Listenby Rene Gutteridge
Someone is listening . . .
The quaint, close-knit community of Marlo was the ideal place to live . . . until someone started posting private conversations online for everyone to read, word for word. Now it’s neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, as careless comments and hurtful accusations turn the town upside down. Violence and paranoia
Someone is listening . . .
The quaint, close-knit community of Marlo was the ideal place to live . . . until someone started posting private conversations online for everyone to read, word for word. Now it’s neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, as careless comments and hurtful accusations turn the town upside down. Violence and paranoia escalate, and the police scramble to find the person responsible before more people get hurt—or even killed.
But what responsibility do the residents of Marlo have for the words they say when they think no one is listening? Tyndale House Publishers
- Tyndale House Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.60(w) x 8.22(h) x 1.06(d)
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By RENE GUTTERIDGE
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2010 Rene Gutteridge
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePRESENT DAY
Damien Underwood tapped his pencil against his desk and spun twice in his chair. But once he was facing his computer again, the digital clock still hadn't changed.
In front of him on a clean white piece of paper was a box, and inside that box was a bunch of other tiny boxes. Some of those boxes he'd neatly scribbled in. And above the large box he wrote, Time to go.
This particular day was stretching beyond his normal capacity of tolerance, and when that happened, he found himself constructing word puzzles. He'd sold three to the New York Times, two published on Monday and one on Wednesday. They were all framed and hanging in his cubicle. He'd sent in over thirty to be considered.
He'd easily convinced his boss years ago to let him start publishing crosswords in the paper, and since then he'd been the crossword editor, occasionally publishing some of his own, a few from local residents, and some in syndication.
The puzzle clues were coming harder today. He wanted to use a lot of plays on words, and he also enjoyed putting in a few specific clues that were just for Marlo residents. Those were almost always published on Fridays.
A nine-letter word for "predictable and smooth."
Yes, good clue. He smiledand wrote the answer going down. Clockwork.
He glanced over to the bulletin board, which happened to be on the only piece of north wall he could see from his desk at the Marlo Sentinel. Tacked in the center, still hanging there after three years, was an article from Lifestyles Magazine. Marlo, of all the places in the United States, was voted Best Place to Raise a Child. It was still the town's shining moment of glory. Every restaurant and business had this article framed and hanging somewhere on their walls.
The community boasted its own police force, five separate and unique playgrounds for the kids, including a spray ground put in last summer, where kids could dash through all kinds of water sprays without the fear of anyone drowning.
Potholes were nonexistent. The trash was picked up by shiny, blue, state-of-the-art trash trucks, by men wearing pressed light blue shirts and matching pants, dressed slightly better than the mail carriers.
Two dozen neighborhood watch programs were responsible for nineteen arrests in the last decade, mostly petty thieves and a couple of vandals. There hadn't been a violent crime in Marlo since 1971, and even then the only one that got shot was a dog. A bank robbery twenty years ago ended with the robber asking to talk to a priest, where he confessed a gambling addiction and a fondness for teller number three.
Damien's mind lit up, which it often did when words were involved. He penciled it in. An eight-letter word for "a linear stretch of dates." Timeline. Perfect for 45 across.
So this was Marlo, where society and family joined in marriage. It was safe enough for kids to play in the front yards. It was clean enough that asthmatics were paying top dollar for the real estate. It was good enough, period.
Damien was a second-generation Marlo resident. His mother and father moved here long before it was the Best Place to Raise a Child. Then it had just been cheap land and a good drive from the city. His father had been the manager of a plant now gone because it caused too much pollution. His mother, a stay-at-home mom, had taken great pride in raising a son who shared her maiden name, Damien, and her fondness for reading the dictionary.
Both his parents died the same year from different causes, the year Damien had met Kay, his wife-to-be. They'd wed nine months after they met and waited the customary five years to have children. Kay managed a real estate company. She loved her job as much as she had the first day she started. And it was a good way to keep up with the Joneses.
Until recently, when the housing market started slumping like his ever-irritated teenage daughter.
The beast's red eyes declared it was finally time to leave. Damien grabbed his briefcase and walked the long hallway to the door, just to make sure his boss and sometimes friend, Edgar, remembered he was leaving a little early. He gave Edgar a wave, and today, because he was in a good mood, Edgar waved back.
Damien drove through the Elephant's Foot and picked up two lemonades, one for himself and one for Jenna, his sixteen-year-old daughter, who had all at once turned from beautiful princess or ballerina or whatever it was she wanted to be to some weird Jekyll and Hyde science experiment. With blue eye shadow. She never hugged him. She never giggled. Oh, how he missed the giggling. She slouched and grunted like a gorilla, her knuckles nearly dragging the ground if anyone said anything to her. A mild suggestion of any kind, from "grab a jacket" to "don't do drugs" evoked eyes rolling into the back of her head as if she were having a grand mal seizure.
