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||Frederick Lee Brooke
||Apr 29, 2011
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An absurd journey into the heart of modern corporate lunacy, Doing Max Vinyl features a businessman who runs afoul of his environmentalist girlfriend, his scorned ex-wife, and a host of other wild characters who join the fray in a series of hysterical hijinks and dubious double-crosses.
Max Vinyl rose from meager circumstances to run a highly profitable computer recycling company along the shores of Lake Michigan. But when his girlfriend discovers his dirty little secret, she sets off a series of increasingly insane events that escalate to include an Iraqi War vet in search of a new calling, thugs in search of a payday, and one explosive aquatic escape. Loaded with strong women and fallible heroes, Frederick Lee Brooke’s farce full of hysterics and wholehearted chicanery is as funny and addictive as it is uproarious and entertaining.
Some people believe the water beneath the waves of Lake Michigan is crystal clear down to the bottom. This couldn’t be further from the truth -- at least not since Max Vinyl entered the computer recycling racket. Since then, the lake has become his own personal profit center. But when Tris, his environmentalist girlfriend and receptionist, finds out his dirty secret, all hell breaks loose at work and at home as he discovers Tris’ extremely combustible—and creative—violent side.
Iraq War veteran Annie Ogden has struggled for three depression-filled months in a forest preserve cabin since returning from the Middle East. When two of Max Vinyl's thugs threaten her sister, Annie gets dragged into his corrupt world, giving her life purpose. And for Max, that’s a big problem. Will Max Vinyl hold up under the coordinated attacks of two angry women? And will Annie find the inner peace that has escaped her so far? As things spin out of control it’s all Max can do to stay one step ahead—until his life hangs precariously in the balance!
An absurd journey into the heart of modern corporate lunacy, Brooke’s first installment of the Annie Ogden mysteries is an incisive examination of greed and disconnection. Having received multiple four and five-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.com, Doing Max Vinyl: An Annie Ogden Mystery is loaded with razor-sharp dialogue, ingenious plotting—and so much fun it should be illegal!
The thick express envelope fought against Max Vinyl’s fingers. The waybill had Tris’s name on it. It was covered with plastic that his letter opener couldn’t cut through. It didn’t want to be opened. Why did they make these things so hard to open? It didn’t help that he was trembling uncontrollably, like a man with a palsy.
Was this her apology, at last? After last night’s vicious attack, he certainly had an explanation coming.
He took a pair of scissors to one end of the envelope. Peeking inside, he saw it contained some sort of material. He tugged at one corner. Were these . . . briefs? Bits of colored material all bunched together spilled out onto the desk. It was like they were cut up . . . could these be his briefs? Could he have cut into them when he opened the envelope? He unfolded a pair of navy blue Calvin Kleins.
At the very sight, something heavy sank in his gut. There was no accident. The crotch had been scissored out carefully from each pair of briefs, seven in all, leaving a gaping hole in the part that normally cradled his own personal crown jewels. Seven iterations of sick, man-loathing madness, seven 100% cotton reminders of the same insidious message: no more sweet pussy for you, asshole.
He dumped the rest of the contents on his desk. The jumble of material and threads and pieces reminded him of one time when he had upset his Aunt Greta's sewing basket. When he laid them all out on his desk, it became clear that all the briefs were cut up in the same bizarre manner. It was like Tris had done a job on his manhood.
An envelope lay buried in the mess, a small pink envelope, not sealed. So there was a letter. Out of habit he sniffed. Her perfume. He inhaled deeply, savoring the memory. Passion, by Chanel. Unbelievable, he thought. The stuff we did. The trips we took. The restaurants. The sex. And now this, and completely without warning! What in the world had he done to deserve this? He unfolded the note.
I actually thought I liked you. Then I realized what a world-class prick you are, what a fraud the recycling is. My mistake. You left some briefs in my place so I’m returning them to you. My therapy consisted of some virtual surgery through your briefs; my therapist said it only had value if I sent them to you. Maybe you can still wear them . . . like with one of those iron-on patches or something? Don’t come looking for me because I have Luther here. You met Luther. He takes my protection seriously. By the way, my car was stolen and I was wondering did you have something to do with it? If so, please return it to my place in Waukegan. Otherwise I will get even more irritated.
