bang BANGby Lynn Hoffman
Paula Sherman embarks upon a one-woman quest to change America, ultimately becoming national hero and villain, enforcer and outlaw, lover and leader, in this provocative, darkly exciting tale. When a bungled armed robbery gets Paula's friend killed right in front of her, she finds herself propelled to national attention as her words and image are
Paula Sherman embarks upon a one-woman quest to change America, ultimately becoming national hero and villain, enforcer and outlaw, lover and leader, in this provocative, darkly exciting tale. When a bungled armed robbery gets Paula's friend killed right in front of her, she finds herself propelled to national attention as her words and image are stolen and used in a pro-handgun election campaign. Mousy little Paula is no longer just an overworked waitress with a beautiful singing voice—she has become a symbol for the violence that she detests. The pro-gun propaganda gives her an idea that will transform her, redeem her name and her image, and change the way an entire country talks about handgun violence.
- Kunati Incorporated
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)
- Age Range:
- 3 Months
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bang BANGA Novel
By Lynn Hoffman
Kunati Inc.Copyright © 2007 Lynn Hoffman
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePaula, twenty-four years old, looks in a full-length mirror on the wall of a restaurant's cramped changing room. Shoulder-length red hair, freckles, black bow tie, white shirt, black skirt, workaday stockings and flat black shoes. She tickles her red hair out away from her face.
Paula is singing. Her voice is soft and wonderfully pure. The melody is motet, not mo'town. A song that a person sings just because she can. The voice is an enviable, make-a-deal-with-the-devil-to-have-it voice and there is something sad about it. A disquieting note, if you will. Her styling, her shaping of the words has a slightly pained edge to it, not the utter tragedy of a doomed operatic character, not the mocking self-knowledge of a blues singer, but the dangerously sharp, jaggedy edge of a well nourished disappointment. The words are in a foreign language and no one in the back room of the restaurant recognizes the tune.
She has a little more flesh than usual for a woman her age, not fat, just thick; no sharp curves, just solid gentle undulations. Widest, she reflects, at the hips.
The face looking back at Paula is more delicate than her body. It is a sun-shy, near-pretty face. Freckles and green eyes. An unbudgeably friendly face. The face of a woman who keeps a book of people's birthdays, sends cards, is sad when her envelopes come back stamped 'addressunknown.'
The muscles around her mouth seem to have lost something, some range of motion, the strength to reach out to hilarity or down to tears. There are the first puffy traces of emotional flabbiness, the beginnings of a permanent cringe.
Whatever song she's singing, what she feels is her feet, stinging, expanding and shrinking from a night's pile driving into an un-cushioned restaurant carpet. Each step fishing for tips, $84.75 in her creel. She thinks it's a lot because she thinks it's hers.
There's a hollow banging on the door behind her. Paula turns and her hair follows her like the swirl of a skirt. We hear a lightly nasal, breathy but not unpleasant voice.
"C'mon for God's sake, I'm ready to party."
Paula accepts 'to party' as an intransitive verb-one that takes no, needs no, object. She even knows what it means. It means for her 'to be part of,' to be sucked up, absorbed: to merge into the fibers of something: to put salve on the sunburn of separateness that scratches her like a wool sweater on bare skin. That it might mean 'to part from' is something she doesn't think about now.
The voice belongs to Tom, square-jawed but oddly delicate, pale, blue-gray eyes showing violet behind the tinted contact lenses. He is Paula's best girlfriend and he makes her laugh.
"Okayokayokay" and she flicks the hook that holds the door. Paula wants to party too.
Paula and Tom on the eleven-PM October street. The smells are leaves, wet pavement and motor oil. The rain has stopped, granting Paula permission to leave her folding rubber boots behind. Through thin-soled flat shoes, the cool wet of the pavement soothes her feet.
