Body Scissors

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The eighties came and went. The president who ruled over them flashed one last fatherly smile, bowed and exited the world stage to thunderous applause, with skyrocketing homeless rates, the '87 stock market crash and a hundred thousand AIDS victims at his feet. Replacing the communist boogeyman with the liberal boogeyman, he passed the reins to a new leader, the most powerful man ever to claim Texas residency as a tax dodge.

Texas, where politicians and other influence peddlers ...

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In Simon's worthy sequel to his debut thriller, Dirty Sally (2004), Dan Reles, the only Jewish detective on the Austin, Tex., police force, is on the trail of the would-be ... assailant of Virginia Key, a black community activist. The assassin succeeded in killing Key's young daughter and critically injuring her even younger son. Soon after Reles starts working on the case, however, he's replaced by the force's only African-American detective, his friend James Torbett, after the department heads decide this would be more appropriate. Reles, meanwhile, is directed to find out what's causing a number of young college students from wealthy families to slip into comas. It isn't long before he sees a connection between the two cases-and that the drug kingpin behind both also has him on a hit list. While Reles is not yet as complete a character as he could be, the well-depicted setting, the fast (if not breakneck) pace, evocative atmosphere and believable dialogue hold the reader's attention throughout. Read more Show Less

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2005 Hard cover First edition. New in new dust jacket. Signed by author. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 288 p. Audience: General/trade. Hardcover signed ... first edition. Simon's 2nd novel and sequel to the acclaimed Dirty Sally. Read more Show Less

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Overview

The eighties came and went. The president who ruled over them flashed one last fatherly smile, bowed and exited the world stage to thunderous applause, with skyrocketing homeless rates, the '87 stock market crash and a hundred thousand AIDS victims at his feet. Replacing the communist boogeyman with the liberal boogeyman, he passed the reins to a new leader, the most powerful man ever to claim Texas residency as a tax dodge.

Texas, where politicians and other influence peddlers test out crimes they plan to commit nationally, faced the double-edged economic recovery of the early nineties. Quality of life eroded further than before for Texas's non-millionaires: Countryside and farmland paved themselves to make room for malls. Old neighborhoods got "renewed" for wealthier residents at a greater rate than ever. High-tech industries rolled over the northern part of town where small houses once stood, the industries spawning beehive apartment complexes and neighboring strip malls to house, feed and entertain the laborers who would build and buy the laptops, pagers and mobile phones of the new decade. Progress. Unemployment was down, at least on paper: in real life, the grunts struggled harder than they had in the depths of the recession, as rents climbed, social services were cut back and homelessness-under the "anti-camping" law-was made punishable by arrest. That's where I come in.

At street level, an economy based on self-reliance equals every man for himself. A free market cures all ills, and if it doesn't, screw the schools, screw housing, screw financial aid, don't tell us the details, just arrest everybody. Figure the twelve-year-old junkie you busted for dealing gets replaced by a new recruit before nightfall. Figure a joke among cops: "What's the best thing about crack? It lowered the price of a blow job to five bucks." Figure if your kid is lucky he goes to UT or maybe out of state; if he's not, maybe he's sleeping next to you in the back of your pickup, and dealing drugs looks better to him than flipping burgers. Figure it's the wrong time to be born unlucky.

So you're no dope, you go with the winner, you become a black conservative, a gay conservative, a poor conservative. Invite yourself to the party and sit at the back table, they'll get to you, sooner or later. Carve out a little corner for yourself, and to hell with everybody else, you've got dreams of your own. If you feel a little pang of conscience, for the friends and family you stepped on to get where you are, eat something, drink something, snort something, BUY SOMETHING! Anything. Because we need you to buy things.

