The Washington Post
Wild Thingby Josh Bazell
Beat the Reaper left critics applauding, readers gasping, and Dr. Pietro Brnwa on the run from the mob. WILD THING finds him adrift: at sea, literally, as a cruise ship doctor under an assumed name. So when a reclusive billionaire offers him a job accompanying a sexy but self-destructive paleontologist on the world's worst field assignment, Pietro reluctantly agrees. And that means an army of murderers, mobsters, and international drug dealers--not to mention the occasional lake monster--are about to have a serious Pietro Brnwa problem.
Facing new and old monsters alike, Pietro proves he's one of the crime genre's most exciting new heroes, in this darkly funny and lightning-paced sequel to Josh Bazell's bestselling debut.
The Washington Post
The New York Times Book Review
"[Bazell's books] are hard-boiled thrillers, written in one of the most distinctively entertaining new fictional voices I've run across in years, in any genre. There is a massive density of information in [Wild Thing]...but Bazell wields it with wonderful lightness. Reading him is like being able to monopolize the attention of the most interesting person at a party...It's so rare that you see a really brilliant writer who is committed, 100%, in every sentence, to giving you a good time. Bazell is, and he does."
[Bazell's books] are hard-boiled thrillers, written in one of the most distinctively entertaining new fictional voices I've run across in years, in any genre. There is a massive density of information in [Wild Thing]...but Bazell wields it with wonderful lightness. Reading him is like being able to monopolize the attention of the most interesting person at a party...It's so rare that you see a really brilliant writer who is committed, 100%, in every sentence, to giving you a good time. Bazell is, and he does."
Lev Grossman, Time"
Carl Hiaasen fans will relish Bazell's frenetic sequel to 2009's Beat the Reaper...Bazell expertly blends action, farce, and political satire, and his wide-ranging imagination bodes well for the future of the series."Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)"
The book is composed in Bazell's propulsive, profanity-laden style, peppering startling violence with detailed footnotes that cover subjects like tooth reinsertions and human cryogenics...Props to Bazell for not cranking out an idle retread of Beat the Reaper. A funny, unexpected journey for our hero that sets up the next installment with finesse."Kirkus"
Is this novel better than Bazell's debut? It's as good as and more. In addition to the mayhem and madness of the original, there's an element of ecoconsciousness and political satire (the long-delayed appearance of the government official is worth the purchase price) that will leave readers wanting still more. Bazell makes being smart sexy and footnotes fun."Bob Lunn, Library Journal"
Insanely funny...the work of a crackpot genius."Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review"
A rousing, fast-paced sequel...Bazell's mix of violent lunacy and social commentary should appeal to fans of Carl Hiaasen...The novel is packed with witty footnotes, and when Brnwa isn't lusting after the paleontologist, he's a profanely trenchant social observer."Washington Post"
Bazell's inventiveness and a series of plot twists ensure that Wild Thing never lets up...For suspense, the monster plot sinks its claws in, blending the best of Jaws with the comic sense of your favorite episode of Scooby-Doo. At its heart, this book is wildly fun."San Francisco Chronicle"
A very thoughtful examination of the collision of rationality and superstition...Comes with the funniest footnotes and appendix (no kidding) ever written."Daily Beast"
The novel is violent, sexy and relentlessly funny."Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Wild Thing walks, talks, and squawks like a crime thriller, but it makes casual passes at left-field absurdity that aim for Hiaasen or Vonnegut...a fun, fast read."Entertainment Weekly
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Read an Excerpt
Wild ThingA Novel
By Bazell, Josh
Reagan Arthur BooksCopyright © 2012 Bazell, Josh
All right reserved.
White Lake, Minnesota
Summer Before Last
Autumn Semmel feels Benjy Schneke’s fingertip trace the top of her thigh, along the lower front hem of her boy shorts toward her pussy. It causes her skin to tighten all the way to her nipples and her pussy to unclench like a fist. She opens her eyes. Says “Stop that shit!”
“Why?” Benjy says.
She nods over her shoulder. “Because Megan and Ryan are right there.”
Autumn and Benjy are lying on the White Lake side of the spit of land, mostly roots, that separates White Lake from Lake Garner. Megan Gotchnik and Ryan Crisel are out on Lake Garner, behind them.
Benjy says “So? I’m not touching anything that’s covered.”
“I know what you’re doing. You’re driving me crazy.”
Autumn stands up, stretching down the edges of her bottoms. Looks behind her.
Megan and Ryan are in their canoe, twenty or thirty yards from shore. Megan’s legs are over the sides. Ryan’s going down on her. Because of the way sound carries over the water, Autumn can hear Megan’s panting as if it’s right in front of her. It makes Autumn feel dizzy. She turns back to White Lake.
It’s like going from one season to another. Lake Garner is a broad oval under the east–west sun. White Lake is at the bottom of a jagged canyon that runs north from Lake Garner’s eastern end. The water in White Lake is black, cold, and choppy.
It’s magic. Autumn dives in.
She’s alert to everything instantly. She can’t see, but she can feel her ribcage, her scalp, the tops of her feet. Her arms are slippery against the sides of her breasts, from sunblock or some property of the water. It’s like she’s ghosting through onyx.
When she’s gone a dozen strokes she feels Benjy hit the water behind her. She swims faster, not wanting him to catch up to her and grab her feet. She hates that: it’s too scary. As soon as she surfaces for air she turns around.
She can feel the chill breeze on her face. The chop has eaten up her wake. She can’t see Benjy at all.
A thrill of dread runs up her right leg and into her stomach at the thought of him coming toward her under water, and she kicks out.
It gives her an idea. She swims in the direction of the western shore. If she can’t see Benjy, he can’t see her either. So if she’s not where he thinks she is, he can’t grab her.
It still feels like he’s going to, though. She keeps instinctively jerking her legs up, one at a time.
But as the seconds go by, it becomes more and more obvious that Benjy’s not going to try to scare her. Then that he’s not even in the lake with her, whatever she thought she felt while she was swimming. He’s probably gone into the woods along Lake Garner, to watch Megan and Ryan fucking.
It’s a bad feeling. Abandonment and dickishness, but also something else: although Autumn loves White Lake, she’s not that interested in being in it alone. It’s not that kind of place. There’s something adult about White Lake.
“Benjy!” she yells. “Benjy!” Her wet hair is cold on her head and the back of her neck.
