The Prologue from Last Stop on Desolation Ridge

January 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last Stop on Desolation Ridge

A NOVEL

by Peter G. Pollak

Copyright © 2013 Peter G. Pollak
All Rights Reserved
ISBN: 0985036621
ISBN-13: 9780985036621

Prologue

(October 27, 2003)

“I won’t do it,” Logan Gifford, Tekram Corp’s Comptroller, said emphatically. He stood up and started to walk out of the conference room.

But before he reached the door, two of Security Chief Everett Lipton’s men grabbed Logan and forced him back into his seat.

“Wrong answer,” Lipton said.

“Take your hands off me,” Logan yelled, squirming to get out of their grip.

“Hold him still,” Lipton said. One of the men put Logan in a headlock. Ignoring his screams, Lipton took a syringe off the table and jabbed the needle into Logan’s neck.

Logan went slack as the chemical entered his blood stream. While one of Lipton’s men secured his hands behind his back with plastic handcuffs, Lipton and the other man set up a video camera mounted on a tripod pointed at Logan. A computer monitor was placed on the conference table. When everything was in place, Lipton used his cell phone to call his boss. “He’s ready.”

Things were happening too fast for Logan Gifford’s brain to keep up. He looked around the room trying to remember where he was. The monitor in front of him showed the outside of a large house. It looked familiar.

Three men entered the room. One was his brother-in-law Craig Harkness––the man who’d gotten him the job with Tekram Industries. Lawrence Zander, Tekram’s CEO, followed with a third man––an African-American gentleman whose face looked familiar, but whose name Logan couldn’t place.

Logan realized that Zander was talking to him, but he had trouble parsing the words.

“Mr. Zander. I don’t understand what––”

Zander leaned over in front of Logan. “Logan! Listen to me.”

He wanted to tell him there was no need to shout. Zander was saying something about his family.

“I know you care about your two little girls, Logan.”

He thought of his daughters––Meghan and Sissy. He nodded, still not understanding.

“Look carefully at the TV screen. Do you recognize that house?”

It looked like his house, but why would they be showing it to him?

“If you do not do exactly what I tell you,” Zander said, “something very bad is going to take place in your house.”

Nothing made any sense to Logan. His head was swimming. He closed his eyes.

Zander motioned to his security chief to move out of Logan’s hearing. “He seems pretty out of it. Won’t he come across that way on the video?”

Lipton looked at his watch. “The tranquilizer hasn’t worn off completely. We can wait a few minutes.”

“So what are you going to do with him afterwards?” the African American asked.

“We’re still debating that,” Zander confessed.

“I thought we’d agree to make it look like he jumped off one of the bridges?” Craig Harkness said.

“That might work in theory, Craig,” Everett Lipton replied, “but they’ve got cameras on all those bridges now. No one has explained how I’m supposed to pull that off without someone seeing me doing it.”

The African American gentleman stepped forward. “I have a suggestion.”

“Okay,” Zander said. “What would you have us do with him?”

“I had an nephew who tried to blackmail me when I wouldn’t give him a job he wanted managing one of my clinics. He was a drug addict and would have brought the feds down on me so fast, I’d have turned white.”

Lipton and Zander laughed.

“So how did you handle him?” Lipton asked.

“I sent him to a mental hospital in the Adirondacks and he’s still there.”

“You mean you had him committed?” Harkness asked.

“No. My sister would have gone nuts if I’d gone through legal channels. No, I made it look like he committed himself voluntarily to deal with his drug problem. I drove him up to the hospital. It costs me a few bucks each year for them to keep him there, but it’s worth it.”

“I like it,” Zander said.

“Hey, it looks like he’s coming around,” Harkness said, pointing to where Logan Gifford was trying to stand up.

Something was preventing him from getting out of the chair. There was a strap across his chest and his arms were tied behind his back. “Mr. Zander. Please. I have to use the bathroom.”

Zander looked at Lipton. The security chief nodded his approval. “He should be okay by the time he gets back.”

“Okay, Logan,” Zander said. “These men will go with you to make sure you get back here safely. There’s some business we need to take care of.”

The men escorted Gifford to the men’s room. They stood behind him while he used the urinal. “May I?” he said pointing to the sink. They move aside. He washed his hands, then splashed some water on his face.

“I feel strange,” he said aloud.

He couldn’t explain why. He looked at himself in the mirror. He looked much like he always did––an all-too-average looking businessman in a navy blue suit with a white shirt and a red patterned tie.