I hope you will find peace in your life (without me),
Sick! Sick is what it was. That they should have a disagreement, that she should get herself fired for cause, even that she should break up with him – those kind of things happened in life. Grant her that. But what kind of woman sent an express envelope with your briefs all sliced to ribbons? Only a sick woman would even conceive such a thing.
He recoiled at the thought that he had rolled around in bed with such a disturbed person. He looked at his hands, holding the note, and saw they were trembling. He buried the note in his lap. His hands were shaking and he couldn’t stop them.
If only we could start over again!
But no, a girl who was capable of taking your underwear and cutting it up into pieces could do real damage. Somewhere you had to draw the line.
There had been no warning . . . that was what he couldn’t get over. How could anyone have known it would turn out like this? This was the girl who, two days ago, had sat right here in this office in her turquoise blouse and white miniskirt. Even then she had still been his. With this little stunt she showed she was well and truly gone.
A knock came on the door, startling him. His hands were shaking so much he had trouble stuffing the note in his breast pocket. His heart was pounding so hard it felt like it would fly right out of his chest. He must’ve drunk too much coffee. Yet his mouth had gone dry as dust. His hands trembled as if they had a mind of their own.
His ex-wife, Ginger, strode into the room before he could hide the briefs. She carried a gooey-looking chocolate cake on a platter. She set it down on his desk next to the colorful pile of cotton material, which he scooped up in one motion and stuffed in a drawer.
“I baked it myself, Max, to celebrate your success. The new girl out there, she let me in because I told her it was a surprise. What in the world are you doing with underwear all over your desk? I hope those are clean.”
“Long story.” He came around the desk and planted a kiss on her cheek. She wore a white sundress with spaghetti straps, a pink straw hat, and Dolce Gabbana sunglasses perched on the brim. Her toenails were decorated with an orange-red base and some sort of silver and gold designs with black highlights. That toenail job looked expensive. Ginger rather forcefully turned it into a full hug. Her breasts pressed against his front like big balloons, not unpleasantly. He was glad he had taken off his jacket earlier. He forced himself to calm down again, after the shock of the mutilated briefs. Ordinary conversation helped. “Cool anklet,” he said. “Is that new?”
“Goodness Max, what happened to your face? Those look nasty. I hope you disinfected them properly.”
“Of course,” he said. “You can’t be too careful with cat scratches. What about your ankle bracelet?”
“It’s a charm bracelet.” She placed her right foot up on the chair so he could examine the charms more closely. The hem of her sundress rode interestingly up her thigh. Her calf was thoroughly tanned, the muscle tone superb. “I’m collecting charms on the theme of elephants.”
“Oh, why elephants?”
“I like elephants. You know that, Max. Or did I start with elephants after . . . ?” She thought about it. “Doesn’t matter. Just buy me elephant charms if you run across any. Max, I have to know about those briefs. Those were your briefs, weren’t they?”
“Baby, we are no longer married. If I have to improvise sometimes when it comes to laundry, that’s my business. So butt out.” His semblance of calm was deserting him. Those mutilated briefs just could not be happening. He felt himself growing more irritated by the second. He felt unable to tolerate visitors right now, especially Ginger. But if he kicked her out he would have to give an explanation. Sometimes under pressure you just had to bear down. Bear down, for Chrissake. Only this was just such a different species of pressure: Pepper spray attacks? Mangled briefs stuffed in an envelope? And now Ginger sticking her nose into the story about the briefs.
How much of this could a man endure?
“All right, all right. Aren’t you going to have a piece of cake?” She sank a knife into the swirls of chocolate frosting. A giant green plastic dollar sign graced the top. He stared at the cleavage she offered while she bent to cut him a piece.
“The settlement doesn’t bump up just because I’ve hit paydirt. I hope that isn’t what you were thinking.”
“Goodness, Max. The thought didn’t cross my mind. Though Ricardo might have something to say about it. You did say next week on that check, didn’t you?”
“Can’t a girl just be nice once in a while? Honestly. What happened to your eyes? They’re so red. Did you open them underwater or something?”
Another knock came. Manny Rodriguez and Brainard Combs filed into the office. Max was glad to divert attention from himself for a few moments. He sank into the massaging leather of his chair while Ginger handed out slices of cake. Just when he was starting to relax again, Rodriguez raised in the air on the end of one finger something he had found . . . and Max felt his stomach turning. A red piece of fabric, a crotch cut-out from one of the briefs. It must have fallen on the floor when he stuffed the rest of the briefs in the drawer.
