Likely Stories

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by Suzanne Barcza - Meet the author

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Ranging from barely plausible to highly improbable, these tales are meant to grip and not let go. Each touches different nerves including some you may not know you had.

In "The Short and Long of It", a predatory publishing mogul is the prey of an unlikely stalker.

"Made in Heaven" puts a novel spin on the age-old question, "What is love"?

In "Trojan Mares", housewives gang up on crime.

"Fake I.D." exposes a uniquely creative teen who is her own work of artifice.
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More about Likely Stories

     The Short and Long of It.

       Anyone who knows Raymond August Hennessy, and almost everyone does, will tell you he’s a mean s.o.b. and to watch your back. But today finds the senior editor of Hennessy Carter Wade in a magnanimous mood. Dean Baxter’s new novel, Premeditated Combustion, has just won the Gilmore Prize. It’s flying off store shelves throughout the English speaking world, translations are in the works –- French, German, Spanish, and Japanese for openers -- and HCW stocks are through the roof. An occasional twitch at one corner of his mouth is the only sign that Ray Hennessy is reveling in his triumph. Ironically, the editor is unusually hard to read.     

       A favorite media target, Hennessy’s signature deadpan expression and coldblooded business tactics garnered his other moniker, “the Snake”. Gangly, with thinning colorless hair, a beak, bulging eyes and a premature dowager’s hump, the handle favored by his intimates -- partners, associates and staff, there are no friends -- is “the vulture”. It’s so apt as to be a given, except that Hennessy preys on the living.

       Growing up, Hennessy’s looks were a source of anguish; they incited cruelty, ostracism and the resolve to show them all. Like power and wealth, the awards are accolades to the editor’s brilliance and serve to lord his titanic stature over the competition, flex and flaunt his muscle for the benefit of publishing’s glitterati. His Gilmores, Pullmans and Fanshawes are the payout on a big investment: his life. Each award brings fresh vindication and sublime revenge. They’re Hennessy’s way of giving the world the finger.     

      On their own, the grotesque demeanor and lack of empathy may have obliged Ray Hennessy to panhandle for a living. He owes his meteoric rise and iconic infamy to instincts which have proven infallible; inspire awe, envy and adjectives like uncanny and superhuman. Hennessy can pick a best-seller at a glance, turn raw talent into mega-bucks in cosmic minutes. His finger is on the public’s pulse and he seldom misses a beat. Knows not just what you want today, but can predict with eerie accuracy how trends that have yet to surface, will impact what you reach for years down the road. He’d be a publishing god if he weren’t so demonic.  If it serves his interests, nothing is so low that Hennessy won’t stoop to it. 

      Exploiting the naiveté of the ingénues has proven particularly rewarding. Instead of profound gratitude, authors and illustrators who’ve become household names under Hennessy’s tutelage, feel trapped and victimized by their contracts. They’ve invariably been duped into selling their work and souls for a small fraction of their true worth. Hennessy is well-loathed. It doesn’t stop both best-selling authors and wannabes from banging down his door.

     Although Hennessy gets offers from hopeful seductresses, there is no “casting couch” or temptation to cheat on his wife; lovemaking has lost any attraction it held for him. Painfully self-conscious, he’d always fallen short in the bedroom and for Ray, sex has never been as sexy -- as orgasmic -- as power.

      His greatest and many would argue, only virtue is that since earning the ability to throw his weight around, Ray Hennessy can’t be bought. Over the decades, the steady deluge of revenue flooding the firm and a seven figure salary, have eroded money’s allure. A reluctant socialite, Hennessy derives little satisfaction from his multiple addresses, private Leer jet and luxury cars. He’s terrified of flying, a nervous driver, and the Maserati and Lotus haven’t been seen since his chauffeur, Perkins -- a dead-ringer for Alfred Hitchcock who owes his job to being almost as unsightly as his boss -- picked them up at their respective dealerships and deposited them in the principle estate’s six car garage.

      Given the choice, Hennessy would confine himself to his office and home, spaces he dominates. When forced outside his comfort zone, although he longs for the invisibility of his Renault, Hennessy knows better than to be glimpsed in anything but the back seat of his dove grey stretch limo. That Hennessy’s appreciation for his world-class collection of paintings, acquired by experts, is limited to its’ prestige and what it will fetch, also speaks to a man deeply invested in appearances: a carefully contrived fictional character in his own story.


