#1,000: FEATURED AUTHOR: ROBERT DOWNS
ABOUT THE BOOK
Title: The Fix
Author’s name: Robert Downs
Publisher: Black Opal Books (12/2/2017)
Page count: 166
On tour with: Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours
LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT DOWNS
Things you need to throw out: Old clothes and expired food. I also have more books than I could possibly read in the next five years, but I don’t believe in tossing books out. I believe books are a gift that should be passed on to the next eager reader.
Things you need in order to write: My laptop, and if that fails, a pen and paper. Everything else is negotiable.
Things that hamper your writing: Time and sometimes life gets in the way. Experiences feed the creative process. If I write too much, I’ll eventually run out of things to say, and if I only have experiences and no writing time, as you can probably imagine, I won’t right a single word. Life is all about balance. I feel like everything I do somehow informs my writing.
Things you love about writing: I’m living my dream every day. My biggest fantasy has become my reality. I love typing as fast as I can through that first draft, and I enjoy shaping the novel throughout the editing process.
Things you hate about writing: I don’t hate it, but the hardest part of writing for me is once the book comes out, and the marketing process rushes full speed ahead. I’ve studied it quite a bit, and heard other writers talk about it, and I still feel like I don’t do it well.
Things you love about where you live: The vast amount of activities I can do in and around Los Angeles. If I’m bored here, I’m probably not looking hard enough for something to do.
Things that make you want to move: The traffic and the sheer number of people. I can’t walk five steps without bumping into someone. I don’t know if this is the right word, but it feels claustrophobic to me at times.
Things you never want to run out of: Pens, paper, printer ink, and battery life on my laptop.
Things you wish you’d never bought: An electronic keyboard and a pair of PJ Harvey concert tickets. Let’s just say the latter was to impress a woman, and it didn’t work out so well.
Words that describe you: Persistent, honest, optimistic, organized, introvert, planner, creative, and self-confident.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: I’d say the hardest thing for me and the people around me is being a perfectionist. It helps me reach my goals and keeps me pushing forward, but it has probably been the downfall of more than one relationship in my life, and it often means I’m never satisfied with my successes.
Favorite foods: Pasta, chicken, leftovers, and anything I don’t have to cook myself. I also have a mouth full of sweet teeth, which often leads me to believe the food pyramid needs to be reversed. Chocolate and sugar should cover the widest part of the pyramid.
Things that make you want to throw up: Canned spinach and vinegar are not my friends. My mom mixed the two and cooked it in the microwave, and it stunk up our entire house.
Favorite music or song: "Shut Up and Dance," "Learning to Fly," "Castle on the Hill," and "Copperhead Road." There’s plenty more, but I’ll stop there. The correct answer for music genre is always country.
Music that make your ears bleed: I’m not a big fan of jazz or rap.
Favorite beverage: Water .
Something that gives you a pickle face: Anything sour.
Favorite smell: Fresh linens .
Something that makes you hold your nose: If anyone is smoking in a three-block radius of me, I can smell it, and it makes me want to gag.
Something you’re really good at: I hope the correct answer is writing, but the jury is still out on that one.
Something you’re really bad at: I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but public speaking still makes me uncomfortable. I do it because it’s required, but I’m usually not happy about it. I’m an introvert, so I prefer to blend. I don’t feel like I need the spotlight.
Something you wish you could do: Play the drums or dance. But alas, I am a man with no rhythm. I just hope it’s not hereditary.
Something you wish you’d never learned to do: I don’t know if I had a good answer for this one. I do know I probably should have stopped playing the saxophone before the marching band. (See previous answer.)
Something you like to do: Traveling, reading, watching movies, writing, and road trips with little to no traffic. Streaming services and Redbox are wonderful inventions.
Something you wish you’d never done: Marching band and band camp. Again, it’s the no rhythm. I feel like I have a theme here.
People you consider as heroes: My parents. I’m also a sucker for a good underdog story, since I feel like I’m constantly underestimated in my own life.
