Read an Excerpt from Ann McMan’s New Novel ’Backcast’
Author: William Johnson
December 25, 2015
In December, Bywater Books released Backcast by Ann McMan, a novel in which humor and heart go hand in hand.
From the Lambda Literary Review:
Sculptor Barb Davis has a vision. With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, she plans to bring together a group of authors to write essays which Barb will use as inspiration to create an art piece to convey a cohesive artistic expression.
When the women Barb has chosen gather for the project’s writing retreat, drama and hijinks abound and it starts to look as if the venture will never be successful. First, there’s the constant bickering between Viv and Towanda. Then there’s Quinn, who’s very distracted because of her focus on winning a Pro-Am bass fishing tournament and she’s never wielded a rod in her life. Kate and Shawn bring their own problems. The two obviously love each other, but they can’t seem to figure out how to be together; and that’s only a small portion of the issues the two women bring to the group.
Quinn thought Big Boy looked like he’d weigh about ninety pounds dripping wet.
His “little” brother, Junior, on the other hand, looked like he rarely missed a meal.
The Ladd family had been a mainstay in the Champlain Islands ever since the twenties, when Lars “Laddie” Ladd piloted his wooden boat up the Saranac River in search of rock bass. His first sight of lush wetlands and a great lake fat with fish of nearly every variety drew him in like a siren’s song. It wasn’t long before Laddie moved his growing family down from the Adirondack region to Plattsburgh, New York, and opened his first salvage shop on a bleak scrap of land near Cumberland Head.
Many years later, he’d earned enough money to move his wife and sons across the lake to the greener pastures of Vermont’s Hero Islands. There, he devoted himself to running his burgeoning salvage business and indulging the true passion of his life: bass fishing.
Laddie’s superb knowledge of the geography of the lake and its
inlets, bays and tributaries—known by the locals as the Inland Sea—soon made him one of the most lauded and sought-after anglers of the region. “Daddy Laddie,” as he came to be known, passed his love of the sport on to his sons, and the old man’s legacy was solidified when his grandson, Junior Ladd, took top honors in the region’s very first Pro-Am Bass Open. Since then, an angler named Ladd usually occupied one of the top spots in the winners’ circles of each of the six or seven high-dollar tournaments that were held on Lake Champlain every summer.
When Big Boy and his co-angler, Junior, weren’t out on the lake hustling to haul up the biggest bags of fish, they were content to run Ladd’s Marine Salvage, where they bought, sold, and rebuilt boats of every shape and size.
It was here that best-selling BDSM author Quinn Glatfelter came, hoping to cut a sweet deal on a used bass boat. She had the flier that detailed specifics about the upcoming tournament folded up and tucked into the back pocket of her tight jeans. She’d read it over enough times to know that she needed some very specific equipment to qualify for the competition. That was problem number one. Coming up with the hefty entrance fee was problem number two.
But if Quinn had learned anything from being pounded by the endless objections of Vivien K. O’Reilly, noted mystery author and professional actuary, it was how to break bigger problems down into their manageable, component parts.
Boat first. Equipment second. Fee third. And she had most of a week to pull it all together.
It really was that simple.
Learning how to fish could come later. After all, she’d seen some of those Sunday afternoon shows on TV. It wasn’t rocket science. It seemed to her that the superstars of the sport were mostly a bunch of low-talking bubbas who wore camouflage and had bad haircuts.
Not that different from the clientele at most lesbian bars.
They were her people.
Quinn looked around the interior of the big, dark space. Big Boy and Junior had a pretty impressive inventory. Most of the larger boats were stacked up outside on dry storage racks. Inside, smaller boats and motors in various stages of repair or refurbishment were scattered around on worktables. On a low table near a side wall, Quinn saw a jumble of freshly Parkerized engine parts that looked like they belonged to a Panhead motor.
If there was one thing she knew how to recognize, it was pieces of a Harley.
In a corner of the room beneath a grime-covered window, the Ladd brothers reposed in two natty-looking La-Z-Boy recliners. They were watching something on an old console TV. It sounded like a game show. The regular bursts of cheering and applause that roared up from the big mahogany box made it clear that it wasn’t a show about fishing. The top of the set was littered with empty grape Fanta bottles.
“I’ll give you forty-five dollars if you’ve got a bobby pin in that bag.”
Quinn smiled. Monty Hall. Let’s Make a Deal was one of her favorites, too. Even in syndication, Carol Merrill looked pretty damn fine.
Success in retail was all about making connections. Quinn now had two solid leads on her side. She walked toward the makeshift living room. There were gaudy trophies topped with gilded fish and faded photographs of old men in waders spread out along a shelf behind their recliners.