Paula rolls as she walks, Tom bounces. Paula's black trench coat brushes Tom's brown leather jacket. She stays well stuck to the earth, he disdains it. Lightly. After a few steps they are in rhythm. Urban army hup-two. They are talking softly, the brumble-sounds of their voices have a cuddly, intimate tone. Tom is telling Paula a funny story about last weekend, about how he took his little sister to the mall and how she begged him to buy her a bra because mom says she doesn't believe in breasts. Paula tells him about tomorrow's audition for a commercial for a car dealer. The producer is going to put a muscle car on the foredeck of a tugboat and he wants someone to sing 'Cruising Down the River' with Ella Fitzgerald styling. Tom pats her shoulder as they walk and he half sings, half talks 'There's no business like show business.'
Paula and Tom think they tell each other anything. They have permission to call in the sleeping hours, the intrusion being not so much a prerogative of friendship as its test. Look, I wake you up, you must love me. Tom is impatient with Paula's loneliness, but he helps it go away. He brings her close to sequins and fancy dancing. Paula reminds Tom of home; mashed potatoes and meat loaf. It's a deal.
Ahead of them, the edge of a neon sign in the middle of the block pokes finger-thick lines of red, blue and green. The three colors add up to a cone of light that is almost white. Paula thinks of a stage. In the light she sees three men and a woman. Paula knows them. They have common restaurants, lovers, roommates. As Paula and Tom approach, hands raise, faces smile, shoulders are patted. Everybody has tip money, everybody has fun.
Paula likes these people, the ones on the street and the ones in the bar. She inflates their virtues and prays for their hopes. She's diluted her affections and washed them over the whole tribe. She saves up the warmth that she can't give herself, gives it to them.
Tom turns sharply to the left, urgent words for the tall man at the edge of the group. They whisper, they laugh. Paula turns her back to them, says hellos again, folds her arms and smiles at the brown-haired woman.
Past the group on the sidewalk, down the street, at the corner, there's a traffic light on a pole. A man is standing hunched and jerking. He zips up a green satin team jacket, pulls at a soft black cap.
"Hi Paulie, sure is cold out here." The brunette bobs her head and turns toward a wooden door with four glass panes at eye height. Paula turns her face to the neon; it says Skipper's. The brunette flips her head at the two other men and they follow her. One of them pulls the brass stirrup door handle and the door opens and Paula hears the lonely sounds of bar music, glass crackles and well-mixed conversations. A few seconds later, she smells the warm-air beery smell of close bodies.
The man in the green jacket has left the safety of the traffic light. He's crossed the street, walking toward Paula, Tom and the tall man. His head is down, hands in his pockets, walking faster.
Paula turns back toward Tom. She takes a step, feeling clumsy inside, closer to Tom. The tall man winks at Tom, smiles at Paula, two steps, opens the door. Bar sounds leak out again. Tom moves to follow him, his arm out to Paula, wrapping her up and moving her with him.
"Hey, um," Paula slows, stops him. Eyes signaling a wait-a-minute. Tom fingerwiggles see-you-in-a-minute to the tall man, the door closes. She pulls Tom out of the light. She recognizes the flirting, the crotchy attraction between the two men. She's a little bit jealous-not of the tall man but of the ease with which they seem to have sealed a deal that she's always bumbled. She doesn't want to stop him, and she hates to let him go, so she settles for one more minute. Over the zipping of tires on wet pavement, she says "Who was that?"
The green-jacketed man is now fifteen yards away. His knitted black cap has unrolled to a ski mask over his face.
Paula, smiling, teasing, wanting some dish, wanting to hang on to Tom for a minute more. The man with the ski cap is a step away. If Paula were listening, she would hear the sucky smack of his sneakers on the concrete, hear the rhythm of his steps accelerate.
"Oh, you know him, that's-"
Then there's a grunt, a blow, the slap of clothes and the woof of Tom hitting the concrete.
Paula's face goes blank, then she opens her mouth to scream, but there's a gun hard against her face and no sound comes out. A stained beige leather glove holds her hair, pressing her face into the side of the gun. The gun is pointed up, its muzzle half under her left eyebrow. Her upper lip is pressed back, there's a spot of blood. The metal feels warm on her face and she thinks she tastes sweat. Tom is on the ground, face down, right leg pulled up, toes curled under like a sprinter ready to push off. A patch of bloody red and pink has grown on the back of his head.