There were times when Logan was on the train going home from work when he felt invisible. He’d sit there worrying whether he’d be able to find his car among all those cars that looked so much alike and then whether he’d remember the way to the street where he lived and whether he’d be able to pick out his house from all those look-alike houses. What if he pulled into the driveway of what he thought was his house and some other man who looked just like him was getting out of a car that looked just like his car and kissed a woman at the front door who looked just like his wife?

“Let’s go,” one of the men said.

He looked for the towel dispenser. “You can go back,” he told the man. “I don’t feel well. I think I’ll go home.”

The larger of the two men shook his head. “I don’t think so, Mr. Gifford.” He was built like a football lineman and he wasn’t smiling. The other one was taller, but thinner. He had a crew cut and a nasty scar on the side of his nose that matched the nasty look he was giving Logan. The men grabbed Logan, lifted him off his feet, and shoved him out of the bathroom.

“Help. Someone help me,” Logan screamed, but the entire floor was empty. He remembered wondering why he had been told to come to a meeting at this location. Everett Lipton had met him in the lobby and escorted him to the 17th floor. When they got off the elevator, the entire floor was vacant. When he asked what was going on, Lipton told him he’d find out when the rest of the people arrived.

The men forcibly ushered Logan back into the conference room and dumped him in the chair in front of the camera. They secured a strap around his chest, but left his hands free.

“Craig,” Logan said, looking at his brother-in-law who stood in the corner looking out the window. “Tell them to let me go home.”

Craig Harkness came over and stood in front of Logan. “They will, Mac, as soon as you do what Mr. Zander wants you to do.”

Zander came over and handed Logan a sheet of paper. “Logan, listen to me. Are you paying attention?”

Logan nodded.

“This will all be over as soon as you memorize and read this statement for the camera.”

Logan took the paper on which was one paragraph typed in all capital letters.

I, LOGAN GIFFORD, BEING OF SOUND MIND, FREELY ADMIT THAT I KNOWINGLY AND FRAUDULENTLY OVERCHARGED THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FOR TEKRAM’S SERVICES SO THAT I COULD EMBEZZLE THAT MONEY FROM MY COMPANY.

I APOLOGIZE TO MY FAMILY AND TO THOSE WHO PUT THEIR FAITH IN ME. WHAT I DID WAS WRONG. NO ONE ELSE AT TEKRAM WAS AWARE OF MY DECEIT. I CAN’T BEAR THE THOUGHT OF GOING TO JAIL.

GOOD-BYE, DEBBIE. FOREGIVE ME IF YOU CAN.

He read it a second time. “What does this mean, Mr. Zander? I didn’t negotiate that contract. In fact, I was the one who told you the numbers were way off.”

“And, that’s what you planned to tell the Congressional Ethics Committee next Thursday, right?”

“Of course. It’s the truth.”

Zander laughed. “If you do that, then Congressman West here and I will be on our way to jail. That just can’t happen. It’s either you or me, Logan, and it’s not going to be me.”

That’s who the third man was. Logan remembered being introduced to Congressman West several months ago when he’d been asked to analyze a bid proposal. The New York City Congressman chaired the subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations that had jurisdiction over Tekram’s bid.

Logan read the statement a second time. “No way. I’m not going to do this.”

“Logan,” Everett Lipton interjected. “Do you see what’s on that TV screen? That’s a live feed of your house. Some nasty people are in the bushes outside your house right now waiting for me to give them the go-ahead to do some nasty things to your wife and children. If you don’t do what Mr. Zander is asking, I’m going to tell them to have a field day.”

“Craig,” Logan said, appealing to his brother-in-law “Help me. They’re talking about your sister and your nieces.”

“Half-sister,” Harkness replied. “Look, Logan, there’s nothing I can do. You’re the only one who can save them.”

Logan tried to take it all in. “I don’t believe this. If this is someone’s idea of a joke, it’s gone way beyond funny.”

Zander moved close, inches from Logan’s face. “It’s no joke, and if you don’t wise up Everett is going to call those men and tell them to do their worst.”

Logan tried to fight back the tears. “If I do what you say, what will happen to me?”

“After you read the statement, you will disappear,” Zander replied. “The government will find evidence of your crimes. Tekram Industries will survive and Congressman West will continue his illustrious career. Your sacrifice will save Tekram and the hundreds of people who work for us. If we were to let you spill the beans, I would go to jail, the company would go out of business, our investors, including Craig here, would lose their money, and everyone who works for us––all nine hundred––would lose their jobs.”