      In the privacy of his office, reckless with triumph, Hennessy pulls up the blind, places his hands on the floor to ceiling window behind his desk and looks down. The HCW building is the tallest business complex in the downtown core and Hennessy’s offices are in the penthouse. It’s an apt if hackneyed metaphor for the stratum he’s reached.  Virtually on top of the world, presiding from its facsimile serves as a symbol and reminder to his enemies and what he liked to think of as his minions -- authors, artists, staff, competitors and buying public -- of his sovereign power.

      Hennessy takes a measured breath. His temples throb. Determined to feel elated by the panoramic view of the city and the lake beyond, he tries to dismiss the giddiness, his buckling knees, and the growing clamor in his ears.  Damn it,  he manipulates destinies and controls the buying decisions of millions, how ironic that power over himself has proven the ultimate challenge. Unable to quell his rising panic, tune out the shrieking siren in his head, ignore the bile in his throat, the impulse to retch and the rivulets pouring down his face, flooding his eyes … shakily, Hennessy closes the blind.

      He pours a shot of brandy and downs it. Mustering control over his hands , Hennessy adjusts his tie in the mirror-wall adjacent to the monstrous stainless steel desk and wills himself to resume gloating. He’s at the summit looking down on the rest of the pack. What a view!

      Buzzing his secretary, he chortles, “Alright Carla. He’s persistent, I’ll give him that, and the lesson of his life. Send him up.” Rubbing his hands together, freeing his face to contort with gleeful anticipation, Hennessy addresses his reflection, “Ahh, like a divine mousse after a succulent steak: nothing like a little cat and mouse to wrap up a great day!”

       Ray Hennessy has long accepted the isolation at the pinnacle of the food chain. It’s lonely at the top but lucky for him, the company he most enjoys is his own. Taking a last look in the mirror, the editor mentally pats himself on the back. Good looks are fleeting, love, over-rated. Who needs them? His wallow in arrogance building to a crescendo, Hennessy crows to himself and the crowd of books, “If you have the balls to approach the most successful publishing house in the western world, you better be prepared to lose them…”

        Interrupted by a knock, he turns to greet the arrival, and finds he can’t. Hennessy’s neurotransmitters have abruptly gone AWOL; his mind has virtually shut down. Carla hadn’t prepared him for what stood in the doorway. Nothing could.  Hennessy’s gaze careens then plunges like a broken elevator from its habitual three-quarters of the way up the doorframe to inches from the ground. Instinctively, he tries adjusting his glasses but it doesn’t help. The man approaching his desk, hand outstretched, is just short of two feet tall. But it’s not just his size that prompts pandemonium. Orpheus Murdoch is clearly not a midget, but rather, a miniature; a walking, talking Royal Doulton figurine. The charming boyish face is ringed in chestnut curls. Beneath the arched brows, thick dark lashes and behind the round gold-rimmed specs, are the sharpest, bluest eyes Hennessy can recall. The mustache under the small, elegant nose, looks out of place and odd,  as if sculpted from burnt orange wax.       

      It occurs to Hennessy that he’s been working too hard.  The “hallucination” comes complete with coattails, a tartan vest, ascot, hanky in the breast pocket and a gold watch dangling from a pocket of ten inch long pinstripe pants. Hennessy notes the high-heeled boots which add an extra two inches to Murdoch’s height, if you can call it that.     

      A surprisingly deep, compelling voice announces, “Ahh, Mr. Hennessy, face to face at last . Orpheus Murdoch. Sir, you honor me with your precious time."

     For once, the editor is speechless, draws a complete blank. Incredulous, he peers mechanically over his desk for a better look. His dropped jaw appears to have a broken hinge.

