Plenty of fantasy heroes are divided against themselves, or struggle with a dual nature. But Walter Mosley's Jack Strong is still something unique. He's a single person with over 1,000 souls stitched into him — and they each have their own unfinished business. Check out an exclusive first look below.
Jack Strong doesn't come out until July 29, but we're bringing you the first look at the cover below, plus an exclusive excerpt...
Nigger tried to tell me he wasn't into something back there behind Willie's house on a Wednesday, noon. Me and Tyler and Beckwith Smith kicked holy shit outta that coon. Left him so beat that he'll never walk inta no white man's yard ever again—that is if he can walk at all. …
I never meant to do it. Never meant to betray our vows. But then Winston came over to me across the living room. He pressed his body up against mine and I felt his, felt his manhood, and it was like everything went red. All the things I refused Ralph came up and out of me. I was another woman … another woman. And God help me … I felt free.
Mama, am I gonna die? Mama? Mama? That boy who was in the next bed last night, they took him away this morning. His arms and legs were all stiff, and he only had one eye open. I heard them talking about me when my eyes were closed and they thought I was sleep. No, I wasn't foolin'; I was just restin' my eyes like Papa does. But they said that I was gettin' worse. One nurse said that they'd have to cut off my leg if it didn't look any better by today. Am I gonna die, Mama? Can they put a leg back on?
Bobo? Bobo, you there? Don't you worry, man. It's wrong what they doin'. It's wrong for the state to kill a man no matter what that man done done. It's wrong, and if they kill you, you ain't no more a murderer but a victim, and God will take that into account when they bring you up to Judgment. God will lay you down and wash away the poison they slaughtered you with. He will sang to you and raise you up. He will forgive your sins just like he did for Mackie, and Jojo, and even that crazy white boy kilt all them women. Just like he will forgive me for killin' that young couple for no reason. He will see that the people who kilt us is also the people who drove us crazy and even though they strap you to that gurney and inject poison into your veins it's not you, Bobo. It's not you at all. …
Those voices and a myriad of others cried out in the darkness of my sleep. I wanted to wake up, but it seemed like every soul needed to say something, to apologize or explain, to regret or exult in their actions.
Pieces of personalities combined with the unbearable intimacies of men, women, and children. Some of them spoke in other languages, but I understood every word and nuance. All different races and religions, sexes and sexual persuasions … and perversions. And the things they knew: the terrible secrets and hopeless tragedies, the facts and figures, skills and abilities. Knowledge swirled through the dream like a jewel-skinned snake moving through high grass in moonlight, catching glimpses of visions and recollections—a jewel-skinned viper hungry to devour every memory.
It wasn't me dreaming, not exactly—it was more like the dream dreaming me, making something out of all those disparate exultations, fears, and complaints.
A lower caste genius from Goa plotting a reign of terror against the Brahmin caste.
An eighty-six-year-old white woman shut-in dreaming of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren—but never of the adults they'd become.
Every one of them as real as I, lost in sleep and struggling for consciousness, as real as I but not like me. I was … becoming something, something necessary and different. I was eroding and resurrecting the characters and memories, the knowledge, the hopes and hopelessness of those speakers in the darkness of the dream becoming me.
After what seemed like a month of fitful slumber, I opened my eyes.
The room I found myself in was large and antiseptic, a hotel room rendered in washed-out blues and bland tans, furnished with a bed and bureau, a blue door (leading to the hallway, I supposed) and a glass door that opened onto a small terrace looking down four floors onto a concrete plaza with a fountain spraying recycled water on marble statues of frolicking, naked nymphs.
In the distance was the twilit Strip of Las Vegas.
My memories of the Strip were varied. I saw a man's reflection in a glass. He was me and had a razor-thin mustache, the pit boss of a major casino floor. I was what they called a leggy blonde dancing naked in front of leering men, sweat running down my spine and thighs. I was an old man sitting at a bus stop at dawn waiting for someone, I forget who, to pick me up after night guard duty. I was a fat woman with powerful black hands feeding nickels into a slot machine, happily losing, confidently expecting that one day I'd hit the million-dollar nickel pot—it was inevitable.
The physical me, the man who had just awakened in the hotel room, had hands that were masculine and Caucasian except for the Negroid ring finger on the left hand and a tapered, feminine baby finger on the right. There were micro-thin lines zigzagging across my forearms, legs, and chest. These might have been stitches from surgery except they were too fine for any suture made by needle and thread.
The full-length mirror in the bathroom revealed a patchwork of pink, pale, and tan flesh and a face that was maybe not quite forty. I had a square jaw, one blue eye and the other brown. My hair was a wiry auburn, closer to chestnut than red. I had black hair on the upper portion of my chest. One nipple was rugged and reddish where the other one was smooth and ocher in hue.
I was tall but not like a basketball player. And I was strong—very, very strong.
The penis amazed and surprised me. I lifted it gently, remembering being another sex. It came to me that it wasn't so different being man or woman. We all slept and woke up, felt heat and cold, got hungry and aged over time. Our senses approximated each other's, and memory offered up images that had more meaning than anything real, today. But the penis and vagina—they tilted in different directions, blindly headed for summits of very different emotional climes.
I was a man in a man's body and a woman, too.
Upon the bench at the foot of the king-size hotel bed lay my shirt and pants, jacket, and Stetson hat. My driver's license said that I was Jack Strong, born in 1976, in June, and my eye color was multi. I had $986 in various denominations.
Handling the money, I thought about my face and greater amounts of cash. There was a place … The Steadman. The Steadman Casino. It was off the Strip but not far off. I remembered the Steadman. It was a place I'd spent a good deal of time. I was a … a manager there … something like that.
My memory was fuddled, staggery like a man who had drunk too much trying to remember where he'd parked the car.
I put on the clothes and found shoes and socks in a suitcase in the closet.
My mind sparked with fragmented memories at everything I saw and touched. The wall was a chance to hang a recently acquired Monet; it also represented a prison and a sounding board that broadcast secrets from the other side. The dying light from the window was the night before an execution, the time to go out and stalk another victim, an invitation to open another bottle and forget the day before.
Dressing in the sanitized room, I felt like a frail immortal, a god in a world of his creation, a world that remembered but no longer believed in him.
"Mr. Strong," a man hailed as I strode toward the glass doors of the hotel lobby.
It was the desk clerk, a young black man with long processed hair that was combed back artlessly. Seeing his coif, I felt the burning of chemical straighteners on my neck and ears.
"You want me to call Albert to bring your car?"
"Sure." Changing direction, I walked up to the desk. I had a slight limp but felt no pain in my joints. It was almost as if I were an infant learning the balance of perambulation. "What's your name again?"
"Tony," the desk clerk said. "You look a lot better."
"Oh?" I said. I wanted to grab him and shake the secrets of my history out.