Way back when, in the days when I was on my way to becoming the next Dennis Lehane – pause for hysterical laughter – I began shopping Northcoast Shakedown to publishers and agents. I eventually landed with a micro-press in the outer reaches of Baltimore long on ambition, short on business acumen. But before I could completely derail my career as a writer, I wanted to have a second book in the can. I came up with Bad Religion, which will be the next Nick Kepler to be rereleased. However, another story beckoned. That one was Second Hand Goods.
The title comes from a Deep Purple song, “Lady Double Dealer,” from the band’s David Coverdale era. One line goes “Ain’t satisfied/Dealin’ with second hand goods.” The title and the line prompted me to come up with a story about Nick getting tangled up with two strippers who kill the one stripper’s boyfriend and eventually frame Nick. This was one I wrote for Thrilling Detective, back when they still did fiction. Editors Kevin Burton Smith and Gerald So kicked it back and forth with me, liking the overall premise, but I couldn’t get the damn thing whittled down to less than 5000 words. So I scrapped the idea.
Or did I? I realized the actually events of the story would not be interesting, but the consequences would. Yet, that was already so out of character for Nick. The one stripper he had any involvement with by the time I wrote the novel was Gypsy, an informant who is front and center in the story “Roofies” and the novella Gypsy’s Kiss (due for rerelease later this year.) So instead, I decided to send Nick on a vacation. Boring, right?
Well, being an author, it’s my job to torture my characters. In this case, I had Nick do one last job before he left for parts unknown. That goes awry, but he manages to close up shop for the week. Or does he? Before leaving, he attends the engagement party of Jackie, the pretty prosecutor’s intern we met late in Northcoast. There, he meets Val, a beautiful Ukrainian woman whom Nick makes breakfast the following morning. So, Nick’s just hooking up and blowing town after she leaves. Right?
Wrong. She begs Nick to find her a limo owned by her boss. It all goes to hell from there. This is pretty much how I wrote for the first two or three weeks on this manuscript. Then that old stripper story came back. But again, it was out of character for Nick.
But not for Eric Teasdale. I decided the old stripper story we couldn’t make work for Thrilling Detective couldn’t work as a short but it could make for part of Nick’s backstory and spawn a new character, Eric Teasdale. Teasdale would be yet another operative for Nick, like Gypsy, Elaine, Deputy Rick Reese, or Wolf, the ex-Marine-turned-cop. It was Teasdale who got into trouble with two strippers involved in a murder, and it almost cost Nick his license. And now Teasdale was going to have to make amends by stowing Nick’s stolen limo and the dead body therein.
Teasdale himself would make a decent series character, and I may revisit him. He lives in a trailer in a fringe suburb of Cleveland, so far out you’re not really sure you’re still in a metro area. Contrary to Nick’s professional choice in car (Nick drives a 90’s era Honda Accord so boring you’d be hard-pressed to notice it if it crashed into your living room), Teasdale embraces his inner Joe Dirt. His car is a 1968 Thunderbird the Navy could use to practice carrier landings on the hood. Nick dresses boring – button-down shirts worn open over plain T’s and business casual shirts to conceal his weapon. Teasdale wears loud shirts, a straw hat, and pretty much announces his presence wherever he goes. And yet he manages to pull off surveillance and tails in his gas-sucking Detroit behemoth.
All this came together with a Russian I dubbed the Antichrist, Nikolai Karpov. Someone asked why I called him “the Antichrist” when he seemed to be a business man for whom violence was just a tool of corporate governance in the absence of legal remedies. Simple. Spouse #1 had convinced me to read the Left Behind series. (Punchline: She’s now a pagan, and I attend a church that’s not very big on End Times woo woo stuff.) I made it through three before ditching. Aside from the dialog (which is horrendous) and the rather literalist interpretation of Revelations, I really hated the series’s Antichrist, Nicholae Carpathia. I hated that a male model with a poorly thought-out name could take over the world. My favorite scene is when his own pilot punches him at the end of book 3 (which is where I bailed.) So, as a dig, I named my Russian gangster Nikolai Karpov.
Mr. Karpov is not only more believable, he’s probably less annoying, even to those he’s had killed.
I put all this together and had it ready by the time a publisher bit. (Two more weeks, and I could have let my original agent have it. Then I’d have probably gone to New York with it.) It became part of the original deal for the series and almost got released in 2006. The publisher tanked just as the ARCs were going to press.
Eventually, I released it independently. Of the two books, I actually like Second Hand better. Nick has to face some real consequences, and the sexual tension with Elaine is more palpable. Bad Religion may have been where I hit my stride as a novelist, but Second Hand Goods was the most fun to write.