In 1920s Chicago, postal employee Saul Imbierowicz is unwittingly swept up in a city-wide conflict between rival gangs, federal agents, and supernatural forces beyond his control.
After striking out on his own from his overbearing Jewish family, Saul quickly becomes involved with the seductive and mysterious Moira. He soon becomes mixed up in the events of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, witnessing the shooting and fleeing from the scene after Moira takes a bullet and is presumed dead.
However, Moira is far from dead, and due to her influence Saul finds himself increasingly entangled in the rival factions seeking control over the city, coming face to face with Bugs Moran, Al Capone, and the federal agents pursuing both.
Everybody wants something from Saul, but will he be able to save himself and his family, and uncover the supernatural secrets of the city, before it's too late?
About the Author
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The cold February air stung my cheeks as I stepped off the L at Sedgwick station. Turning the collar up on my overcoat I moved through the morning commuters waiting to board the L and head to work. I still wasn't used to working the night shift at the Post Office, but at least I didn't have to fight the morning commute.
Sedgwick wasn't my normal stop; I lived a few blocks west and to the south on Racine Avenue, my small apartment overlooking the 'picturesque' North Branch of the Chicago River. Exiting the station, I paused next to the iron pillar supporting the track to get my bearings. I heard the squeal of brakes and the clack of wheels on the tracks as the L left the station.
"Hey, stranger." The voice was silky, with just an edge of seductiveness to it. I turned toward the sound.
"Moira!" I exclaimed. She stood next to the station door, a lit cigarette held lightly in her left hand. Moira wore a cream-colored blouse with a green tie that matched her eyes. She had on riding pants and calf-length brown leather boots. Her red hair was tucked under a green felt cloche hat, with the brim rakishly turned up. Despite the cold weather, she only had on a light brown jacket. "Aren't you cold?" I started to take my coat off to give it to her.
"My valiant knight," she said as she took a drag on the cigarette and stepped toward me, putting her hand on my chest. I could just make out the subtle scent of her lavender perfume through the harsh cigarette smoke. "But don't bother, Saul. I like the cold weather. It invigorates me." She gave me a playful look with those lovely green eyes, then she grabbed my hand and headed across the street. I struggled to keep up and dodged the fender of a taxi, as well as the driver's curses.
"Try to keep up, Saul," Moira teased. "I'm starved, and there's this great coffee shop up on Clark I want to try."
"We could have had a cup of Joe at the diner at the Post Office, or at Sam's place near my apartment." I know I was whining, but I was cold and tired from working ten hours the night before and didn't like having to come up north to be able to meet Moira. "This place better be good."
Moira gave me a look but didn't say anything. We headed east toward Lake Michigan. At North Clark she turned and headed up the street for about a half a block, finally stopping at a typical coffee shop, the last of the morning regulars heading out for work.
"Yeah, this place looks really special," I quipped.
"Dry up, Saul. This place is really swanky." She smiled, flashing white teeth. "Besides, they have great pie."
We went inside and sat down at a booth. The waitress dragged herself over, obviously put out that she had to deal with more customers. We both ordered coffee. Moira ordered a slice of apple pie, and since I hadn't eaten since my 'lunch' at 2 a.m., I ordered eggs over easy, hash browns, and pancakes.
"My, aren't we hungry," Moira said as the waitress went to get our coffee.
"I could eat a pig, but I'll settle for eating like one. I don't think my mother would like it if I ate one."
"I don't think this place is Kosher," said Moira, smiling as the waitress set our coffee down with a glare.
I ignored Moira's comment, and added sugar to my coffee. "So, last night when you were leaving my place you said you had something special to tell me. What's up?"
Moira took a sip of her coffee, and then set the cup down. The bell to the shop rang as the last remaining customer left. "Oh, it's nothing important. You are taking me out to dinner tonight, aren't you?"
"I have to work tonight," I protested.
"But its Valentine's Day," she stuck out her lower lip in a pout. "You can take me out to dinner before going to work. I know this place where we can get a real drink."
The waitress returned with my breakfast and Moira's pie. A big piece of ham covered the hash browns and eggs. The waitress gave me a smirk. I frowned, but didn't say anything. She turned away with a laugh.
Moira reached over and grabbed the ham and flung it on the floor. It landed with a dull splat. The waitress started to say something, but Moira stopped her with a look that even gave me chills. The waitress seemed to recoil, then quickly went back to doing something else.