“What is that?” Ginger asked.
Rodriguez studied it, holding it by the tips of his fingers as if it smelled bad. The white piping around the fly made it clear which part of the briefs he was displaying. “Is this what I think it is?” he asked.
“That depends what you think it is.”
“Max, let’s don't go there. I told you she was trouble.”
“Who?” demanded Ginger.
“None of your damn business, Baby.”
“That’s a fine way to thank me.” Ginger stood up. “What’re you so jittery for, Max, anyway? Honestly, he’s not himself today.”
Max chose to ignore her. “Manny, I’ve got to get with Brainard for a few minutes. Can I catch you later?”
Rodriguez stood up. He didn’t look happy. “I’ve got about twenty items to report on, too,” he said, and stormed out.
“Congratulations again on selling the company,” Ginger called from the doorway.
“Small part of the company,” he called after. Christ only knew what people would be saying, Ginger and her big mouth. The door closed behind her.
He was alone with Brainard. Brainard hadn’t touched the cake on the paper napkin in front of him. He didn’t eat sugary things like cake, Max remembered.
“OK, so what happened. Where do we stand?”
“Like I told you on the phone,” Brainard said, “we lost them. We couldn’t find them after they got out of their car. So, what I did is I hot-wired the car and drove it back.”
Brainard nodded. Tris’s note confirmed.
“Now, let’s think. Assume she’s reported it. Christ, you were lucky last night. Whoever drives it now gets pulled over.”
“Fold,” Brainard said, palms up in surrender.
“Where’s the car?”
Brainard blinking rapidly. “The garage at my condo.”
“Inside? Out of the way?”
“Nobody’s gonna see it in there.”
Max thought for a second. “Don’t take it out anymore for anything. Last thing we need is you getting picked up. Let’s get rid of it. Bring one of the big trucks over there, load it on, bring it back here. That car goes out on the barge tonight. I want that filmed, and the clip in my email by tomorrow morning.”
“Got it,” Brainard said.
“That’s the first thing. Now the second thing. This would be for tonight maybe. You see this?” He pulled something out of the drawer. Brainard took a long unbelieving look at the red briefs Max held up, the crotch sheared out. “You saw what she did to me last night. That was yesterday. Today this crap. I don’t know where all this is coming from. I want you to find her. Send a message. An unmistakable message. You know, in your special way.”
“You’re sure, boss? I mean, this is Tris.”
Meaning: Do you really want me to harass the woman you were screwing till the day before yesterday?
In the other man's face Max saw disbelief. “Move on that.”
Brainard leaned one elbow on the table. “Only problem is, I ain’t going to find her, boss. They took us on a wild goose chase last night, clear to Indiana.”
“Indiana? Right outside Gary? Little place, near the beach?”
Brainard lit up. “I don’t know about the beach, but outside Gary, yeah. They got out of the car and walked away. We stayed back so they wouldn’t see us. After a while we tried to find them, but they were gone.”
“Her brother’s beach house. That’s where you’ll find her.” He drew a detailed map from memory. He knew how to draw good maps, complete with with roads, landmarks, mileage. That went with being a car collector. So many tours, and several weekends of nonstop sex at her brother’s beach house, too. “You’ll figure out what to do.”
Brainard tapped his temple. “Use my imagination.”
No sooner had Brainard left the room, the new receptionist buzzed him, the short blond army vet.
“I have a Mr. Park on the phone,” she said.
“Top priority when he calls. Put him through.” He waited for the line to open. “This is Max. Hello, Song.”
“Ah, hello Max. Just wanted you to know, it’s probably going to be Saturday when we come through again. You name the time. Okay for you?”
“Make it Saturday, ten o’clock.”
“My board wants more details on your logistics. Bar code system. Maybe I take a few pictures. You can prepare specifications? Might make sense for us to migrate to the same systems at our Korean plants, use same bar code concept so your system flows into our system. We check it out. Okay for you?”
“I’ll have the specs on Saturday, no problem at all, Song. See you then.”
He hung up and breathed a sigh of relief. Marrying logistics systems would be a gigantic project, just gigantic, but it would bind them together even more closely. It could only increase the value of TSR in the eyes of the Koreans. Imagine if Tris had managed to get some article on the Tribune and scared off the Koreans. Just when they were all signed on and the money about to be transferred. That he would not have forgiven and forgotten. That would've meant war, had she succeeded. As it was, the Koreans were making very positive sounds.
