Read THE SUBSTANTIVE THIEF alongside an old school nonsense novel. The world you will land in is being torn apart by a deconstruction company. It is a place where the ones who are to blame joust with the ones writing the novels, as cattle ride by on bicycles and the Tower of Carbunk looms. (The cover shown above corresponds to the paperback version of this title.)
Inside this book...
An excerpt from THE SUBSTANTIVE THIEF.
Copyright 2020 by Pete O'Brien. All Rights Reserved.
Horace Hopscotch was already tucked in the back of the elevator when two gray shapes, Shadows he couldn't see through, entered and turned around to face the doors. Had they turned again, they would have seen Horace lick his chops and raise his right eyebrow a hair, but they did not.
The rest of Horace's eyebrow hairs, apart from the one whose birthday it was today (and it was smashed after some whiskey, but this was not something Horace was privy to) stayed where they were.
As the Shadows talked, the edge in their voices and the quality of their movement cued Horace in that they were lads with careers and prospects in mind.
Shadow A said, "Stellar meeting that."
A pause. The elevator started its ascent, with the rise barely detectable.
"Fantastic rebuttal by The Loud."
"Added perspective all right," confirmed Shadow A, with a slight lift and throw of the shoulders.
"Okay. You haven't said anything about our case. What do you think? Protractible exegesis?"
"Oh. You mean the file. And the color of the code."
"Claro," said Shadow B in Spanish. "El doctor no tiene un scalpel."
"What's that in English?"
"Spanish only. Never mind. The point is, he sounds intelligent. And in this episode of the roving piano, intelligence is not a given."
"It never is," said Shadow A.
A hush fell over the two. This time the elevator was moving, but you couldn't tell it was moving. Or had it stopped? But elevators, particularly sleek new ones like this one, never stopped in the middle and hung in space. They had no imagination, no concept of - but why even consider the matter, except that when you stand in an elevator and you can't tell if it's moving or not, why that is the precise moment when the elevator feels most alive. As if somebody was inside the metal springs, jumping up and down, or on the outer ceiling, meditating on a color-burster Cezanne or Van Gogh. Other artists' works don't really have the same appeal for elevators, you wager. And you trust that is another story, because it shuffles away.
Horace's ears spiked at the chance to learn something valuable, so he did his best to pat them down without touching them lest his interest be guessed at by Shadow A and Shadow B.
"Has the elevator stopped?" said Shadow A suddenly.
"I can never tell when it's moving, unless a touch at the beginning."
Shadow A turned his head. "Where was I? Have you ever seen an acorn dance? I mean really. The person of interest in the scenario we heard today is a foot jammed in the door. Cowboy wanted a leg in, but couldn't get it. Now he can't get out or in. He's stuck, and damn conspicuous too. Our team went in and sized up the situation. And you know what - "
"Yes, I do."
"Clear as toy dust. One of them grabs a stiletto, let's make it Red. Don't know from where, maybe a phony purse, but I never saw it. Whenever it's required, she produces a specious purse spot on, but she travels only unpursed. I've never figured it out. And stilettos. Where do they come from? The other one makes 'em appear like magic too. So Red runs to the door and - "
"Don't say it," said Shadow B.
"I feel the same way, Qxjb."
Qxjb was evidently Shadow B's name, but Horace could make no sense of how the word sounded or how it would be spelled, only that it was "other-worldly." The elevator started playing jazz. Softly.
"Cruelty," resumed Qxjb. "What does Shakespeare say about it?"
"Woman. That's what he says."
"Does he then? I thought donuts," said Qxjb.
Still the elevator doors did not open.
"Donuts are bad for you. Have none. Point is," started Qxjb, but Shadow A cut him short.
"We're hedging bets as to when the kicker starts. If too many guesses, I'd say the satchel's a lost cause. Better to stick to something where we know the rules. Football it."
"Violent. It's who you can smash in a fantastic sandwich on the first of May."
"Devil's advocate?" said Shadow A.
"True. But the rest is, we have facing these two, said two women. Terrible names for a write-up. Who dreamed them up!"
"Ah. Yes," said Shadow A, "the old question, which names are real and which not. The director keeps saying they're true. That's the line we take."
"You know the truth is, the oftener a thing is said, the more the lie comes out." The lights dimmed slightly. The two Shadows might not have noticed the change, thought Horace. And so what if they hadn't? But he liked to observe and consider things like dimming lights. It reminded him of ricotta cheese. Ricotta cheese? What?
"Ricotta cheese?" said Qxjb.
Shadow A shifted uneasily. Qxjb stood very still.
Suddenly, at the same time, Shadow A said "Don't say - " and Qxjb said, "Drop - " and then both quieted at once. It was an uncomfortable stillness. Qxjb stood rigidly, but Shadow A leaned one way and then the other.
Horace glanced at his toes, but in a casual way. There was no attracting attention to himself now.
"If we looked at the subject under a glass, do you think - " said Shadow A.
"No words," said Qxjb.
"Then if we - "
The elevator doors opened, and Qxjb and Shadow A quickly shuffled out into the hallway that looked no different from any other hall outside this elevator, as Horace knew very well.