"I'll come to your place at seven and we'll go to the Lexington."
I nearly spit coffee all over Moira at the suggestion. "Who do you think I am, Al Capone? I can't afford to take you there."
Moira laughed and reached across the table to hold my hand. "Honey, you're no Al Capone. But you can take me to the Lexington. I know some people. Don't be such a wet blanket."
"I'm not being a wet blanket," I protested. "You know I just started working at the Post Office. I haven't even gotten my first paycheck yet." I was starting to sound like a wet blanket, but it was the truth. I had been able to pay the rent for my apartment using money that I'd saved from my bar mitzvah, but I needed the paycheck in order to keep it. I was splurging with my breakfast. I usually just grabbed a cup of Joe and a sinker for ten cents from the shop at the Post Office.
Moira just ate her apple pie, looking at me impatiently. Glaring at me, more like it. I was starting to feel pretty intimidated by her stare. I picked at my eggs and tried to ignore her, but she continued to watch me. Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer.
"Fine. I'll take you to the Lexington tonight."
Moira smiled and patted my hand, "Of course you will."
"I'm glad to know that I had a choice in this decision."
Moira grinned at me, then raised her coffee cup at the waitress indicating that she wanted a refill. The waitress sheepishly walked over. "I brewed a fresh pot just for you." As she poured the steaming coffee into both of our cups, Moira narrowed her eyes and asked, "Don't you have something to say?" The waitress seemed to pale, lowered her eyes, and said, "I hope you know I was just joshing with you with the ham. I didn't mean anything by it, honest."
"No offense taken. I actually thought it was pretty funny."
"But I didn't," Moira said flatly.
"Can I get you anything else?" the waitress asked nervously.
"Well, the pie was really good," Moira said in a sing-song voice. "So you should bring us two more slices on the house."
"That's not necessary," I protested. "It was just a joke. Nobody was hurt."
"No, that's okay. I'll take care of it," the waitress insisted. She turned and walked toward the counter.
Moira smugly leaned back, shaking her head. "Honestly, Saul. You can't let people push you around like that."
"What? She didn't mean anything by it. She could get in trouble for giving us the pie for free."
Moira just laughed. "Come on, Saul. We deserve it for what she did to you."
I sighed, and decided that it was best to not press the issue any further. I'd be sure to leave enough of a tip to cover the cost of the pie.
The waitress brought two plates with extra-large slices of pie on them. I noticed the white name tag with red letters spelling out "Gladys". "Thank you, Gladys. Can you bring us the check, please?" I asked. She smiled politely and hurried away.
"I think you kind of scared her," I said.
"Good." Moira's fork dug into the pie.
We finished up our breakfast about twenty minutes later. It really hadn't been any better than the shop at the Post Office, and I told Moira that, but she just laughed it off. We spent the time eating our pie and not really talking about anything special. Moira occasionally giggled to herself, and when I asked her what was so funny, she'd just say "Nothing."
Moira and I had met just a week ago and most of our conversations were the same. Small chit-chat and not much else. I guess that was my fault as I spent most of the time just staring at how beautiful she was. Meeting Moira had been part of my lucky week. I started my new job at the Post Office as a mail sorter on the fourth of February. Three days later, I first laid eyes on Moira at the coffee shop at the Post Office. It was love at first sight when she sat down next to me at the counter. And the funny thing was that she thought the same thing.
We saw each other the next couple of mornings at the diner, and I invited her back to my apartment on our third meeting. I was afraid that I was being too forward, but she smiled and said sure. We didn't do anything other than just talk over coffee — though I wanted to do something more. Moira seemed to be more amused than upset by my boyish attempts to kiss her. She laughed it off and said, "In time, tiger."
We went out for dinner and drinks at a speakeasy she knew a couple of nights ago. I had been nervous about going to a speakeasy with her. Not that I was a stranger to drinking or any kind of prude or anything. I was just scared that she'd leave me to sit alone while she went and flirted with better guys. I mean, I'm a pretty good guy, but I'm just an average Joe — plain brown hair, sappy brown eyes, not very tall, and on the skinny side, despite my mom's attempts to fatten me up. Nothing special. I guess I was just still amazed that Moira wanted to be with me. I hadn't needed to worry. Moira had spent the evening chatting and flirting with me. Not that there weren't plenty of opportunities for her to flirt with others. It seemed like every Joe in the joint came up and tried to get her to dance or was trying to buy her drinks. The guys always went away disappointed. The joint — it was called The Green Mill — was not a bad gin mill, and Moira seemed to be great friends with the barman so we got our drinks for free. I knew that night that Moira and I had something special going.