He doesn’t appear.
“Benjy, come on!”
As Autumn starts to breaststroke back toward the south end of the lake, Benjy explodes out of the water in front of her, visible to mid-chest and vomiting a dark rope of blood that slaps her like something from a bucket.
Then he gets yanked back under.
He’s gone. The heat of his blood is gone too. It’s like Autumn imagined the whole thing.
But Autumn knows she didn’t imagine it. That what she’s just seen is something terrible and permanent—and which might be about to happen to her.
She turns and sprint-swims for the rocky beach at the base of the cliff. Full-out crawl, no breathing allowed. Swim or die.
Something punches into her stomach, and snags there with tremendous weight and pain. As it tears free, she gets an instant head rush and can’t feel her hands.
She tries to arch her back to get some air, but she must be turned around or something, because she sucks in water instead.
Then the thing rams into her from behind, clapping shut her rib cage like a book and squirting the life out of her like water from a sponge.
Or at least that’s how it was explained to me.
FIRST THEORY: HOAX
Caribbean Sea, 100 Miles East of Belize
Thursday, 19 July
“ISHMAEL—CALL ME” is all the Tel-E-Gram says, but I’m busy pulling some poor fucker’s teeth out with pliers when it gets slipped under the door, so I don’t read it till later.
The guy’s a full-on Nhambiquara Indian from the Brazilian Amazon. Beatlemania haircut and everything, though he’s in the white uniform of the laundry department.
Of course, every department’s uniform is white.
I tap his next molar. Say “¿Seguro?”
“¿Verdad?” Like they speak Spanish in Brazil.
“It’s fine,” he says.
Maybe it is. From what I know about dentistry—which, granted, comes from watching about an hour and a half of procedure videos on YouTube—lidocaine to the posterior superior alveolar nerve will knock out sensation from the third molar in about two-thirds of people. The rest will need another shot, to the middle superior alveolar, or they’ll feel everything.
I assume any actual dentist would just go ahead and give both. But that’s the kind of thinking that caused me to use up all the lidocaine in the crew clinic in the first place, and almost all the lidocaine I’ve been able to steal from the passenger clinic. So now I have to tap and ask. And a lot of my patients are too butch, or just too polite, to admit they’re not numb.
Well, fuck it. Save the lido for someone too scared to lie.
I twist the molar out as quickly and smoothly as I can. It crumbles into black muck in the pliers anyway. I catch the pieces in my gloved hand just before they hit the guy’s uniform.
It occurs to me that I should give another oral hygiene lecture in the warehouse. The last one doesn’t seem to have changed anything, but at least there were fewer knife fights down there while I was talking.
I peel my gloves off over the sink. When I look back, there are tears running down the man’s face.
Fire Deck 40 is a metal platform between two smokestacks, as far as I know the highest part of the ship you can actually stand on. Fuck knows what it has to do with fire.
The sun’s setting, wind like a hairdryer. On the horizon there’s a ten-mile-tall wall of clouds running parallel to the ship. Iridescent reds and grays that bulge over each other like intestines.
I hate the fucking ocean. Hate it physiologically, it turns out. Being at sea fucks my sleep and makes me jumpy and subject to flashbacks. It’s part of what makes the job of junior physician on a cruise ship exactly what I deserve.
Not that I had a choice. If there’s another industry that hires this many doctors without giving a shit whether their medical degrees—in my case from the University of Zihuatanejo, under the name “Lionel Azimuth”—are real or just kited off commercially available supporting documents, I’ve never heard of it. Let alone one that’s this poorly infiltrated by the Mafia.
The hatch in the wall beside one of the smokestacks barks open, and a very black man in a long-sleeved version of the (white) uniform of updeck junior submanagement steps out.
“Dr. Azimuth,” he says.
Mr. Ngunde is staring at me. “Doctor, your shirt is open.”
This is true. I have a white undershirt on beneath it, but my white short-sleeved uniform shirt is unbuttoned. It has gold epaulets, so wearing it like this makes me feel like a drunk airline pilot.
“I don’t think anyone will mind,” I say, looking down over the edge.
From here the ship, which is twice as wide and three times as long as the Titanic, is mostly all-white rooftops and telecom equipment, though there are a few pairs of sorry fucks visible whose job it is to watch for pirates. The passenger areas I can see into, like the Nintendo Dome and the rearmost indoor-outdoor pool, are guaranteed to be empty, since all five of the ship’s main restaurants started dinner service an hour ago.
Mr. Ngunde doesn’t come over to look. It reminds me that he’s afraid of heights, and makes me feel guilty for forcing him to come all the way up here to find me. And for taking lightly an infraction that, were he to commit it, would get him fired and dumped at the next port. Apparently I can bowl over a security guard while coming out of a passenger’s stateroom, drunk and dying to get fired, and get an apology from the security guard. Mr. Ngunde, unless he’s driving the Zamboni machine or doing some other task that requires it, isn’t allowed to be anywhere a passenger could see him. Regardless of what his shirt looks like.
Speaking of the Zamboni machine, I say “How’s the arm?”
“Very fine, Doctor.”
That seems unlikely. Mr. Ngunde has a large sleeve-hidden burn on his left forearm from trying to add steering fluid to the Zamboni while the engine was hot. I haven’t been able to find a tetanus booster on the ship. Nor have I seen enough tetanus in my life to know how concerned this should make me.
“And the diarrhea log?” Mr. Ngunde says.
“Down, actually. Just don’t eat the stew.”
“Thank you, Doctor. Large number of visits this afternoon?”
“Anything of interest?”
Mr. Ngunde is asking me whether any of my patients voiced a level of dissatisfaction significant enough for him to report it up toward one of the department chiefs. I don’t hold it against him. At some point in the next twenty-four hours, someone higher in submanagement than Mr. Ngunde will casually ask me if Mr. Ngunde has talked to me recently, and if so whether he said anything of interest.
Still, it’s a bummer, because it reminds me that I am, in fact, an employee of a cruise line. My job here is showered in privilege: I get my own stateroom, I eat free in most of the restaurants, and—like the senior physician—I have a seat on Lifeboat One, the captain’s lifeboat. But most of my patients wish they’d never left their shithole slums and villages. They make around seven thousand dollars a year, out of which they have to pay interest on the loans they took to get here, bribes for the supplies they use in their jobs, and wire fees for the remittances they send home so their children, please God, won’t have to work on a cruise ship. Whether what I do actually improves their lives or just assists in their exploitation is one for the ages.
