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Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor
UK Edition from Ebury Press
Excerpt from Bad Things Happen
The shovel has to meet certain requirements. A pointed blade. A short handle, to make it maneuverable in a confined space. He finds what he needs in the gardening section of a vast department store.
He stows the shovel in his cart and moves unhurriedly through the wide aisles, gathering a few more items: D-cell batteries, a bag of potting soil, a can of weed-killer. Leather work gloves, two pairs. In the grocery section he picks up four deli sandwiches wrapped in plastic and a case of bottled water.
The checkout lanes are crowded. He chooses a line and the fluorescent lights flicker overhead as he considers how he's going to pay. His wallet holds a credit card in the name of David Loogan. It's not the name he was born with, but it's what he calls himself now. He's not going to use the credit card.
He does some calculations in his head and decides he has enough cash.
The line moves and he thinks he'll get out quick and clean, but he's wrong. The cashier wants to talk.
"I think I've seen you before," she says to him.
"I doubt it."
She's tall, broad in the hips, attractive, though the stark light accentuates the lines under her eyes and around her mouth.
"You look familiar," she says.
The man who calls himself David Loogan doesn't want to be familiar. He wants to be nondescript. Unmemorable.
"Maybe I've seen you here in the store," the cashier suggests.
He offers her a lukewarm smile. "That must be it."
He busies himself loading things onto the counter. The cashier takes the shovel and holds it with the blade pointing skyward so she can scan the barcode on the handle.
"You must be a gardener," she says.
He ought to agree and leave it at that, but he gets flustered. He starts to say, "I'm an editor," but stops himself. The truth won't do. He goes with the first lie that comes into his mind.
"I'm a juggler," he says.
It's a mistake. She decides to find him charming. She smiles and sets the shovel on the end of the counter and reaches for the potting soil in a leisurely way.
"You must be very good," she says lightly. "I've never heard of anyone juggling shovels. But one's not enough, is it? You ought to have three."
Go with charming then. "I've already got three," he says. "Anyone can juggle three. The real trick is juggling four."
"It must be dazzling," she says. "Where do you work? Kids' birthdays?"
He waits a beat and answers in his most serious tone. "Garden parties."
"Ha. Are you sure we haven't met before?"
She's flirting, Loogan decides. He looks at her fingers as she scans the sandwiches. She's wearing a wedding ring.
"I could swear I know you," she says. "Maybe we went to school together."
"I never went," he says. "Everything I know about juggling is self-taught."
"I'm serious. I think we went to high school together."
"I didn't go to high school around here."
"Well, hell, neither did I," she says. "And it's been quite a while. But you remind me of a boy in my class. I'll think of your name in a second."
She bags the gloves and the batteries together, the weed-killer separately.
"Dennis," she says suddenly, looking up at him. "Or Daniel?"
David Loogan picks up the shovel from the counter and is troubled by a momentary vision. He sees himself stabbing the blade into the base of the cashier's neck.
"Ted," he tells her. "My name is Ted Carmady."
She smiles and shakes her head. "Are you sure?"
She lets it go with a shrug. "Well, then I was way off, wasn't I?"
He puts the shovel in his cart, and she reads off his total and takes his money. He thinks she has turned shy on him, but she scribbles something on his receipt before she hands it over. He scans it on the way out, sees her name (Allison) and a phone number, and crumples the paper discreetly.
Out in the parking lot, Loogan adjusts the collar of his black leather coat and checks his watch. Nine thirty on a Wednesday night in October. A mist of rain is falling and the cars in the lot glow in the yellow light of tall arc lamps.
The lamps reassure him. He is not exactly afraid of the dark, but he often feels uneasy going out after sunset. And parking lots unnerve him. The echo of footsteps in a parking lot at night can set his pulse racing.
Loogan moves steadily along a row of cars, pushing the shopping cart before him. He has an uncomfortable moment when he sees a figure coming toward him. A thin man with a weathered face, hollowed eyes. A hooded sweatshirt, pants torn at the knee. Right hand resting in a pocket of the sweatshirt.