And all this weaves through my mind at night as I dream my cop dreams. I'm stepping blind in this bricked-up department store, a shopping graveyard, dark and booby-trapped. My mouth is pasty dry, my eyes burn from the fumes of home-cooked crystal meth on the fire. Suddenly Rachel's with me, she's supposed to be safe and separate from this. And the building isn't gimmicked to keep people from getting in, it was easy to get in, anyone can get in: you can never leave. We can't get back the way we came. We can hardly see, save for cracks of light. My foot goes through a floorboard-Rachel cries out and grabs me. Snakes wrap my feet and I shake them off. Any step could send us plummeting through the floor. The building is crumbling, the wrong time to visit him, a trapped, wounded animal, and the wrong night to bring a date. I might feel the cold of a gun barrel at the back of my neck, or not feel it, not see the bullet coming. No sooner do I think that than suddenly he's behind us, and I whip around, draw my weapon in slo-mo and fire and my bullets spit from the chamber, one, two, three, and fall flaccidly to the ground, and he's facing us down, and I realize too late that the guy I thought I trapped, trapped me, he's the cat, I'm the mouse, I'm weak and helpless, helpless to protect Rachel or even myself, and he's smarter than me, because he's high on the best stuff, and he's motivated by greed, and greed trumps justice and greed trumps vengeance even, and greed trumps love, and I'd trade my .38 for a flashlight and a way out, making bargains I can't make, like please God, please please please God, just get her out of here alive.

Part One
Sweet Virginia

Tuesday
January 15, 1991
10:45 p.m.-Lamar Boulevard, Southbound

Rubin watched Jennifer as she breathed in and out through her mouth, puffing clouds on the car window, stripes of light wiping over them from the bright signs of stores and restaurants, past gas stations and convenience stores, past the gloomy horror of the State Hospital.

"Are you warm enough back there?"

"Yes, Mom," he said.

Jenny said, "Yes."

Their mother kept a woolen blanket in the back seat for these times, chilly nights on the way home from movies or restaurants or city council meetings, when the heat didn't reach the back seat. Rubin and Jennifer sat buckled up in back with the blanket pulled up over their legs as Mom drove and listened to the radio.

". . . was inaugurated today under the cloud of impending war, the second female governor in Texas history and the first since 'Ma' Ferguson left office in 1935. Meanwhile, the president's deadline passed for Saddam Hussein's withdrawal from Kuwait. A White House official was quoted as saying, 'Only a miracle can prevent war now.' In Austin, local churches rallied for peace . . ."

Their mother whispered to the radio. "Talk about the meeting. Talk about the meeting."

And Jennifer turned to look at Mom, baby round cheeks, lips pursed in a curious expression, as if to ask, What's that? What's next? But how can you explain that to a little girl? Rubin was old enough to know that something was next, and it was always bad.

"Mom?" he asked. "Is there gonna be a war?"

"Yes, baby."

"Will you be drafted?"

"No."

He turned the idea around. "Will I?"

She looked at him in the rearview mirror and smiled. He had said something cute, but he didn't know what it was. He smiled back.

She'd brought them to Threadgill's again for a late dinner. Rubin could see the hostess's face pull tight like they always did when his mother asked for a table for three. In the silence that followed, his mother kept her own polite smile: she was the customer, she was a slim, pretty lady; and, if it came to that, she was a lawyer. Mom explained all this to them a hundred times, how white people were secretly afraid of them. But they never looked afraid to him, only angry. And while she was slim and pretty and a lawyer, he was short and fat and a fourth grader and he wanted to disappear. They were always the only black people, and she was always making a stand. Easy for her.

Mom had turned from the hostess and smiled at Rubin and Jenny like she'd won, then followed the hostess's clipped steps with her own graceful ones, past the tables and the posters and the lit-up jukebox toward the back dining room.

"No, I think we'd like to sit in front," his mother said. Mom's voice wasn't very big, but the hostess heard it, and held her breath.

"Those tables are reserved."

"All of them?" In the hostess's silence, his mother winked at Rubin and marched them all toward the front of the restaurant, past the jukebox, between the tables, flashing smiles at the white families. Rubin glanced back at the entrance and caught the eye of a scuzzed-out woman in a ratty coat. The woman glared at him and scratched. Even though she had a dirty neck, a hostess was leading her to the fancy chrome counter with a smile.

