Date Published: April 20th, 2021
Publisher: Zither Studios
A nutty religious cult abducts a herd of prime gazebos (huh?) and it’s up to bumbling P.I. Mars Candiotti to rescue them. Mars, aspiring author, chronicles his quest in Jeffrey Hanlon’s comic mystery Zither.
Guided by his magically prescient IHOP waitress, Mars strives to mitigate the shocking global consequences of the gazebo heist, even though he has no idea what the word mitigate means. Mars has five Important clues with which to solve his confounding mystery: Butterscotch, John Travolta, Trombones Venetian Blinds, and Wind Chimes.
As Zither swallows its own tale, Mars finds it increasingly tricky to distinguish between real people and his rambunctious fictional characters. Zither becomes the romper room where his reality meets fantasy – and get frisky with each other.
Using his (odd) clues, Mars’ international odyssey leads to an explosive conclusion in Panama. TVs around the world tune in to watch live coverage of “Carnage in the Canal”.
Amid the lunatic havoc that is Zither there is (of course!) an epic love story as Mars meets Marian, the brainy librarian he had dreamed of. Marian says his books are “slapstick existentialism with subjective reality couched in parable”. (This is news to Mars). But is Marian real?
Is any of it real?
“Hanlon’s humor shines bright and will leave fans of such madness wanting more.” Publishers Weekly
“This zany, rollicking mystery adventure is as compelling as it is hilarious.” Independent Book Review
Nominated for the prestigious Audie Award, Best Fiction 2021
As nightfall approached, we prepared.
Pete disguised himself as management, putting on a nice Men’s Wearhouse suit with a bleeding turnip lapel pin.
I disguised myself as Britney Spears.
At the stroke of midnight, Pete and I left his house, which is and headed for the St. Francis Yacht Club.
As contrived luck would have it, Benny Tisdale had left the cabin on his dumb boat unlocked.
In stealthy fashion, Pete and I went below.
“I’ll shine the flashlight and listen for footprints. You find the varnish,” Pete said.
It took no time at all to find Benny’s Man O’ War. Actually, it took a bit of time, but you know what I mean.
As Pete held the light, I donned my surgical gloves and placed Benny’s Man O’ War in my black op bag.
“Easy as taking candy from a drowning man,” Pete whispered.
Pete said, “It’s dark in here, Mars. If you’re going to nod, warn me so I can shine the flashlight on your head.”
“Okay, Pete. We’ll make that a new rule.”
As we prepared to exit in stealthy fashion, Pete shined his flashlight around the cabin, then said, “Mars, look at this big wooden crate.”
I looked at the wooden crate. It was big enough to hold a Barcalounger.
“I’ll bet it’s filled with ill-gotten booties,” Pete said. “Or a Barcalounger.”
He handed me the flashlight and pried open the crate’s lid with a crowbar.
It was not until some time after dark that we took courage to get up and throw the body overboard. It was then loathsome beyond expression, and so far decayed that, as Peters attempted to lift it, an entire leg came off in his grasp . . .
“Peters?” Pete said. “Do you mean Pete? Me? What body? What leg?”
“Sorry. That’s Edgar Allen Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.”
“What’s Poe doing in this chapter?”
I shined the flashlight on my shoulder and shrugged.
He snatched the light back, looked in the crate, and said, aghast, “We’ve gotta get outta here quick, Mars! This boat could blow any minute!”
I looked inside the big wooden crate.
Here is what was in there: hundreds, probably thousands, of Steven Seagal movies.
We’d be lucky to get out of there alive.
Seagal movies have a tendency to bomb.
I walked up the stairs toward the third floor Venetian Blinds section.
I heard a woman’s voice as I approached.
She spoke in dulcimer tones as enchanting as a Siren’s song. She was reading Poe.
“. . . with the bells
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night.
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens seem to twinkle . . .”
Their melody foretells! Tinkle tinkle tinkle!
Mesmerized, I followed the sound of her voice.
She stood in front of the librarian’s desk, reading to a group of schoolchildren.
She wore a Butterscotch-colored tartan plaid skirt, a white cardigan sweater over a white blouse with lacy collar, and a smart looking glengarry bonnet. And fabulously quaint reading glasses.
And get a load of this: her long auburn hair was in a single braid!