People with a big L on their foreheads: Los Angeles has a flakey reputation, and I can say it often doesn’t disappoint in this regard. I like to think I am a man of my word, and I wish more people felt the same way.
Last best thing you ate: The cinnamon roll I ate this morning, and the iced sugar cookie I ate this afternoon. Both were quite good.
Last thing you regret eating: See previous answer. Life is tough, and it’s even tougher when you’re addicted to sugar.
Things you’d walk a mile for: Ice cream, a good book or movie, good music, a good story idea, or the woman of my dreams.
Things that make you want to run screaming from the room: Cigarette smoke, liars, hypocrites, and flakes. Bats and snakes are not my friends either.
READ AN EXCERPT FROM THE FIX
CHAPTER 1The taste of liquor still lingered on his lips. Six months without a drink, and he had the chip to prove it. His eyes were downcast, the table was green felt, and his wooden seat jammed the lower part of his back. The overhead light was dim, and he had his hat pulled down over his eyes. Johnny Chapman had lost three hands in a row, and he didn’t want to lose a fourth.
The Indian sat across from him with his hands folded across his chest, wearing dark sunglasses in a dark room, his hair shaved close to his head, and a tooth missing near his front. He cracked his knuckles between hands and even once during. The sound bounced off the walls in the closet of a room.
“Well, what’s it gonna be?” Thomas Kincaid asked. “I ain’t got all night.” His lips formed a sneer before he took a long pull on a dark drink. His eyes flicked in every direction except straight ahead.
“Don’t rush me.”
“If you move any slower, we’ll both be looking up at the daisies,” Thomas replied. He looked at his two cards for what must have been the third time.
Johnny sucked his lip between his teeth, flashed his eyes once toward the ceiling, and flipped a chip onto the deck. The roar in his ears nearly pulled him away from the hand, but the click of the ceiling fan managed to hold his attention. The darkness helped with his focus as well.
The girl sat across from him, dark hair drifting to-ward her shoulders and even a bit beyond. Teeth as white as a bowl of rice. A drop of moisture near her upper lip entered the equation. Her T-shirt bunched out at the front, and her eyes were as cold as Alaska. She played her cards close to her chest, and her bets were even. For the most part. She managed to toss in a few extra chips when she had a hand. But she was a straight shooter and hadn’t bluffed once. Johnny knew it was coming, though. He just didn’t know when. Even if he managed to run like hell, she’d probably still clip him at the ankles. Her chip stack sat more than a third higher than his own.
She had a good smile. That one. Not too much of the pearly whites, but just enough for a man to take notice. The words on her chest accentuated her assets. Tight, clean, and turquoise—the T-shirt, not her breasts.
Johnny’s eyes flicked to his watch, and his phone buzzed in his pocket. The alarm. His leg vibrated for a second more and then it stopped.
It was almost time. The medication. It took the edge off, and stopped his mind from racing off to infinity and beyond. The man with the dark rims and the white lab coat prescribed it in a room bigger than the one he was in now. If he didn’t take his meds in the next ten minutes, the headaches would start soon after.
The ceiling fan whirred again. The backroom was stale and damp, the casino out on the edge of the reservation with nothing but tumbleweed and small trees for over a mile. Diagonally opposite from the little shithole that he called home for the past several years. The run-down piece of trash with the broken Spanish shingles, cracked stucco, and clouded windows.
Seconds turned over, one after another, and still there was no movement from the Indian to his right. Lapu Sinquah flipped his sunglasses up, and dragged them back down, but not before his eyes looked around the table. The Indian made a face and flipped two chips onto the green felt.
The girl was next. She scratched her forehead. Her expression remained neutral. When Caroline Easton flipped her head, her hair remained out of her eyes. Her look resembled cold, hard steel. She followed the Indian with a two-chip flip.
Thomas tossed his cards away, and it was back to Johnny. He felt it: an all-consuming need to win this hand…and the next one…and the one after. Desire consumed him, after all. Or maybe it didn’t.