Loogan is suddenly aware of the humming of the arc lamps, the turning wheels of the cart.
You're fine, he tells himself. Nothing's going to happen.
As the thin man gets close, his hand comes out of the pocket of his sweatshirt. Loogan sees a glint of silver. Metal, he thinks. Blade. Knife.
Reflexively he reaches out to grab the thin man's wrist, but he stops himself in time. The thin man flinches away from him and hurries past, clutching a silver-gray cell phone to the front of his sweatshirt. He mumbles something Loogan doesn't catch.
Then he's gone and it's over and Loogan comes to his car. He loads the shovel in the trunk, and the potting soil, and all the rest. He shuts the trunk and pushes the cart into an empty parking space.
The hum of the arc lamps has receded into silence. Everything is normal. David Loogan is an ordinary shopper. No one would think otherwise. He opens his car door and slides in behind the wheel. He looks nothing at all like a man heading off to dig a grave.
The man who called himself David Loogan had been living in Ann Arbor since March. He rented a small furnished house on the west side: a sharp-roofed woodframe place with a porch in the front and a little yard in back wound about with chain-link fence.
He spent his days in the vicinity of Liberty and State streets, reading newspapers in cafes, watching movies at the Michigan Theater. He observed the comings and goings of university students, listened in on their conversations. He was not out of place in a university crowd: he might have passed for an older graduate student, or a young professor. He was thirty-eight.
The house he rented stood on the corner of a tree-lined street and belonged to a professor of history who was on sabbatical, doing research at a think-tank somewhere overseas. He had left a neglected garden in the back yard, and for a few days in April Loogan tried his hand at planting flowers. He bought seeds and poked them into the dirt. He watered, he waited. The flowers showed no sign of growing.
On an afternoon in May, he found a short-story magazine that someone had abandoned in a coffee shop. The title was Gray Streets.He ordered a cappuccino and found an overstuffed chair and read a story about an innocent man framed for murder by a beautiful and enigmatic woman.
The next day he set up camp in the professor's home office, clearing books and papers from the desk. He turned on the computer and started to compose a story about a killer with a fear of parking lots. It took him three days to finish a draft, which he printed and read through once before tearing it in half and burying it in the wastebasket.
The second version took him four days, and he considered it barely passable. He let the pages sit on the desk for a week, until one evening he put them away in a drawer and began to click away at a third version. He kept at it for several more nights until he had worked out a plot that satisfied him. The killer turned out to be the hero of the piece, and there was a twisted villain, and a woman that the killer saved from the villain. The climax took place on the top level of a parking garage. Loogan went back and forth on whether the woman would stay with the killer after he saved her, but he decided it would be better if she left.
When he had the ending the way he wanted it, he printed a clean copy with a title on the first page and no by-line or contact information, and then consulted his copy of Gray Streets for the magazine's editorial address. The address was a dozen blocks away, on the sixth floor of a building downtown. He walked there on a Saturday and the lobby doors were locked, but in the back he found a service entrance -- a steel door propped open with a brick. A dingy stairway brought him to the sixth floor. He passed the offices of an accountant and a documentary production company, and there it was. Neat black letters on the pebbled glass of the door: GRAY STREETS.
He had the manuscript in an unmarked envelope. It was too thick to slide under the door but there was an open transom above, and he slipped the envelope over and heard it drop to the floor on the other side.
In the days that followed he returned to his routine, going to movies and lingering in coffee shops. Then, on a night when he couldn't sleep, he went down to the professor's office and sat before the computer screen, reading the story again line by line, tinkering with it as he went along. Trimming words and phrases and finding that the sentences were stronger without them. The next day he printed a new copy and after business hours he walked downtown and climbed the narrow stairs and slipped another envelope over the transom.
He was sure that would be the end of it. He made himself busy, branching out in his wanderings: to museums, to art galleries, to public parks. But it wasn't the end. His memory was sharp; he could recall sentences and paragraphs; he could rewrite them as he walked along a path or stood before a painting. On another sleepless night he descended to the professor's office, intending to delete the file from the computer; he stayed there for an hour, for three, mulling every word choice, fussing over every bit of punctuation.
