineers? The sales staff? Okay, maybe the sales staff, but even then it might be iffy. Besides, the voice continued, is success within the company what you really want? Do you really want to climb the corporate ladder, trading in ever larger pieces of your soul along the way? Is that what you really want, Henry? Henry? Henry?
“Henry? Henry, are you still with me?” It was Craig.
“Oh, sorry,” said Henry, stirring from his inner tug-o-war, “yes, I was just thinking. What is it you were saying?”
“I was asking about the campaign. Tell me about it, let me see if it’s any good or not.”
“Sure,” said Henry, pouring himself another drink, “why not? Are you a fisherman?”
“Yeah, I like to fish every now and then.”
“Ever heard of Telasco rods and reels?”
“Oh yeah, sure, that’s what I use.”
“Well, that’s who I work … used to work for.”
“Nope, no kidding. They wanted a whole new ad campaign, print, video, mobile, social media, the works, and they wanted to see what I could come up with. So, I spent several weeks developing a slogan, and then the next couple of months creating the art for all of the different media where the ads would be placed.”
“So, let’s hear it, what was the slogan?”
Henry took a deep breath. After what happened in the conference room with his former CEO, he wasn’t sure he wanted to say the slogan out loud again. He took another sip of his drink.
“Ah, what the hell?” he said. “Here goes … it was, ‘Telasco Industries, We love fish, and fish love us!’”
Henry looked up at Craig, hoping for a better reaction than he received earlier in the day. He didn’t get it. The bartender appeared to be doing everything he could not to laugh directly in Henry’s face.
“I’m sorry, Henry,” he said, unable to contain his laughter any longer, “that is terrible. I mean, it’s really, really bad.”
“Thanks,” said Henry, “thanks a lot. Go ahead and kick a guy when he’s down, why don’t ya.”
“Hey, Henry, I’m sorry buddy, but even you have to admit that it’s really bad.”
“No I don’t. If I thought it was that bad, I wouldn’t have presented it.”
“We love fish, and fish love us? Come on, Henry, that’s terrible.”
Henry stopped and thought about it for a second.
“Okay,” he said with a smirk, “I guess you’re right, it is pretty bad. And yes, you were right, I should have let someone else review it before I presented it to the CEO of the company. But so what? It’s too late now, I’ve already screwed up and I’m out of a job.”
“Maybe not,” said Craig with a nod of his head toward the door, “I think maybe someone’s looking for you.”
Henry turned to the door and saw his former boss, Jason Lesko, President and CEO of Telasco Industries.
“Oh crap,” said Henry, half under his breath. “What the hell? Is he going to fire me again?”
“Henry,” said Jason, walking over to where he was sitting, “I was hoping I could find you. It’s taken a while, but I’m glad I caught up with you.” He looked at Craig. “I’ll have whatever he’s having.”
“Here, sir,” said Henry taking his bottle, “allow me.” He took the glass that Craig handed him and poured his former boss a drink. “What are you doing here?”
Jason took a sip of the drink, then pulled an envelope out of his suit jacket pocket.
“I wanted to deliver this personally. It’s your final paycheck.”
Henry’s heart sunk. Whatever chance he thought he might have had of getting his job back was gone now.
“I see,” he said. “Thanks, I appreciate you delivering it, although I don’t really understand why. I said some pretty awful things, called you some pretty awful things.”
“Yeah,” said Jason, smiling into his drink, “you did at that. But I know you didn’t mean them. Look Henry, we’ve worked together for nearly a year, and in that time I’ve come to appreciate your … let’s call it, candor. Although, today’s display was a bit too direct and, well, inappropriate.”
“Jason, I’m really sorry about how I acted today. You’re right, it was totally inappropriate and unprofessional. And, you know I didn’t really mean any of it, I was just frustrated, that’s all.”
“I know, Henry. But that’s not why I’m here.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” said Henry.
Jason picked up his glass and sloshed the whiskey around.
“Do you like to bowl, Henry?” he asked.
Between the buzz in his head from the alcohol and the bizarre conversation, Henry was confused as ever.
“I’m not following you, sir,” he said.
“Bowl, Henry, you know, do you like to go bowling?”
“I can’t really say for sure. I’ve never tried it.”
“Ah well, there’s nothing like it, Henry,” said Jason as he downed his drink and slid his glass over for a refill. “Nothing like being in the groove and throwing strike after strike after strike.”
Henry nodded his head, as if he understood what his former boss was talking about.
“I’m guessing you’re pretty good at it then,” he said, refilling the glass.
“I used to be,” said Jason, a far-away look in his eyes. “I used to be very good.” He turned back to look at Henry. “I was all set to turn pro … had my sponsors lined up and everything. All I had to do was show up at the first tournament in Memphis and compete.”
“My father died.”
“Oh God. Oh Jason, I’m sorry.”
Jason nodded and took another sip.
“Thanks,” he said. “But that’s not the tragedy of this story. When he died, I didn’t go to Memphis to compete in that tournament. Understandably, I stayed home to handle the funeral and to wrap up his affairs. But, I didn’t just miss the Memphis tournament, I missed them all. My father left Telasco to me, on the condition that I give up my “childish fantasy” as he put it and stay home to run the family business.”
“Wow, sounds like your dad had some serious control issues,” said Henry, not knowing what else to say or do. “Believe it or not, I can relate.”
“I believe you can, Henry,” said Jason, looking at Henry in a way Henry wasn’t used to. “But, I’m not looking for sympathy or anything like that. My life turned out just fine. I’m likely a lot wealthier now than if I’d gone pro, but that’s not the point either. I didn’t chase my dream, Henry. Not many of us get the opportunity to go after our dreams, and when we actually do, even fewer of us actually take the risk to chase after it.”
“Okay, but what does that have to do with me?”
“Henry, I was going over your presentation, you know, giving it a closer look to make sure I didn’t miss anything.”
“And … well, your artwork is … is amazing.”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Henry, please don’t call me sir, you don’t work for me anymore. I’m here as a friend. You are a truly gifted artist, I mean beyond anything I’ve ever seen before and I have a pretty good eye for this kind of thing. Henry, if I can offer you this one piece of advice, don’t think of the fact that you no longer work at Telasco as a setback, but as an opportunity for you to chase your dream as an artist. Do what I didn’t. You weren’t meant to work the eight-to-five shift in the corporate world; you’re far too talented for that.”
Jason reached over and put his hand on Henry’s shoulder.
“You’re going to be just fine,” he said, “and to make sure, I added a little extra to your check. Think of it as an investment in your new future.”
Henry felt a lump in his throat, but fought it down with another drink.
“Thank you, Jason,” he said when he finally regained his composure. “I don’t know what to say.”
Jason got up and held his hand out.
“Say that you’ll consider my advice and pursue your dream.”
“I will,” said Henry.
“Good luck to you.”
“Thank you,” said Henry, standing up as well. “I hope you find someone who can create the right campaign for you.”
Jason nodded, then turned around and left.
Henry sat back down and looked at the glass in front of him, which a moment before seemed half-empty but was now clearly half-full.
“Everything okay?” asked Craig coming back from the other end of the bar.
“Yeah,” replied Henry as he picked up the glass and downed the rest.
“Did he take you back?”
“Nope,” said Henry. “Better. He told me to chase my dream.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“It would be, except for one problem.”
“Not a that, but a who.”
Not bothering with the glass, Henry grabbed the Jack and drank it straight from the bottle.
“My wife,” he said as he set the bottle back down on the bar. “You’d best call me a cab.”