What if a man is placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program against his will?
And doesn’t even know what he supposedly knows that merits a new name, a new identity, a new life?
Jay Johnson is an Average Joe, a thirty-something guy with a job in telephone sales, a regular pick-up basketball game, and a devoted girlfriend he seems ready to marry. But one weekday afternoon, he’s abducted on a Los Angeles Metro train, tranquilized, interrogated, and his paper trail obliterated. What did he see, what terrible crimeor criminalis he keeping secret? It must be something awfully big. The trouble is, Jay has no clue.
Furious and helpless, and convinced that the government has made a colossal mistake, Jay is involuntarily relocated to a community on Catalina Islandwhich turns out to be inhabited mainly by other protected witnesses. Isolated in a world of strangers, Jay begins to realize that only way out is through the twisted maze of lies and unreliable memories swirling through his own mind. If he can locateor inventa repressed memory that might satisfy the Feds, maybe he can make it back to the mainland and his wonderful, even if monotonous, life.
Set in a noir contemporary L.A. and environs, Fifty Mice is a Hitchcockian thriller as surreal and mysterious as a Kafka nightmare. Chilling, paranoiac, and thoroughly original, it will have readers grasping to distinguish what is real and what only seems that way.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
DANIEL PYNE’s screenwriting credits include the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, Pacific Heights, and Fracture. He made his directorial debut with the indie cult film Where’s Marlowe? Pyne’s list of television credits (writing and showrunning) is vast, and includes J. J. Abrams’s Alcatraz and Miami Vice. His two previous novels, Twentynine Palms and A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar, were published by Counterpoint Press. He lives in Southern California.
Read an Excerpt
THIS IS WHAT HE REMEMBERS:
The cool ripple of stale oily electric onrushing air.
The thrum of the tracks.
The wan headlight slurring over the tunnel tiles.
The flickering windows of the Red Line train, a filmstrip of fleeting images, like thoughts crossing consciousness, the expectant faces of arriving passengers overlaid with the spectral reflection of travelers anxiously waiting to get started, and none of it sticking, none of it mattering. The raw unspooling of life, unexamined.
And everything about to change.
Slurring, slowing, slowing, brakes sighing. The slack clatter of the cars coming to rest at the Hollywood/Western Metro platform.
He remembers waiting, listening to Wilco on earbuds, his tie loose, his gym bag at his feet. A text message hums in from Stacy: l
The Metro Rail warning tone sounds, doors hiss and split; Jay sidesteps departing passengers, bikes, backpacks, and a gelatinous man on a Hoveround, and queues with the boarding riders, making room for a tiny old woman with too many plastic grocery bags, one of which gets snarled on the handlebars of a messenger's bike as it wheels past her. The bag rips. Canned vegetables and Jell-O boxes and mangos spill out across the floor of the car and onto the platform.
The old woman sighs. "Oh Lordy. Crap. Crap."
Jay stoops to help her collect her scatter before the train takes off Fruit, dry goods, a bottle of Metamucil. He's half in and half out of the car, stretching for a can of low-sodium soup, when the warning tone bleats, A-sharp, but the doors can't close because Jay's in the way.
"Clear the doors," bargles the driver over the intercom.
"All my tapioca."
"Hold the doors," Jay yells. "Will somebody hold the doors?" Rider eyes are on him, but, of course, nobody moves. The voice of the driver rumbles again gruff, inarticulate, some other kind of warning, the A-sharp bleats again. But now another rider, a woman, is helping them, and they're going to be all right, her dark hair brushing across Jay's face, something hard and angular under her coat thumping his hip; she collects the last of the loose groceries and hops onto the train. The doors start to close on the befuddled old lady, still just reacting to her bag breaking, and Jay has to pull her inside.
The old lady just goggles at him, world rushing past her. Jay, somehow, has all her bags. He looks for the woman rider who helped him , but can't find her in the car; he settles the old lady into the handicapped courtesy seat, putting the bags in her lap and her hands through her bag handles, securely, Mr. Chivalry, before he steps back, and realizes—
"Oh, man." His gym bag.
Jay has left it on the platform during the crazy rush to collect groceries.
Shit. "Dammit." Jay stares out the window back into the tunnel darkness as if he can still see his bag back there. Get off, go back. "Dammit."
Someone asks him if he's okay.
He turns, suddenly self-conscious, to a brunette standing next to him, and starts to explain: "My bag ..." —he gestures, pointlessly, with his shoulders, fists shoved in his pockets, resigned— "... my keys and everything," he says.
She offers no reaction.
