I have started work on the next novel which I will call The Bicycle-Wheel Genius. It takes two of the important supporting characters from my novel Catch a Falling Star, and weaves them into a story that can only be called a prequel-sequel to the previous book. It begins when the characters first meet and become friends. It incorporates some of the events from the alien invasion in Catch a Falling Star, and it concludes the incredible story of a friendship between a really nice mad scientist and the only son of a rural English teacher.
I have included here the first two cantos of this humoresque hodgepodge novel so you can get a sense of how truly awful the whole thing is going to be. (If you choose to skip this first-draft nonsense, I will completely understand. Not forgive you, mind you, but understand.)
Canto One – In the dark corners of the house in 1984
The stupid boy was easily followed home. When he patted the little Pomeranian dog on her fuzzy head, he entered through the back door, unlocking it with his key. He went in to make his afternoon peanut butter sandwich, stupidly leaving the door unlocked. The man in black couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.
The strip of bacon the man in black offered to the canine moron was soaked in a fast-acting, taste-free poison. The barker was silenced. The man in black quietly slipped into the house. Standing in the back entryway, he could peer in and see the stupid boy bending over the peanut butter with the knife in hand. The boy was handsome in a way. He had his father’s stupid blond hair and myopic eyes. The glasses on his little face were thick enough to magnify his blue-gray eyes. He had that same owlish look that the genius father always wore. But he had his mother’s lovely mouth and the same child-like oval face that always made his mother seem so appealing, so girlishly lovely.
As the man stepped into the kitchen, the boy looked up startled.
“Why are you dressed like that?” he asked. “You look like some kind of burglar.”
The man in black grinned. He whipped out the chloroformed cloth and pressed it over the mouth and nose of the boy. The stupid boy melted into his grasp. Swiftly bound and gagged, the boy was left tied up in a chair at the kitchen table. Now, the real work could begin.
The basement door was the first obstacle. It had a keypad lock. The man in black dusted the key pad with fingerprint dust. He could easily see the four keys that the genius always pressed. He remembered the pattern of code entry he had seen the genius using a hundred times from afar. Two in the upper corner, the one and the four, the key in the middle, the five, and the one at the bottom, the eight.
It worked! With a snap-hiss the electronically sealed door opened. Down he went into the lab.
The small safe was still open. Leave it to a genius to be sloppy about replacing paperwork and locking it up again. He never re-locked the safe upstairs with his wife’s jewels in it. Why would this safe be any different? The safe-cracking tools could be left in the old black pocket!
Inside the safe, just where he’d been told it would be, was the manila envelope marked Tesla Project. He took it out. It was worth a fortune apparently. Soon he would have the whole pile of money the ambassador had offered him. The man in black licked his lips. He stuck the envelope in his pocket.
Next would come the cover story. Yes, the experimental prototype sat on the table where the ambassador’s advisor had said it would be. How did the advisor know so much about the crazy genius? He had never been at any of the family reunions. The man in black smiled to himself. Easy enough to do. He used his lighter to start some of the papers on the table burning. He added some more flames to the nearby desk. Then he turned the prototype on.
Electricity began to shimmer and shine, crawling over the surface of the silver metal ball. Tiny electrical bursts that looked like lightning arced out over the table and connected with some of the water pipes overhead. The fire began to blossom faster than the man in black had anticipated. Time to get out, or be immolated too.
At the top of the stairs he was horrified to see that she was there too. She was bent over the boy, trying to untie him from the chair.
“Leo!” she said. “What have you done?” Her beautiful brown eyes were filled with horror.
It was a real shame. He hadn’t expected her to get there so quickly. He had intended for the boy to be the only one caught in the “accident”. Ah, well. He wasn’t actually Leo anyway. Leo was dead. He only looked like Leo and had taken Leo’s place in the family for a time. He hit her with a violent blow to the temple and she crumpled.
The flames were roaring up into the kitchen from the lab. The place would go up quickly. In his haste to leave the conflagration, he failed to notice how her hand, as she crumpled, had managed to clutch at his pocket on the way to the floor. He hadn’t noticed how the envelope had been dislodged by her fingers and also knocked to the floor. As he strode swiftly out of the house, he did not realize that his prize had remained behind to burn with his innocent victims. The perfect crime. He would never be suspected. But he would never be rewarded either. He was congratulating himself as he slipped away from the blazing inferno, his handiwork. And everything that mattered to the genius was on fire. A whole world was passing away.
Canto Two… Norwall, Iowa, population 278, 1988
Norwall, like many small towns in Iowa, had not changed more than a particle or two a year from about 1919 to around 1982. It had a main street. The houses were done mostly in the Victorian style, with its various porches and bay windows and corner tower-like structures. It was a sleepy-quiet little farm town where practically nothing ever happened. It was mostly set up for farm business. There was a grain elevator at the west end of Main Street, and a lumber yard at the southern end of Whitten Avenue. It was not unusual to see tractors parked in town along with the family cars and farmers’ pickup trucks.