Whatever Lipton had injected in him had almost worn off. Logan was beginning to understand his predicament. “You can’t fool me into thinking you care about those people. All you care about is that you won’t have to go to jail.”

Zander shook his head. “Whatever. The fact is that I’m not going to jail. I’m going to cooperate with Congress and come out smelling like a rose while your name will go down in history as another greedy accountant.”

Logan tried again to clear his head. None of this made any sense to him. Maybe he could appeal to their sense of decency. “Why me?”

“Let me answer that,” Lipton replied. “You’re the logical choice. You manage all of the data––the contracts, the bank accounts and you are the only person with the ability to hide things from upper management. Plus, you’re a pussy––constantly watching what the rest of us are doing, trying to make us into a goodie-goodie like yourself. Me, I’m enjoying seeing you take one for the team.”

“Well, I’m not doing it. I don’t believe you’d do those things you said to innocent people just to save your own skin.”

Zander stared at Logan for a minute. “You leave me no choice,” he said. He nodded to Lipton. The security chief picked up his cell phone.

“Put it on speaker,” Zander said, “so Mr. Goodie Two-Shoes can hear both ends of the conversation.”

“707 here.”

“This is 101,” Lipton said. “Are you in position?”

“Affirmative.”

“The home security system is off-line?”

“Affirmative. We cancelled their contract last week. I tested it when we got here. No response.”

“Excellent. Here are your instructions. There are three occupants in the house at 11745 West Bright Woods Lane: a woman and two female children––ages 3 and 6. You are to terminate all three without remorse. You and your men may take your pleasure with the woman before you terminate her. Do you understand my instructions?”

“Affirmative.”

“Also, make sure that the camera records the entire procedure so that her husband can watch what you do to them.”

“Got it.”

“Over and out.”

“Stop,” Logan yelled. “You’re crazy. You can’t mean that. Stop him.”

Zander shook his head. “Too late, Logan.”

Logan tried to turn his head away so he couldn’t see the TV screen. He struggled to get out of his seat, but the restraints were too tight. “Help. Help. Someone. Help.”

“Hold his head,” Lipton said to his men, “and, if he tries to close his eyes, you have my permission to pry them open.”

The person holding the camera started moving towards the front of the house. Logan heard him talking to a man dressed as a mail carrier. “Ring the door bell. Keep the woman occupied until I confirm that we’re inside. Then push your way into the house and lock the front door.” The man nodded and walked towards the front of the house.

The man with the camera panned the house. Logan saw two men dressed in black with hoods over their heads with holes for their eyes and nose waiting at the edge of the woods. The men moved in a crouch towards the back of the house. One of them held a crow bar while the other carried a large heavy gym bag.

Logan kicked out trying to connect with the legs of Everett Lipton who was watching the monitor. Craig Harkness pushed Lipton aside. “Read the statement,” Harkness said. “Please, Logan. Agree to what they’re asking.”

Logan watched the man with a crowbar approach the back door of his half-a-million dollar house. He inserted an end into the door and gave it a yank. The door gave way.

“Okay,” Logan screamed. “Okay. I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’ll do it.”

Harkness looked back at Zander. Zander smiled. Almost reluctantly, he nodded to Lipton.

Lipton picked up his phone.

“101 here. Abort,” Lipton said, “Abort. Remain in position.”

“Abort. Affirmative.”

The person with the crow bar turned and moved away from the house. The camera showed the two men moving behind the bushes on either side of the back door.

Zander turned to Logan. “Ready?”

Logan’s heart beat so rapidly he feared he would have a heart attack. The sweat poured down the back of his neck. His hand shook as he held up the script and tried to memorize it. Finally, he nodded, indicating that he was ready to read what he was certain amounted to a death sentence––his own.

#

To obtain the entire book in digital format for just $2.99, visit these websites:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Last-Stop-Desolation-Ridge-ebook/dp/B00B6JG2P6/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1359313304&sr=8-6&keywords=peter+g.+pollak

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/last-stop-on-desolation-ridge-peter-pollak/1114234798?ean=2940015971095

Is this a book you’d like to read?

January 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

Read this description of my forthcoming novel, Last Stop on Desolation Ridge, and tell me if it sounds like a book you’d like to read enough to spend $10 for a paperback or $3 for a digital copy:

After a meek corporate finance officer is coerced by his boss and a coporate Congressman into confessing to having defrauded the federal government, he is hidden away in a mental hospital in upstate New York until circumstances give him a long-shot chance to save himself and start life anew.

