Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bufferfly's Child is Released at Dreamspinner Press

I’m excited to announce that my new novel, Butterfly’s Child, went on sale today at Dreamspinner Press. Sometime in the next week it will show up on Amazon, B&N, and other online sites that sell fine books.

I’ve included a story description and the first two chapters below. You can purchase the book on Dreamspinner Press site.

The first twenty books bought on the Dreamspinner site will be signed copies.

While back in the West to attend his grandmother’s funeral, Cord Bridger uncovers two shocking revelations: his grandmother had a lesbian lover named Juanita, and he has a teenaged son named Kalin. Fate brings all three together, but to preserve his new family, Cord must leave his safe life in New York City behind to carve a living from the harsh ranch lands of Nevada.

To forge a life with Juanita and Kalin, Cord must first discover the dark secret burning a hole in Kalin’s heart. With the help of Tomeo, a handsome Japanese veterinarian, Cord travels a gut-wrenching road of triumphs and tragedies to insure his son will survive the sinister violence of his past. But as Tomeo becomes more than just a helpful friend to Cord, a new set of problems arise between Cord and Kalin that may threaten the happiness of them all.

Chapter One

The musicians tuned their instruments for a Thursday night performance. A mishmash of sounds ascended from the pit, underscoring the audience’s expectant banter.

Cord Bridger settled into his usual seat, a mahogany desk and chair known as a libretto table. There were only six in the Metropolitan Opera House. They had no view of the stage, but rather crouched along the balcony walls, three to the stage’s right and three to the left. Each desk supported a low-watt lamp so the patron could read the opera’s score as the performance played out.

Cord wore his usual evening attire: black Brioni suit, black silk shirt, black tie, and his short black hair stuck out at rakish angles. Only his pale face, thin fingers, and fatally blue eyes stood out in the shadows.

He spread Madame Butterfly’s score before him, studied the tiny ink strokes that formed the musical phrases. The air felt cool, but both his hands and upper lip were damp with perspiration. Butterfly was the only opera he had never sat completely through, though he thought the music sublime. The storyline drove him away every time. Butterfly’s heartbreak and eventual suicide always proved too painful.

Sounds washed over him—musicians tuning instruments, footsteps along the aisles, groaning seats, excited whispers. He focused on the musicians, discerning each instrument, verifying whether it was tuned or needed further adjustment.
A click of the lamp at the table behind him turned his head. A familiar face smiled, another aficionado he’d noticed before but had never spoken to. She wore an industrial-gray pantsuit with a white pigeon-breasted shirtfront. Two chopsticks held her ginger-colored hair in a bun on the back of her head.

He nodded.

Turning back to his score, he heard approaching footsteps and felt a pressure on his shoulder. The Metropolitan Opera’s art director, Tom Phillips, stood beside him like a pallbearer in his gray suit, crisp moustache, and large eyes seen predominantly on nocturnal animals.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bridger. They told me you were in the house. I wanted to inform you that Logan Evans will not perform tonight, head cold I’m afraid. Mr. Brooks will sing the tenor role. I thought you should know in case you would prefer to attend next week’s performance.”

Cord always felt annoyed when people called him “Mr. Bridger.” His thirty-fourth birthday had recently past, but he felt younger, still a colt and not quite deserving the mature title of Mister. He swallowed his irritation, then considered leaving. After the first act, the tenor was superfluous. He had come to hear Ruth Ann Swensen sing the title role. Cord thanked the art director for his thoughtfulness and told him that he would stay.

Ten minutes passed before Mr. Phillips walked on stage and made a similar announcement to the entire house. A rumble of disappointment rolled over the audience, followed by clapping as a rotund man in white tie and tails stepped onto the conductor’s platform. The applause diminished until a hush held the audience still, with only sporadic coughs to punctuate the silence.

The lights dimmed. The musicians prepared. Then immaculate sound rifled through Cord, vibrating every cell with delicious harmony.