We left the coffee shop and headed back out into the cold. I turned to head back to the L station, but Moira grabbed my arm and headed up the street.
"This way, Saul. There are some friends of mine I want you to meet."
"What? Now?" I asked dumbly. I was wasting a lot of time that would be better spent sleeping, especially if I was taking Moira out tonight.
"Sure. It won't take long."
I shrugged and let her lead the way. I was dead tired, but I couldn't really resist.
"I don't have anything to wear to the Lexington," I mused to Moira. "I've not had a suit since my bar mitzvah, and I don't think I can get into that one anymore."
"Don't worry about it. I'll let you borrow my tie." She shook the green tie she was wearing in my face with an impish smile.
"Ha. Ha," I said. "I'm serious. That place is ritzy, full of rich snobs. Even if I had a suit I wouldn't fit in."
"Don't worry about it," Moira repeated. A black Cadillac passed us heading up the street. Moira turned her back to the road and gave a small shiver.
"Are you sure you're not cold? You can have my coat."
"It's nothing," she said, her voice a bit distant. She pulled out a cigarette and I pulled out my Ronson to light it. She took a long pull on the Chesterfield, blowing the smoke into the frigid air. "Like I said, I know some people at the Lex. They'll make sure we get in and it won't matter what you wear." She leaned over and gave me a slow kiss. My mind swam; it wasn't our first kiss — that had been at the speakeasy — but the other kiss hadn't been like this. I could feel her tongue playfully reaching out and tickling my own tongue.
She broke the kiss and looked past me up the street. I turned but she grabbed my arm and we continued, her right arm entwined in my left. I heard the sound of a car backfiring a couple of times. I glanced up from gazing at Moira and saw the same black Cadillac idling in front of a garage with a sign that read, SMC Cartage Co. Two cops were leading two other men dressed in suits toward the car.
I nearly jumped out of my shoes at the sound. One of the men being led by the cops stumbled, a gout of blood shooting from his shoulder. The cops pulled their revolvers and pointed them toward Moira and me. I protectively stepped in front of her as I raised my hands, yelling "Nooo!"
More gunshots exploded around me. The cops fired toward us, and more shots rang out from behind us. Moira's red hair flashed before me and I felt a sharp pain in my chest, falling to the ground. Moira fell on top of me. I cowered, hands over my head as several more shots were fired. I looked up and could see the cops pushing the two men into the car. The men fell in, then one of the cops got behind the wheel, and the other jumped onto the running board and fired two more shots as the car pulled away. I glanced behind me and could see two men running down the street, their overcoats flapping behind them as they ran.
Everything was suddenly quiet except for the frantic barking of a dog coming from someplace nearby. I crawled out from under Moira and gave her a shake. "What the hell was that?" My ears were still ringing from the gunfire. "Come on, let's get out of here."
I shook Moira again. She didn't move. A deep fear settled in my stomach as I turned Moira over. She lay in a pool of blood. A ragged hole was in her left chest, right about where the heart would be. Her blouse was stained red, and her green tie had a sickly, mottled color. "No, no, no," I mumbled. I felt her neck, but I couldn't feel a pulse. "No, no. This didn't happen."
Blood covered my hands and was soaking into the knees of my pants. I could hear the wail of a police siren in the distance. I stood up, muttering "This isn't happening."
The sirens were getting closer. It wasn't safe for me to be here; you never knew what the cops might do, and I didn't want to be there to find out. Panic gripped my heart and I ran across the street and down an alley, fear and dread propelling me away from Moira's dead body.
I ran for several blocks, my legs carrying me away from the nightmarish scene. I'm sure that I was quite the sight, running through the streets with bloodied clothes, but I didn't care. I saw the diner where Moira had eaten her last meal and I skidded to a stop. Gladys the waitress stood outside the entrance, a cigarette perched on her lips. I started to say something, but the look she gave me, followed by her scream, compelled me to run on. I ran and ran until I couldn't breathe. I finally stopped in an alley, hiding behind a trash bin and away from the people on the street. Bending at the waist, my hands resting on my blood-stained knees, I tried to catch my breath. Images of the gunfight and Moira's blood spreading on the cement played in my head like some demented movie. I gagged on bile, and then vomited behind the bin. I spat out the sick remnants of my breakfast, and then sat down on the cold pavement.