If you review books for a paid circulation publication, contact me for an advanced copy.

It Made the Grade

December 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

…for one reviewer at least.

Making the Grade, my police procedural starring a female protagonist, earned a very positive review recently by an Australian book reviewer.

Here’s what he wrote:

“Ever wondered what it is like to be a rooky police detective? What if you were the first woman detective on staff? What if your first case was a no breaks murder by a bona fide psychopath? Shannon Lynch is on her first day of duty as a detective and she immediately feels that her new workmates don’t really trust her and wont until she proves herself. She knows this is a serious job and she is determined to meet the standards. Her new boss, Lieutenant Keller, says he at first will not appoint Shannon to a partner, but attach her to two other detectives, Al Joiner and Chuck Miles, to basically just observe. Shannon is not impressed and Joiner and Miles’ reception of her leaves her even more peeved. Peter Pollak has written a novel that grips the reader right from the start guiding them through the working of a case that takes the police to standard and not so standard territory.

“This is a `hard boiled’ police yarn ideal for any reader wanting to be entertained. While Pollak’s approach to police work is standard, giving us some idea of the routine of a police job, the events are hardly standard and are narrated in an exciting style. Pollak surprises us, shocks us and keeps us on tenterhooks. Most of the book is written from Shannon’s point of view, however, at key points we also see into the lives and thoughts of other characters. This gives variety and depth.

“From the start we gain a liking for Shannon and in time we come to understand Joiner and Miles. These characters ring true and are well crafted. While the style is `hard boiled’ we still feel that Shannon and her partners, and even the perpetrator are real. They are not in any way larger than life. Shannon slowly evolves over time developing into a more complex view of her work and life. Joiner and Miles also change, though to a lesser extent.

“Making The Grade is chiefly about success. What is success? How do we get there? What should be our mental attitude to both success and failure? So much of modern society revolves around this issue and the topic arises early, when we are young. We may consider ourselves beyond that but we all have to take tests, keep our jobs, be accountable to our friends and family.

“Indeed a second issue is friends in trouble. Some people are pure users and others are not. How do we decide who to help and who not? Pollak does not give us any pat answers, but instead chooses to raise questions in our mind. Life is never easy to navigate.

“Closely connected to friendship is the issue of loyalty. Once again it is recognised that life is complex and there are no easy answers.

“As I have indicated the book has a lot to do with a woman trying to make it in a man’s world. Feminists will not be offended by the novel, but Pollak is not issuing standard polemics. Pollak recognises that there certainly IS a male power system, but once again life is seen to be complex. This is definitely not a cut out detective story with cut out opinion. Shannon is a feisty capable woman, but she does shed a few tears (though she certainly struggles for control with fortitude). She never was and never will be a stay at home with the kiddies `little woman’.

“Pollak has got the psychology of his novel right. Most of all this is not your standard out there over the top psycho. The killer could easily pass for any man in the street, except of course when he is in the act of actually killing someone. Martha Stout is a psychologist who is successful both as an academic and in a flourishing clinical practice and her book The Sociopath Next Door makes it clear that these people are very good at appearing normal and even helpful. Indeed a sociopath could be living next door to you and you wouldn’t even know it. Pollak’s killer certainly fits this picture. The details I have mentioned and others make it clear that the author has certainly done his research on this one.

“The law is of course an institution of society and Pollak invites some contemplation of the matter. What is the purpose of the law? The philosopher Michel Foucault has challenged the law, saying it is another power system used to manipulate the masses in such a way that ruling elites are reinforced. Would we, however, survive without it? Once we step out of our comfortable lounge room into the hustle of everyday living we may learn that life can be unpleasant, dangerous. Even the `safety’ of our homes is not an assured fact.

“Close to the discussion of the law and society is that of bureaucracy. Organizations certainly can put ridiculous restraints on people, but then again some order is needed to make systems work.

“At 255 pages this book is excellent for a weekend read on the patio. It is interesting and entertaining, with some excitement and characters that are believable. Making The Grade can be read purely as light entertainment, but also has some depth if you care to look for it. Don’t get me wrong: it is not a boring philosophic tome. All in all the book is a great read, especially for those interested in police yarns.”

If you haven’t read Making the Grade, you can find it in digital format on the Amazon website. Click here.

