- 2014 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
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Downloading Superimposed Chapter 19 by Craig Paschang
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Read Online: Superimposed Chapter 19 by Craig Paschang
Holly ran to him. Had she really lost hope? Had she almost given up on him? She couldn’t remember. All she knew was the strength of his arms around her, the feeling of weightlessness as he spun her, the breathlessness of being caught between laughing and crying. As James let her back down to the ground, she pulled back and searched his face. It really was him.
“Where have you been? What are you doing here?”
Pesha grunted, reaching out and grabbing onto James’s leg – but whether it was to pull himself up or to pull James down, no one in the room seemed sure. James shook free, then gave Pesha a sharp kick to his chin.
The sound of his jaw snapping shut startled Holly. “James! We… He…”
Pesha lay crumpled against a chair, limp. His face was red and swollen, his body folded unnaturally. Holly looked on in shock.
James took her in his arms again, blocking the view of Pesha on the floor. Holly felt the warmth of the embrace, knew there was kindness in his attempt to shield her from his violent act.
“Holly, we’re not safe here. We have to go.”
She pushed him away. “No.” Confusion swept across his face, but she stopped it with a kiss to his cheek. “I’m done running. I don’t know what I’m doing here, I don’t know what you’re doing here, I don’t know who that man on the floor really is. But I know I’m not going anywhere until I get some answers.”
Her shirt was torn. Pesha must have done it when he grabbed her. Holly excused herself to change, and to give James time to get his story straight. As she halfheartedly sifted through her beautiful new clothes, she heard James drag Pesha into the bathroom. She hoped he’d found something to tie Pesha up with. And maybe something to gag him with.
She came out of the tiny bedroom a few minutes later, wearing a knockout deep-purple shirt that hung off one shoulder. She noticed James was staring.
“Why don’t you tell me what you know about why you’re here.”
Holly took a seat at the table, uneasy. She’d wanted James back in her life for so long, had resolved herself to settling for just finding out what had happened to him. And now here he was, looking like nothing had happened, caught up in this whirlwind she only barely understood herself. “My last client, Joe Grimaldi, asked for me personally.”
James’s face betrayed a hint of recognition at the name. Holly continued. “When I first arrived at his house, nothing felt right. He seemed to know more about me than he should. His house was too large, his staff too obliging, his requests too peculiar. He was dying, and his doctor seemed to think his condition was treatable, but he insisted on dying at home. And it seemed he wanted that to happen sooner rather than later. But he also said he had unfinished business.
“Right before he died, his family came out of the woodwork. Two wives, children, a niece, everyone clamoring over the estate before he’d even drawn his last breath. But his heart belonged to another, and he had a shrine to her in his home. Everything locked away, untouched, for who knows how long.
“He made it clear that he wanted me to tie up his loose ends. He gave me a key to bank vault in Istanbul, money to make the journey, and the promise that whatever was in the vault would let me help him make amends for some wrong he’d never been able to right. But he also called it a treasure and told me to make something of my life.
“When I retrieved the key, the niece, Clara, attacked me. Pesha – the man in the bathroom – saved me, put me on a plane, and flew me out here. But that didn’t seem right, either. He killed Clara, threw a knife at her from across the room, and shook it off like he’d swatted a fly. On the plane, I caught him speaking German over the radio. He told me he was speaking to traffic controllers, but his conversations continued after we landed. And he said he was Romani, but I caught him speaking Italian, too. Joe was Italian.”
Holly pointed at Pesha’s phone and laptop, which James had apparently gathered while she was changing. “He’s been on both of those almost non-stop, plotting something. I’ve been holed up in this apartment with no clue what I’m doing, why I’m here, or how to leave. At breakfast, Pesha told me I was in danger. I didn’t believe him; at least, I didn’t believe there was someone I needed to worry about more than him. When he put his hands on me, I—”
“You handled yourself admirably. And I’m glad I caught up to you when I did.”
“How did you catch up to me?”
“A plane, by way of one of those hell-holes you see in the movies but can’t believe civilization has actually passed over; a fight for my life, against impossible odds; a hundred days in the dark, my only glimmer of hope the memory of the life we planned together; and the help of a man who chased a rumor about my imprisonment halfway around the world so he could trade his life for mine.” James’s voice broke. “I would’ve given anything for the chance to sit across a table from you one more time. I gave almost everything to do it.” His eyes swelled with the fullness of tears. “I just hope I’m still the man you fell in love with.”