Madame Butterfly is a journey bridging extremes, from a bride’s wedding-day bliss to her suicide. Knowing this, Cord focused on the music and tried to ignore the unfolding story. But as the tenor began to sing, bitterness choked Cord’s heart.
The tenor had a passable voice, albeit a small instrument for this opera house. But the character he played, Lieutenant Pinkerton, disgusted Cord. Pinkerton marries Butterfly without loving her, leaves her without a thought, and becomes a blubbering coward when he returns years later to find she has given birth to his son. His pusillanimous actions drive Butterfly to suicide.

Cord could not see the character strutting about the stage, but Pinkerton’s voice broadcasted a vast arrogance. The music was exquisite, yet Cord grew impatient for Pinkerton to exit and the first act to end. He sat with his shoulders hunched, watching the notes on the page dance by. The brass blared, violins sang, the wedding turned triumphant.

Cord trembled as Butterfly sang out her prayer for happiness. His eyes watered, blurring the notes on the page. Apprehension seized him until the curtain fell on Act One and the applause diminished.

The woman behind him rose to join the others during intermission.

Cord drew a white handkerchief across his forehead as the audience disappeared into the corridor. Irritation swelled his heart, knowing Butterfly’s child would make his appearance at the end of Act Two.

As the second act unfolded, his anger grew intense. He listened with a mixture of rapture and rage, hearing the desperation in Butterfly’s voice yet knowing what lay ahead. He could not see the child take the stage, thankfully, but the ache he carried in his heart spread upward to stiffen his shoulders and neck, then solidified down his spine. Everything in him congealed—guts, glands, blood vessels, organs, bones. He laid a hand on his heart, but it failed to soothe.

In his mind’s eye, Cord saw the child, and he yearned to sweep the boy into his arms, whisk him away, and comfort him. In the midst of his petrification, his loathing of Pinkerton swelled until it threatened to overwhelm him.

In the third act, Pinkerton’s spineless crooning enraged him. He became aware of his weakness, realizing he had failed again. He thought he had buried these feelings long ago, but he sat as rigid and emotional as ever, caught in a whirlwind of memories.
By the time Butterfly took the stage for her death scene, Cord could barely breathe. It felt as though he sucked air through a straw, which couldn’t begin to fill his hardening lungs. He closed his score and stood. He felt the ginger-haired lady scrutinizing him as he tucked his score under his arm, and he raised his head until their eyes met.

“Can’t imagine how you can leave before the finale.”

He felt himself blush; his eyes lowered. “I have an overpowering phobia of stabbings—especially the self-inflicted kind.”
He shuffled to an exit door and slipped into the brightly lit corridor.

Butterfly’s outcry followed him down the stairs. He couldn’t keep himself from imagining the stage. She sat on a yellow cushion beside a low table. Her posture reflected elegance, her face displayed consummate dignity. Folded around her body was the most brilliant long-sleeve kimono possible. Embroidered onto the gold-colored fabric was an exquisite maroon phoenix.

Light radiated off the golden material. She shimmered, dreamlike, as if his imagination had painted a silkscreen masterpiece to represent the tragic soul of all discarded lovers.

She turned her head, studied him for a half-second, and bowed. Lifting her head, their eyes met. Deep within her gaze, her suffering revealed itself. Those shattered eyes drew Cord into his own grief. Crushed, he wanted to flee from this woman who shrouded herself in heartache, but running away was futile—she lived in his mind.

The blade reflected the spotlight as she lifted it to shoulder height. Her sleeve swayed beautifully as her arm arched toward her body. A plum-colored stain spread across her kimono, blurring the phoenix. The agony in her face softened.

As Cord retrieved his overcoat, the hatcheck woman shot him a queer look. Only then did he notice the tears streaming down his cheeks. He darted between the Chagall unicorns and out the doors into Lincoln Center Plaza.

Overcast blanketed the city, and the temperature had dropped into single digits. The air smelled of snow as it bit into his lungs.

