From “Great Pretenders.” A 2nd excerpt.

The first excerpt from Great Pretenders has been on this site for a while, and gets a number of readers. We’ve been asked, “What’s the book about? Where’s the rest?”

Two-Fisted Birdwatcher figures you don’t want to wade through lots of words. That’s why there’s been just one excerpt. But, maybe it’s time for another. A new one appears below.

These are from a novel in progress. A name change is under consideration.  Perhaps, it should be called “The-Two Fisted Birdwatcher.”  Or “Adventures of a Two-Fisted Birdwatcher.” Let us know what you think of that.

It’s about a business geek named Ben Franklin who drops out of the wilds of big city office life and drifts into the wilds of the American west, where he has an adventure.

There’s a lost girl to find. There are birds. Bad guys. Other girls. Guns, arrows, bears, chases, beer-drinking, more birds, fighting, and did we say other girls? Plus deep thoughts, even a little redemption.

Someday this novel might make it to a bookstore. Meanwhile, here’s a second excerpt. Hope you enjoy it.

West Beckwith Mountain 2

From Chapter 45…

Ben had stretched the truth a little, an occupational habit, by letting Archie assume he was an experienced rider.  Truth was, he’d ridden as a kid, but only on dispirited day camp horses, dragging their tired butts along the level bridle paths of suburban Chicago.

Strawberry was different, moving with the responsiveness of a sports car.  The horse seemed to dislike trotting as much as any sensible rider does, and had just two speeds.  Walk or gallop.

After the initial whip-lashing surge, the galloping would smooth into an undulating rush through slapping grasses and overhanging leaves.  Ben felt like yelling out, as though on a roller coaster, but there seemed a need to maintain dignity in the quiet mountains, especially in front of the horse…

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Strawberry moved deliberately, picking his way over slippery stone while Ben, a helpless passenger no longer feeling he was in the driver’s seat, let the reins rest in his hand against the front of the saddle and gave himself up to the pitch and sway, enjoying the sharp scent of evergreen, the squeak of leather from a hundred complicated connections in and around the saddle, the scrape of metal-shod hooves on grit.

His was a sunny trail this morning, and he nodded his head, going with the motion, as in agreement that this was just a kind of perk, part of doing a job well.  If he twisted around in the saddle, he could make out the red dust road behind him that wound back toward the ranch.  In the distance, white smoke was rising from what must be the barbecue fire.  He wouldn’t really be on his own until he topped the rise and got it between him and this outpost of civilization.

The idea of being cut off plunked a chord somewhere under Ben’s heart, and adrenaline flushed from it, filling his chest with nervous heat, making his pulse flutter, the thin air becoming suffocating.  He was reminded of the feeling he’d had, lost and crazy when separated from the girl that day in the woods.  No way, not this time.  He had the stalwart Strawberry for company.  And all the comforts of home.  You can’t be lost when carrying food, clothes, shelter, fire, water, map, compass, even a radio beacon if needed…

This calmed him.  Only trouble now was that a surprising sadness inched its way forward, caused by the very insight he’d just found reassuring.  The well-packed animal was indeed now house and home.  It was his only true address in the world, having left the city with bridges burned.  What was to become of him?

A bird flew in front of the horse and alit on a trailside branch, unconcerned with Ben’s problems or proximity, not having been conditioned to fear horses or anything growing out of a horse’s back.  It had a deep red body, sharply delineated black wings and tail.  This bird didn’t belong here.  Ben recognized it as an Easterner, like him. And this distracted him from nerves, funk and self-pity.  Ben and the bird looked eye to eye as he passed, two strangers in these parts.  A wordless moment of something like kinship.

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When Ben turned his attention back to the trail, he saw it had topped out.  They were in a clearing, under a big sky.  The horse blew a snotty Bronx cheer to announce his arrival, a raspberry from Strawberry, and dropped his head to feed on knee-high grass, sending up clouds of tiny flies which attacked horse and rider with enthusiasm, excited as insects will be by sweat and blood.

Ben dismounted.  He’d only been in the saddle an hour, but his legs were feeling funny, as after ice skating.  He tied the reins to a sapling, ignoring traces of the recent nervous buzz resonating somewhere inside.

He opened one of the overstuffed saddlebags and had the faint impression of himself as a kid, unwrapping presents.  The Jack Daniel’s bottle still carried morning coolness.  He twisted the cap, breaking the seal with a satisfying snap and took a long swallow, enjoying how it bit back. He replaced the bottle, and it clanked against the wrapped-up revolver.

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Behind him stood the tightness of trees they’d ridden through.  Ahead, the meadow sloped into a V-shaped landform that reminded him of a woman’s inviting legs.  It was well grown there with summer’s healthy vegetation, making the comparison (coaxed along by the healthy swig of Jack Daniels) all the more inviting.

The horizon lay green and rolling, with hazy mountains hovering above, seemingly unconnected, floating like clouds.  The ad guy in him couldn’t help thinking…fade in music from Magnificent Seven…it builds, swells…but Ben shook the guy off.  This was too good for theme songs.  Too big to need help.

He went back to the saddlebag, this time pulling free the gun belt and its loaded holster.  He buckled it on, enjoying the weight of it.  He adjusted his hat to keep the sun out of his eyes, untied the horse and swung into the saddle.  Ben didn’t look back again.  He touched his heels to Strawberry’s sides and lit out across the meadow at a gallop, the old Stetson tipped forward, his long hair flying out from under it, the six-shooter hefty on his hip, good whiskey hot in his blood.

4 Responses to “From “Great Pretenders.” A 2nd excerpt.”

  1. Jeff says:

    it might be worth updating this, which would require some subtle changes…
    1. instead of a map and compass, he would probably have a gps or iphone…and if he didn’t then he would probably remark to himself how having those pieces of technology would be “cheating” or something. or maybe he loves the technology but it breaks or he can’t get a signal and knows he has to do it old school
    2. very subtle, but true now, is that few women a guy Ben’s age encounters would have healthy vegetation…

  2. Two-Fisted Bird Watcher says:

    Jeff, thanks for reading this longish piece, and for your perceptive comments. But the trouble with excerpts is that you’re coming in without context, just getting a snapshot. Actually the novel’s a period piece. In the opening, it’s clear that the time is the 1980s, heyday of office life, especially in Ben’s profession which is advertising; it’s the greed-is-good era, and this guy is glad to get out of town. The story’s about contrasts. City vs. country, man vs. nature, east vs. west, good vs. bad and real vs. fake. Thanks again for reading.

  3. Judith says:

    It read very well and I look forward to future installments and/or the book. Being a Texas girl, it bears mentioning, it is unlikely any Stetson-Wearing-Jack-Daniels-Drinking-Six-Shooter-Wearing man would ride a horse named Strawberry [except a Yankee needing redemption]…but that must be some of those contrasts you speak of.

    If Ben Franklin develops serious wanderlust…BBNP [Big Bend National Park] has mountain lions…definitely grounds for redemption.
    Thanks!

  4. marc davis says:

    You nailed the truth of all Western heroes of American folklore — only their horses are house and home…their only true address in the world.
    Marc

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