The brunette's got earbuds too, and thump-happy rap music leaks from them loudly enough for Jay to understand she can't even hear him. He smiles. Her eyes cut through him, not at him: he's not even there. He sidesteps, giving her more room, reaching for the overhead handrail to steady himself as the train picks up speed.
Looks away. Closes a shoulder. No play here.
When he glances back at her, though, indifferently, with a dull dawning sense of recognition, wondering if she's the one who helped him—she's grinning right at him.
Jay's eyes drop to his shoes, then drift up, casually assessing the whole package: pointy black pumps promising long legs and narrow hips, pale hands hooked in her jeans pockets, no rings or jewelry, chewed-down nails, the swerve of her waist, the slight sideways swell of her breasts ... and the glimmer of a handgun tucked under the lapel of her soot-black blazer.
She's still staring at him.
So Jay looks nervously away again, to his own slightly puzzled reflection in the subway car window. This is exactly what he was trying to explain to Stacy, earlier: the inescapability, for Jay, of the promising, the new, the next.
Said brunette is behind him, swaying with the movement of the car, her eyes finding his in reflection, now. And holding his gaze. Still grinning.
She's older than he thought. Thirty-five, forty?
But she's not flirting with him, it's something else.
And the train is slowing. And his gym bag is waiting, back at Hollywood and Western.
Sudden leak of fluorescent light from the Vermont/Sunset plat form, rush-hour riders outside crowd toward the arriving train. A-flat warning signal, and the doors gape. Jay is jostled by an impatient passenger, starts his move to the door, but gets shoved hard—in truth spun around so he's backpedaling—by unseen hands, and the brunette with the legs and the gun and the tailored black suit is right in front of him, smiling, and then somehow Jay's out of the car, onto the platform, off-balance, spinning like a capstan, caught in a casual crush of commuters coming and going as the two (or are there three?) men with their hands on him steer him out of the crowd.
He says something, he's not sure what it is, a kind of half-angry, half-panicked protest, and the brunette says, "Shhhhh." Jay's jacket is yanked up over his head.
"Hey. HEY!" Now he's shouting. He lashes out, but his arms are pinned back.
He thinks: This isn't happening. He thinks: Am I being mugged? No body hits him, they just hold him. What do they want? His heart skips and he's sure that he's calling out for help, but he can't hear his own voice from the thump of his pulse in his ears, so maybe not, and the coat tightens over his head and his arms are rendered useless by the handlers, their grip unshakable, his feet stumbling under him, and his breath coming too quickly, which doesn't help.
His stomach in his throat.
This can't be happening.
What Jay sees: darkness, splinters of light, then weirdly the thou sands of empty film canisters tiling the vaulted subway station ceiling as he dances beneath them, the painted pillars, the scuffed concrete platform, and scattered fragments of faces, hands, shoes, pointy black pumps.
A small syringe.
This can't be happening.
A needle bites into his shoulder, and his arm floods warm.
A new fear grips him. He floats up, hollowed, out-of-body: on the Vermont/Sunset Metro station platform during rush hour on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday, mid-autumn, there is a moment of thrashing confusion as worried commuters dart out of the way of three unremarkable men and one unremarkable but pleasant-looking, dark-haired woman, wrestling with a fourth man who appears to have his coat upside down and tangled around his head. The man cries out, muffled, 'WHAT the—wait—you—" but several people will swear, when they go home and tell their husbands or brothers or children about it, that it was just he was having some kind of seizure, and luckily there were people trying to help him who knew what to do and Jay's knees buckle and blue darkness blooms inside his head and his thoughts tangle. He hears the train depart, senses the emptying of the platform from the echo of footsteps and bodies moving. If only he could run. He makes one last violent effort to get free and then the three men take his full weight as his body sags into them, and the coat comes halfway open and the pretty brunette is flashing at what re mains of the worried or just curious commuters entering and leaving the platform something bronze and badgelike from the leather folding wallet that she holds high in her hand and she says something pleasant Jay can't hear—and then—
What People are Saying About This
Advance praise for Fifty Mice:
“Exceedingly clever, expertly timed, and dripping with paranoia, the nightmarish scenario at the center of this thrilling story turns on a kick-ass dime.” – Karin Slaughter
"Screenwriter and author Pyne (Twentynine Palms) weaves a smart, exceedingly clever, and unusual tale with a horrible secret at its center, which is as much a late coming-of-age story as it is a thriller. Fans of brainy noir will find much to love in this highly satisfying, big-screen-ready book" – Kristin Centorcelli, Library Journal
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
About a secret agent in a town of retired spies who cant get away and doesnt know why.