The hand that got away. The hand that consumed him, pushed him over the edge, and had him calling out in the middle of the night. One voice. One concentrated effort before the moment passed him by. He couldn’t imagine losing, ending up with nothing. Bankrupt.
This minute reasoning had him playing cards night after night, hand after hand, reading player after player. Moment after moment. Until the moments were sick and twisted and filled with jagged edges and punctured with pain. Or left him dead and buried on the side of the road in a ditch with half of his face missing.
The winning streak wouldn’t last. It’d be gone again. Like a sound carried away by the breeze in the middle of a forgotten forest. This time, he wouldn’t fold too soon. This time, he’d play it differently.
The one that got away. The pot in the middle that would have covered three month’s rent. But he tossed his cards aside, even though he’d been staring at the winning hand for damn near three minutes.
His eyes flicked to each of the three players before he once more peeled his cards back from the table and slid the two spades to the side.
The Indian glared at him through the darkness and his dark sunglasses. “Well?” Lapu asked. “What the fuck, man?”
Johnny tossed his shoulders up in the air. “I’m out.”
“Just like that?” Caroline’s long dark hair whipped around her head.
“Sure, why not?”
The Indian rubbed his shaved head. “You’re one crazy motherfucker.”
Johnny shrugged. “I never claimed to be sane.”
The ceiling fan whirred faster, clicking every five seconds. The air was heavy and suffocating, and he yanked on his collar with his index finger. Two drinks were drunk, and a glass clinked against a tooth. One chair slid back and another moved forward.
“There’s over two grand in the pot,” Lapu said.
Johnny gave a slight tilt of his head. “And I know when to walk away.”
The Indian jerked to his feet and extended a finger away from his chest. “It was your raise that started this shitstorm.”
“True,” Johnny said. “And now I’m going to end it.”
Caroline combed her hair with her fingers. “You haven’t ended anything.”
“I’d rather have that as my downfall than lose it all to you nitwits.”
Caroline smirked. Her white teeth glinted against the light overhead. “Who made you queen of the land?”
“I’d like to think it sort of came up on me,” Johnny said. “It sort of took me by surprise. Existence is futile.”
The Indian smirked. His stained teeth were nearly the color of his skin. “Futility won’t help you now.”
The hand was between the girl and the Indian. Her assets versus his. One smirk versus another. The sun-glasses were down, and both the movements and expressions were calculated. Chips were tossed, and the last card was flipped. Caroline took the pot, and her cold expression never wavered.
A ten-minute break ensued. Johnny used the bath-room, washed his hands, shoved two pills into his mouth, cupped his hands underneath the spout, sucked water from his palms, dunked his hands underneath the liquid once more, and splashed the water on his face. He grimaced at his own reflection, the dark, sunken eyes. He sucked in air and dried his hands. His shoes clicked on the broken tile on his way out the door.
His chips hadn’t moved, and neither had the table. The stack of chips was smaller than when he started this game. As the losses mounted, his amount of breathing room decreased. His longest losing streak was thirteen hands in a row.
The blinds were doubled, and his mind numbed. Compassion was a long forgotten equation, and sympathy wasn’t far behind.
The conversation picked up again, and the Indian perfected a new glare. “I never heard so much chatting over a game of cards.”
“It’s not just a game,” Thomas said. “Now, is it?” One dark drink was replaced with another, and the man’s eyes glazed over.
The girl tapped her wrist with two fingers and flipped her hair. “I think we’re already past the point of sanity.”
“If there was ever a point, it was lost—”
“I had a few points of my own that were somehow hammered home.” Johnny flipped three chips into the pot in one smooth motion. He had a hand, and he was determined to play it, even if he had to stare down the girl and the Indian at the same time.
“The game of life succeeds where you might have failed,” Lapu said.
Thomas knocked back the remainder of yet another drink. “I don’t accept failure.”
Johnny’s eyes flicked to his wrist. “You don’t accept success either.”
“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” Thomas asked. “Are you late for a date?”
