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Scrap Paper Review
Issue #50
January, 2002

2002 A.D. Sullivan
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At the Crucial Hour 
Defining the Circle 
Naked and scared 
Smoke over Hoboken 
The Veteran 
Nothing but fat cats 

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At the Crucial Hour

Quiet! Do not disturb
the air Your noisy jostling
is hardly fitting for this night
through which we wait

To hear the sound sent
from the tallest scent of smoke
for we would hear the high
clean trumpet thrilling
its perennial message to us

Look at all the stars
assembled in silence, waiting
for what will not raise
the slightest tremor in our ears.

The stars are all forgathered
on this midnight, gleaming.
It will come, piercing
like the sharpest of needles.

Listen at this crucial hour!

by Barbara A. Holland

Table of Contents* * *

Defining the Circle
by Larry Greene

Despite this book being two decades old, it still says it all about our society. Sex and violence are the essential elements of modern life. This, at least, is what you would conclude from any close reading of the New York Times best seller list. Nearly all the best selling writers make their living from it: Sanders, King, Ludlum, and -- Steven Shagan with his book, "The Circle."

Shagan uses a tried and true method to lure the public in, peppering his fiction with factual details so as to give his store credibility.

Like the Ludlum classic "The Chancellor Manuscript," "The Circle" uses the late Edgar Hoover's notorious FBI files as a focus for intrigue, claming that there was some connection between the deceased FBI child and the up and down political disasters in Korea. The book successfully uses sex and violence, it simply lacks a credible plot.

The chief character, an assistant attorney general named Riker, is obsessed with proving that a certain Korean cult leader named Rhee (call him Moon if you like he hardly disguises the real person) is actually an agent for the Korean version of the CIA. Riker gets aid from odd corners: government conspirators, crazy Korean leadership and -- if you believe it -- the Mob.

As the story unfolds, a missing and extremely sensitive file from Hoover's collection becomes the bait used to over throw one of America's key security bosses. The leader of South Korea plots his moves, playing games with the varied people involved, watching each character add to the tapestry of mystery and suspense.

Except that there is no real mystery or suspense. No clever detective work. What carries the reader on, turning pages, is sex and violence. Even Riker, who ought to deserve some sympathy and has credentials to become a first class hero, gets lost in the shuffle of event. Characters such as a Korean prostitute (as well as spy) begs for additional development. But as is, lacks depth enough for any reader to believe.

Worse still is the connection between the underworld and the secret services, and the author's attempt to make a moral comparison between the two. His lack of focus loses the point for him.

Like Ludlum's heroes, the main character in this book faces forces over which he has no control. Unlike Ludlum's heroes, Riker never manages to rise above his obstacles and take control. We are told, of course, how honest Riker is, how clever, but in the limited glimpses we get of him, we find him so under developed he can't take shape as a hero.

"The Circle" works like television melodrama, carrying you on from scent to see by laying out a bigger than life episode in which a mad Korean leader threatens to turn the whole world Oriental. In spite of the complexity of threads, the book never comes together, the threads never find that point in which they actually connect. From beginning to end, Shagan abuses us with mass slaughter and wholesale killing. Some characters grow confusing because of their similarities. This is particularly true of the female characters. Reading this, you ache for the author to provide you with a damsel in distress and a hero capable of rescuing her. You get neither.

What you do get is a second rate Ludlum novel, spiced up with sex and violence, which is supposed to substitute for plot and character. If you really have to read this kind of novel, go find Ludlum and leave this one on the shelf. If you all you want is sex and violence, go rent a DVD.

Table of Contents* * *

Naked and scared

small vietnamese voice coming
out of my dusty bedroom tape player
the one your bought me at bj's long
time ago

yesterday it was you loved me here
and you were naked and we were sacred
in a profane world bent on making
more money than anyone could ever

little vietnamese voice of 17 year
old trish thuy trang sings your
love a thin voice in thick america
pho and mien and red peppers that
burned my mouth so badly all my
teeth ached at once

but i laughed you laughed the
boys laughed because we had found
happiness the secret of happiness
in this little crowded garage apartment
not five blocks from the atlantic

it was all so long ago when
america was only preparing for
the war it now so bloodily wages
and when america was preparing
to puts its citizens, its lovers
and poets and postmen and post
women in harm's way

it was a long time ago when
you and i found the answer
to life's ridiculous questions
in a small love lost in
a big place.

saturday morning

by Rich Quatrone

Table of Contents* * *

Smoke over Hoboken
by A.D. Sullivan

For the first time, you can smell the smoke in Hoboken as the wind shift from East to West, gray plumes already more than a week old, floating over the choppy Hudson River as if the river itself was on fire rather than the roots of the former World Trade Center.