Rubin took Jenny's hand and followed Mom to the very front table, in front of a bay window surrounded by old concert posters and pictures of some slutty hippie lady from the sixties. Green neon lights buzzed over the table. He helped Jenny into her chair. "That's my good little man," Mom said as she settled in. The hostess slapped three menus on the table and huffed away. A flash of wrinkled nose from Mom like they were in on some joke together. But he wasn't in on it.

Half the time, she seemed to miss it, the angry stares and the whispers. The other times she rolled in it, like, "Look how smart I am, look what I got away with!" She left the neighborhood every morning to go to work. He was stuck there, surrounded by the same white kids from the block who hated him, and he walked Jenny to school. How was he supposed to protect her from a bunch of big white kids? Sometimes six white boys would surround the two of them. He couldn't fight them. He couldn't run, not with Jenny there, and they'd catch him anyway. His skin burned as he stood through his punishment. Today his books were knocked down. Yesterday they punched him. Sometimes they'd just stand there and call him names, in front of Jenny, to remind him they were in charge, they could do anything they wanted.

There were days he'd drop Jenny off with her class and almost choke as she looked back at him, helpless, her face reading, "How can you leave me here?"

Mom was always planting time bombs and walking away, making the neighbors mad and sending him off to school, yelling at his teachers and leaving him alone with them. She didn't understand anything.

"Lemonade sound good?" his mother said, and turned to the dim-looking waitress standing over them. "And how's the fried chicken?"

"Best in the state."

His mother laughed like it was a joke and ordered two portions, three plates. When the waitress left, she said, "Always order a drink. Otherwise they'll think you're a penny-pincher and they worry about their tip. This way they might make sure no one spits in your food." She smiled at the waitress as their lemonade hit the table and Rubin looked in his glass for spit.

"So," she said, and looked right at him, something she hardly did. She never seemed to be looking at anybody. "How was my speech?"

"It was great, Mom!"

"Really?"

Jenny said, "It was really, really, really good."

"Well, thank you, baby!" Mom said, and touched Jenny's cheek.

They had sat in the back of the auditorium, Jenny coloring in her book, Rubin just waiting, taking care of Jenny. He had always been taking care.

Why did she order fried chicken? The first bite was the only one he ever enjoyed. After that he was just calming his stomach, as he felt himself get fatter. Not fat, she always said. Chubby. And he'd outgrow it. He'd be slender like his mother, not short and stumpy like his dad. He tried to remember his dad. Nothing came back except a round face and a smile. But he could have dreamed that.

Jimmy Wrightington had the locker next to Rubin's and Rubin was always nervous going there. He'd mess up on his locker combination and by the time he got it open, Wrightington would be standing there, nose turned up like a pig, calling Rubin a retard and a queer and knocking his books down. He couldn't leave them on the floor, and if he bent over to pick them up, Wrightington would kick them away. Often as not, Wrightington would punch him. People kept telling him to stand up for himself, but that just made it worse. He had a dream of going psycho on Wrightington, jamming the boy's head in a locker and slamming the door on it over and over again, and people would respect him, for kicking Jimmy Wrightington's ass, for being tough. And it would feel good, revenge. He could feel angry enough to do it, but never figured out how. He just walked away feeling angry and frightened and stupid. The feeling would stay with him all day and into the night. One day he'd fight back, be a man and kick anyone's ass who messed with Jenny, he'd be big and tough and protect her. One day he'd stand up.

He was still thinking that later on, how he'd kick someone's ass and change everything, when they climbed out of the car, sleepy Jenny grabbing his hand as they walked up the path, when Mom unlocked the front door, let Rubin and Jenny in, followed them into the quiet house, flicked on the living room light, and locked the door, still thinking how he'd smash Jimmy Wrightington's head in the locker, slam, slam, slam, when suddenly someone was saying, "Hello, Mrs. Key."