A handful of people meandered through the plaza—a lesbian couple strolled with their arms entwined, two children pulled at the sleeves of an old man while begging him to hurry, and a dozen Asian tourists took pictures by the fountain. All the Asians wore dark, muted clothing except one lady dressed in a white fake-fur coat and holding a crimson umbrella.

He felt his tears freeze on his cheeks. His teeth chattered. As he rushed by the umbrella lady, a camera flash momentarily blinded him. He stumbled toward Times Square, seeing nothing but maroon wings stretched on a golden fabric.

Chapter Two
The day began with the buzz of a cell phone ripping at the membrane of Cord’s sleep. The alarm clock’s diodes blinked: 4:23 a.m. He grabbed the phone and heard his father’s smoky voice, smudged with whiskey, announce that Cord’s grandmother had passed on to glory.

“Cause unknown. Old age combined with meanness, no doubt,” the old man slurred. “Funeral’s on Saturday; take the redeye and someone will meet you. She bequeathed everything to you, and you’re welcome to it. I want no part of it, ever.”

Confused, Cord lifted himself onto one elbow, trying to form thoughts. A moment later it sank in. What did the old man expect, for chrissakes. He abandoned his family, abandoned her, and now he’s facing the music. Cord wanted to hiss that message in the old man’s ear, but he hadn’t spoken a word to his father for as long as he could remember, and he would not start now.

A pause stretched into a harsh silence, and then the phone went dead.

Cord glanced across the bed and realized he was alone. His head dropped into the folds of his pillow while a mysterious bond with his newly dead grandmother gripped his chest. He assumed she’d died without anyone at hand to comfort her. Visions he’d imagined earlier invaded his head—a golden-clad Butterfly holding the blade, crushed and alone, having lost love, dignity, and her child. A shiver ran through his core like a mountain stream tumbling down his spine.

He contemplated the fact of never seeing her again, and though he hadn’t spoken to her in more than twelve years, much less given her much thought, his pain grew sharp. Confused emotions surged from his breast. He couldn’t fathom how he had allowed so much time to pass without contacting her. He blamed the fact that she didn’t own a phone, that to communicate with her meant going there in person, and once he had left the ranch he couldn’t muster the courage to return.

His thoughts churned to avoid the empty side of the bed. A saying his grandmother was fond of came to him—whenever God closes a door, he opens a window. But the thought brought no comfort. A heartbeat later, the superstition his grandmother often voiced—death always happens in threes—floated across his consciousness. He played one belief against the other. The first held the promise of happiness while the other guaranteed more pain, two ideas juxtaposed. He tried to determine which held truth, and then he remembered he didn’t believe in God.

He pieced together his boyhood, remembering her hard, jubilant manner and the joy of working beside her to care for the livestock. Caught in the past, her sonorous voice called to him through a decade of emptiness.

It occurred to him he had lost more than the woman who raised him after his mother died. While working on her ranch—before attending Juilliard and settling in New York City—she had become the sole person he had trusted, the one with whom he could let down all masks, all pretenses, and be himself. She had loved him like that, vulnerable, and he had returned her unwavering acceptance. Only her. Not even the fruit of her loins, his father, did he trust or love, and his own mother died before he turned four. With his grandmother’s death came the loss of righteousness, innocence, and to Cord Bridger, it felt like being chased out of Eden, if there ever was such a place.

He rose from the bed, stepped to the window, and pulled the curtains open. His gaze rested upon the Chrysler Building’s illuminated coronets.

At that darkest hour of the night—though his twenty-eighth floor apartment was not high enough to escape the street glow—he stared at the skyline, feeling a frightening meaninglessness to his reality. This existence of sharing a few square miles with eight million people, the absurdity of being alone within this mass of humanity, pricked his skin like scores of needles. He tried to cry out, but he could not utter a sound or take a breath. His anxiety passed and he could breathe again, but the fear of being irrelevant lingered. With more reflection, he found comfort with the notion that he was not alone—everyone in the city before him was equally insignificant.

