Chasing Smoke by Bill Cameron
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Bill Cameron lives and works in Portland, Oregon. His stories have appeared in Spinetingler, The Dunes Review, The Alsop Review, as well as The Portland Southeast Examiner. He is a member of Friends of Mystery and serves as Vice President of the Northwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
His debut novel Lost Dog is available from Midnight Ink Books. His second novel, Chasing Smoke, will be available from Bleak House Books in November 2008.
Lost Dog is a Rocky Nominee for Best Novel set in the Left Coast Crime Geographic Region, as well as a runner up for the Spotted Owl Award for Best Novel of 2008 by a Northwest author.
"Slice of Pie," Bill's contribution to Killer Year: Stories to Die For was described as an "irony-filled gem" in the Chicago Tribune.
This excerpt is from the second chapter, shortly after his partner has roped him in to helping with an investigation off the books. He's decided to go see his friend Ruby Jane, owner of a local coffee shop, to distract himself from thinking about an upcoming doctor's appointment at which he expects bad news. As the moment opens, Skin, a long-time smoker who's recently quit, has been watching a fellow smoke outside the coffee shop.
Ruby Jane sets a pair of steaming mugs on the table, then slides into the seat across from me, her movement awkward. I can see she still favors her left leg. She swivels her head toward the window. “I thought you were going to go right through the glass after that guy’s cigarette.”
“I don’t do my own stunts.” I grab a mug and give it a sniff. Smells more like fruitcake than tea.
“It’s got cinnamon, nutmeg, milk, and a little honey. Thought you might like a change.”
I take a sip and resist the urge to make a face. “A year ago you’d’ve been in for some police brutality if you tried serving me one of these frou-frou tea concoctions.”
“Glad it’s a hit.”
"Oh, it’s great stuff. Lovin’ it.”
"You’re under arrest.”
She rolls her eyes and sips her own tea. “What’s the news?”
“I’m still not dead. Film at eleven.”
“How’s your treatment going?”
“I could ask you the same.”
“Yeah, but I asked first.”
I gaze down into my mug. “Been in a holding pattern. I just had some more tests.”
“You gonna need more surgery?”
“I don’t know. Doc is supposed to have news for me this morning.”
She doesn’t say anything, picks up her mug and drinks. Ruby Jane isn’t a woman who speaks just to fill the silence. It’s one of the things I like about her. She has a round face and dimples, with blue eyes beneath reddish-brown bangs. She’s inclined toward colorful hats and vests, but this morning she wears only a black turtleneck and billowy cotton pants under a teal apron that matches the awning outside. Hair back in a short pony tail.
“You still doing the physical therapy?” I ask her.
She smiles tightly and nods. “Down to twice a month now though.”
“How’d you know?”
“Your togs are more restrained than usual.”
She touches one finger to the side of her nose. “You oughta be a cop.”
“I’ll never give up the carnie life. How much longer do you have?”
“Too damn long. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever walk right again.”
“These things take time,” is what I do not say. Ruby Jane is no more amenable to empty platitudes than I am. The previous December she’d been shot, leg and gut. I was part of the investigation, a complicated mess that could have ended much worse than it did. “How’s Pete doing?” I ask after a moment.
Ruby Jane swirls her tea. “Okay, I guess. He’s on the road, touring plant nurseries down in California. I haven’t talked to him for a while.”
“He hasn’t called?”
She doesn’t seem to want to make eye contact. “I told him I needed a breather.”
I see Roger leaning over the pastry case, pointing out selections to one of the counter girls. The girl adds scones and Danishes to a large box. Her bare forearms are swathed in a tangle of tattooed green vines and orange blossoms. Roger mumbles something I can’t hear and the girl laughs. She has a silver stud in her tongue.
“I don’t know, Skin. I admit I rushed into things with Pete, but sometimes you meet someone and it just feels right. You’re laughing at each other’s jokes, finishing each other’s sentences. Every moment is natural and comfortable, like it was always meant to be. And then, time passes, and something changes. You know each other better and better in the little ways, so it feels like you’re growing closer. But in the big ways—” She fiddles with her mug. “Pete knows exactly how I like my coffee.”
1) Bill is in training as a stunt double for the next Indiana Jones movie starring Harrison Ford. In fact, Bill's been so good as a stuntman, the director is going to let him choose a title for the movie. What is the title he chooses?
2) How many vests does Bill own?
3) Speaking of finishing sentences, let's finish Bill's last sentence a bit differently. "Pete knows exactly how I like..."
Chasing Smoke is being released as a simultaneous trade paper and hardcover, plus a limited-edition hardcover called "Evidence Collection." The Evidence Collection version is distinguished by special endpapers and a Booking Sheet bound into the front which is signed and numbered and features a thumbprint. (see photo below)
**Come back Friday to read chapter one in its entirety! A very nice weekend treat!!**