Excerpt: 'Bad Things Happen' Harry Dolan's first novel, a mystery of identity, captures you early and holds onto your attention.
NPR logo Excerpt: 'Bad Things Happen'

Excerpt: 'Bad Things Happen'

Bad Things Happen
By Harry Dolan
Hardcover, 352 pages
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
List price: $24.95
Bad Things Happen

The shovel has to meet certain requirements. A pointed blade. A short handle, to make it maneuverable in a confined space. He finds what he needs in the gardening section of a vast department store.

He stows the shovel in his cart and moves unhurriedly thought the wide aisles, gathering a few more items: D-cell batteries, a bag of potting soil, a can of weed-killer. Leather work gloves, two pairs. In the grocery section he picks up four deli sandwiches wrapped in plastic and a case of bottled water.

The checkout lanes are crowded. He chooses a line and the fluorescent lights flicker overhead as he considers how he's going to pay. His wallet holds a credit card in the name of David Loogan. It's not the name he was born with, but it's what he calls himself now. He's not going to use the credit card.

He does some calculations in his head and decides he has enough cash.

The line moves and he thinks he'll get out quick and clean, but he's wrong. The cashier wants to talk.

"I think I've seen you before," she says to him.

"I doubt it."

She's tall, broad in the hips, attractive, though the stark light accentuates the lines under her eyes and around her mouth.

"You look familiar," she says.

The man who calls himself David Loogan doesn't want to be familiar. He wants to be nondescript. Unmemorable.

"Maybe I've seen you here in the store," the cashier suggests.

He offers her a lukewarm smile. "That must be it."

He busies himself loading things onto the counter. The cashier takes the shovel and holds it with the blade pointing skyward so she can scan the bar code on the handle.

"You must be a gardener," she says.

He ought to agree and leave it at that, but he gets flustered. He starts to say, "I'm an editor," but stops himself. The truth won't do. He goes with the first lie that comes into his mind.

"I'm a juggler," he says.

It's a mistake. She decides to find him charming. She smiles and sets the shovel on the end of the counter and reaches for the potting soil in a leisurely way.

"You must be very good," she says lightly. "I've never heard of anyone juggling shovels. Bout one's not enough, is it? You ought to have three."

Go with charming then. "I've already got three," he says. "Anyone can juggle three. The real trick is juggling four."

"It must be dazzling," she says. "Where do you work? Kids' birthdays?"

He waits a beat and answers in his most serious tone. "Garden parties."

"Ha. Are you sure we haven't met before?"

She's flirting, Loogan decides. He looks at her fingers as she scans the sandwiches. She's wearing a wedding ring.

"I could swear I know you," she says. "Maybe we went to school together."

"I never went," he says. "Everything I know about juggling is self taught."

"I'm serious. I think we went to high school together."

"I didn't go to high school around here."

"Well, hell, neither did I," she says. "And it's been quite a while. But you remind me of a boy in my class. I'll think of your name in a second."

She bags the gloves and the batteries together, the weed-killer separately.

"Dennis," she says suddenly, looking up at him. "Or Daniel?"

David Loogan picks up the shovel from the counter and is troubled by a momentary vision. He sees himself stabbing the blade into the base of the cashier's neck.

"Ted," he tells her. "My name is Ted Carmandy."

She smiles and shakes her head. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

She lets it go with a shrug. "Well, then I was way off, wasn't I?"

He puts the shovel in his cart, and she reads off his total and takes his money. He thinks she has turned shy on him, but she scribbles something on his receipt before she hands it over. He scans it on the way out, sees her name (Allison) and a phone number, and crumples the paper discreetly.

Out in the parking lot, Loogan adjusts the collar of his black leather coat and checks his watch. Nine-thirty on a Wednesday night in October. A mist of rain is falling and the cars in the lot glow in the yellow light of tall arc lamps.

The lamps reassure him. He is not exactly afraid of the dark, but he often feels uneasy going out after sunset. And parking lots unnerve him. The echo of footsteps in a parking lot at night can set his pulse racing.

Loogan moves steadily along a row of cars, pushing the shopping art before him. He has an uncomfortable moment when he sees a figure coming toward him. A thin man with a weathered face, hollowed eyes. A hooded sweatshirt, pants torn at the knee. Right hand resting in a pocket of the sweatshirt.

Loogan is suddenly aware of the humming of the arc lamps, the turning wheels of the cart.

You're fine, he tells himself. Nothing's going to happen.

As the thin man gets close, his hand comes out of the pocket of his sweatshirt. Loogan sees a glint of silver. Metal, the thinks. Blade. Knife.

Reflexively he reaches out to grab the thin man's writs, but he stops himself in time. The thin man flinches away from him and hurries past, clutching a silver-grey cell phone to the front of his sweatshirt. He mumbles something Loogan doesn't catch.

He's gone and it's over and Loogan comes to his car. He loads the shovel in the trunk, and the potting soil, and all the rest. He shuts the trunk and pushes the cart into an empty parking space.

The hum of the arc lamps has receded into silence. Everything is normal. David Loogan is an ordinary shopper. No one would think otherwise. He opens his car door and slides in behind the wheel. He looks nothing at all like a man heading off to dig a grave.

From Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan by arrangement with G.P. Putnam's Sons/Amy Einhorn Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright 2009 by Harry Dolan.

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