Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Unpublished Excerpt - "Murder by Earthlight"


Four years before I wrote "Another Girl, Another Planet" - I made a false start on that story, a murder mystery set in space in an alternate universe. I got to 2,700 words before I abandoned it. Here is the beginning of what I wrote in 2011. If you have read "Another Girl, Another Planet", you can see the development of many crucial plot concepts here.

---

Because of the Recession – I suppose – the small patio behind the office building was overgrown and unkempt. As I walked through the fire door, I saw him sitting in a rusty metal chair, a Reuben on wax paper sitting in his lap.

He was alone.

He looked up and swallowed. “You looking for anybody, son?”

I pulled the book from my side pack fanny and nodded. “Are you Thomas Santangelo?”

He nodded and wiped the mustard from his gray beard. “Yes, what can I do for you?”

“They told me inside you were eating lunch out here,” I said.

I walked over to the table and put the boon down in front of him. “I found this is in the dollar bin at the Friends of the Library fundraiser sale,” I said. “It has your name in it, I tracked you down.”

I sat down opposite him. “I thought you might want it back.”

He peered through bifocals at the cover--and gasped, very loudly. He reached out with both hands and grabbed the book, hard, as if to assure himself that it was real.

“Oh, my God, it was real, it was all real,” he said, to no one in particular. Tears began to stream down his face, and he dropped the book as he tried to wipe them aside.

I had memorized the cover, and I looked at it upside down.

“A Decade of Progress: The Programmatic Outline of the International Space Colonization and Exploration Agency – 1980-1990: JASSECA.”

Below is smaller letters, it read: “Joint American-Soviet Space Exploration and Colonization Agency.”

Stamped in red stencil, it read at the bottom “Advance Review Copy – Return to Agency.”

Santangelo’s hands shook violently as he alternately tried to wipe his face and pick up the book again. I laid my hand on top of the book and steadied it. “Take it easy, it’s real, and it’s yours.”

He looked me in the eye. “You’re my witness!” he croaked.

He shook for a minute or two more, but soon he began to calm down and as he did, he began to flip through the pages of the book. His eyes glinted, as he obviously saw things he recognized.

It was a cheaply printed galley proof, a trade paperback sized book with sketches on the cover and where the art and illustrations would be inserted in the final printing.

When he was halfway through the book, he spoke without looking up. “Where did you get this?”

“Like I said, it was in the dollar bin at the Friends of the Library fund raising garage sale, where I live.”

“Where do you live?” he said, still without looking up.

“Natick, Massachusetts,” I said. “It’s west of Boston.”

“I know where Natick is,” he said. “I grew up in Rockland.” He looked up. “Do you have any idea where they got it.”

“The group takes donations of all types of books, They recycle a lot for pulp, but they save some for resale. This probably came in through some estate sale,” I said. “They had no idea where it came from. The only name I found inside was yours.”

I reached in my wallet and pulled out a yellowed cash register receipt. “I found this, stuck between pages like a bookmark.”

I held it out, and he reached for it with two fingers, grasping it gently like a butterfly’s wing. It read:

“Astro Gyros
“Our Middle Eastern Cuisine Is Out Of This World
“Lunar Base Mall Kiosk 37
“Dec 12 79
“Lunch Special # 5: FelGyr Pltter $5.47
“Thomas R. Santangelo
“Mastercard XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-5545
“Exp. 05-82
“Authorized Signature:”

I pointed to the receipt. “I assume that’s your signature at the bottom.”

He looked at me, and said--his voice trailing off softly--“Yes, it is.”

I cleared my throat. “I like science fiction, and I like alternate history. At first, I assumed--like the folks sorting through the books for library fundraiser--that this was a science fiction book, some sort of nerdy RPG guide, perhaps. I didn’t even pay a buck for it, I got it in a pile of a dozen books they let me have for five bucks. But when I got home and began to flip through it, it seemed--well, it seemed a lot of work for so specialized a goal.”

I pointed at the receipt again. “Then I found that, and I thought: ‘I can imagine some nerd making up a fake report to go with some RPG world, even if it is 200 pages long--but why counterfeit a receipt from a kebab stand?”

“It’s not fake,” said Santangelo. “I ate there, I had lunch there, the last day…” He looked away. “The last day…”

I tapped my finger on the table. “Is this an artifact from another quantum universe?”

Santangelo looked at me. His eyes were dry, and wide.

“You get it!” He said. “You get it!”

“There are 24 Thomas Santangelos in the U.S., according to Google, but there are only two Thomas R. Santangelos, and the other one is 84,” I said. “You’re only 54, I took a guess you might be the guy I was looking for.”

“I am. I grew up in that other quantum universe,” he said.

“Jeez, how did you cross over, then?”

“I didn’t, the universe changed on me. I woke up one morning in a different place, with a different past in a different history, but with my memory intact,” he said. “I don’t know why it changed.”

He held the book with both hands. “This is the first time I’ve seen anything from the world I grew up in.” He took a deep breath. “This must have had something to do with the change. I have to try to remember the last time I saw this before.”

He leveled his gaze. “I remember. It was in my apartment, on the moon base, in the moon colony.”
“You lived on the moon!”

“Shit, kid, that’s where I had my first job out of college, I was hired as an aide to the moon base governor right out of school,” he said. “That was in the summer of 1979.”

I must have looked stunned, because he snorted. “You like science fiction, young man? I can tell you a story times better than anything Admiral Heinlein or Harry Turtledove could have dreamed of. It happened to me, it was real.”

He looked around. “You came all the way from Massachusetts to Dallas, you can’t be in any kind of a rush.”

“No, no. I have all the time in the world,” I blurted.

“Give me a second, I’ll tell them inside I’m taking the rest of the day off, we can sit here while I tell the tale,” he said. “Maybe talking it through will help me remember something that will explain what happened.”

He got up and walked into the office building. A minute later he walked back out and sat down.

“You haven’t told me your name.”

“Jim, Jim Gibbons. My friends call me Jazzman because I listen to classical Jazz.”

“How old are you, Jazzman?”

“Twenty-two, I graduated from Emerson College last month.”

He looked thoughtful. “That’s how old I was when I went to the moon. Like I said, I was hired right out of college. I thought I was lucky at the time. I didn’t realize how much my luck would change when I set foot on that crunchy moon mud.”


(To Be Continued...}

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