“Please if you will excuse me, Doctor.”
“Of course, Mr. Ngunde. Sorry.” He’s sweating.
When he pulls the hatch shut behind him, I remember the Tel-E-Gram I picked up off the floor of the clinic. Take it out and read it.
“Ishmael” was my name in the Federal Witness Protection Program, but the only person who ever actually called me that was Professor Marmoset. Who got me into WITSEC in the first place, and then into med school. And later, when I was in trouble, got me out of New York City.
Marmoset’s not a talker. He’s not even a responder. You hear from Marmoset, it’s serious. It could mean there’s a job out there for you. Maybe even one practicing medicine.
Maybe even on dry land.
But without more information, it doesn’t bear thinking about. The job I have now is crappy enough without imagining you could be doing something else.
So focus on the sway of the ship. Get nauseated.
You’ll find out soon enough.
Monday, 13 August
The woman with the Bettie Page bangs and the “DR. LIONEL AZIMUTH” sign at the Portland airport is exactly the one I would hire if I were the fourteenth-richest man in America. She looks like a pin-up. A pin-up who can box.
“Not interested,” she says as I walk up to her.
“I’m Lionel Azimuth.”
I don’t take it personally. I look like a dick with a fist on the end of it. “I’ve got a meeting with Rec Bill,” I say.
She considers this. “Do you have luggage?”
A second later: “You don’t use the wheels?”
“The handle’s not long enough.”
She looks around, but there’s no one else willing to claim to be Azimuth.
“Sorry,” she says. “I’m Violet Hurst. Rec Bill’s paleontologist.”
“Why does Rec Bill have his own paleontologist?” I say when we’re out of the rain and under the airport garage. It’s eight at night.
“I can’t tell you. It’s confidential.”
“Are you cloning dinosaurs, like in Jurassic Park?”
“No one’s cloning dinosaurs like in Jurassic Park. DNA degrades in forty thousand years, even if it’s in a mosquito in some amber. The only way we’re going to get sixty-million-year-old dinosaur DNA is by reverse-engineering it from currently living descendants. And we’ll be eating human flesh in the streets before we have that kind of technology.”
“We will? Why?”
“That’s where the protein is. Anyway, I’m not a zoological paleontologist. This is me.”
We’ve come to a car. It’s an old Saab with rust along the bottom like a waterline. Maybe it is a waterline.
“What kind of paleontologist are you?” I ask her.
“Catastrophic. You might want to just say it.”
“If I work for the fourteenth-richest man in America, how come my car’s such a piece of shit?”
I have kind of been wondering that. “I don’t even own a car,” I say.
“Rec Bill doesn’t pay much, in case no one’s warned you,” she says, unlocking the passenger door. “He’s worried people will take advantage of him.”
“So he does it to them first?”
“He does whatever he thinks will keep him sane. Don’t mention the fourteenth-richest thing to him either, by the way. He hates that.”
“Because it objectifies him, or because he’s only fourteenth?”
“Probably both. Throw it in the back. The trunk doesn’t open.”
“So how long until we’re eating human flesh in the streets?” I say.
“You don’t want to know.”
We’re on the highway. The rain keeps forming a trembling gel on the windshield.
“I think I do.”
I want to keep her talking, in any case. I’m not used to casual conversation, even with people who don’t look like they could steam up their own jungle planet. I’m worried I might say something that resembles my actual thoughts.
“In the U.S.?” she says. “Less than a hundred years. Maybe less than thirty.”
She gives me a look like people asking her questions just to watch her talk is something that happens all the time.
Must get frustrating.
“Bottom line,” she says, “there’s too many people and not enough food. A billion people are already starving, and climate change and oil scarcity will make it a lot worse.”
“The issue with oil scarcity being that we won’t be able to use trucks and farm equipment?”
“We won’t be able grow things in the first place. All modern fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are made from hydrocarbons.”
“And you really think we’re about to run out?”
“It doesn’t have to be gone,” she says. “It just has to be where it costs more energy or money to produce a barrel of oil than you can get from a barrel of oil. We may have already reached that point—it’s hard to tell, because energy companies are so heavily subsidized that they can sell gas for less than it costs to make. When you can dump a hundred and seventy million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico and take a write-off on the cleanup, cost-efficiency doesn’t really enter into it.”
“But won’t there eventually be other energy sources?”
“You mean like solar? Or wind, or geothermal? Not too likely. Petroleum is four billion years’ worth of organisms using radiation from the sun to turn airborne carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. Nothing we can make is going to come close to producing that kind of energy. And even if it did, we wouldn’t be able to design batteries efficient enough to store it. That’s another thing about oil: it’s its own storage and transport medium.”
“Nuclear’s a hoax, even when it doesn’t leak or explode. No nuclear plant has ever produced as much energy as it costs to build and maintain. All nuclear does is keep France clean while it poisons South America. Which is enough crazy-scientist-lady info for one evening. You talk.”
I laugh. “I feel like an idiot,” I say. “Here I thought it was all about the climate change.”
“That’s not really what I meant by ‘talk.’ ” But when I don’t respond, she says “And anyway, a lot of it is all about the climate change. The oil crash will kill six billion people—at a minimum, because that would take us back to where we were before the Industrial Revolution, and the planet’s lost a lot of carrying capacity since then. But climate change will kill everybody else. Climate change will kill everyone on Earth even if we prevent the oil crash. We could stop using hydrocarbons right now, and just let the six billion die, and climate change would continue to speed up. We’ve already pulled the methane trigger.”
“Which is what?”
“It’s where you heat the Earth to the point where the Arctic methane hydrate shelf starts to melt. Methane’s twenty times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Fifty million years ago it turned the sky green. This time it’ll do it a lot faster.” She looks at me again. “You know, you seem to be strangely enjoying this.”
I am. I’m not sure why. The complete destruction of the human race is fairly amusing, obviously—particularly if it happens through overpopulation and technology, the only goals humanity has ever taken seriously. But it’s just as likely that this woman’s suspicions are accurate, and what’s making me happy is being near her. With Violet Hurst, what message isn’t the medium going to kick the shit out of?
