The only piece of fiction that he wrote that was published during Gary Reilly’s lifetime was a short story in 1978.
“The Biography Man” was published by the Iowa Writers Review and later picked up by the Pushcart Prize Anthology (1979). From that point until his death in 2011, Gary wrote 25 novels. None made it to print.
Since 2011, Running Meter Press has published seven of his novels. Six are from his series of comic novels about a Denver taxi cab driver. The seventh is the first of the novels Gary wrote around his experiences during the Vietnam War. There are many more to come.
Mark Stevens, who was behind the effort to public Reilly’s work, writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series, five novels that feature the Flat Tops Wilderness Area and surrounding communities of Glenwood Springs and Meeker.
Mark is former Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year and is president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter for Mystery Writers of America.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
Colorado Book Awards finalist for Thriller
I walked into the bar. The door thumped at my back, folding the fan of white light that was blinding the patrons. I couldn’t see. This was how it always was. A return to the womb, to the last moment in time when you left this place or places like this.
The clock stops and the outside world ceases to exist, a liquor industry tactic going back to the invention of refuges, haunts, drinking establishments in every country, like the language of music, universal.
I paused to let my eyes again adjust to the darkness, seeing the colored lights emerging like rare, luminous, aquatic creatures. There were no other customers in the bar. I crossed the room and smiled at the bartender as I slipped onto the stool.
“Mr. Larkey,” he said, nodding at me.
I nodded back. I knew his name was Rudy but I never called him by his first name. I was not that sort. I did not glad hand people, speak their names, cry out like drunks in the night, “Hey, Rudy, my glass is empty again!”
“What’ll it be?” he said.
I glanced at Morton’s stool. If Morton wasn’t on the premises I didn’t want to get into a conversation with Rudy. So instead of a beer I asked for a shot of bar liquor, make it a quick one, cut the potential conversation short and get out. There was a dancing grace to the way he poured, the manner by which he brought an abrupt halt to the spill of liquor, raising it at the precise moment to keep the liquid from topping the lip of the rim. Give the customer an honest pour.
“Did you get the word?” he said as he capped the bottle.
I glanced at him with my eyebrows raised.
He turned away and set the bottle on the counter in front of the wall mirror, then turned back. “Morton was hit by a car in front of his house.”
My blood turned to ice.
“When did this happen?”
“Couple hours ago. I got a call from the police. Said they would be coming by to ask me a few questions. They want to know where he was and what he was doing before the accident. He talked to them at County General and said he had been here at the Lemon Tree.”
The police were coming here.
I didn’t know what to do. Make a polite show of inquiring into Morton’s health, or get the hell out. I had told Officer Wilson I was taking a taxi home, and now here I was, after being arrested for drunk driving and having my blood alcohol content checked by a Breathalyzer, sipping scotch in a local dive. Fear gripped my heart.
“This is terrible,” I said.
I could not slide off the barstool and make a run for the door. There was a full drink in front of me. It was ringing like a bell. I answered it, drank it off.
“My God,” I said. “Morton. Maybe I ought to run over to the hospital and see him.”
“Might cheer him up,” Rudy said. He was already polishing a beer glass.
“Thanks for the information,” I said. “My God. Morton. I hate to make this a quick one, Rudy, but I want to get to the hospital.”
Did I see a flicker in his eye, a questioning? Did he find it odd that I referred to him by his first name for the first time ever? The look in his eye was like the look in the eye of a cop when you say something that may or may not be true. Slitted. He wasn’t smiling, but there was nothing to smile about. His best customer was flat on his back in the ICU.
“Give him my regards,” Rudy said as I laid a couple bucks on the bar and began my slide off the stool.
I was terrified that the front door would open spraying blinding light into the joint like a searchlight scanning the wide earth for yours truly.
I stepped outside. The parking lot was deserted. No cars anywhere, no police vehicle coming toward the bar. I looked across the road where the field began that led toward the distant strip of Hawthorne Drive and wondered how Morton had gotten from the bar to his house. He could not walk well. Had he taken a cab? But this was a fleeting thought. I turned to my left and began walking in the direction of Apex Auto Parts. As I put distance between myself and the Lemon Tree I felt a lessening of the connection between myself and the bar.