He thought he would leave it there, a file on a hard-drive. What would it matter if he printed it again? At twilight two days later he found himself in the hallway once more, holding the manuscript in an envelope under his arm. He stood before the door with the transom and tried to see beyond the pebbled glass. There might be nothing on the other side, he thought. Maybe just an empty room with two envelopes on the floor, gathering dust. And now a third to join them.
The door opened.
The man who opened it wore a dark blue suit with a powder blue shirt and a silk tie. He paused in the motion of putting on his hat -- a black fedora with a band that matched the suit. He saw Loogan and his eyes went to the envelope and the hat came down, the door swung open wide.
"It's you," he said. "Come in."
He retreated into the dimness of the room and after a few seconds a light came on in an inner office. From the lighted doorway he beckoned to Loogan with his hat.
Loogan took a few tentative steps. "I can't stay," he said.
There was no answer for that. The answer that occurred to him --Because it's going to be dark soon -- would sound ridiculous.
"You're not going to make me drag you in," said the man in the blue suit.
His voice had an oddly formal quality, the voice of an actor running lines. He directed Loogan to a chair and went around behind the desk. Among the papers on the desktop, Loogan saw his own two envelopes, each one sliced open along the edge.
"I've been waiting for you to come by," said the man in the blue suit. "That was clever, leaving your name off. It sparked my interest."
He tossed his hat onto a filing cabinet. Loogan said nothing.
"Is this the same one again, or a new one?"
Looking down at the envelope in his lap, Loogan said, "It's the same one. I've made some improvements."
"You ought to be careful. If it gets much better, I won't be able to publish it." The man took a seat at the desk. "The reason I've been waiting for you -- I wanted to make you an offer. I want you to work for me."
This was unexpected. Loogan frowned.
"I'm not really a writer."
"I don't need another writer. I've got writers scrabbling between the walls here, gnawing on the wiring. What I need is an editor."
Loogan shifted in his chair. "I don't think I'm qualified. I don't have the training."
"Nobody does," the man said. "It's not like people go to school for it. No one sets out to be an editor. It's something that happens to you, like jaundice or falling down a well." He pointed at Loogan's envelopes. "I like what you've done here," he said. "There's a clear improvement from one draft to the next. The question is, could you do the same thing with someone else's story?"
Loogan looked to the window, where the twilight was deepening. This isn't a problem, he thought. You can always refuse.
"I suppose I could," he heard himself saying, "but I'm not looking for a job. I don't know how I feel about coming in to an office every morning."
The man in the blue suit leaned back. "You won't have to come in. You can work from home. You won't have to follow a schedule. You'll only have to do one thing."
"You'll have to tell me what your name is."
A moment's hesitation. Then: "David Loogan."
Tom Kristoll owned a house on a wooded hill overlooking the Huron River. It was a sprawling affair of thick wooden beams and broad panes of glass. There was slate on the roof and a patio paved in stone, and wide stone steps that led down to a pool.
On weekends in the summer Kristoll hosted parties for the staff and writers of Gray Streets. The first time Loogan was invited he decided he wouldn't go, but Kristoll phoned him in the early afternoon. They had everything they needed for a barbecue, Kristoll said, but no barbecue sauce. Could Loogan pick some up on his way? Loogan could and did. He arrived to find Kristoll, dressed in white from head to toe, overseeing the preparation of the grill. Kristoll's wife scolded him for making their guest run errands. She took charge of Loogan, gave him a tour of the house, and was on hand to introduce him to a series of writers and interns.
"This is David Loogan," she told them, "Tom's new editor."
Laura Kristoll wore a silk blouse and Capri pants. She was sleek and blond and had a degree in English literature, which she taught at the University. Most of the interns were her students. She saw to it that Loogan always had a drink. She offered him towels and swim trunks in case he wanted to go in the pool. When he wandered off toward the edge of the woods to get away from the crowd, she let him alone.