The gray creeps into River Street doorways like the FBI, probing each consciousness, testing each person's endurance. The formerly clear tops of the financial center -- that series of pyramids I had always thought of when envisioning New York -- now suffer the same fate at the Woolworth and other building had along the East River side of the disaster when the wind blue East -- The heads of buildings buried in those dismal clouds like mountain tops. Newspaper helicopters buzz around them like curious mosquitoes, intent upon capturing new angles of personal misery not yet displayed on the front pages of tabloids or the evening news.

If there are office workers in any of the surviving buildings, the change of wind can hardly give them solace, each soul having already enduring the terror of the assault on the giant towers, each soul condemned to suffer through the labor of recovery, too close to the pit into which the World Trade Centers fell.

Along the river side from Battery Park City to 14th Street, police cars and fire trucks flash their lights, a line of defense against attack, not from the sky, but from New Jersey, as if we on this side planned some new invasion, each of our commandos arising out of the water with video cams and flash cameras -- we, who slow for every roadside disaster, mesmerized by the greatest civilian disasters in American history. Ferry riders gawk, but so do the tourists, each wishing for a glimpse of blood denied them by the television cameras.

The American hunger for blood disturbs me, and the flag waiving IO so welcomed a week ago now seems utterly perverse, full of righteousness and rage, not so much aimed at the villains that performed this horrible attack, but at anyone different from us. Those bearing the biggest flags seem full of the same unbearable passion for violence as those who attacked, not vengeful over those who had died here, but using this disaster as an excuse to commit violence -- as if they had held their breath for years waiting for such an opportunity.

A strange dichotomy has come over our nation with former cold Wall Streeters suddenly seeming more human, while the harsh macho-inlanders -- least touched personally by the disaster -- wear the stars and stripes like a uniform, determined to annihilate everything they were previously to wary to hunt as targets, mistaking Indians, Turks and Servians for their enemy.

Perhaps even they use this disaster as an excuse to hurt what they've always secretly hated, now waving a flat as an excuse, beating people in the name of patriotism.

Table of Contents* * *

It's all over
The Veteran

No feast in the midst of famine,
he was a stretcher-bearer,
carried the wounded in World War I
and has lived the mayor portion
of his life wanting to die
asking God to take him every night
because his nerves were so bad
the woman he loved wouldn't marry him.

The housekeeper shot his brother
ten times with his own rifle.
He didn't know enough to behave himself
A school kids found him
on a back road near the mill
and their mother spent their last days
stabbed in the check with pleurisy,
unable to take care of herself
and nothing to live for
until she ran out of red blood cells.

They're all dead now
and he can't understand
these people lying on the floor
talking out of their heads.
Why don't they get up
and whip the other side,
conquer them, make them surrender
like at Yorktown and Appomattox?

I will not let him hit me
or anyone else if I can help it
and I will not let him tear up
the furniture or knock the door down
so all of us can get out
and save the State a lot of money.
At the end of the hassle, he weeps,
the old must die, the young may.
All I have to give him is a tissue

by Juanita Tobin

Table of Contents* * *

Nothing but fat cats
by Dan Newhaul

People kept saying Rick Heller was a bad sort, one of those creepy little men who thought they could buck the Empire with a reign of petty crime.

Indeed, Heller did a lot of bad things, and in fact, few men could equal his meanness.

You could tell how mean he was from his face, the way the muscles tightened around the neck, and from his eyes that seemed to say he hated you the minute you said "Hello."

He had hard icy eyes, grayish in color, though his interplanet passport mistakenly called them "Blue."

Most people who have had dealings with him came away with the impression that he was crazy, though a doctor might better have described him as a soci-path, that kind of fellow who never bothered developing a conscience, and thus never worried about other people's feelings when he did business with them.

He'd as soon as cut your throat as become your partner, and thought he made a lot of money for a lot of people, most of those with whom he dealt, never dealt with him twice, counting themselves lucky at having survived their first effort.

Even then, he cheated people, from the sharpest of business people to the weakest of widows.

"It's my nature," he told me once. "I've got to do to folks before they get a chance to do something to me."

He told me he learned it all as a kid.

We spent some times together at his final home in Quarry Prison where most people figured he would spend the rest of his life. I wasn't so sure. Nor did I understand just why he had started talking to me, saying things he'd refused to say to any of the prison psychologists.

I know some inmates got close to their guards over time, but we'd just met and he just starting spilling everything, as if he didn't figure on living long caged up and needed someone to tell it all to before he went crazy.

I didn't see him as crazy, the way many others did. But I did acknowledge his being mean, but a mean man is still a man, and sometimes I felt sorry for him. You can't get around knowing somebody like him, or thinking about his dying.

You begin to think too much and wonder if the punishment really fit the crimes.

From his talk, I gathered Heller had shot a lot of people over his long career, and for a lot of reasons. He killed some people, he said, to keep them quiet. He killed others, for revenge.