. . . as she frolics in the sapphire sea . . .
The girl in my dream!
One of the schoolchildren sneezed, and she paused her reading to reach into her pocket and retrieve a tissue for him.
Then a library janitor came up to her and whispered. She extracted a small screwdriver from her pocket and handed it to him.
I edged closer.
A co-worker approached her and asked for keys to the Rare Books Section. She pulled the keys out of her pocket.
The whole world seemed to revolve around her!
She was so well prepared!
She finished reading Poe’s “The Bells,” folded the paper, placed the poem in her pocket, and pulled out another.
I saw she had accidentally pulled something else from her pocket, and it had fallen to the floor, so I rushed to her, elbowing aside the little kids, finishing with a flourish, a nice twenty-foot Gene Kelly knee slide, the children toppling like bowling pins.
I glided to a stop and knelt at her feet.
She wore tenny-runners with ankle socks, each with a small Butterscotch-colored pom-pom sewn on.
I saw what she had dropped on the floor.
It was a wooden nickel.
I picked it up and placed it in the palm of her lovely hand.
“Thank you,” she said.
She thanked me!
I was king of the world!
And I wanted to impress her. So I picked up the little kids who were strewn across the floor.
After I’d propped the last of them up, I turned to her, and she thanked me again.
She thanked me again!
I said, “You’re welcome.”
Then I ran away, bowling over more children as I beat a hasty retreat.
I’ve never been real good with girls.
About the Author
I was born in a Southern California beach town.
My family moved to Northwest Oregon when I was 7. Or maybe when I was 8.
Had we stayed in the Beach Boys town, and knowing myself as I do now, I suspect I would have grown long hair, started a rock band, and been heavily into drugs. The rock band would probably have been pretty good. The rest of it, not so much. I’d likely have joined the ranks of those like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.
We moved to a mountaintop. The last five miles to get there were gravel. The final two miles were steep and to the end of the road.
That’s where we lived: the end of the road, 22 miles to the nearest town.
Our closest neighbor, about a mile down the road, was a hermit who lived in a shack. He had a goat. About once a month the goat would visit us. Then the hermit would show up to retrieve his goat. I think the goat liked us better than the hermit, which is why the goat kept showing up. Goats are funny animals. I think they aspire to be house pets.
And speaking of animals, we had cats. Lots and lots of cats. Because we were remote and at the end of the road, unkind people – and ‘unkind’ is the kindest description I can use here – would dump their unwanted cats on or near our property. The cats would find our house. We gave them Fancy Feast and our love, and in turn they loved us.
My childhood friends didn’t visit too often. That was at least partly because when they did show up my father would say something like this: “Great! We have a job that could use an extra hand. Won’t take more than five minutes.” Well, that five minutes usually turned into an hour or two – volunteer labor! – and that friend would seldom visit again.
So my favorite childhood playmate was a 2000 pound Hereford bull, a big boy with horns spanning three feet. I’d go out in the pasture and the bull would strike a pose not unlike what you’ve seen in the movies where the bull was ready to charge, head down, eyeing me. But he wasn’t going to charge me. He just wanted his forehead scratched. And so I would scratch his forehead. He liked that, shaking his head every so often to show his approval. Then we’d elevate to a game that the bull might have called ‘Let’s see how far we can toss this little kid!’ and I’d place my right hip against his massive head and he’d toss me into the air like a sack of flour. Over and over, farther and farther, higher and higher. I could have done that for hours – I can fly! – but after a few tosses the bull would grow bored with the game and wander off. Probably to chase some cute heifers.
The nearest library was 30 miles away, and we ventured there often. It was a majestic old building, and the Grand Room had books on all four walls with reading chairs in the center. But that was not where I wanted to be. I figured all those books were popular books or books I was supposed to read. I wanted something different, so I would enter the room with a small sign that said ‘Stacks’. It was row after narrow row after row of books, floor to ceiling, dimly lit, dusty. It was like entering a cave. Filled with treasures!
It was in those Stacks that I discovered the likes of Kerouac and Heller and Huxley and Fowles and Steinbeck and Ellison and Bradbury and Hemingway and many many others.
As Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
And those, each in their own way, was the inspiration for the first book I wrote at the age of eight or nine: ‘Pond Scum’.
It was illustrated.
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