The voice is tight, strangled, but the loudest human thing Paula has ever heard.
"Give me your wallet you little cocksucker or I blow her away."
She can smell his breath, feel the tooth of the gun against her cheek. "Please, I'm pregnant." She flicks her eyes toward Tom. She doesn't know, as she says it, where it came from, this wish-filled plea for mercy.
He pulls the gun away from her face, points it to her belly. She can see the gunman smiling through the slit in his ski mask. Tom is on his right side looking up toward Paula, his left hand is fumbling in his pocket for something. Paula's confused, expectant. In the movies, this is where Tom pulls out his own pistol and surgically finishes the gunman with a bullet to the right eye.
The bar door opens and Paula sees side-lit the face of the tall man, sees him open his mouth. His eyes go from languid to scared. Music and bar sounds burst out on the street from behind him.
Then there's a scream, the sounds of tavern panic, glasses dropping, the dull ring of falling barstools.
A bright blue-white beacon over the door turns on, bleaching the gunman's figure in the light. Paula hears electronic yodeling from the bar behind her: an amateur siren, a call for help, not an arrival sign of the help itself.
The people in the bar hear the shot. The brown-haired girl is screaming in siren rhythm. One of the boys with her is lying on the floor, a dark circle already visible in the crotch of his tan pants. It is not a polite movie pop. It crashes into them, bores into their ears. They hear it in their teeth and neck bones. It probes them, discovers things, makes unpopular diagnosis, disappears.
Chapter TwoPaula is sitting on the edge of her bed. Her eyes are puffed and red and she does not move. Her upper lip is swollen and scabbed over and there is a bruise, yellow blue black under her left eye. Her stillness fills the room. There is no tension in her stillness, no holding back, only a sense of life lacking. Paula is wearing a pinkish gray nightgown tight around her neck, loose on her body. The nightgown stops at her knees, her legs have crossed themselves at the ankles and her ankles have then wilted toward the floor. All she can feel of her body is its weight and the depression it makes in the mattress.
The room is dead. Paula may be dead too. The only visible force is gravity. Paula looks around-stereotype girl mess; magazine piles on floors, laundry on a dresser, a glass vase half-filled with amber water. There's a thirteen-inch TV set, some bottles that may be cologne. Between Paula and the dresser an interior door is half open. Past a wilted brassiere on the door knob, there's another small dark room and a second, sturdier door with multiple locks. The room smells of steam heat and stale breath. A small digital clock is showing 12:04 in white numbers. Paula has evidently slept till noon. No phone calls, no urgent knocks on the door, her friends have apparently absorbed the tragedy without her.
On the floor by the dresser, an orange cat sleeps on a towel. The cat opens her eyes at the creak of bedsprings, follows bare feet across the floor, turns her ears to the sound of running water. A light, hollow-core door closes.
A half hour later Paula, dressed but ill-composed in her black raincoat, pushes her way through a scarred exterior door. She descends the five steps that make up the stoop in front of row houses in northeastern cities and takes a second to look at Pine Street. She loves this neighborhood, she thinks of it sometimes as the place where she really grew up. Ginkgo trees, mostly leafless, line both sides of the three-lane street. The scene is reddish-gray and brown, the colors of sparrows and moths, spotted with a handful of small brightly colored signs:
Paula passes small shops, dog-walkers, a wrinkled man glazed with dirt pushing a grocery cart. She passes a line of brown and bronze little girls, second grade she guesses. There are thirty of them in blue and white tartan skirts waiting at the corner. They are being nudged into some un-childlike line by a short, intense woman in a windbreaker. Paula's heart aches for them, for their innocence for fear that they might one day see the man in the windbreaker with the gun. She slows, she stares. One of the girls, a bit taller than the rest, notices Paula. Maybe she divines something in the wounded white girl: she waves her hand side to side and smiles at Paula and mouths 'hello.' Paula smiles back and then makes her fist into a puppet face that mouths hello back. The girl laughs and then a whistle blows and the kids are hurried across the street. The tall girl looks back once at Paula and then the line of blue and white tartan is gone.