Holly rose from her chair, kissed James, held him, wiped the tears from his cheek. She thought the damsel was supposed to be in distress — but they seemed to be on equal footing in that department. The violence he meted out earlier… where had he learned to be so quick, so ruthless, so dangerous? She wondered if he was afraid he’d lost a part of himself when she was just glad to have finally found him.
Holly took her seat again, and took James’s hands into her own. “Tell me what happened.”
“Our unit was ambushed. Three of us were kidnapped and taken north, probably into Turkmenistan to avoid NATO search parties. I don’t know if we crossed into Iran, but we reached the Caspian Sea and were holed up in a fishing village for weeks. We managed to plot an escape, but everything went wrong. I tried…” James paused, breathing rapidly. He took a few deep breaths, then continued.
“I stole a fishing boat and headed northwest, thinking Russia was the only country I had a chance in. I ran out of gas after a day and a half. I don’t know what I was thinking. I drifted for two more days, ran out of water, and was just about to give up and jump overboard when I spotted a small cargo ship on the horizon. They were headed straight at me, and they picked me up. No one spoke a lick of English, but when they heard me speak it, they turned south and took me to Iran. The local police chief must have known he’d be in over his head if he took me prisoner, so he put me on a bus to Turkey.
“I was trying to get home. I swear, I really was. But… my mission wasn’t strictly on the books. For seventy years, Nazi gold has been a black market currency of sorts, the official bullion locked up in banks that can’t admit they hold it, small transfers made to disreputable men with hard currency to trade. Some of that gold made its way to the tribes of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, and my unit was supporting the, uh, very off-the-books unit that was tracking the inflow of gold.”
James paused again, licking his lips. He met Holly’s gaze and held it. “I must have only been fifty feet past the Turkish border when a man approached me. Maybe my blue eyes or just the look in my eyes gave me away, but he knew I needed help. I told him everything. And he promised to get me home, but he wanted to know if I was willing to take the long way home. He said it could help stop people like the ones who were sending gold into Afghanistan. And he said I could save an innocent man whose life was worth more than all the Nazi gold locked away in all the bank vaults across Europe.
“So I came back.”
Holly stared at him blankly.
“Back to Topeka.”
“I don’t understand.”
But she did understand. And she hated herself for it. And she hated James for making her beg for details. And she hated Joe for what she knew James would say next.
“I was ten miles away from you, in that cursed house, listening to Joe Grimaldi tell me about a boy who should have been his son, whose life he tried in vain to turn around, who he watched grow into a man from afar. And not just any man. A good man. The kind you only read about. An actual hero. And he was rotting in a cell, and I was the perfect man to go in and get him out. Because he had no family, and his country wouldn’t send an army in for him, and I would be tantalizing bait.
“And then, the real kicker. Joe was the one who found me. He’d seen the story of a local soldier who’d disappeared on the evening news, and he had his agents – the ones he’d originally tasked with keeping tabs on the boy – fan out to look for me. He told me I didn’t have to go to Africa. I could’ve walked out that front door and kept on walking until I got to your front door. But I didn’t.”
James wiped away new tears from his cheeks.
Holly slumped in her chair. “Who was he?”
“His name was Peter. He was the son of the woman whose shrine you found in Joe’s house. Joe suspected Peter’s father, Andre, of pilfering Nazi gold. But he hated Andre. And maybe he was just looking for another reason.
“Getting Peter out was harder than I anticipated. We had months together, in the dark, with putrid water and hardly any food and little more than each other’s company. It took a while, but we eventually realized we were both just pawns on Joe’s chessboard.”
James took a deep breath. Holly steeled herself, knowing James was about to land another blow. But she’d asked for the truth. And she couldn’t fault him for giving it to her.
“Holly, Joe also pilfered Nazi gold.” Her expression didn’t change, but she sat up a little straighter in her chair. Maybe she’d suspected as much, or maybe nothing else James could say would surprise her at this point.
“Peter told me about plans to take any remaining gold from Joe after he died, plans that were formed when he was only a boy, when his father grew envious and suspicious of Joe’s sudden wealth. We both knew Joe had a kind heart, maybe if only because he was near the end of his life and wanted desperately to make amends. It wasn’t much of a stretch to assume Joe would hire you in last months to atone for sending me on what was looking more and more like a suicide mission. The thought of you getting wrapped up in that world…”
James sighed, and reached out for Holly’s hands. To her surprise, she accepted. “It was enough to bring me back to life. I’ve been fighting tooth and nail to get back to you ever since.”
Holly smiled, and squeezed James’s hands. “I love you, James. I love that I was enough for you. I love that you came here for me. I love the way you smashed down that door.” They both laughed. “But it scared me when you kicked Pesha in the face.” James stopped smiling. “It broke my heart when you told me you left me alone to go on some wild goose chase for a man you’d never met before.” Holly realized she was gripping James’s hands too tightly and let go. She swallowed hard and rose from the table.