Must get lonely, as well as frustrating.
“So when was the point of no return?” I say.
“Forget it. I’m cutting you off.”
“But that’s what catastrophic paleontologists do? Study the end of the world?”
“The various ends of the world. The specific extinction event that’s about to happen is a subspecialty.”
“And that’s what you do for Rec Bill?”
“What I do for Rec Bill is confidential. And no.”
“Can you at least tell me what he wants to talk to me about?”
“Off the record?”
“Sorry,” she says. “He wants to tell you himself. With Rec Bill, it’s all about trust.”
She signals toward an exit. “Speaking of which, he wants me to wait around and drive you to your hotel when you guys get done, but I think I’m going to put my foot down on this one. I clearly love catastrophic paleontology enough to bore the hell out of strange men with it, but even I have to go get drunk afterward and pretend I’ve never heard of it. Just tell Rec Bill to call you a cab. And keep the receipt.”
Still Monday, 13 August
The twelfth floor of the main building of Rec Bill’s office park seems to be one enormous room, dark except for a spotlight over the receptionist’s desk and another one over the waiting area. The waiting area’s floor-to-ceiling windows have channels cut into them that guide the rainwater into tree shapes. The noise from them is making it hard for me to pick out sounds from the dark rest of the floor.
About twenty yards in, an entire office in a glass cube lights up. It looks like a diorama in a natural history museum. There’s even a man getting up from the desk.
For a moment I think he’s been sitting in the dark, waiting for the light to go on, but then I realize that’s too stupid: it’s just that the cube has gone from opaque to transparent. Liquid crystal in the glass or something.
As the man comes out of the office and walks toward me, more spotlights come on to light his path. He’s late forties, with a gym body and a ponytail. Blazer, untucked shirt, designer jeans, wedge-toe loafers: the full douchebag tuxedo, though I decide to suspend judgment when I see his face. It’s been lined by something that looks a lot like pain. Incised by it, more like.
At the moment, though, he’s smiling. “What do you think?” he says to me. “Real or fake?”
I have no idea what he’s talking about. Between the light-up office and Calamity Jane back in the car, I wonder if he’s trying to hypnotize me with weirdness, like Milton Erickson was supposedly able to do. Then I notice he’s looking at an oil painting on a freestanding white wall beside me.
It’s a city-under-starry-night kind of thing in the style of van Gogh. In fact it’s signed “Vincent.”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“Can I touch it?”
I put my palm on the chunky paint. “It’s fake.”
“How can you tell?”
“You let me touch it.”
“Fair point,” he says. “Although it cost almost as much as the original.”
He keeps frowning at it, so eventually I say “Why?”
“It was done by a computer. The idea was to use MRI to figure out the order and content of the brushstrokes. But next to the original it looks like shit. One of my materials guys thinks it’s because the original has too many false starts and corrections.”
“Next time you should copy someone who could paint.”
“Ha,” the man says. “I’m Rec Bill.”
“I know. Come into my office.”
“I think I’m going to show you the DVD first,” he says. He’s behind his glass desk. The only things on it are a small pink-and-gold ashtray with a facedown business card in it and a white padded envelope that’s been cut open rather than torn.
“Get you something to drink?” he says.
“No, thanks.” If Rec Bill wants my fingerprints, he can send someone to the fucking ship.
If he does.
I don’t know what he wants, because I don’t know who he thinks I am. Professor Marmoset would never have told him the truth about me, but I assume anyone this rich would have run a background check. And Lionel Azimuth barely has a background.
“What has Dr. Hurst told you?” he says.
“Good. I want to see how you react to this.”
Rec Bill swipes and taps some not-obviously-marked spots on his desk, and a part of one wall lights up as a monitor.
Something else he does dims the lights.
The video starts silently. For a while it’s just photographs, mostly sepia and black-and-white, run together with the “Ken Burns” feature of somebody’s editing software. Woods and lakes. Native Americans posing in suede. Some bearded men in flannel outside a mine entrance. In sudden Kodachrome, so that it looks like the 1970s, a family in a canoe. Then back to black-and-white for more woods and lakes.
Eventually something artful happens: there’s a color shot of a rock wall at the edge of a lake, apparently taken from the water. Then a closer shot from the same perspective, and an even closer one. At which point you can see that the rock has a primitive-looking drawing on it.
It’s a moose face-to-face with a much larger animal that’s curving up from below it, like a serpent or a giant seahorse. The creature has horns and a snout. The moose’s lower jaw hangs open in comical surprise. A bunch of smaller animals lie around looking dead, on their backs with their feet in the air.
The image freezes. An amateurishly boomy male announcer voice with a hiss behind it says “The knowledge that a mysterious creature exists in the waters of White Lake has been known for centuries. Numerous Native American tribes, including the Chippewa and others of the Anishinaabe peoples, tell legends of the Creature that recede to the depths of time. Mysterious disappearances of dogs, livestock, and other animals have been recorded for four hundred years or more.
“And what of the present? Many residents of the modern-day town of Ford, the nearest town to White Lake, say they have actually seen the monster. Several say they have observed it on multiple occasions.”
There’s some handheld modern video of a bunch of people with their backs to the outside of a convenience store. A voice, maybe the announcer’s but weak in the open air, says “Who here has seen the monster?”
Everybody in the group raises their hands. “Twice,” one woman says.
The video abruptly switches to a teenage girl in a hiking outfit and wraparound sunglasses, walking away as the camera pursues her along the front of some woods. It’s a bit like a slasher movie.
The voice says “Young lady, have you seen a monster in White Lake?”
“Please don’t videotape me,” she says.
“Just yes or no.”
The screen goes black as the voice returns to announcer-style. “Some have managed to photograph it.”
There’s a multicolor jag, and the image turns into what seems to be handheld video of an old television playing a videotape. The television’s screen bulges outward, so a lot of what’s going on is obscured by glare. You can barely read the pixelated text along the bottom: “THE DR. McQUILLEN TAPE.” Whoever’s doing the filming zooms in on the upper-right corner of the television screen, and the image turns into almost pure grain. But just as you’re starting to wonder whether there’s a store out there that exists only to rent shitty, ancient video equipment to people making hoax movies, you realize you’re watching a duck floating on some water.
Then the water explodes, and the duck is gone.
It gives me a hitch in my chest. The ferocity and speed of the attack, along with the thrash out of calm water, remind me of a shark.