Later, as he was leaving, she approached him and said quietly, "David, I'm afraid you haven't had a good time."
"Sure I have," he told her.
"You'll come again then."
"Of course," he said, though he hadn't intended to.
Through the summer Loogan had a steady stream of editing assignments from Tom Kristoll. He worked on more than one story at a time and soon the manuscripts littered his rented house, the pages dotted with revisions in his fine, clean handwriting.
One evening in July, Kristoll called him and asked to meet him for a drink. Loogan drove to a restaurant downtown and a waitress led him to a booth paneled in dark wood and illuminated by a single bulb in a fixture of gray steel. Kristoll had ordered him a glass of Scotch.
"I didn't think you'd agree to come," Kristoll said. "I thought I'd have to drag you. I had it all planned, the dialogue written. 'When I offer you a drink, you'll have a drink and like it,' I was going to say."
Loogan made a show of relaxing. He sat sideways, his back to the wall, his left leg bent, the other stretched along the cushioned seat.
"You're a close-mouthed man," Kristoll said, "but I like a close-mouthed man about as much as any other kind. I'm not going to make you tell me your secrets."
"I don't have any secrets, Tom. Ask me anything."
"All right. Where are you from?"
"How long have you lived in Ann Arbor?"
"And what were you doing, before I hired you?"
"I was with the circus."
"Do I need to point out that Ann Arbor doesn't have a circus?"
"This wasn't in Ann Arbor," Loogan said. "This was before I came here."
"So you ran away from the circus and came to Ann Arbor?"
"More or less."
"A lot of people go the other way. What did you do, in the circus?"
"I was a juggler."
"Is there any point in continuing this conversation?" Kristoll asked.
"Call the waitress, Tom. Have her bring some dinner rolls. I'll prove it to you."
"And your hometown. Portland. Would that be in Oregon or Maine?"
"Which do you like better?"
Kristoll laughed quietly and tended to his drink. Loogan reached up and with his fingertips set the steel shade of the lamp swaying gently above the table. After a while the waitress brought them fresh glasses and they talked about other things: about the quality of the writers in Gray Streets, about writers generally, about the heat of the Michigan summer.
It was a pleasant conversation and it was followed by others on other evenings in the same booth, or in Kristoll's office. Once, Kristoll came unannounced to Loogan's rented house. "Tell me to go to hell, David, if you don't want me to come in," Kristoll said. "Come in, of course," said Loogan. Kristoll inspected the furniture in the living room, the stonework of the fireplace. He admired some of the paintings and prints that hung on the walls. "None of them are mine," said Loogan. "Naturally," Kristoll said.
Unlike Loogan, Kristoll showed no reluctance to talk about himself. He had been raised in a middle-class suburb of Detroit, had moved to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan. He had met his wife there and with a small group of friends they had foundedGray Streets as a student publication. It was a modest success for four years, though it faded when Kristoll and his wife departed for graduate school out of state. When Laura Kristoll returned to Ann Arbor to teach at the University, Tom Kristoll set out to revive the magazine, gently prying it away from the students who had taken it over.
In the years since, the magazine's circulation had grown to a respectable number, and the rise of the Internet had brought it a new audience. Kristoll had designed the original Gray Streets Web site himself, as a way of resurrecting stories from issues that had gone out of print. Bloggers had discovered the site and reviewed it. It had been mentioned in magazine articles about electronic publishing. More people read Gray Streets online than had ever read it in print.
"I'll let you in on a secret," Kristoll said to Loogan one evening. He had the window open in his office, his feet resting on the sill. A bottle stood on the desk. "In the early days, when Laura and I were in college, most of the stories we published were written by students. We wrote some of them ourselves, published them under pseudonyms. But when I started building the Web site, I left off most of those old stories. Only the best ones went onto the site. None of mine are on there. I have enough judgment to know they don't belong there. Do you know what that makes me?"
Loogan hadn't expected the question. "What?" he said.
