“A Spoiled Game” excerpt II

‘Travelogue’ excerpt from A Spoiled Game: A Jack Swift Case by Carl Knauf

He turned onto 12th Avenue, and before dropping down the Federal Triangle metro stop, he huffed at the Trump International Hotel. “Man, that was some sort of crazy.”

Swift took the Blue Line to Foggy Bottom, and then the short 12-minute walk to the Watergate Hotel.

“Man, this was some sort of crazy as well.”

As he walked through the spotless lobby, past spiraling silver pillars and wavy golden walls, he observed, “This is rather fitting.”

The hotel clerk raised his brow, unimpressed, and smugly asked, “Checking in?”

Swift approached the sleek desk. “Yes. That’s a nice suit, I must say. I feel quite underdressed, been traveling all day, you know.”

“Yes, sir,” the clerk said with little interest and much doubt. “Name, please.”

“Hickis, Michael Hickis.”

After a few exaggerated taps on the keyboard, he verified, “Here you are, Mr. Hickis. Just the one night?”

“I believe that’s all I’ll need.”

“And it looks like you prepaid.” He handed Swift his room keys. “Enjoy your stay, and let us know if you need anything.” The clerk offered a fake smile.

“Thanks. Don’t worry; you won’t even know I’m here.”

Swift snatched the key, brushed shoulders with history and political enthusiasts, visitors, and networking lawyers, and took the elevator to his floor. Inside the room, he bolted the door and unpacked his own black suit, ropes and hooks, and tiny flasks. After a thorough prep and a flowing stretch, he poured himself a neat two fingers and enjoyed the darkening view over the Potomac River from his balcony.

“This feels too easy. What a beautiful country.”

Swift sat and placed his feet on the railing and drafted a message on his cell phone. An unsaved number popped up on the screen. He knew it was Anna and his thumb quivered between answering and ignoring the call. For a moment, the vulnerability of loneliness widened, but soon subsided with the realization that there was work to be done. Swift swiped the red circle with guilt and sorrow.

He finished his note and sent the email. “Damn crazy, but beautiful.”

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“Forgotten Kids” excerpt II

‘Summer Past: Chapter 1’ excerpt from Forgotten Kids by Laurie Costello.

I leaned against the wall and watched the loners and losers become lost in the smog and realized that marijuana and ecstasy weren’t the only drugs being shared. Faces leaned on a small mirror that rested on the bureau, jolting upward with an energetic shout after a snort. I should have been more stunned, but that was the life. I had classes with these people and saw them walk the courtyard of our school every semester, falsely presenting themselves as model youths in their uniforms and Catholic crest. We prayed every morning, forced to give thanks in unison, but I assumed no one ever listened, and from the actions I encountered—not just that night, but throughout my tenure—I was correct.

As the fake joyfulness overwhelmed the others, I whispered to myself, “What would Jesus do?”

I’m not sure if my upbringing and high school teachings ignited that philosophical quandary as my first thought, but I needed to answer the question nonetheless.

“He wouldn’t do a damn thing,” I said.

Looking at those fools, those liars, those cheats, why would he have wanted to save that chaos? I was surrounded by sinners and was one in the same. He would have walked in and destroyed every one of us, shooting fire out his eyes and lightning bolts out his fingertips, erasing any evidence that we represented his name or followed in his footsteps. I had a strange idea of what Jesus’ powers were. Then it happened: I saw him. I saw Jesus.

A tall and thin fellow walked into the room with long hair and a patchy beard sporting ripped blue jeans and a tattered cardigan he may have stolen from his grandfather. I couldn’t clearly verify the savior’s manifestation due to the darkness and the smoke, but I whispered, “Jesus,” hoping he would hear me over the current track because I believed good hearing was another power of his.

He didn’t respond because it wasn’t him—we were doomed. It was just a boy I knew of but never had any interaction with. He tried hard to emulate Kurt Cobain in appearance and lifestyle but was too obsessed with being popular enough, which proved his variance from the late rock star. That and he wasn’t a rock star. Nor was he Jesus, but neither was Cobain despite the praise toward him—he couldn’t have been Christ because his beard didn’t grow well enough. The newcomer to the room was Zach. He was a drugged-out, misbehaving risk taker, a jokester who forced laughs instead of earned them, a pest. I could tell he was quite impaired as he slapped hands with the boys and hugged the girls in the room, all movements with a baleful grin of confidence and mischief. He nodded in my direction, an acknowledgment that asked, “What’s up,” and “Why are you here,” at the same time—either way, my presence had been compromised. I sipped my beer—or whosever beer it was—puffed my cigarette, and nodded back before looking away as if I was James Dean saying hello. I wasn’t nearly as cool as I believed—certainly not on a Dean level.

I began to feel uncomfortable now that Zach had brought attention to me and was confused as to how I ended up in the room in the first place. I didn’t do drugs, didn’t like these people, and was paranoid of black lights, worried they would reveal dandruff or other embarrassing stains on my clothing. Where were my real friends? Where did they go? Were they ever in this room?

I then asked aloud with an eccentric hand gesture and slur, “And where’s my only cigarette?”

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“Forgotten Kids” excerpt I

‘Summer Present: Chapter 1’ excerpt from Forgotten Kids by Laurie Costello.