I don’t like sharks. I haven’t since I spent a bad night in an aquarium eleven years ago.
A voice on the video says “Hold on a sec,” and the image on the television freezes, then rewinds in fast motion, then stops and starts to play again frame by frame.
Now I’m sweating.
The duck. The water. Something rising out of the water, dark but hidden by the splashing, then blotting out the duck entirely. The something gone, and the duck with it, no way to tell what it was.
There’s a flash, and suddenly Rec Bill and I are watching relatively high-quality modern video again, this time of a bleak-faced old man standing in front of a pier.
The announcer voice, with its hiss, comes back long enough to say “Some even say they have tangled with it.”
“Happened some years ago,” the old man says.
Then he just stands there looking forlorn.
Someone off camera asks him a question you can’t quite hear.
“Oh, I can remember it,” he says. “I can remember it like it was yesterday.”
“Okay,” Rec Bill says to me. “Check it out. This is where it gets interesting.”
Lake Garner, Minnesota
19 Years Ago
It’s nine a.m.—late to get a line down, like Charlie Brisson gives a fuck. He’s not out on this bullshit lake in the middle of the fucking woods to fish. He’s here to get shitfaced and forget that his wife is fucking his fucking shift manager.
The shitfaced part is working, at least. Brisson woke up half out of his tent, frozen, his face bit to shit by mosquitoes. But what he woke up picturing was Lisa getting cornholed by Robin.
He’s still picturing it. There aren’t exactly a lot of distractions around here. Maybe Brisson should have thought about that before he came out to the woods. Maybe he shouldn’t be such a fucking, fucking idiot.
He just can’t accept it. It’s like some new Lisa has taken the place of the one Brisson loved. Good Lisa would never have done this to him.
Brisson knows that’s bullshit, and Good Lisa never existed in the first place, but fuck—he just misses her so much.
The sobs break out of him in a Heh-heh-heh pattern.
He leans forward so the sun will stop fucking him in the eyes, his legs out in front of him on the bottom of the canoe. Drooping farther and farther forward until suddenly it feels like he’s spinning and he jerks upright, almost tipping the boat.
After that he tries to pay attention to the line. Like that helps. The line just sits there. The whole lake’s laughing at him. It’s as empty as Brisson’s motherfucking life.
Fuck crappie. Fuck fucking walleye. After Brisson found out Lisa was fucking Robin, Lisa swore to him they never fucked in the section office of the mine while Brisson was down-shaft.
Of course they fucked in the section office of the mine while Brisson was down-shaft. Why not? No safer place. Brisson stuck twenty-eight stories underground, no way back to the surface except by calling the fucking section office for the elevator.
Sorry to fucking interrupt you!
Brisson cries away. Covers his itching, spasming face with his hands.
Which after a while strikes him as interesting, because it means he’s no longer holding his fishing rod.
He looks around for it. Scorch scorch scorch from the reflected sunlight, and another hit of vertigo.
The rod’s not in the boat. It’s not floating, either, at least not nearby. Brisson can’t remember whether it’s the kind that’s meant to float. Or whether he’s got a spare back at the campsite.
He has a panicked moment where he thinks he might have lost the oar, too, but then he finds it by his feet, thank you, Jesus. Yanks it loose to row for shore, where fuck it—fuck all of it—he can start drinking again.
Back at the campsite, though, Brisson is confused.
No fucking way did he drink all that beer. Brisson only drinks beer as a chaser. Other than when his wife turns out to be an evil lying whore, he’s not that much of a drinker in the first place. And he’s still got plenty of Jim Beam.
There are a few surprise empties lying around—he’s not claiming to remember last night, just to be able to reconstruct it from available evidence—but nowhere near so many cans as to indicate that he drank all the beer. And no way bears took it. Brisson has personally seen a bear drink beer from a bottle two-handed, but he knows they don’t like aluminum.
Brisson kicks through his tent and the rest of his shit, then goes back to check the canoe. Like there’s going to be a couple of six-packs in it that he somehow didn’t notice while he was fishing.
There aren’t, but the view from there reminds him of what he did with the rest of the beer.
He put it in White Lake.
Not like White Lake is really its own lake. It’s a dogleg off Lake Garner, separated by a spit of land that doesn’t even reach all the way across.
But neither is it the same lake. Brisson’s never seen fog on Lake Garner, for example, whereas White Lake seems to have it more often than not. And though Brisson’s never heard of a kid or even a dog drowning in Lake Garner, White Lake is some kind of death trap. White Lake is where Jim Lascadis’s six-year-old died, that poor motherfucker. Meaning Lascadis. Poor motherfucker of a kid, though, also. Jesus.
Lake Garner’s nice and White Lake’s a hellhole.
Except to store beer.
Brisson slip-slides down the White Lake side of the spit of land. The spit’s made mostly of roots, as if the scraggly-ass birch trees along its spine have eaten away all the dirt. The roots are slimy—cold, sharp, and rotten smelling.
But Brisson’s got to do it. It looks like he tied a bungee cord to the trunk of one of the trees and then tied the beer to the other end of the cord. But for some reason the bungee now runs taut from the tree trunk to the water—something’s snagged down there. He should be careful the six-pack or whatever it is doesn’t get shot at his face like a rubber band as it comes free.
Fuck, though, the water is cold when his feet reach it. Brisson’s in his tighty-whiteys, which are now soaked and muddy, and probably torn, but he has no interest in taking them off. The idea of being entirely naked on this wall of thorny roots is frightening.
He sits and plunges his legs in up to the knees, then pulls them out again. The water’s so cold that he can feel the individual rivulets of it heading toward his groin.
Fuck that. He stands back up. Turns to face the wall and takes hold of the bungee cord like a rappelling line. So what if he gets clobbered by beer in the back of the head? Maybe it’ll kill him. Won’t be the worst thing that’s happened to him this week.
Brisson backs slowly into the water. The roots above the waterline were slimy, but the ones underneath are mossy and slimy. Standing on them is like balancing on rolling pins, particularly now that his feet are numb. In fact, before he’s taken half a dozen steps, Brisson’s feet fly out behind him and he flops, face-first, onto the spiny wall.
He bounces off from the pain. Retracts into a sideways fetal position, which feels like it does some more damage but at least gets his legs out of the freezing water.