The girl called and tossed three chips into the pot with only a slight hesitation. She had a hand, or she wanted to make it appear as such. Her lips moved less and less, and her eyes moved more and more. Her features were clearly defined.
Johnny kept his expression even.
“You’re not late for anything that I’ve seen,” Caro-line said.
Both the Indian and Thomas folded.
“I’d like to take you out back and shoot you.”
“Would that somehow solve the majority of your problems?” the Indian asked.
Johnny nodded. “It might solve a few.”
“Or,” she said, “then again, it might not.”
The last card was flipped, and bets were tossed into the center of the pot. Johnny raised, and Caroline countered with a raise of her own. He called, flipped his cards over, and his straight lost to her flush. Half of his stack disappeared in one hand. He ground his teeth and chewed his bottom lip.
“I don’t like you,” Johnny said.
Her expression was colder than Anchorage. “You never liked me.”
“There might have been mutual respect, but that ship sailed out into the great beyond and smacked an iceberg.”
“Does not equal acceptance,” Johnny said.
“It will keep you up most nights,” the Indian said.
Determined not to lose again, Johnny kept his eyes on the prize and his dwindling stack of chips. The girl to his right had never flashed a smile, and now her stack of chips was nearly three times the size of his own. His eyes flicked to his wrist once more, and he grimaced.
For several moments, the ceiling fan took up all the sound in the room.
His breath hiccupped in his chest, and he swayed in his chair. The wood jammed against his lower back, and the angry green felt kept an even expression. His mouth moved, but no sound escaped from between his lips.
He fell out of his chair and cracked his head on the carpet. For the next few minutes, he drifted in and out of consciousness.
“Did his heart just stop?” Lapu asked.
Thomas leaned across the table. “What the hell are we talking about now?”
Lapu stood up. “I think that fucker passed out.”
“Which fucker?” Caroline’s chest pressed hard enough against her shirt to slow down her blood flow. Her eyes narrowed, but her hand was steady.
“The one that was losing.”
“That’s all you fuckers.” She tapped her tongue against her upper lip. “You’re all losing.”
Lapu shoved his chair back. “I don’t like losing.”
“But you do it so well.”
Thomas’s body shifted in his chair. “Not on purpose.”
The ceiling fan stopped, and the walls trapped all remnants of sound. One beat of silence was followed by another.
Lapu moved first. He slapped two fingers to Johnny’s wrist and checked for a pulse. The heartbeat was low and weak and arrhythmic.
“What do we do now?” Caroline asked. “Have you got a plan?”
Thomas stood up and sat back down again.
“Cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar,” Lapu said. “Both have the potential to reduce the effects of arrhythmia.”
She pointed. “Or maybe he has pills in his pocket.”
Lapu nodded. “That is also an option. Check his pockets while I prop up his head.”
“I need another drink,” Thomas said. “I’d rather not be sober if a man is going to die.”
Caroline rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”
Lapu had watched his father die with a look on his face not that far from the one Johnny wore now: the lost eyes and the still body, with his spirit on the verge of leaving this world for the next. Lapu poked through his pockets in a methodical fashion and found a prescription bottle with a half-peeled label. He popped the top, poked his finger through the slot, and removed two pills. He peeled Johnny’s lips apart, shoved the pills inside his mouth, and forced him to swallow. Minutes later, his life force had altered considerably, and color had returned to Johnny’s cheeks.
Lapu nodded his head. “There’s a purpose to every-thing.”
Thomas leaned over and slapped Johnny on the cheek. “I believe in the possibilities of a situation. Those moments that lead from one into the next, filled with passion and compassion and equality, and some other shit.”
Caroline smirked. “Which is what exactly?”
“Not losing another hand.”
Johnny inched his way to a sitting position and slapped his forehead. “Fuck me—”
“Not likely,” Caroline said. “It neither looks enjoy-able nor promising, but that’s a nice try, though.”
“Your perspective has gotten skewed,” Thomas re-plied.
“That’s certainly possible,” she said, “but I wouldn’t be so sure.”