“You boys rebuilding a Harley?” She tipped her head toward the shiny pieces of metal.
Big Boy stared up at her with dark, owlish eyes. They looked like holes in a blanket.
“Mebbe.” He didn’t add anything else.
Junior wasn’t saying anything, either. He was finishing off a party-sized bag of Doritos. Cool Ranch style. Those were Quinn’s favorite, too.
Make that three solid leads.
“Those Panheads are pretty hard to come by,” Quinn observed. “Where’d you boys get the bike?”
Junior wiped his fingers across the arm of his chair. The trails of orange dust they created blended nicely with the plaid fabric.
“It was our granddad’s,” Junior explained. “Course, he never did ride it any. He was too old when he got it.”
It was clear to Quinn that Junior was the talker in the family. Big Boy wasn’t doing much besides staring at her and blinking a lot.
“You rebuilding it, then?” Quinn asked.
“Yeah. Been workin’ on it now for some time.”
“Really? How long?”
Junior shrugged and looked over at his brother. Big Boy blinked at him.
“’Bout twenty years,” Junior replied.
“That’s a long time,” Quinn observed.
“Parts is hard to come by. They didn’t make many of them bikes.”
Quinn nodded. “Those Panheads are pretty rare.”
Junior looked surprised. “You know somethin’ ’bout motorcycles?”
“Oh, yeah. You might say that.”
Big Boy made a puffing sound and slowly shook his head.
Junior translated. “Ain’t that kinda unusual for a—” he took a closer look to be sure, “girl?”
“Not where I come from.”
Bingo. Quinn knew she had them now.
“Have you boys ever heard of Hog Heaven in Batavia?”
Big Boy and Junior exchanged glances.
“I reckon everybody’s heard of that,” Junior said. “At least, everybody that knows anything about rebuilding motorcycles.”
Quinn reached into her back pocket and pulled out her wallet.
“Here’s one of my cards.” She held one out to Junior. He gave his fingers another swipe across the chair arm before he took it from her and looked it over.
“Well, shit,” he said. He passed the card over to Big Boy. “This here woman owns the damn place.”
It didn’t seem physically possible for the holes in Big Boy’s face to get any wider, but somehow, he managed. Quinn wondered how he kept his eyeballs from falling out.
“Umm. Ummm. Ummmmm.” Big Boy was looking at the card and shaking his head.
“So what kind of bike did your granddad get?” Quinn asked.
“It’s a ’65 Electra Glide.” Junior took the card back from his brother so he could return it to Quinn, but she held up a hand, indicating he should keep it. “Nice one, too. Rare, I’m thinkin.’”
Shit. A ’65 Electra Glide Panhead wasn’t rare—it was extinct.
Quinn knew collectors who wouldn’t bat an eyelash at shelling out sixty thousand for a vintage Panhead in working condition.
“You got that right,” she agreed. “It’s probably one of the last ones.”
“That’s what we think, too. Can’t get parts no ways.”
“I might could help you out there,” she said. “I’ve got good sources all over the place.”
“Well.” Junior scratched between the folds of his expansive belly. “Parts is one thing. Findin’ somebody that knows how to put ’em back together right is somethin’ else.”
“That’s true.” Quinn went in for the kill. “What you boys need is a crackerjack Harley mechanic with lots of experience rebuilding vintage bikes.”
“Ain’t likely to find that ‘round here.”
“Not ‘til now.” Quinn smiled at them.
“You a mechanic?” Junior sounded dubious.
“Yes sir, I am—one of the best, too.”
“I’m staying up here for a couple of weeks. Maybe we can work out some kind of a deal.”
“Deal?” That got Big Boy’s attention. His eyes shrunk to an almost normal circumference. He glared at Quinn like she had suggested something lewd.
Junior wasn’t far behind him. “We don’t have money for that right now.”
“Well, lucky for you, I’m not talking about money.” Quinn pulled the fishing tournament flier out of her pocket and held it out to Junior. “You boys familiar with this contest?”
Junior nodded, but didn’t say anything. Big Boy was silent, too.
“I was thinking about entering,” Quinn explained. “But I don’t have a boat or any gear.”
Junior raised an eyebrow. “Kinda hard to enter without a boat.”
“Yes sir, it is.” Quinn waved a hand toward the warehouse full of salvage. “That’s why I thought maybe you boys could fix me up with everything I need to compete.”
“You ever done any tournament fishing?” Junior handed the flier back to her.
“You ever done any other kind of fishing?”
Quinn shook her head. “Only for compliments.”