On the broom-clean shabby street, there are other pedestrians, all of them in their twenties, all of them walking slowly. Paula's eyes look up above the two- and three-story shop front brick buildings, through some high-rise glass slabs. She sees a thin limestone tower with a bronze statue on top. The figure in bronze is oddly gentle for a municipal sculpture. If she could see it at eye level, the face would seem not to command but to beg. It's the face of the Quaker, William Penn.
A few minutes later, Paula is staring at another face, one with the shape and something of the color of an unripe beefsteak tomato. He is chanting, "The court will come to order, the court will come to order." She hears a very young woman's voice saying "tom-tom no, tom-tom noooo ...'"
The gunman, green jacket, black ski mask pulled down, is sitting at a table framed by the suited arms of men on either side of him. Paula imagines him bleached white, the way she saw him in front of the other bar. Paula hears her self saying "yes that's him over there," and her voice seems to echo 'him over there him over there overthere there there.' And what she's seeing is the line of little girls, all in blue and white.
Outside, there's a TV camera. Two small clusters of people are waiting, framing the doors from the courtroom. On Paula's right, they rally around a cardboard sign-a pink triangle outlined in red. There's a drawing of a handgun in the center of the triangle and a red bar through the handgun. On her left, another group is chanting "ARM GAYS! ARM GAYS! ARM GAYS!" One TV camera drifts to an upraised fist and then dawdles its way down to the shoulder. Arm gaze.
Paula is twisting her way between the demonstrators. The crowd is turned like a field of sunflowers to the TV cameras. Competing signs joust for position, there's a scuffle involving a bullhorn battery.
Paula is blocked by a man carrying a TV camera. He is attached by wire to a beautiful olive-tan, shiny-black-haired woman with a microphone. Her beauty arrests Paula. The camera zooms in and heads fill the screen, Paula full-faced on the left, the beauty in profile, cafe latte skin all Aztecs and Spaniards, on the right.
"Paula, Laura Garcia-Lane from channel 3. In court, you just confronted a man who had a gun to your face. How did that feel?"
Paula's eyes dart left, out of the frame. She wants to leave, feels commanded to stay. Her eyes focus on the microphone and she remembers the question. Then her eyes go slack and something inside her is visibly untied, drifting loose.
"Oh Tom, poor Tom ... he loved courtroom drama ... he ..."
"What do you have to say to the demonstrators here?"
"I only wish that they had known him." Paula seems to be gulping air.
"What's your opinion about guns?"
"I don't know ... I hate that gun ... no, I don't know. I don't care about the guns ... I care, I cared about Tom ... it wasn't ... oh, the gun. I don't know, it was that creepy man ... oh God."
Paula lowers her head, turns left and half stumbles out of the frame. Laura Garcia-Lane says, "Back to you, Ralph." Paula runs through the crowd, slowing as she reaches its edge. The rhythm of Paula's steps quickly matches the pedestrians'. Pace-camouflaged, she disappears into the street.
Paula's letter home:
Dear Mom & Dad,
Thank you for coming down to see me-I've been very lonely and it was good to see your faces.
I'm feeling better now, but I still think about Tom all the time. I think about his little sister too, the one who looked up to him so much. I keep thinking about how he wanted to make such a big difference in her life and now he won't get to. She won't even know what she missed.
I've been thinking about what you said, about how Catsbody and I should move back home and about the job in DeWitt. I don't think I can do it. Please don't be angry with me. I really appreciate it and I really really miss you a lot, but I just can't.
I don't want to disappoint you, but I still think Philadelphia is the right place for me even if I can't say just why. I know you're scared for me and I guess I'm scared too. I just feel like maybe it's time to be brave.
I love you and I miss you. Please say hello to Aunt Mimi and tell Billy I'll write to him soon.
Excerpted from bang BANG by Lynn Hoffman Copyright © 2007 by Lynn Hoffman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Lynn Hoffman is the author of The Bachelor's Cat, Hoffman's Guide to Alcohol, and The New Short Course in Wine. He is also an executive chef, photographer, lecturer on fine wines and food history, and former restaurant critic for Philadelphia Weekly. He lives in Philadelphia.
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