"An editor. Nobody sets out to be an editor, but here we are, you and me." Kristoll picked up his glass from the desk and held it in his lap. "Now I've turned maudlin," he said. "You'll forgive me. You can attribute it to the Scotch."
"I think you drink less Scotch than you let on," Loogan said.
"That's a good line. I can tell -- I'm an editor."
A breeze from the window lifted a letter from the desk and carried it to the floor. Loogan reached for it but Kristoll told him to leave it there.
"Go home, David," he said gently. "The sun's gone down. It stays up forever this time of year, but now it's gone down."
"You're not leaving?"
"I'll stay a while. Turn off the lights out there, will you? Good night."
Loogan's steps were silent on the carpet of the outer office. He paused at the door to the hallway to press the light switch. Looking back, he saw Kristoll sitting in profile, his head tipped back, eyes closed. The doorway of his office framed the image, a composition in black and white: dark hair, close-cropped; crisp white dress shirt; gray gunmetal desk.
The light of the desk lamp gleamed on the rim of his glass. It made the skin of his face a pale white. It gave his expression a purity and a calm that Loogan hadn't seen in him before.
Loogan would remember that calm, and he would remember the gentleness, the fondness in Kristoll's voice when Kristoll told him to go home. He would remember both these things later, when he started sleeping with Kristoll's wife.
In a museum in late August, Loogan stood looking up at an immense photograph of a leaf. The leaf was lush and green but it lay amid stones and sand, and grains of sand had drifted over its surface. Loogan stepped to his right and there was a series of smaller images: dead leaves trampled into dry, cracked mud. The leaves had split with the mud as it dried; black grooves ran through them like veins.
He heard someone speak his name and turned to find Laura Kristoll beside him.
"It's all leaves," she said. "There are two more rooms of leaves. Come on, I'll show you"
The parties at the Kristoll house had gone on through the summer, and Loogan had put in a few appearances. He had talked to Laura only a handful of times, but now she seemed at ease taking his arm and leading him through the exhibit. It was, as she had said, all leaves: leaves after rain, leaves on the bottom of a stream, leaves on country roads. Leaves blackened by fire. A close-up of a single withered leaf, so thin and brittle that it seemed on the verge of crumbling into dust. She kept her casual grip on his arm as they stood before this final image. After a time he told her he had better go. He had work to do. Her hand traveled down his arm, to his wrist, to his palm. Their fingers intertwined. "All right, David," she said.
She called him the following week. There was another photography exhibit, this one at a gallery downtown. "The photographer is local," she said. "He does something with paper and broken glass. But secretly I'm hoping there'll be leaves."
They went the next day. They had the gallery mainly to themselves and they took their time. Most of it looked to Loogan as if someone had thrown the contents of a china cabinet through a stained-glass window and then taken pictures. But Laura was delighted to discover a photograph of flower petals and broken glass mingled with bits of paper torn in the shape of leaves. She bought it on the spot and arranged with the gallery owner to have it delivered at the close of the exhibition.
She led Loogan from the gallery to a used book shop, where they spent half an hour browsing. Then she suggested coffee, which morphed into a late lunch. She was quiet when she drove him home. The car rolled slowly along his street in the sunlight and in the shadows of trees. She brought it to a stop and shifted into park and turned to look past him at the house.
"David," she said. "Ask me in."
She followed him up the walk, pressed the palm of her right hand between his shoulder blades as he unlocked the door. In the kitchen she paused to read a few lines of a manuscript he had left on the counter. She stepped through an archway into the living room and surveyed the space. There were more manuscripts on the coffee table, but she didn't look at those. She turned to find him beside her, touched her fingers to the base of his throat, and said, "I'll be right back."
She found the downstairs bathroom on her own. It was down a hallway off the living room. Loogan went around closing curtains. He scanned the history professor's CD collection, discovered it was terribly impoverished, and tuned the stereo to a Detroit station that played instrumental jazz. When Laura returned, she had left her handbag behind. Her hair, which had been pinned up, was down around her shoulders. Her lips were a shade redder. Her linen blouse was two buttons more unbuttoned than it had been, revealing tanned and freckled skin. Her breath, when she turned her face up to his and curved her palm around the back of his neck, was flavored with mint.