"But I never killed nobody for no reason," he told me. "Not the way other folks do."

We sometimes played gin together before his scheduled execution, and he never cheated me once.

When I asked him about this, he just laughed and said: "I don't cheat nobody unless I got a good reason. It don't pay. You get into the habit and you forget just what it is you wanted to do."

When I asked him what it was he wanted to do, his hard eyes would glaze over a little, and he would give me a shrug. "I guess I just wanted to be free," he said. "My pop was a drunk, mean as a brick, but never so mean I didn't love him. I cursed him plenty when he beat me up, but that didn't make me want to kill him or nothing. I just kept dreaming of a time I could get away. Hell, he even told me he was toughening me up, saying that if I ever expected to make it in the universe I was going to have to handle men meaner than him, and he was right."

Heller told me that he had hopped a space trader to get away.

"You know the kind I'm talking about, one of those rust buckets that shifts from planet to planet, collecting junk one place to sell it for cash someplace else," he said. "It's harder work than people give credit, like trash collectors on old Earth, taking up things people don't want, cleaning them up so other people will want them."

But Heller exceeded at his trade, eventually going from a stowaway to the ship's owner with intermittent steps about which I didn't ask for details.

We were three days away from his execution, and Heller seemed in a rush to tell me it all-even in an abridged version. "Local officials and business folks started siding against me," he said. "They complained about me cutting into their profits. It seems they had a monopoly on some of the things I sold and didn't like me sliding in under them with better deals than they were willing to offer. Hell, they called me a thief when even I could see how bad they were ripping off their own folks, pretending they were being so honest and upright, yet doing everything to squeeze empty the pockets of anyone doing business with them. I wasn't no sweetheart, and I didn't sell low because I loved people or nothing. But a lot of those people reminded me of where I'd come from and I sort of took some pleasure in selling under those rich and righteous folks."

Heller found himself jailed often, and the contents of his ship confiscated.

"The sons of bitches would sell my stuff, saying it was so I could make bail," he said. "Then they would send me on my way with just enough fuel and food and oxygen to get me to the next system, where I would do some deals to get myself started again, only to have it happen to me again when I got enough to make a profit."

Heller said they treated him "like a crook" for so long, he got to thinking he might as well be one.

"I'd make more money that way and not have to live hand to mouth each time they let me out of jail again," he said. "I wasn't looking to hurt nobody small. I wasn't going to squeeze the pockets of people who couldn't afford it. I just wanted to get even with those rich bastards who were doing all the squeezing, and that's what I did."

Heller started small. He didn't even kill anybody right away, not until the rich people struck back, and he found himself forced to put them out of the way.

Part of it was the nature of the business in which he was suddenly immersed. Because of the nature of supply and demand, he knew he could make more money by supplying those things most desired in every system: drugs, women, alcohol.

"Folks want what they can't have," he told me, his tongue loosened a little by the whisky I had snuck in for him. "And rich folks only make things illegal for two reasons. If they can't control the source so they can make money off the deal, they pass a law against it. Back on Old Earth, marijuana was banned, not because it hurt anybody, but because the alcohol industry couldn't control it the way they could moonshiners. The more popular the stuff became, the more the government cracked down, supposedly acting in the public good."

"And what's the second reason something would be made illegal?" I asked.

Heller laughed. "That one's easy," he said. "It's when the rich folks have a lot of their own money invested in the stuff and want to see the price go up. It's when the little guy gets in and starts undercutting the market, that this game goes haywire, and why I'm sitting here on Death Row now. It's the same reason they used to put me in jail when I was dealing junk. They didn't want me messing up with their deal. They wanted to squeeze out the money from poor people all for themselves. Only now, instead of shipping me off to some new planet system, they're shipping me off to the grave. They know if they don't kill me, I'll be back in business within a year."

"You don't think all the killing you did has anything to do with it?" I asked.

"Na, that's just the excuse."

Later, only hours before the time he was scheduled to die, I sat with him again. His face was red. I had supplied him with enough whiskey to help ease the anxiety and he had fully taken advantage of the offer. He looked young again, the lines around his eyes and mouth easing. Only his eyes showed the pain and fear of what was to come, not fear of death so much, but what lay beyond death. He didn't like the idea of not knowing what to expect.

"You know," he said. "This is really sad, them wanting to kill me."

"Why's that."

"They accuse me of killing people without feeling, and maybe I did, and maybe some of my reasons were bad. But over all, I didn't mean to hurt nobody. In fact, if you look at it, I was always trying to help the little guy, the guys I'd seen that reminded me of pop, but no one would let me, and no one's letting me help anybody now."

Several hours later, Heller was dead, and while I didn't agree with his last sentiments, I thought about them a lot, wondering if truth wasn't somewhere down deep in his words, only slightly distorted.

Table of Contents* * *

Copyright 2002 A.D. Sullivan
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