Just as long as Song didn’t make him go to the Skinny Whip again. Or for Chrissake Korea, he thought with a shudder. If anyone had to go to Korea, it was damn well going to be Rodriguez.
Max Comedy Writing
It is not often that you find a good book. It is genuinely rare to find a funny good book. Yet 'Doing Max Vinyl' manages to achieve this and more! It is a book of our times, dealing with issues of morality and ecology. The last thing I want to do is to provide any kind of plot spoiler because if you do not read this story you will be missing something pretty special. Frederick Lee Brooke is a writer. He knows how it is done. The style is light, casual, cinematographic, cutting from character to character as ceaselessly the narrative unfolds around the central character of Max Vinyl. Even this choice of name has a form of Dickensian comedy to it. Slowly more and more elements of the story come into view, sometimes with outrageous comedy, at other times with a kind of social conscience that obliges you to take sides. All the same, such is the insight into the characters that acquaintance quickly draws you into a sympathetic interest in them. In the melange there is passion, jealousy, greed and pure farce. Now, farce is hard to handle since the writer has to have suspended your disbelief so that the incredible seems a natural progression of the plot. Comedy is hard to write - you can labour it or you can hide it too deep. This book had me caring, laughing and reading - not wanting it to end. More characters appear as the climax approaches but clarity is never lost. I will not tell you any more because I could deny you one of the best reads of your life. If you like Tom Sharpe, Martin Amis, Nick Hornby or simply like to get lost in a story then this is for you. My favourite character was the giant fish so I guess there is a dash of Dali in here too. The character Annie Ogden is one of those landmark female sleuths that must surely stand aside from one book and anchor several more.... I absolutely recommend this book.
Revenge Has Never Been So Sweet!
Doing Max Vinyl is an environmental thriller disguised as a hilarious ride of mix-ups and who-done-its. Usually, I find that an author is skilled at writing either description or dialogue, but rarely both. Brooke handles both deftly. He crafts each character's backstory, painting a portrait of the characters' lives while bringing each to life through engaging and entertaining dialogue. The combination creates uniquely compelling characters that become so real, you wonder if you won't bump into one somewhere.
Brooke's crew of characters is wonderfully diverse. The central character, Annie Ogden, is a veteran of the war in Iraq. She's just come home after her third tour and is more than a bit lost when she finds herself back in a world of work, family and friends. She is juxtaposed against the character of Max Vinyl, whose very name bespeaks a certain kind of false front or cheap façade. Whereas Annie is trying to readjust to life in the "real world," Max is determined create a world around himself that gives him a kind of false identity, one of legitimacy.
The supporting characters are numerous, but equally irresistible and multi-dimensional. I particularly enjoyed two of the male characters, Ike and Tranny, a couple of ex-cons that work for Max Vinyl. The way that they fought like an old married couple as they dealt with the plot's unexpected twists had me in stitches throughout the book.
The action of the story is well-written and paced perfectly, as the reader wonders when the paths of the different characters will inevitably collide. Brooke's prose could be compared to that of author T.C. Boyle. But personally, I think Doing Max Vinyl is way more fun! I eagerly look forward to hearing more from this author!
Frederick Lee Brooke has succeeded in bringing to life a cast of characters very distinct and diverse while weaving together an unforgettable storyline that will satisfy you in its conclusion.
Max Vinyl owns and manages a recycling business where he illegally dumps old computer parts into Lake Michigan. His main ambitions in life are money, women and his beloved car collection. Max has no conscience as he benefits from his criminal activity, he actually sees himself as a victim.
Annie Ogden, a war veteran home after 3 tours of duty in Iraq, is trying to find her place in life. A self-sufficient, strong willed woman, she takes matters into her own hands to see justice achieved. The topic of returning veterans and their struggle to fit back into society is handled in a genuine, unique and passionate way.
The supporting cast of characters and their stories are cleverly defined and written with such clear dialogue they are totally believable. Their stories are skillfully conveyed in a way that keeps you reading and hungry for more. The character descriptions will burn an image in your mind and you will see them in your mind's eye.
The story is written intelligently, with humor and compassion. The environmental issues at the heart of the story will raise your level of consciousness about the environment and the difficulties we face.
I absolutely recommend this book to all readers, just sit back and enjoy the ride. I look forward to the return of Annie Ogden very soon.
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Frederick Lee Brooke