Tim Kellogg had been born in the Belle City Hospital in 1978, and had lived in the town of Norwall all his life. He would’ve been bored to tears early on if it had not been for the Norwall Pirates. They were the local 4-H softball team, but they were also the greatest secret club and eternal fraternity of liars that was ever put together on a boring Saturday afternoon in Iowa. They had an interesting oral history. It was rumored and asserted by former club members that once they had chased a werewolf and defeated him even though he had killed an old church lady and a local minister. They also supposedly fought and defeated an undead Chinese wizard once, though details about that one were far more likely to change from tale-teller to tale-teller.
Not only was Tim a member of the club, but he was second in line to be grand and glorious leader. His older cousin Valerie Clarke was the current leader, but she was in high school now and so beautiful that she couldn’t help but always be busy with boys. Soon the club would be handed over to him, and no more girls would be members, possibly for eternity. This was an idea of no small attraction to Norwall boys who were less than enthusiastic about having a girl for a leader. You really couldn’t walk around the clubhouse naked or fart as much as you wanted to if your leader was a girl.
And Tim was very definitely looking forward to getting to know the mysterious new neighbor on Pesch Street. In the very house next door a man with thick glasses and eyes like an owl kept bringing in the most fascinating stuff. Computers, the big mainframe sorts of computers, fish tanks, hoses, machines both sleek and junky whose purposes were totally mysterious. And there were so many bicycle wheels! Bicycle wheels, gears, flywheels, chains, and driver cords. What did this man intend to do with all the wonderful junk? It was fuel for the wildest of speculations from the Norwall Pirates.
Tim rode up to the grocery store on Main Street and sat there on his bike in the middle of the sidewalk waiting. His best friend and fellow Pirate, Tommy Bircher, rode up also and grinned a silent greeting. Tommy was only a month younger than Tim, but was also different in that he had not lived his whole life in the little Iowa town. Although his grandparents, uncles, and various other relatives were rooted here, Tommy’s father and mother both traveled to distant places in pursuit of their business interests. Albert Bircher was an executive officer in a large Chicago-based business. Tommy and his family had moved back to Norwall only temporarily two years ago. Tommy had spent three years of his ten living in France.
“So, Tim, you got it all figured out yet?” Tommy grinned puckishly.
“Oh, you know… yes. The gossips in this town know everything about everybody, and all the gossips talk in the Post Office. We just hafta go there and listen.”
“That could take some time.”
“Yeah, but it will be worth it. We gotta find out somehow.”
“Okay, you’re the boss.”
Together, the two infamous Pirates stealthily walked over to the Norwall Post Office between what had once been the grocery store and what was now and always had been the fire station. They parked their bicycles in the fire station bike rack. They went in nonchalantly, trying to be nonchalant like they really belonged there, and hoping they really knew what nonchalant meant.
“Hello, boys,” said George “the Salesman” Murdoch, Post Master and gossip aficionado of the highest order.
“Uh, hello,” said Tim, trying to cover for both of them. He quickly looked at the wanted posters and missing children flyers on the medium-sized bulletin board near the East end of the counter.
Marjorie Dettbarn and Wilma Bates, two of Norwall’s middle-aged church ladies were there trading juicy stories and other tidbits with “the Salesman”.
“You know, George,” Wilma was saying, “the police really should be looking more carefully at the backgrounds of people like that.”
“Why do you say that, Mrs. Bates?” asked the Post Master with a sly grin.
“You know his wife is dead. They say it isn’t out of the question that he might’ve murdered her.”
“You’re so right, Wilma,” said Mrs. Dettbarn. “He’s such a suspicious-looking character. He never seems to hear you when you say hello.”
“Yes, “said Bates, “always has his nose in some book or other.”
“Do you ladies say hello to him a lot?” asked Murdoch the Post Master.
“Oh my, no,” said Mrs. Dettbarn. “I said it once. That’s all the chance a spooky young man like that really needs, don’t you know.”
“Yes, yes,” said Bates, “I never spoke to him at all. You can’t be too careful around a person like that!”
“Oh, you are right there,” said the Post Master. “He gets a check from the government twice a month, and numerous ones from different corporations. I think he may be quite wealthy in many ways. Who knows how a person like that earns so much money. Probably something suspicious, I say.”
Tommy and Tim were both wide eyed as Tim nudged Tommy towards the door.
As soon as they were outside, Tim nearly exploded. “A murderer! And lots of money coming in all the time!”
“Yeah, he could be a professional killer who works for the government!” gushed Tommy. “Oh, but who were they talking about?”
“You poophead! They were discussing my new neighbor, Orbit Wallace!”
“Well, something like that! The new guy that moved in next door.”
“Hey,” said Tommy, “maybe we should go stare at his house for a while!”
“Yeah! Great idea!” said Tim.
So the two Pirates were now on a mission to catch the hired killer red handed. Tim had visions of apprehending him literally red handed, with blood dripping from his fingertips. Red handed in the worst possible way.