He kissed her, extensively. First standing, then sitting, then lying on the sofa, with the length of her body pressed against him. They undressed by degrees, without urgency, and he discovered when her skirt came off that she had left her underwear behind with her handbag. They made love on a bed of sofa cushions on the living-room floor.
After, they went upstairs, and in the coolness of the history professor's sheets they fell asleep. When Loogan woke it was dark and he was alone. He reached reflexively to the night table for his watch. He had left it on the floor of the living room. He went down and found that the cushions had been restored to the sofa. His clothes were in a chair, his watch on the mantel of the fireplace. It was after nine o'clock.
The phone rang as he was dressing. He picked it up and Laura said, "You're dangerous."
"I will be, when I get my socks on," he said.
"You sleep beautifully. It's a natural wonder, how you sleep. I couldn't bear to wake you."
"Sleeping is one of my best things."
"I just called to say everything's grand. Nothing to worry about. You're not the sort to worry, are you, David?"
"But I wanted to touch base. So we know what story we're telling, if any story needs to be told. I've stuck with the truth, as far as I could: You and I went to the gallery today, and the bookstore, and lunch. After that, we parted ways."
"Better than saying I never saw you, I don't know you, I never heard of you."
"So everything's grand," she said. "I should run. We'll talk again soon."
"Good night, David."
Loogan saw Tom Kristoll two nights later. He thought it might be awkward, but they were just the same as they had ever been. They drank Scotch in Kristoll's office after hours. They discussed manuscripts, briefly. Kristoll talked about a trip he had taken to Europe with his family as a teenager.
Laura was mentioned only once. "I'm learning more about you, David," Kristoll said. "I'm scoping out your secrets."
"Is that so?" Loogan said.
"Laura filled me in. You like to spend time in galleries, and you have excellent taste in photographs. Two more facts to add to the dossier on David Loogan."
In the weeks that followed, Loogan saw Laura regularly. Usually she came to his house. Once they met at a hotel, once in her office at the University.
She rarely mentioned her husband, never talked of being unhappy with him, never complained about his habits. Loogan was alert for any slight, any disparaging remark. He told himself he would end it, if he thought she was motivated by malice. But when she spoke of her husband, it was usually in connection with Loogan himself. She would pass along something Kristoll had said: a bit of praise for Loogan's work, or an idle comment.
One afternoon she stood naked by the window of Loogan's bedroom, looking down into the yard. "Tom thinks you've got some dark secret," she said. "You're a man with a past. He thinks you might have spent time in prison."
She said it lightly, carelessly. Loogan was lying in bed, watching her.
"Really?" he said.
"Yes. Tom has a certain respect for criminals, you know. Gray Streets goes out free to a lot of prison libraries. He's even published a few stories written by convicts."
"And what does he think I did, that landed me in prison?"
She turned away from the window and crossed to the bed. Pulled back the sheet and climbed in beside him.
"Oh, nothing terrible," she said. "Something white-collar, probably. Defrauding people. Embezzlement or passing bad checks. Have you ever defrauded anyone?"
"I've never been to prison."
"I don't think it's anything like that," she said, tracing her finger along his collarbone. "I think if you were to go to prison, it would be for something violent. A crime of passion. It's always the quiet ones."
"And they'd interview your neighbors on the news, and they'd say, 'He was such a nice man. He never gave anyone trouble.'"
He smiled faintly. Closed his eyes. "And what would you say?"
Her lips brushed his cheek. "I'd tell them I always knew you were dangerous."
The weeks passed by -- September and the beginning of October. Loogan's days revolved around Laura Kristoll and Tom Kristoll andGray Streets. Then, on a Wednesday night, as he sat in his kitchen with a manuscript on the table before him, his phone rang. The caller was Tom Kristoll. He wondered if Loogan could do him a favor. He needed a shovel.
(End of excerpt)
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