I was dazed and winded, and had a pain in my chest. Suddenly thinking that I might also have been shot, I grabbed at my shirt feeling for a hole or blood. I couldn't help but remember Uncle Jakob telling me about fighting during the Great War and how soldiers would check themselves for wounds after a battle. I pulled up my shirt to look, the cold air biting at my skin, but all I saw was the beginning of a bruise. Moira must have fallen into me when the bullet struck her. I didn't know how she'd gotten in front of me, and I couldn't make sense of why she would have done that.
I don't know how long that I sat there, but eventually I crawled back onto my feet. My first thought was to return to where Moira had been shot. A part of me knew that I should go back and tell the police what had happened, and what I had seen. But if I went back looking like this, the cops would arrest me on sight. Hell, Gladys would probably tell the cops that Moira deserved it after the misery that she put her through this morning, And I'd never get a chance to tell them what really happened. Straightening my clothes, I walked out of the alley as casually as I could and continued home. I didn't remember the rest of the walk, making the necessary turns or crossing any streets to get back to my apartment at 1313 North Racine, but I apparently made it without incident since the next thing I knew I was climbing the stairs to my third floor apartment.
The floor creaked as I reached the second floor landing and I froze. I knew that meant that Mrs. Rabinowitz would know somebody was here and poke her head out. As if on cue, her door cracked open. Mrs. R was a nice old lady who lost her husband last summer, and I think she had been trying to fill the void left by his passing by focusing on my life. She was worse than my mom in that way. When I had moved in, she and Mom had met and Mrs. R had promised Mom that she'd look out for me and keep her informed of everything that I did. She was thin and shorter than my sister, with a pronounced stoop to her posture. She had grey hair that was always meticulously pinned up on her head. Normally I would have greeted her warmly and chatted with her about my day, but right now I wasn't in the mood for chit-chat or to listen to one of her lectures. She started to call out to me, but before she could say anything I waved her off, saying, "Not right now, Mrs. R. I'll catch up with you later." I don't know if I stunned her by my abrupt greeting, or if she caught a glimpse of my bloody clothes as I turned to head up the stairs, but she didn't say anything and quickly closed her door.
Excerpted from "Unremarkable"
Copyright © 2018 Geoff Habiger & Coy Kissee.
Excerpted by permission of Shadow Dragon Press.
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.
Geoff Habiger & Coy Kissee came upon the idea for a book during a trip to Chicago - by their return to Kansas City, the basic premise of the book was fleshed out. They ended up co-writing it and started on a series. As our Authors of the Day, Geoff and Coy tell us all about Unremarkable and reveal what it is like to co-write books.
Please give us a short introduction to what Unremarkable is about.
Unremarkable is a story about an everyman who is, for all intents and purposes, unremarkable. Saul Imbierowicz is a postal worker who has been newly liberated from living under his parent's roof. He has a couple of friends, and a girlfriend, but there is nothing special about him. However, that all changes on St. Valentine's Day when events begin to spiral out of Saul's control and he has the two biggest gangsters in Chicago - "Bugs" Moran and Al Capone - needing something from him. If that wasn't bad enough, the Feds show up asking Saul questions about his girlfriend. As the story progresses, Saul learns that vampires are not just a myth. Essentially, the story is about somebody who is truly unremarkable having to deal with the supernatural.
What inspired you to co-author this book? Did you plan from the start to make it into a series?
We have been best friends since high school and are partners in a game company called Tangent Games that produces role-playing games, card games, and board games, so it was natural for us to partner together on writing a novel. We have talents and strengths that complement each other, and that makes the writing process so much easier. As to the series, yes, we did always plan on having Saul's story be told as part of a series. It seemed natural, as we wanted to show Saul's growth as a character throughout the series and that is best told through several books.
What was your greatest challenge when writing this book?
Making sure that the characters stayed true to themselves throughout the story, and that they didn't change unnecessarily. Also, it was difficult getting the voice down for a major historical figure - Al Capone - so that he came across as believable.
How hard is it to co-write books? How do you decide who writes what?