He stood at the window until the sky began to pale. When sadness turned to numbness, he closed the curtains and climbed into bed. He drew the sheets around him, cocoon-like, and stared past the alarm clock to the cloaked window.
Thirty minutes later he heard two clicks from across the apartment—a key slipping into the lock and the sliding deadbolt.
Cord’s ears followed the progress of the front door being opened and closed, tiptoeing along the hallway, the sounds of clothes being discarded, the bedroom door opening and closing. He felt Cameron’s body tilting the bed and heard the static sound of sheets sliding over bare skin.

Cord lifted one eyelid to check the clock, noting the alarm would sound in forty minutes.

Cameron’s snoring followed Cord through the living room. Cord wore the gray Calvin Klein T-shirt and briefs he slept in.
The living room held Japanese furniture and colorful Chinese silk rugs. Cord’s ebony grand piano stood at the near wall, and Cameron’s home entertainment system cluttered the far corner. The centerpiece of Cameron’s system was a fifty-two-inch flat-screen television. Every room in the apartment had a wall-mounted TV, but none as imposing as the living room system. The west wall sported a fireplace that had never known fire, and over the mantel hung Cord’s only Rothko.

Cord never glanced at the Rothko without feeling grateful that Cameron’s parents gave their son an apartment in Central Park West, which allowed Cord the opportunity to spend his own salary on art rather than rent.

He sauntered to the kitchen, which had the same Zen-like bareness as the living room. The only food prepared there was morning coffee. The refrigerator’s sole purpose was to chill drinks. Meals were either eaten out or ordered in—usually something eaten with chopsticks because the apartment was devoid of knives.

Cord made a pot of coffee, then sat at the table sipping from a carrot-colored mug. He gazed over the rim, across the living room to the Rothko hanging above the mantel. He loved that painting for its size and blend of colors (blood red and mustard yellow blocks framed in charcoal gray), and because he could lose himself in its complex simplicity. It was not an image of any worldly thing, and like all Rothko paintings it had no title, which allowed it to become something different each time he gazed at it.

Right then, mug held to his lips, his attention focused on the lower corner where red blended with charcoal, and what he saw was Cameron sneaking through the apartment like a thief.

How could things have come to this?

He admitted their relationship had become a mystery. Fresh out of college, Cameron had made a name for himself as a reporter covering the city beat on CBS’s Good Morning Show. His fashion-model looks and designer-label clothing had made him one of New York’s beautiful people who frequented trendy eateries and spent nights clubbing. Cameron had scores of acquaintances in the broadcasting business, which provided endless party opportunities. And to make it in the television industry, Cord knew, you had to be seen.

Cord held no interest in running with that herd. At thirty-four, he had never looked better, but he was not one of the beautiful people. His looks blended into oblivion in any stylish crowd, which brought a small comfort at this stage in his life. He had a fawn-like face, short black hair, blue eyes, and over the last five years his lanky body had filled out and rounded enough to make him appear more mannish than boyish. When he’d first moved here, Cameron had made him over—wardrobe, haircut, accessories. Cord smiled to himself, thinking that accessories were what they used to load onto a Ford Taurus to make it seem like a Mercedes. No, underneath he was not of that breed.

The bedroom’s television announced that Cameron was awake. Cord thought about how Cameron’s life revolved around the tube more than the Internet. He had grown up in front of one, eating TV dinners and singing along with theme songs. The tube had been his babysitter, his teacher, his best friend. Now it made him a celebrity. But Cameron was more than hair mousse and designer labels. He had grown into a savvy TV personality on the rise. He was also a passionate lover. He’s perfect. Like this immaculate apartment, nothing I could add, change, or delete would be an improvement.

Still, lately, Cord spent so much time alone it felt as if he were single. Even when Cameron sat in the same room, he felt like some kind of hologram Cord could make love to but not touch. Cord wondered whether this was a new development, or had their relationship always been this way and he only now noticed?