They turned around to see a nightmare-looking man, a homeless man with a dirty sweater and bad teeth, pointing a gun, a real gun, at his mother. But Jenny was in the way. The man could shoot Jenny. This was his chance. He could leap on it from the side, knock it out of the man's hand, shoot the man dead or pound him with the gun. He waited for his mother to say something but she didn't. Rubin's heart pounded in his throat, in his ears, telling him to jump, telling him to hold still. Without taking a breath, he jumped. And as he jumped, in his moment of flight and taking action, everything like a crazy dream, he felt for the first time he could remember that he was happy, when the sound began, Kup . . .

It went wrong. He grabbed at the gun, clutched the man's hand as a loud blast of thunder started and didn't stop, thunder crashing in a long, slow roar, a fire ripping through Rubin's fat belly, poking, puncturing, burning through and Rubin's head crashing down on the coffee table, the thunder echoing in his ears as his mother screamed and he knew how, in one second, in one moment of stupidity, he had ruined everything.

--from Body Scissors: A Novel by Michael Simon, Copyright © 2005 Michael Simon, published by Viking Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Simon's worthy sequel to his debut thriller, Dirty Sally (2004), Dan Reles, the only Jewish detective on the Austin, Tex., police force, is on the trail of the would-be assailant of Virginia Key, a black community activist. The assassin succeeded in killing Key's young daughter and critically injuring her even younger son. Soon after Reles starts working on the case, however, he's replaced by the force's only African-American detective, his friend James Torbett, after the department heads decide this would be more appropriate. Reles, meanwhile, is directed to find out what's causing a number of young college students from wealthy families to slip into comas. It isn't long before he sees a connection between the two cases-and that the drug kingpin behind both also has him on a hit list. While Reles is not yet as complete a character as he could be, the well-depicted setting, the fast (if not breakneck) pace, evocative atmosphere and believable dialogue hold the reader's attention throughout. Agent, Nat Sobel. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dirty politics and poisoned heroin dim the light in the not-so-hip, not-so-rich Austin of 1991. As the only New York Jew in the Austin Police Department, Detective Dan Reles, who first appeared in Simon's Dirty Sally (2004), is accustomed to a certain amount of professional isolation. A former boxer, he may be as tough as any of his colleagues, but he can never be reborn as a Good Ol' Boy. Yet the professional isolation seems not nearly as affecting as the emotional distance his girlfriend Rachel Velez is keeping. The widow of Dan's late mentor Joey Velez, Rachel lives in fear that she will lose Dan to his job, and her fears are far from groundless. Dan is dedicated and dogged, and Austin is in the thick of the drug epidemic. Drugs are, in fact, at the heart of Dan's current case, the horrifying shooting of two young children in front of their mother. The mother is Virginia Key, a petite, squeaky-voiced, African-American lawyer rearing her son and daughter in an all-white neighborhood as she considers a run for city council. The family had come home and apparently interrupted a burglary by a drug addict. Leaping to the defense of his mother and younger sister, nine-year-old Ruben took a bullet that passed through his body and killed his sister. Now he lies in a coma and Dan tries to sort things out. So is James Torbett, the only black detective on the force, a happily married family man blindsided by an instant and powerful attraction to Virginia Key. Working separately, but united by their domestic problems, the two detectives pick away at the oddness of the murder scene (the intruder had an English accent and addressed Mrs. Key by name) and begin to learn that Mrs. Key is no angel andthat her assailant was tied not just to the drug trade but, eventually, Dan and Rachel's troubled past. Gritty, jumpy and absorbing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670034437
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/18/2005
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Simon, a former actor and playwright, has taught at Brooklyn College and New York University. The author of Dirty Sally, he lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2005

    Michael Simon Drops the Ball

    What happened to Dan Reles? Here he is freaked out by his skittish girlfriend, and caught up in a wimpy crime of of very local (and not very believable)politics. Let's have the man who pursued Dirty Sally's killer back, down and dirty. Light fare, not engaging enough.

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