She appeared, parting the rest of them like Moses, though that reference was stale and forgotten from two decades ago. Yes, there she was, indeed, with her wavy locks falling from underneath a debonair fedora, tickling her sun-kissed cheeks and bare shoulders. She was the girl, or woman now, who altered my life with the most miniscule of moments in the grand scheme of things. The tiniest sliver of hope that ignited a burning that has since only been met with temporary relief, for it will never be satisfied.

Heather came up next to me and said, “What is she doing here? God, I hate that bitch.”

I tugged on the cuff of my button-down to cover my wrist. “Yeah, me too.”

“Her teeth are, like, too perfect. It’s disgusting.”

I turned and looked at Heather as if I had never seen her or heard those semantics before. She went blonde, and the mountains rounding from underneath her top could have only been formed with assistance and a hefty entertainer’s fare—or perhaps even an industry comp for a role.

“Well, you’ve certainly changed.”

She stepped back and twirled as if it were a compliment. “I had to. Isn’t it great?”

“It’s something; that’s for sure.”

“So what do you do now?” she asked.

“I’m a counselor.”

“Oh,” she said, disappointed at the lack of esteem.

“And you?”

Nadia sauntered over before Heather could answer, and said, “A counselor, that seems fitting after all that happened.”

I smiled and gave her a hug; she used to be petite, but all that remained in that regard was her height. She was proof life phases add weight in more than one aspect, especially when experience was forced early on. “Hey, Nadia, great to see you. I heard you have, like, ten kids.”

“Always the omniscient one.”

“Well, not always, just more so over time.”

“I don’t have ten kids, but I have a gang.”

“Hopefully a little tamer than the one you used to roll with.”

“Just a tad.” She chuckled.

A stout man, just a few inches taller than Nadia, walked to her side with sunglasses on his forehead and his chin lifted. He held a beer, and his stomach stored a few more.

She put a soft grip around his triceps and said, “This is my husband.” She then presented her palm face up in my direction, “Babe, this is Kyle. You know, the one I talk about sometimes.” 

He extended his hand and I met it with a firm grip.

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

“Same here, bro.”

After we released, there was no need to further the introduction with mundane getting-to-know-yous because I was at a point in my life where I wanted less people around, not new acquaintances who will inevitably become as irrelevant as names from the past—just quicker this go-around. He appeared to be stuck in the same mentality, but it may have just been his personality of being unimpressed, demanding respect without an ounce of reciprocation. So, just another person from this town, I guess.

“Are you still into music?” Nadia asked.

“Can’t seem to get away from it, which is a good thing.”

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“A Spoiled Game” excerpt I

‘Travelogue’ excerpt from A Spoiled Game: A Jack Swift Case by Carl Knauf

The metro train sped through its usual tunnel, the passengers aboard just as routine as its schedule. A few random irregulars and drifters dotted the crowd of black and dark blue suits, but plenty of distance was given between familiar groupings and unrecognizable visitors.

Jack Swift sat and leant against the dirty plastic. People gave him his space, unimpressed with his tight tattered jeans, faded baseball tee, and disheveled hair and beard. He glared past the smudges on the glass in search of the emotions he displaced, counting each dim light that rhythmically guided the train to its next stop. He caught the eye of a young woman on her phone eager to reach the office and share what gossip was streaming in her ear. He smirked and nodded. She shifted her eyes up and down before turning, disgusted.

As the cars emerged in front of a crowded platform, like a bullet from the black, the rails screeched to a halt, drowning out the muffled announcement on the old speaker. Black and navy was replaced with more of the same as the passengers exiting rushed past museum and event posters, sleeping vagrants, and annoying buskers.

Swift smiled. “Beggars, the bunch of them. One for survival, the other for negotiations, both masking their shame.” He watched the woman as she hurried out of sight with her phone still glued to her ear, calves flexing beneath the hem of her skirt, eyes disregarding anyone she considered beneath her. “Good riddance, my dear. May your arguments be taken seriously.”

He earned a few suspicious glares but motioned his hand to assure his intentions were proper. “Just wishing my friend well. This place is a different animal than what I’m used to.”

There was no response except for a few breathy scoffs. A woman with pale skin under colorful permanent sleeves entered the car just before the doors closed. Dark red highlights rested just atop thick black frames with very thin lenses. The strap of her messenger bag filled the valley that divided the Avengers on her white tee. She plopped her faded black jeans next to Swift in the outcast waiting area.

“Nice shirt,” Swift said.

Uninterested, the woman offered a polite simper before diving into her graphic novel.

He said, “‘The Korvac Saga.’ That’s a good one. The power of being human.”

Unexpectedly impressed, she asked, “You know the Avengers?”

“The crappy clothes and hair didn’t give it away?”

She giggled and tucked her stray sleek strands behind her ear.

Swift reached into his leather courier and removed a gem mint comic protected by a sturdy plastic. “You remind me of someone. Natalia Romanova… or Natasha Romanoff as most know her.”

“Black Widow. I’m flattered.”

“As you should be. Check this out.” Swift presented Tales of Suspense #52.

Amazed, the woman flexed her knowledge. “Her first appearance. May I touch it?”

He handed her the comic. “By all means.”

She handled it as if it was an infant, inspecting each corner and admiring the art. “This is priceless.”

“Unfortunately, everything has a price, especially when fallen on hard times. I’m on my way to sell it.”

Childishly distraught, she pleaded, pressing the plastic against her chest, “No, you can’t!”

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