His teeth are chattering. He looks down at his chest and stomach, expecting to see them gushing blood in a dozen places. But all he sees is mud and a few bright and leaky spots of opaque red. He tries to wipe away the mud to look at them, but this just ends up making a kind of blood/dirt paste. He gets a horrified premonition that he’s punctured his balls, and checks.
Intact. Like that matters.
But he’s alive, and now he has an idea. He climbs back up the roots like a ladder. Tries to untie the bungee, and when he can’t, goes back to his campsite and finds his Gerber knife. Cuts the bungee at the tree trunk and walks it halfway back down the slope to give it slack.
It works. Three six-packs, the bungee woven through the plastic rings that hold them together, bob to the surface. Hauling them up causes three or four cans to flip loose and either fall back into the lake or slip down between the roots, but there’s not much Brisson’s willing to do about that except say “fuck” a bunch of times. As soon as he’s got the survivors in hand he pops one open and drinks from it. Figures this time he can use the Jim Beam for a chaser.
Then he’s sitting on the spine of the spit of land, leaning back against the tree, left leg on the White Lake side, right leg—significantly warmer, since it’s in the sun—on the Lake Garner side. Wishing he’d thought to get the Jim Beam before he sat down. Or brought it when he got the knife.
Where is the knife? He doesn’t really know or care. He wants to nap.
Brisson wakes up with a strong urge to twitch his left leg. Breathes in air that’s pure hot rotten fish, and chokes. Looks down.
His left leg, to mid-thigh, is in the mouth of a gigantic black snake stretching out of White Lake.
The snake’s rocky head is shaped like a piece of pie, with its eyes on the sides of the wedge like on an eagle’s. The pupils are vertical slits.
The snake’s teeth don’t look like snake teeth, though. They’re serrated triangles, with just their tips pressing into his flesh.
Right then and there Brisson pretty much loses his mind. He thrashes, and the snake hisses and bites down, snapping bone. Brisson’s body tries to throw itself down the other side of the spit, into Lake Garner and away from White Lake.
The snake doesn’t let him go. It raises its body partly out of the water to gain leverage.
It’s no snake. It’s got shoulders.
Whatever the fuck it is, it slowly moves its head side to side, scissoring its teeth through what’s left of Brisson’s leg. Already blacking out, Brisson falls backward toward Lake Garner.
Which is essentially all he remembers until he wakes up in the hospital.
But fuck: he sure as hell remembers that much. Remembers it clearly.
And if you don’t believe him, he’s got something to show you.
Still Monday, 13 August
The video pans down the front of the old man’s pants. His left leg is tied off in a stump. The video ends.
Rec Bill turns the lights back on.
“What do you think?” Rec Bill says after a moment.
My entire fucking skin is crawling with sharkiness. Bullshit though this guy’s story clearly is, it was brilliantly told. That old man wasn’t acting. Nobody can act that well. And if he was lying, which is the only other option, he’s perfect at it. He’s a full-on psychopath.
“About what?” I say.
“Wait. Read this,” Rec Bill says. He slides the padded envelope across to me.
I pull it off the table with my palm so it won’t be so obvious that my hands are shaking. Turn it over in my lap. There’s no postmark.
So much for not leaving fingerprints. I pull out a folded piece of paper:
15 Rte 6
Ford, MN 57731
YOUR COMPLETE CONFIDENTIALITY IS REQUESTED AND EXPECTED.
Dear Mr. Bill:
I would like to take this opportunity to invite you may well turn out to be the adventure of a lifetime.
You may have heard legends of the White Lake Monster. If not, please find enclosed a preliminary version of a soon to be completed documentary on that subject (enclosed).
On Saturday, the 15th of September, I will personally be leading an expedition to search for and observe the Monster. So certain am I from recent events that this expedition will be a success that I am offering to provide all reasonable costs of transportation to Ford, as well as on-site outfitting, guidance, and lodging including one night at the CFS Lodge and an estimated four to twelve nights in the field, at no cost to you unless the Monster is found and determined as below (see below) to be a previously unidentified, unnaturally large marine animal similar to that of the legend.
If the Monster is in fact spotted in accordance with the below agreement, you will be charged the amount of one million dollars U.S.D. ($1,000,000) for yourself and an additional one million dollars U.S.D. ($1,000,000) for anyone you choose to bring with you, the full amount to be paid into an escrow account immediately prior to the expedition setting out.
To ensure fair agreement on whether the Monster has or has not been seen to a degree fulfilling the conditions requiring payment, I am pleased to say that a very high ranking Member of the U.S. Federal Government has agreed to serve as Referee. Out of respect for the privacy of this individual, his or her identity will be divulged only upon his or her arrival at the CFS Lodge on the evening before the Party is to set out, eg Friday the 14th of September. (This person is not the Congressman who forwarded you this letter.) At that time you will be free to accept this individual as Referee or not, and to put funds into the escrow account at that time, or else to leave at no cost to you guaranteed. However, I am 100% confident you will approve of this person as Referee.
Because the Monster is a limited natural resource belonging to the town of Ford, we will require that you bring no photographic or video equipment along on the trip, including no cell phones with camera functions etc. Also, as White Lake is in an undisclosed location (it is part of another Lake and is not on most maps) we require that you bring no direction finding equipment, including any form of GPS (Global Positioning System). For the safety of the Monster and the party participants, no weapons will be allowed. The Monster is not believed to be dangerous to large groups, but the guides will carry sufficient arms to defend the party in the event of an attack. However, as the Monster is presumed to be a unpredictable and possibly aggressive wild animal, guests will be required to sign a waiver indemnifying the organizers of the trip against any injury or loss of life. If any of these rules are broken, subject to the opinion of the Referee, the person breaking the rules shall forfeit all funds in escrow.
To ensure the private and respectful nature of the viewing, the Party will be limited to no more than six (8) Guests, on a first come first serve basis, and all recipients of this letter are asked to keep its contents confidential so that those who do embark on this journey are able to do so safely and successfully.
In the event that you do in fact become one of the Guests, I look forward to making your acquaintance.
CEO, CFS Outfitters & Lodge
The signature at the bottom says “Reggie” instead of Reginald.
“So,” Rec Bill says. “Any chance it’s real?”
He seems serious.
“Are you serious?” I say.
“Yes. I am.”
