Excerpt from CHASING AFTER VANITY for #samplesunday

I’ve been searching for an agent to represent my first novel for about a month. While I’m working that, I thought I’d share an excerpt. Please enjoy, and feel free to comment!

Harry hadn’t even realized that he’d boarded the elevator when the doors opened and he stepped out onto the work floor.  Instead of turning left to go to his desk, he turned right towards the south wing, where Tom worked.  Tom was officially relegated to the IT department and didn’t sit with the business team.  Harry knew that Tom’s day didn’t start until 830, and that odds were it’d be closer to 10, but he could always leave a note for him.

And yet there Tom sat, hunched over his computer.  Even more surprising, forensics around the work station suggested that he’d been there a while.

“Tom?”  Tom nearly leapt out of his chair as he swept a notebook aside and spun around at the same time.  When it registered that it was Harry, he sighed and flashed a tired smile at him.

“Sorry.  I couldn’t sleep last night, so I thought I’d come in and get some kind of work done.  But let me tell you, it’s tough thinking about code when we’ve got all this going on.”

Harry nodded and sat down beside him.  Tom’s desk was one of the least desirable on this side of the work floor.  Although just a little larger than the standard cubes it was exposed to the most walking traffic, and you normally got the sense that you were being watched from the other desks around it.  So far, however, no one else was in.

“So what are you working on then?” Harry asked.

Tom smiled again, and pulled out his notebook like a kid who had just designed the coolest space ship on earth and was about to show it off to his best friend.  “Dude, I’ve been thinking. If we’re going to make this work, we need to act more like a team.  I mean more like a…I don’t know…covert operations team.  We need to make sure we’re tight, that we’re sharing info, linked in to each other’s communications, and not telling the world about it.  So check it out.” Tom opened the notebook, which Harry couldn’t help but notice was not only brand new, but the cover had a jungle camouflage pattern to it.

“First, we need code names…I mean, call signs.  When we talk to each other outside of work about this, we need to use them.  But for that to make sense, we need to get some TracFones…you know, the ones where you can prepay the time without having an account set up?  They have some cool looking ones now, and we wouldn’t have to be worried about anyone listening in on us.  And get this…”

            And so it went on for several unnerving minutes.  Tom had left the meeting yesterday and dove right into this ocean of insanity, then never came back up for air.  As he flipped back and forth through the pages, Harry realized this was the fevered work of the last 18 hours.  Like air escaping from a balloon, he felt his own enthusiasm for the scheme draining away.  He’d thought about the danger of arrest.  He hadn’t thought about the danger that this whole thing could make people crazy.

“Wait, what’s that?” asked Harry.  It looked like an organization chart.

“Oh, that’s the chain of command structure. I thought it’d be useful to keep this in mind as we kicked the op off.  You can’t run an op like this without a clear chain of command.”

The org chart was elementary.  At the top was a block with the word “Chowder” written within it.  Directly underneath, connected by a solid black line was another block that said “Nighthawk.”  Harry tapped that block.  “Nighthawk?”

“Well, that’s you.  I mean, you’re the lead project manager, and you’re the most level headed, I figured it made sen–”

Nighthawk?  What kind of name is that?”

“Well, you had left already.  I was able to ask Scott and Lydia what they wanted.  Lydia didn’t care at first, but when I told her that I’d use “Cruella”, she told me to use her college nickname.”

Harry looked at the chart again.   “Spaz?”

“Yep.”  Then Tom seemed to become a little annoyed and embarrassed at the same time.  “I think we’re going to have to work with Scott a little.  I’m not sure he knows really what a code name…call sign…is for.  I tried talking him out of it, but he’s so fragile lately.”

Harry looked at the next box underneath the one marked “Nighthawk” and sighed. “Johnny Carson?”


And that left the last block.  “So I guess that makes you…’Iceman.’  Of course.” Tom was chagrined.  “What’s wrong with that?  It’s a cool call sign.”

Harry leaned back in the chair and started rubbing his tired eyes.  He hadn’t had enough sleep for this.  Suddenly the whole thing, with the ex-army man who “knows a few guys” running after a fugitive lottery winner to force her to give up the money . . . The whole thing just seemed like an illusion.  After all, was he a Nighthawk?

But Tom was not just a devout participant…he was a fanatic.  This enterprise had unlocked something weird within this restless programmer, and he was relishing it.

“Alright, Tom.  You’re right.  We do need some of this.  But I am not going to be called Nighthawk.”

“Fine, whatever.  Give me something else then.”

“I don’t know.  I’ll get back with you.”

“All right.  You get back with me.”

“I’m going to grab some coffee and go to my desk. There, I’m going to try and manage my Installation Project today…you know, do what I’m getting paid to do.”

“Good luck, Nighthawk.”

As Harry rose from his chair, he caught sight of the front of Tom’s camouflaged notebook. Something was written, in ink, in stark bold letters.

“Tom . . . you really have your call sign written on your notebook? Are you insane?”

Tom’s face went crimson.  “I’ve got a cover story!  I’m telling people it’s because I really like Top Gun!”

Harry heard a noise and looked over his shoulder.  Two other people had arrived at their desks right next to Tom.  They were watching Harry with the alien bemusement with which  programmers often regard regular business people.

“Harry, go get your coffee.  I’ll talk to you later.”

Harry’s head throbbed.  He wanted to yell at Tom, but wasn’t sure he knew why.   As he walked away, he heard the three programmers start talking.  He was sure that he heard Tom ask “You guys like Top Gun?”


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