      Ray Hennessy has always relished the spectacle of the rookies pissing themselves in his presence. The last thing he wants is to put his quarry at ease. He needs them off-balance, at his mercy, grateful for crumbs. He prefers not to send the standard form rejection letter, likes to reveal his decision face to face, one on one, no agents or attorneys present. Employing his gift for setting and mood, Hennessy cunningly simulates the high-stakes, nail-biting tension of the court-room to maximize suspense and his prospect’s angst. The formidable steel desk is meant to amplify -- compensate for -– the physically underwhelming editor. His chair is a virtual throne, often glaringly back-lit to present Hennessy as an ominous silhouette, unnerving visitors and ensuring his scrutiny is one-sided.  Strictly for the initiated, the cream kid-leather armchairs are pointedly out of reach and supplicants are obliged to sit blindly in the spotlight, on a basic wood chair in the middle of the cavernous office. It gives Hennessy time to hit the buzzer and move out of reach on those occasions when he’s gone too far. The novices are either like ice sculptures, frozen in their seat, or fidget nervously. Collars become tight and their breathing, labored. Handshakes are overly vigorous or clammy and limp with trepidation.  The novel or portfolio is the author or artist. It’s the measure of their talent and future, the culmination of a lifetime spent honing their craft. With a nod or a no, Hennessy brings down the gavel; realizes dreams or extinguishes hopes. To milk his almost divine power, he routinely baits the discards, flatters them into believing a contract is imminent, then stuns them with an ice-cold rejection that leaves them reeling. He deliberately, ingeniously ensnares, experimenting with and refining his trapping techniques. It’s the thrill of the chase without all the nasty, physical bits. Hennessy finds it intoxicating.

      But now, the pragmatic publishing mogul whose life’s blood is fiction, is confronted by a storybook character – a fantasy, a contrivance, a lie – which, au contraire, incredibly, impossibly exists. He’s seeing and not believing the walking, talking and uniquely self-possessed figment of a beleaguered imagination calling itself Orpheus Murdoch, who is clearly very much alive. This time, the beads of cold sweat are the judge’s. The predator finds himself cornered by his prey, bewildered, frightened out of his wits and desperate to escape.

       In stark contrast, Murdoch appears unruffled and right at home.  Looking up into the glazed eyes, noting the editor’s panic, the doll-like face creases in a beatific smile. His hand is the size of a baby’s yet its grip when he shakes Hennessy’s, is beyond firm, almost vice-like.

      Ray Hennessy knows the difference between bluster and confidence; Murdoch’s easy self-assurance is the real thing. With what's left of his reason, he instinctively sizes up his adversary and fellow freak of nature: Murdoch is as endearing -- as adorable -- as Hennessy is repulsive. His voice has an imposing resonance while Hennessy’s is nasal and shrill. Unlike the editor, the little man is impervious to the impact of his appearance. There’s no question who has the upper hand.

      Hoisting the black portfolio onto Hennessy’s monstrous desk, Murdoch cuts to the chase,“Well, Sir, I won’t keep you waiting.”

     “Yes, right. Sorry about that. It’s been more than a little crazy ‘round here, what with the Gilmore …,” Hennessy is aware he’s rambling, but can’t help himself. Opening the portfolio, he feels like a freshly caught fish flopping on deck. Fumbling, Hennessy’s hand manages to extract a drawing.  His eyes almost leave their sockets.  The editor is nothing if not shrewd. Normally he’d look skeptical. Say things like. “There may be something here”, “In any event, I do like your spirit”, or “Oh, why not. Let’s give it a go,” as though bestowing a favor out of the goodness of his heart. In fact, Ray’s heart is no good at all. A pacemaker was installed in his chest a little over a year ago.

        But the realism of the illustration he’s confronting,  is nothing short of mind-blowing. It depicts a young boy kneeling at the end of his bed with his hands over his mouth, his horrified gaze, directed at what looks like a ball under the carpet.  The rug’s pattern is as vivid as the one Hennessy is standing on.  Instinctively reaching out to touch the paper’s brushed surface, he feels the round shape move. He yanks his hand back as though he’d been burned. As he watches, belief suspended, the ball begins to grow. It thickens, uncoils and elongates. In seconds, the outline is unmistakable.

      The boy in the illustration backs up to the wall at the head of the bed. His hands are unable to suppress the scream. It reverberates against Hennessy’s eardrums and its concentrated terror is infectious. Within the lifelike picture, a terrible pattern of huge, undulating waves form in the carpet as the giant snake beneath, weaves across the floor.      

     The caption beneath the picture reads, “Two weeks passed and it happened again.”

       “Ooohhh myyy gaaawww…,” Hennessy screams.  Dropping the portfolio, he tumbles backward, auspiciously landing in his chair. Like the boy, one hand is over his mouth. The other flails at the end of his left arm before landing on the spot in his chest where his inept heart and its false sidekick reside.

      Orpheus Murdoch has disappeared as if he’d evaporated. His portfolio is still on the floor.