I mean, the video did get to me a bit. But I have shark issues.
“Is this why you have a paleontologist?”
“No,” he says. “This has nothing to do with that.”
“Then why do you have a paleontologist?”
Whatever. “No. There is no chance this is real. If you’re not bullshitting me, then someone’s bullshitting you. Or trying to scam you. Or kidnap you.”
Rec Bill smiles. “Reggie Trager checks out clean. No criminal record.”
“Everyone has to start somewhere.”
“And even if he is running some kind of scam, that doesn’t prove the creature doesn’t exist.”
“It doesn’t need to. The creature does not exist.”
“How can you be sure of that?”
The real answer is that, like for most scientists, lake monsters, ghosts, superpowers, and UFOs are part of what got me interested in science in the first place. So my heart’s been broken for that shit for years. You get old enough, you make your choice: you accept what science actually is and decide to do it anyway, or you go find something that lets you keep the illusions you have left. It’s a cold hard world, love, and these are cold hard times.
What I say to Rec Bill is “A million reasons. If there’s a creature, what’s it eating? And don’t give me that bullshit about dogs and livestock—how’s it getting livestock if it lives in a lake? And where are the bones of these livestock? Where are the bones of the creature’s ancestors, for that matter? If there have been sightings, how come they’re not on YouTube? Why can’t you see the creature on Google Earth?”
Rec Bill keeps smiling.
“What?” I ask him.
“The Boundary Waters have two point five million acres of lake-land that you’re not allowed to take a motorboat into or even fly a plane over. Most of that has partial tree cover. There are animals all over it that a large predator could eat without anyone noticing. The area’s been protected since 1910 or something—a friend of Teddy Roosevelt’s went there on vacation and liked it. And on top of all that it’s surrounded by a national forest, a national park, and a Canadian provincial park, and it’s contiguous with Lake Superior.”
“Then it doesn’t matter how big or protected it is,” I say. “Any place contiguous with Lake Superior has had fur trappers all over it. If they had found a monster there, they would have made a felt hat out of it.”
“Maybe the monster wasn’t there at that time. Or wasn’t awake. Maybe it hid out. People have been all over the surface of Loch Ness, and we still don’t know what’s down there.”
“Of course we do. Every inch of Loch Ness has been mapped by sonar.”
“Not the tunnels and caves in the walls.”
“Those are a myth. The walls of Loch Ness are sheer basalt, and the bottom’s flat. We know how many golf balls are on it. You should ask your paleontologist about these things. If she’s not too busy doing whatever it is she does for you.”
He ignores that. “So what about the old man in the video?”
I’d like to stop thinking about that guy now. “I admit he tells a good story. That doesn’t mean he can survive getting his leg bitten off with no one around to tourniquet it.”
“Maybe he tourniqueted it himself. We know he had a bungee cord.”
“He says he had one. Maybe he did use it as a tourniquet. And maybe his leg got crushed so hard that his popliteal and femoral arteries fused shut. But neither of those things is likely. Most untrained people who try to tourniquet a limb don’t manage to cut off the arterial flow—they just cut off the venous return near the surface, which makes things worse. Most people who are sober.” I look around for a clock. Don’t see one. “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”
“Are we? You don’t seem very open to alternative viewpoints.”
“In fact, you seem angry.”
Good point. I am fucking angry.
Irrationality annoys the shit out of me always, but to get it from Rec Bill? A guy way too rich to be this stupid on a regular basis, but who, when he does choose to get all whimsical, somehow calls me? Knowing that I, like everyone else, will drop everything to meet him because I think I might get a job out of this bullshit?
Which, really, is the problem. This isn’t Rec Bill’s fault. He’s not the delusional one in this scenario.
“Look,” I say. “How long have you been in remission?”
It startles him. “Professor Marmoset told you that?”
“No. He never would.”
“How did you find out?”
“I’m a doctor. Stomach or colon?”
“Colon,” Rec Bill says. “Stage III-C. Six years out.”
“So you’ve beaten the odds.”
“So far.” He knocks on the glass of the desk.
“But you’ve also realized that everyone eventually dies. Unless it turns out there’s some kind of magic in the world.”
A flash of imperiousness crosses his face. “I wouldn’t put it that way.”
“Are you in the Singularity Movement?”
“What do you mean, ‘Exactly’?”
I say “Testing the edges of reality is nothing to be embarrassed about. But bullshit like the White Lake Monster isn’t the way to do it. The physical world has rules, and physical objects in it tend to obey those rules. The only things that don’t are emotions and experiences. You want magic, you should try meditating. Or starting a children’s hospital.”
“You don’t think that’s a bit condescending?”
“Like I say, I’m a doctor. If you want to see a rare living creature, go look at a polar bear. Or date someone from Stockholm.”
“I did my junior year in Stockholm.”
“Then try North Dakota. But if you want my advice, here it is: do not do this stupid thing.”
Excerpted from Wild Thing by Bazell, Josh Copyright © 2012 by Bazell, Josh. 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
Josh Bazell has a BA in writing from Brown University and an MD from Columbia. His first book, the international best-seller Beat the Reaper, has been published in thirty-two languages and was one of Time's ten best novels of 2009. He lives in Brooklyn and Barcelona.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I really enjoyed Bazell's first outing, Beat the Reaper. It was a bit uneven, but had some great characters and was overall a very fun story. A very promising first book. Wild Thing, however, does to Beat the Reaper what The Chronicles of Riddick did to Pitch Black (if you can follow). It takes a solid (if imperfect) format that worked very well and turns it completely on its ear. Bazell's main character, Peter Brown, is like an interesting plot factory: he's an ex-mafia hitman turned lifesaving-but-still-badass doctor. He's big, ugly, tough, and smart. So apparently the obvious thing to do (at least to Bazell) was...make him hunt the low-rent midwest version of the Loch Ness monster? What? And then introduce Sarah Palin as a major character and spend what feels like a third of the book mocking her? Wild Thing comes off as a bizarre little platform that the author uses to voice all of his social and political opinions, and mock anybody who would dare disagree with him. Peter Brown deserves better. The readers deserve better. Skip this one.