So the lemonade was the best gesture of kindness he could make. Besides offering to pick her up because her car was in the shop.
He pulled to the curb outside the school, fully aware he was the only car among the full-bodied SUVs idling alongside one another. It was a complete embarrassment to Jenna, who begged to have Kay pick her up in the Navigator. Some lessons were learned the hard way. But his car was perfectly fine, perfectly reliable, and it wasn't going to cause the ozone to collapse.
She got in, noticed the lemonade, asked if it was sugar-free, then sipped it and stared out the window for the rest of the ride home. It wasn't sugar-free, but the girl needed a little meat on her bones.
"Your car's ready."
Finally, a small smile.
* * *
"Have a seat."
Frank Merret shoved his holster and belt downward to make room for the roll of belly fat that had permanently attached itself to his midsection. He slowly sat down in the old vinyl chair across from Captain Lou Grayson's cluttered desk.
"You got a rookie coming in this morning."
"I thought we had an agreement about rookies."
"You ticketed Principal MaLue. We had an agreement about that too."
Frank sighed. "He was speeding in a school zone."
"He's the principal. If he wants to hit Mach speed in the school zone, so be it. The rookie's file is in your box." Grayson's irritated expression said the rest.
Frank left the captain's office and killed time in the break room until lineup, where the rookie stood next to him, fresh-faced and wide-eyed. He was short, kind of stocky, with white blond hair and baby pink cheeks like a von Trapp kid. There was not a hard-bitten bone in this kid's body.
Frank cut his gaze sideways. "This is Marlo. The most you can hope for is someone driving under the influence of pot."
Lineup was dismissed, and the kid followed him out. "That's not true. I heard about that bank robbery."
"That was twenty years ago."
"Doesn't matter," the rookie said. "I'm on patrol. That's cool. I'm Gavin Jenkins, by the way."
"Yeah, I know."
"Did you read my stats from the academy?"
"Not even one word."
Gavin stopped midstride, falling behind Frank as he made his way outside to the patrol car. Gavin hurried to catch up. "Where are we going? Aren't we a little early?"
Frank continued to his car. Gavin hopped into the passenger side. Frank turned west onto Bledsoe.
"Listen, Officer Merret, I just want you to know that I'm glad they paired me with you. I've heard great things about you, and I think it's-"
"I don't normally talk in the morning."
So they drove in silence mostly, checking on a few of the elderly citizens and their resident homeless man, Douglas, until lunchtime, when they stopped at Pizza Hut. The kid couldn't help but talk, so Frank let him and learned the entire history of how he came to be a Marlo police officer.
Gavin was two bites into his second piece and hadn't touched his salad when Frank rose. "Stay here."
Gavin stared at him, his cheek full of cheese and pepperoni. "What? Why?"
"I've got something I need to do."
Gavin stood, trying to gather his things. "Wait. I'll come."
Frank held out a firm hand. "Just stay here, okay? I'll come back to get you in about forty minutes."
Gavin slowly sat down.
Frank walked out. He knew it already. This rookie was going to be a thorn in his side.
"But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself." -JAMES 3:5-6
Use these questions for individual reflection or for discussion within your book club or small group. If your book club reads Listen and is interested in talking with me via speakerphone, please feel free to contact me through my Web site at www.renegutteridge.com, and I'll do my best to arrange something with you. Thanks for reading!
1. Do you believe words have power over you? What about the words you speak in private? Do they still have power? over you? over someone else?
2. Can you recall an instance where words changed you, either for better or worse?
3. Kay's life was changed by words when she was young, but the pain it caused her and others continued into the next generation. What steps can we take to make sure painful words do not continue to cause harm through more generations?
4. Why do you think Frank kept his sister a secret, even from his best friend?
5. If you were the one who discovered who was behind the Web site, would you turn them in? What if it were a friend or family member? Would you try to protect them from the consequences?
6. How have social networking sites and other technological advances-like texting and Twittering-changed what we say about ourselves and others? Do you think people feel freer to share personal details? What issues can this present?
7. If you have a damaged or estranged relationship in your life, and you were asked to write the person a letter, could you do it? Why or why not? What would make it hard or easy?
8. What are three words you'd like to have spoken about you?
9. What do you think are five of the most powerful words in the English language? What makes them powerful?
10. The Bible has a lot to say about the power of the tongue. For instance, Damien quotes James :- in his letter to Marlo. Read and discuss the following verses: Psalm 34:12-14, Proverbs 13:3, and Proverbs 15:4.
Excerpted from LISTEN by RENE GUTTERIDGE Copyright © 2010 by Rene Gutteridge. 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.
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