     Hearing the groans and strangled breathing, Carla enters and rushes to his side, “Ray! Here! Swallow them!” she orders.  Putting his pills in his mouth, she raises the glass of water to his lips.       

       At his current heart rate, Hennessy’s pacemaker can barely keep up. His right hand replaces his left on his chest. “ my safe. P… p … put it away…”  Struggling to catch his breath, Hennessy gestures weakly in the portfolio’s direction. 

       The next day, Dominic Tortone’s Mafia expose, “Hit Records”, reaches the top of the best-seller list. At the board meeting, a beaming Dick Wade raises a glass of bubbly, “To the HCW team and our hit record. Keep knocking them out of the park, people!”

       Hennessy Carter Wade is in every critic’s column in every paper and magazine across the country. They’re the house on every acclaimed author’s mind and on the terse lips of the competition. Hiring, restructuring, a barrage of media interviews, book tours, everyone at HCW is crazy busy. Ray Hennessy is pretty much living at the office, often just catching some shut-eye on his couch or at his desk.

        At first Hennessy had to resist the impulse to take a second look, confirm he hadn‘t been dreaming. Fortunately, a few furtive glances in the safe’s direction are really all he’s had time for.

      As HCW’s helmsman, being distracted is the one luxury Hennessy can’t afford. He does as circumstances and reason advise; he forces Orpheus Murdoch and his moving, screaming illustration from his conscious mind, completely blanks them out.

      After decades of pampering, Hennessy’s Id is suddenly being martialed for a Titan’s task: to wrestle his prodigious Ego in order to deny an unthinkable truth. Grappling, they smash the pristine labyrinth of barriers and beliefs the editor has painstakingly constructed over a lifetime. The upheaval is massive. When it’s over, triumphant Id looms over the battleground of Hennessy’s murky past like the green giant’s alter ego, the spectre of a colossal amorphous swamp creature.  Not up to erecting the complex system of blockades needed to suppress the unforgettable, Id lumbers through the ruins of Hennessy’s psyche, propping up fragments and randomly spewing a slimy, makeshift camouflage that affords the editor a flimsy reprieve. Hennessy’s lulled into thinking it’s business as usual.               

      As far back as he can remember, both of Hennessy’s eyes have been glued to the future. They’ve never blinked or wavered. Years of 80 hour work weeks, teeth-and-fist-clenched resolve, strategizing and ass-kissing, he’s given his all. Now, before the battle fatigue can be put to rest and he can revel in his prize, a single, impossible encounter and event wreak havoc on his mind and life.


      This evening, everyone including Carla, left hours ago. Hennessey’s wife is fed up; he’s exhausted, resolves to go home. Standing, he’s wearily putting documents in his briefcase when out of the corner of his eye, he notices a small tight ball under the carpet. It begins to uncoil. Raymond Hennessy gasps in horror, then for air.  He picks up the heavy steel chair and heaves it with every ounce of his meager strength successfully shattering  the blind, the panoramic view through the glass wall and the ticker in his chest; it is simply not up to the challenge. With his final gasp, Hennessy attempts to kick the gigantic, unfurling spiral out the broken window.

      By the time he hits the sidewalk in front of the HCW tower in a spectacular shower of glass, Hennessy is already dead. It’s been two weeks since he was smitten with Orpheus Murdoch’s art. The media was all over the story.


     It isn’t until after the funeral that Carla opens the safe. She pulls out the portfolio and glances inside. The sight that greets her has quite the impact. Gasping, she gingerly yanks the top sheet from its clear, plastic sleeve and lets it fall. The illustration wafts and settles face up on the desk next to a series of framed photos of the legendary editor, consistently stone-faced, holding awards aloft. 

    A remarkably lifelike rendering, it depicts Ray Hennessy wild-eyed with terror. Armed with a chair, he appears to be trying to fend off what looks like a ball under the carpet.  The caption beneath reads, "The end."






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Comments from the litbrowser community

  • dmiasek

    Hey Suzanne, I'm liking the seat. Nice setup!

  • dmiasek

    Hey Suzanne, I'm liking the seat. Nice setup!

  • dmiasek

    Hey Suzanne, I'm liking the seat. Nice setup!

  • dmiasek

    Hey Suzanne, I'm liking the seat. Nice setup!

  • dmiasek

    Hey Suzanne, I'm liking the seat. Nice setup!