She turned back to James. “You said we’re not safe here, and conveniently forgot to tell me why.”
“No, stop. Please, just answer me this: how long until I need to worry about someone else kicking down that door?”
James shook his head, considering. “A day, maybe two.”
“Then I’m taking a nap.” Holly turned and went back into the small bedroom, gently closing the door behind her.
Holly woke up a few hours later, feeling only marginally refreshed. She repacked her carry-on, selecting a few items to get her through the next few days. She transferred the key for Vault 1957 into a different pair of shoes – cute black flats that could either be dressy or casual so she wouldn’t have to do this again.
James must have heard her rustling around in the bedroom. When she came out, he was sitting on the chair Pesha had slept in, looking like he’d just woken up from a nap himself. He stood up.
“How you feeling, kiddo?”
The pet name brought her back to their first months together. With that wounded look on his face, James looked even younger in the early evening light than when they’d first met. She wasn’t mad at him. But she wasn’t sure if anything else had already moved in to replace the hurt she felt when he admitted he’d come back to Topeka. She wasn’t sure anything ever would. But she was willing to try. “Hey, sport.”
“Looks like you’re all packed and ready.” His voice quivered. Holly knew he thought she was leaving without him.
“Where’s your bag? I don’t think my undies will fit you. At least not these undies.” She smiled.
James’s face melted, a huge grin taking over his face. “If I’m going to pack, I need to know where I’m going.”
“I don’t know if this makes me crazy, or loyal, or what… but I’m going to Istanbul.”
“What about Aachen? Pesha brought you here for a reason.”
“I don’t care. I’m going to follow my gut — it’s usually right.”
Chapter 20 will be published next week at http://www.tscpl.org/novel
About Craig Paschang
Craig Paschang was born and raised in Stilwell, KS, a town too small for traffic lights. He read his first novel (Stephen King’s The Stand) at the age of 6 and has been an avid reader—and occasional writer—ever since. Craig is an attorney who in his free time enjoys cycling, photography, and planning his next NaNoWriMo project. He lives in Topeka with his curmudgeonly cat, Agatha.
An Interview with Craig Paschang
What is your writing background? What sort of work do you usually write?
I have to admit I wrote more than my fair share of really bad, really angsty poetry as a teenager. But I won an award for some of it, so I can’t be too ashamed. As an adult, I enjoy writing the kinds of book I would want to read: fiction, not strictly tied to the conventions of genre, with deeply-drawn characters who don’t take themselves too seriously.
Who are some of your favorite authors? Are there books, poems, or stories that have inspired your own writing?
I will never not read something written by Margaret Atwood, but my all-time favorite author is Gabriel García Márquez. As for my own writing, I love the way Ayn Rand structures her plots so her characters confront their deepest motivations and I try to challenge my characters with equal gusto.
Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?
Marian Rakestraw threatened my life. Twice.
Have you ever written fiction in collaboration with other authors before?
This is my first time writing a collaborative novel.
Do you usually write in a burst of inspiration, or is your work carefully outlined? Did writing for the community novel differ from the norm?
I usually outline, although the word “outline” is probably too innocuous to describe the neurotic level of plot planning, character sketching, location scouting, and technical researching that accompanies my writing. This chapter was definitely more “inspired,” as each preceding chapter changed what I thought would happen to the characters and threw all my careful planning out the window.
What do you like about the premise and characters of this year’s Community Novel Project? What challenges you about them?
I love the idea of a mystery echoing through time, affecting multiple generations in different ways. My biggest challenge was trying to craft a conclusion not fully knowing which details from previous chapters were meant to be red herrings.
What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?
I don’t think you can print my reaction when I saw the “contemporary” (odd-numbered) chapter that came right before mine! As for the chapter that immediately preceded mine, I was deeply intrigued when Joe was garroted in the alley; I hope Chapter 20 helps fill in some blanks from either Peter or Andre’s point of view!
What do you like most about the chapter that you contributed to the 2014 Community Novel?
I like the emotional vulnerability in the scene when James admits he was in Topeka but chose working for Joe over returning to Holly.
What do you hope happens or doesn’t happen in the chapters that come after yours?
I really hope Joe learned the truth about the gold he took when he was working for Holly’s father, and leaves a different sort of “treasure” for her to find.
What sort of writing can we expect from you in future? Are you currently at work on any writing projects?
I am currently editing my NaNoWriMo project from 2013, which I hope eventually to publish.