Cord had waited years for him and Cameron to recapture that glow of affection—he felt reluctant to call it love—they’d felt for each other those first few months. Hell, Cord would settle for any point in their relationship when they’d still held each other and talked about unimportant things. Yes, he thought, feeling somewhat relieved, it wasn’t always like this.
Cameron stood at the doorway in his boxers. His honey-colored hair stuck out at stylish angles. Cord was astonished by Cameron’s beauty. After four years, he still had that effect on Cord, like gazing at the Rothko and seeing something he’d never seen before, yet as breathtaking as all the other times.

Cameron switched on the television and brushed past Cord on his way to get coffee. Cord reached up to touch his lover, but his outstretched hands only felt cool air moving in Cameron’s wake. Cord smiled down his disappointment. For a brief moment, he thought they might hug and kiss.

“Why didn’t you wake me? I’ll be late for work.”

Cord stared out the window. “You’re the one who stayed out all night.”

Cameron dismissed the comment with a toss of his head and focused on a CNN article about starving Somali refugees. It showed naked children with gaunt faces, watery eyes, and swollen bellies.

“What a shame,” Cameron muttered. “That stuff kills me. Can you make a note to send the World Hunger Project a hundred dollars? Thanks, honey.”

Cord feigned exasperation, though he didn’t mind doing it at all.

Cameron grabbed the remote and switched to CNBC.

“Shit. Oil’s over a hundred and forty a barrel,” Cameron said. “We should have bought some Exxon or BP.”

“I have some bad news. My grandmother died. The funeral’s Saturday, so I won’t be here for the weekend. I’ll book a seat on tonight’s redeye to Nevada. She left the Bitter Water to me.”

“Bitter Water?”

“Her ranch. I’ll have to settle the estate. That will take months, of course, but I’ll need to find an attorney and get the ball rolling. That will take a week or two, I would think.”

“Honey, I’m so sorry.” He reached over and ran his fingers through Cord’s spiky hair. “You must feel awful. But why do you need to attend the service? Saturday’s our anniversary party; everything is set.”

“I can’t miss her funeral.”

Cameron’s chin lifted absurdly high. “I understand. I do. She was important to you, but you promised to perform. I’ve already told everyone.”

“Cam, I said I’d think about it.”

“It’s the same thing. What will our friends think if you back out now?”

Cord glanced into the living room at his other lover, the Steinway, its lid propped open and its ivories burnished and expectant. He suspected Cameron’s motivation for wanting him to play grew from shame. Cameron was embarrassed that Cord, with all his schooling and talent and promise, earned his living as a glorified piano tuner because he couldn’t cut it on the concert tour.
“Your friends are expecting a performance I never agreed to. Besides, paying my respects to family trumps entertaining friends. Our real friends will understand.”

“Put her on ice for forty-eight hours and fly out on Sunday. She won’t give a shit, and who cares what those yokels think? Didn’t you tell me she lives in some dump that doesn’t have electricity? You want to play Daniel Boone for two weeks?”
“It’s not a dump; it’s rustic. She left it to me. I have to do something with it. Besides, here or there, I have no intention of playing on Saturday. I quit performing, remember?”

“Honey, you’re the most gifted musician in New York. People would pay hundreds to hear you play. If you decide to record something, people will listen to you for the next century. You’re that good. But it’s worthless if you keep it to yourself. I mean, what good is it if you don’t share it?”

Mere flattery to get what he wants? No, Cord knew his lover believed it. Who knew whether it was true or not, but it comforted him to know Cameron still felt that way.

“Honey, I wish I could do this for you, but I can’t. So can we drop it?”

“Have it your way, Mr. Boone. You always do. You’re never there for me. It’s like being married to an apparition. I need you to take an active role in my life, but you lock yourself in this apartment and your damned sound studio and hide from everyone. I need more.”

“Thanks for your support in my hour of loss, sweetheart. I love you too.”

Cameron winced as Cord’s barb hit its mark.

Cord felt sorry. He didn’t consider himself a cruel person—most of the wounds he inflicted were unintentional—unless weakness was another form of cruelty.

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