For us it wasn't too hard to co-write the book. As previously mentioned, we own a game company together so we were already used to collaborating together on a project, and we have talents that complement each other. Geoff has a lot of the creative spark and can put out a first draft, while Coy has the editing skills to pull everything together into a coherent whole. That's essentially how we wrote the book. We did a basic outline together, talking about the major points of the story, then Geoff wrote the draft, and then we went through the manuscript together and did our editing, making sure that characters stayed true to who they are, and that we didn't have any major plot holes. Plus, all the tedious, but necessary, grammar and spelling editing that Geoff doesn't do well and Coy excels at.
Do you plot out your books before you start writing?
Yes, although it was a rough plot for Unremarkable. We had a good idea of our major characters, and we knew how we wanted the story to end. We then did a basic outline for the stuff in between so that we had the flow and basic elements down. Though even with that we ended up making changes, adding and cutting scenes (and even whole chapters) until we got the story we wanted.
Tell us more about Saul's character. What makes him tick?
As mentioned earlier Saul is basically an average guy. He's certainly not special in any way; he doesn't have rich parents, he isn't connected to powerful or influentialpeople, and he doesn't have any specialized skills or talents. He's basically like the vast majority of people in the world. Personality-wise, Saul is basically a nice guy; he's polite to his neighbors, he prefers to not get into trouble, and he is very protective of his family. But Saul is also a little slow on realizing things, even when they are standing right in front of him. Not that Saul is dumb, it’s just that he's a bit clueless about what is going on at times - especiallywhen it comes to the supernatural, but who can blame him? It's not every day that you learn that there really are monsters in the world.
Your characters are interesting and real. Were any of them inspired by real people?
Not really, at least not by any specific person. Of course, some of the characters in the story are historical figures, namely Moran, Capone, and Eliot Ness, so we had to try to get them close to their biographic characters within the artists’ license we were taking. But for Saul, Moira, the Feds and the others, they weren't based on any real people. Saul's parents are a bit stereotypical and written a bit for comedic effect, and we knew we wanted Moira to be seductive and alluring, with an air of mystery about her.
What fascinated you about the time and setting? How much research did it require from you to get the details right?
Geoff has always found the 1920's to be an interesting period in American history, especially around Prohibition, whether through non-fiction writing or fictional stories and movies likeThe UntouchablesandThe Sting. We did a lot of research, mostly through books but also online, and we took a trip to Chicago. Geoff read several biographies of Al Capone in order to better understand his real life and how we could adopt him as a fictional character. We also read up on Prohibition and researched what Chicago was like at that time.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do each of you have?
As previously mentioned, we are game designers as well as authors, and we love to create new and fun games to play. Beyond that, Geoff can fly and Coy has the ability to move things with his mind, but really nothing special.
What inspired the supernatural angle?
Geoff and Coy had several conversations on trips to/from conventions to support our other company, Tangent Games, about using supernatural concepts to explain how/why certain historical events happened. One such conversation centered on why there seemed to be so much overkill at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which led to a longer conversation about Al Capone. Thus, Unremarkable was born.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What does an average writing day look like for you?
There is no average writing day. We both still work full-time jobs - and not as writers, unfortunately - so we have to find time to write whenever we can. There are typically gaps of several days between writing on a story, depending on what else is going on in our lives. That's part of the reason why it took nearly 7 years for Unremarkable to get published. Once we had the writing completed and we were working on the edits, we scheduled a weekly Facetime session to read through the story and make our edits. Since Coy lives in Kansas City and Geoff lives in Albuquerque, Facetime was the best way for us to get together and collaborate.
Tell us more about the title of your book? Why unremarkable?
The story is about Saul, and what happens to him (no spoilers!), but he is a very unremarkable person. We wanted to highlight that aspect of the story and we hope that the reader can identify with him.
How do you make co-writing work when you live so far apart?
Through the wonders of modern technology! Email, texting, and especially live video chats through Facetime made it happen. Occasionally,we could get together in person, but that was rare, so we depend a lot on technology.
What are you working on right now?
We have several projects in the works. We are in the process of writing the sequel to Unremarkable, which takes place about 3 months after the events in Unremarkable. We hope to have it ready to publish next year. We are also working on the second book in our new fantasy crime series, and will start strongly marketing the first book in that series, Wrath of the Fury Blade, which comes out on April 10thof this year. Coy is working on the beginnings of a novel around ordinary people gaining super powers, and Geoff is dabbling with some short stories and other writings.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
The best way right now is through our Facebook page (Facebook.com/HabigerKisseeAuthors) where we post all of the stuff we are working on, upcoming events, and other random things. Geoff also maintains an author page on Goodreads that he updates periodically with some blog posts.