Smoke City by Keith Rosson
Published by: Meerkat Press
Publication date: January 23rd 2018
Genres: Adult, Magical Realism
Marvin Deitz has some serious problems. His mob-connected landlord is strong-arming him out of his storefront. His therapist has concerns about his stability. He’s compelled to volunteer at the local Children’s Hospital even though it breaks his heart every week.
Oh, and he’s also the guilt-ridden reincarnation of Geoffroy Thérage, the French executioner who lit Joan of Arc’s pyre in 1431. He’s just seen a woman on a Los Angeles talk show claiming to be Joan, and absolution seems closer than it’s ever been . . . but how will he find her?
When Marvin heads to Los Angeles to locate the woman who may or may not be Joan, he’s picked up hitchhiking by Mike Vale, a self-destructive alcoholic painter traveling to his ex-wife’s funeral. As they move through a California landscape populated with “smokes” (ghostly apparitions that’ve inexplicably begun appearing throughout the southwestern US), each seeks absolution in his own way.
Vale had parked a few blocks down a side street bracketed by apartment buildings. Palm trees shrouded the sidewalk, bent toward the street like thugs. No one spoke. Whatever the hell had happened with Marvin, he clearly needed space. The van sat in the dark beneath a stunted little tree, and they could hear the traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard behind them, but this street was relatively quiet. Vale heard two women laughing in one of the apartments above them, but the sound was far away and still in the air.
Vale put his hand on Marvin’s shoulder. “You want to just go back to the motel?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Marvin said, leaning against the passenger door of the van.
“Are you guys possibly interested in telling me what’s going on? Maybe?”
“It’s a long story,” Casper said.
“It’s not even worth telling,” Marvin said. He took his glasses off, pinched the bridge of his nose. His eye socket was wrinkled, sagging, the lid dropping over a hollow red pocket.
Vale would never be sure who saw the man come from the mouth of the alley first, come from that small crooked lane between two apartment buildings. Certainly not Marvin, who still had his head tucked down, his glasses in his shirt pocket. It was Casper, most likely.
In Vale’s periphery, Casper slowed down a step and Vale himself flinched: the man was big, hulking, and smelled terrible—even ten, fifteen feet away Vale caught the scent of him as he lurched from the mouth of an alley. Big, shrouded in grime, wearing a tight-fitting Lycra jacket and gray jeans with the knees blown out. Cheeks carved gaunt in the wan lamppost light.
“And God will judge,” he thundered, and stopped in front of the three of them. The pale wounded glint of his eyes. Like a linebacker on hard times. “God will judge,” he said again, sounding heartbroken this time, and he unzipped his jacket and took a small pistol from the inside pocket and passed its barrel over the three of them. Seventeen million people around them and yet the street right then was silent as a morgue. Deathly still.
Marvin looked up and put on his glasses and in a weary voice said, “Here it comes. You’re looking for me.”
Keith Rosson is the author of the novels The Mercy of the Tide (2017, Meerkat Press) and Smoke City (2018, Meerkat Press). His short fiction has appeared in Cream City Review, PANK, Redivider, December, and more. An advocate of both public libraries and non-ironic adulation of the cassette tape, he can be found at keithrosson.com.
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