I absolutely loved Beat the Reaper by this author so much that when I saw he was coming out with a new book I had to have it. This book has made it very unlikely I will ever read another book by this author. The book itself wasn't bad. It wasn't good by any means but it wasn't terrible. It definitely isn't a book that would make you buy another from the same author but it also isn't one that makes you want to scrub your brain with bleach to remove it. The plot was outrageous, the characters didn't make you care (difficult when I loved the protagonist in the first book) and the overall book was bleh. To season this mediocre novel the author decided to go on a diatribe against Christians, Republicans, those who don't believe in global warming, oil companies and pretty much anyone or anything else on the progressive hit list. If you love MSNBC you are gonna love this book. Otherwise you will get a book that is neither entertaining or convincing. I gave this one star because none was not an option.
Don't waste your money. Were Bazell's handlers just pushing him too hard to put out a second book? Read the first one - it was great - but skip this one.
Very disappointed in Bazell's second book. Not nearly as good as Beat the reaper . I hate stupid unrealistic plots twists. It lost me completely when the "referee" was introduced. I hope the last chapter is a set up for a third and better book
Pretty good. Kept my attention.
I had a four-star fondness for Beat the Reaper, Bazell’s first assault on decency and good taste. The star of that show, Pietro Brnwa, is back for a return engagement in Wild Thing with unfortunately less happy outcomes. In this episode, doctor/fugitive Mob hitman Brnwa is tagged by a reclusive billionaire to play bodyguard to one of the more improbable paleontologists you’ll run across this month as she looks for what may or may not be a fraudulent Loch Ness-type water monster in upper Minnesota. A lot of generally indescribable strangeness ensues involving meth cookers, various delegations of bodyguards, wilderness guides, LSD, right-wingers and a not-fictional politician. There may also be some kind of lake creature. Why am I being cagy about all this? I’m not – it really is indescribable. Wild Thing is all over the place, full of incidents that hardly make sense in context, far less out of it. While Beat the Reaper had a strong thruline and a weird kind of focus to carry you through the truly outrageous parts, this one doesn’t really. Don’t get me wrong; there are a number of funny bits in here and some good scenes, but it never seems to gel and it peters out rather than ending. Part of the problem is that Brnwa never gets a whole lot to do other than moon over the female paleontologist. His voice is still intact from the first book and he still can pump out entertaining footnotes (yes, footnotes), but he’s neither the center of attention nor the driving force behind the narrative. Brnwa is disconnected from the world set up for him in his debut and doesn’t get to use the various skills he has to any effect. One of my Goodreads colleagues theorizes that Wild Thing was meant for a new lead character and was converted to a Brnwa story under pressure. That’s as good an explanation as any I can think of. So, it’s two stars this time. Wild Thing is messy fun. There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in here. Depending on your political and/or religious outlook, you may get a kick out of some of the situations and conversations (otherwise you’ll be deeply offended, which I think is part of the point). If you don’t know anything about Brnwa, you won’t mind his predicament so much. If you read and liked Beat the Reaper, however, you may want to sit this one out and see what Bazell does for his third at-bat.
Different and awesome
This book is an amazingly good read that will keep you guessing as your stomach clenches in fear. Peppered with what some will call an unhealthy dose of liberal leaning truths, Wild Thing holds up to its name. It will be painfully too funny for readers who recognize how humans have tortured each other and Mother Nature through self-destructive behavior. It will also touch open, raw nerves of those of us who are wrapped tightly in self-Righteousness. (This touched nerve might explain the low ratings of some readers). This is SUCH a smart read on so many levels. I encourage all of you to look past the lower ratings and read for yourself. It is well worth it.
what can i say about this book. not as good as the first one: beat the reaper but worth reading.
I found the first book I read by Josh Bazell to be fairly interesting, but this one seems to be just bizzare. He seems interested mainly in the overuse of profanity and seems to think that everyone is interested in sex above all else. The concept of a Jewish/Mafia Hit Man/Karate Expert/Doctor is stange enough. Now he becomes a Field Biologist/Detective/Explorer. All of the characters are strange. As if the story isn't strange enough he brings Sarah Palin into it if only to follow the media's lead by making her look like a complete idiot. The way he represents her seems to open him up to a potential libel/slander law suit. It's interesting that he uses a real person in this case, but the Las Vegas Magician (I don't even knw why he was in the story) was a fictitious character instead of using Chris Angel. I guess the story was meant somehow to bring out the author's views on Climate Change, drug use, and politcs in general. However there seemed to be to many things that he tried to cover in the story and the "climax" seemed to be more of an anticlimax lost in the other jigsaw puzzle pieces of the story. I was left with many questions. What about the Meth lab and all of the people involved with that? Are the sharks going to be removed from the lake? Will there ever be true love? Is our hero going to live out the rest of his life hiding in his high-tech bunker, killing every hit man that comes knocking (How does he dispose of all of the bodies?)? There won't be much of a sequel if he can't leave that place. All in all this book was a waste of my time. I don't need to read a novel to get inundated with liberal politics, climate change extremists, sex, violence and weird characters. I just need to turn on most news channels to get that.
Not nearly as good as Beat the Reaper!
Reviewed by Dianne C. for Readers Favorite! Dr. Lionel Azimuth AKA Dr. Pietro Brnwa is incognito! He is in the Witness Protection program hiding from the "MOB." Dr. Violet Hurst is a paleontologist that works for a billionaire who loves dealing on long shots. His nickname is Rec Bill (Reclusive Billionaire). The two doctors meet when Rec Bill hires Dr. Azimuth to go to Minnesota with Violet to check out a story about a man-eating monster in a lake there that has reportedly killed several people, and to keep an eye on Violet and make sure she stays safe. Is the story true, or is it just a hoax? They know that somehow 4 people have been killed, and one seriously injured. Is Dr. Azimuth there to help Dr. Hurst prove there is a monster, or to disprove it? What does Rec Bill want them to do? While working on the theory of the monster the two doctors have a run-in with meth-making restaurant owner, various conflicting monster accounts, and even the "MOB." What secrets will be laid bare before they find the monster? "Wild Thing" took me a little while to really get into it, but after a couple of chapters it peeked my interest. Sometimes there was a little too much jumping to different time periods...but I could understand where some of it tied in with the story! I did always wonder what was going to come next, what would go wrong next, and who were really the good guys? There is a lot of cursing and sexual innuendos...a little more than necessary to make a great story!
It is my opinion,this book is without question, the worst piece of trash published in a long, long while. No stars should be given, however, it appears at least one must appear.