Signed paperback copies are available at The Book House in Albany, NY, The Open Door in Schenectady, NY, at Greetings & Readings in Hunt Valley, MD and at Mysteries on Main Street in Johnstown, NY. Mysteries will mail out copies. Links to all four stores can be found in the “where to buy” section of my website.

Unsigned copies can be found at Ukazoo Books in Towson, MD and Antigone in Tucson, AZ or ordered from the Amazon or Barnes & Noble websites.

Celebrating Independent Bookstores: Schenectady’s Open Door

August 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Like most men, I typically wait until the last minute to purchase birthday and holiday gifts. But when my company, Empire Information Services, Inc. (today: readMedia, Inc.) was located in Schenectady, NY, I could always find something–whether I needed an anniversary present for my wife or a birthday or holiday present for my kids–at the Open Door Bookstore and Gift Shop.

Also, like most men, I’d probably never walk into a gift shop on my own for fear I’d either break something or have to ask what something was, and we men don’t like to ask for directions when we’re lost or what something is that’s prominently displayed in a gift store.

Thank goodness shopping for a non-book gift at The Open Door is not intimidating at all and the clerks are always happy to answer even the dumbest questions.

According to Janet Hutchison, the current owner, The Open Door was founded as a children’s bookstore in 1971 and has always been at its current location on the corner of Franklin and Jay streets in downtown Schenectady. Janet and her husband purchased the store in 1983 and have expanded it to accomodate the transition to carrying a larger selection of books as well as the gift section, which now includes jewelry and toys.

No doubt the Hutchison’s have entertained suggestions that they move to the suburbs or to a mall, but they’ve stuck with downtown Schenectady through thin and thinner. These days a local resident tells me things are looking pretty nice downtown and parking is not a problem. There’s a free 2-hour parking lot west of the store that runs between Union St. and Liberty and some decent places to grab lunch on Jay Street and around the corner on State Street.

Janet has graciously set up a date for me to sign copies of The Expendable Man and Making the Grade at the store. Richard Russo, Bill Kennedy and many others have done the same over the years. I’ll be there Saturday, Sept. 8 from 1:00 to 2:30 PM. But if you can’t make it during those hours, I’ll try to keep the store stocked with copies of both books.

So, if you need a book or a gift and you haven’t been in downtown Schenectady for a while, you can’t go wrong at The Open Door.

Expendable Man Price Reduction

May 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

In honor of the release this month of Making the Grade, my second novel, I have lowered the price of the print edition of The Expendable Man to $11.99.

Print copies of The Expendable Man are available online from the CreateSpacBookstore, from Amazon, and from Barnes and Noble’s online store.

Print copies of The Expendable Man are also available from the following bookstores:

Digital copies for the Kindle, IPad, Nook and other readers are available as well from their appropriate dealers or from Smashwords. Search on my name or the title. Digital copies retail for $4.99.

Editing Making the Grade––My Second Novel

April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

After I paid good money for my first novel to be proof-read, a woman who had been an editor found 10 typos; months later another careful reader came up with 8 more. Many were minor––a missing comma or “feel” when I meant “fell,” but naturally, as I am about to embark on publishing my second novel, I want to do everything I can to avoid a repeat.

A writer has to focus on the story. Crafting a story that is unique and holds the reader’s interest is not easy. Writers with many notches on their sixguns sometimes shoot blanks.

Then one has to deal with the grey areas of English grammar––when to use a comma, how to handle quotes, capitalization issues as well as issues of literary style––how to present dialogue without saying “she said” after every quote, and so on.

That’s why writers need editors––especially self-publishing writers who don’t have the benefit of an agent and a publishing house.

Recently I tried to drum up assistance in proofing Making the Grade by offering a signed print copy to anyone who would buy a digital copy for $0.99 and send me a list of the mistakes.

Few responded, but a suggestion was made that I liked: break up the manuscript (or should it now be called a compuscript) and distribute it to those willing to read a few chapters.

So here’s what I’m offering: Proof-read a few chapters for me and not only will you get a signed copy of the finished product, but I’ll gladly edit an equivalent number of pages for you.

Use the contact form on my website (www.petergpollak.com) to let me know if you’re interested.

P.S.: If you purchased a copy of The Expendable Man and would like me to send you the list of 18 typos, use the same method to contact me.

WAMC Interview

December 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Thank you to Joe Donohue and WAMC for interviewing me today during their Roundtable program. Joe and I discussed my debut novel, The Expendable Man, and the travails of self-publishing.

You can here it in its entirety at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wamc/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=1882651

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