Should Officer Wilson suddenly pull into the lot he would have no way of knowing I had just left the lounge. The farther away I got, the less connected I felt, as if guilt was being assuaged. I would appear to be an ordinary pedestrian strolling along the sunblasted sidewalk, although I will admit that I was moving faster than a stroll. I had the urge to duck into Apex and watch for the police car to pull into the parking lot, to see if Wilson were still on the job, to wait until he went inside, then duck out and hurry home.
As I passed the picture-window I saw the same clerk leaning into his computer, toying with stock numbers, prices. What would he make of my second appearance? I had not bought anything the first time I was there. His store was like a revolving door. I would feel obligated to say something to explain my reappearance, my inexplicable wanderings.
I took a chance and bypassed Apex, continued on to the end of the sidewalk, and stepped down to the asphalt where, at any moment, Wilson might pull in and wonder what I was doing at the strip mall when theoretically I was at home. I crossed the asphalt lot to the street and began heading south, feeling myself becoming disconnected from the strip-mall itself. Should Wilson come along, he would have no way of knowing that I had been there. Then I realized Rudy might reveal the fact that I had come in for a quick snort. The police were tracking Morton’s moves. Rudy might casually mention that I had been inside his establishment at nine thirty and that I had come back during the past fifteen minutes. I looked at my watch. It was a few minutes before one. As I crossed to the far side of the boulevard that would take me back to my house I tried to gauge the implications of this possibility.
“Mr. Larkey was just in here?” Wilson might say.
“That’s correct, Officer,” Rudy might reply as he worked a gleam into another empty glass.
“Strange,” Wilson might say. “I would have expected Pete Larkey to be at home by now.”
But would he really say that? Close to the vest, that’s how lawmen play it. He might not say anything at all to Rudy, just gather the facts and sort them out later, not unlike I was doing as I hiked down the empty country road with a frown on my face battling the blazing sunlight. Pete Larkey had been picked up on suspicion of hit-and-run and was subsequently arrested on suspicion of drunk driving—and less than a half hour after being released on his own recognizance he was downing a shot of scotch in a bar. Wilson would ponder these facts and fabricate conclusions.
Was Pete Larkey a chronic lush oblivious to the unwritten code of civilized behavior? Something new to add to my wish list: I wished I had not gone back to the Lemon Tree. But I had been motivated by lonesome fear, a victim of bewildering circumstance, I wanted to connect with someone, tell my tale, diffuse the vile emotions that come from false accusation, and garner absolution’s little brother: reassurance. Morton would have sympathized. People who are made privy to stories of injustice are thrilled and honored to hear the inside scoop, the lowdown, delighted to play the role of a juror asked to sort out and pass judgment on stated facts. They tend to take the side of the speaker. But Morton was the victim here. How did he come to be struck down by my car?
My frown grew deeper as I hiked along the road, glancing back surreptitiously to see if a police car might be silently racing toward me from the mall. Perhaps Morton had seen my car coming along Hawthorne Drive and recognized it, waved at the driver whom he thought was me, even stepped off the curb to flag me down. Perhaps he had crossed toward the middle of the road expecting me to stop, only to be struck by the headlight, the driver surprised at the sudden appearance of a man on the asphalt. Car-thievery aside, is this not how most accidents occur? Drivers do not run people down, they are taken by surprise, children chasing balls bouncing into the street, distracted joggers loping between parked cars, the elderly misjudging their ability to expeditiously cross an intersection. The newspapers are filled with redundant quotes: “He ran right in front of me—I didn’t even have time to hit the brakes.”
I glanced back at the wide sweep of the bare landscape bisected by the road. No traffic. I looked toward my house. I was three blocks away, although there are no blocks out where I live. One long uninterrupted strip of asphalt with inexplicable gentle sweeping curves meandering across the fallow countryside toward the woods behind my house. I wanted to get inside as quickly as possible, climb into bed, pull the covers over my head, and block out the harsh light of day and the thoughts ricocheting around inside my skull, half fact and half surmise laminated with shock and fear.
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