Junior looked confused.
“That would be a ‘no,’” Quinn explained.
“How come you want to start out this way? Why not just get a rod and see if you like it?”
Quinn knew she’d really never be able to explain it to him. She barely understood it herself. Viv’s dire predictions of catastrophe and mayhem were still careening around inside her head like bumper cars—slamming into her impressive collection of all the other “girls can’t do that” pronouncements people had been hurling her way since childhood.
Another round of applause roared up from the TV. Monty Hall was trying to tempt someone to trade what lay behind door number two for a big box on the stage.
“Good things can come in small packages,” he said. The crowd seemed to agree with him.
“Trade! Trade! Trade!” they bellowed.
Door number two could be concealing the Big Deal of the Day. Or it could be hiding a Holstein and a milking stool. It was a crapshoot. You just never knew.
Junior was still staring at Quinn, waiting for her explanation.
She pointed at the TV. “I’m like that woman right there,” she explained. “All my life, I’ve wanted to be brave enough to go for the Big Deal, and not settle for what everybody told me was good enough.”
Junior looked at the TV, then back at Quinn.
“You think bass fishing is the Big Deal?” he asked.
They all knew that no woman had ever won one of these high-profile tournaments.
Quinn shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
He huffed. “Well if that ain’t the damnedest thing I ever heard.”
His brother nodded his agreement.
“We can’t pay you to fix the bike.” Junior wanted to be sure to drive this point home.
“I understand that. I’m offering to rebuild it for free, at my own expense—including parts—if you’ll agree to lend me everything I’ll need for this tournament.”
The brothers looked at each other. Big Boy scratched his ear.
Junior shook his head.
“What?” Quinn asked.
“Who’s gonna teach you how to fish or where to go or how to drive the damn boat?”
“I’m assuming that you will.”
“I don’t know as that would be fair.”
“Why not? It’s a Pro-Am tournament. You’d be the Pro and I’d be the Am.”
“I wasn’t thinkin’ about entering this year. My back’s givin’ me a fit.”
“You wouldn’t have to do anything but supervise.”
She nodded. “Just be there and tell me what to do.”
He thought about that. “Who gets the purse if we win?”
Quinn smiled. “You think we might win?”
He held up a puffy hand. “I ain’t sayin’ that. I’m just asking.
Quinn glanced down at the flier. It had been folded and refolded so many times it was starting to feel like a piece of flannel. She reread the awards section. Top prize was twenty-five thousand dollars—and a fully loaded, twenty-one foot Ranger bass boat equipped with a gas-guzzling, two-hundred-and-fifty horsepower Evinrude ETech motor.
“I won’t have much need for a bass boat in Batavia,” she offered.
Big Boy cleared his throat.
Junior took the cue. “We already got a bass boat.”
“True. But you could sell this one.”
“You’d give it to us free and clear?”
Quinn nodded. “Yes sir, I would.”
“And you’d fix the bike for free?” Junior asked. “No charge to us for parts or labor?”
“That’s right. And if I can’t get it done here, I’ll even pay to trailer it out to my shop and back.”
Even to a crusty old New Englander, that had the ring of a pretty sweet deal.
“How tall are you?” he asked.
Quinn didn’t really understand his question. “Excuse me?”
“You appear to be about six foot, maybe more. I’m six-three. And don’t neither of us look like we ever say no to a plate of seconds.”
She got where he was headed. “You mean we wouldn’t both fit into the same boat?”
“Not likely,” he said.
“Well, I’m glad you brought that up, because I have a couple of associates who will want to ride along, too.”
“Fishing ain’t a group sport.”
Quinn shrugged. “Is it against the rules?”
He took his time answering. “Nope. But it don’t work that way.”
Junior thought about it. “Are these ‘associates’ women?” He paused. “Like you?”
“Mostly. But not as big.”
“You can’t have a bunch of women squawking on a boat. All that yammering would drive the fish into hiding.”
“Can’t we use a bigger boat?”
“Bigger? Bigger’n what?”
“I don’t know.” Quinn waved a hand. “Bigger than the usual.” She gestured toward the yard, where all manner of boats were trailered or stacked up on blocks. “What about one of those float boats you have out there?”
“You mean them pontoons?” He shook his head. “They don’t go fast enough.”
“Can’t you put a bigger motor on one?”
“Maybe. But it’s gotta have a cutoff switch on it.”
“I can rig that.”
“They don’t have no live well on ’em.”
“It’s where you keep the fish until they can be weighed up and measured.”
“You mean like a big fish tank?”
“Kinda. But it has to have fresh water moving inside it.”
Quinn looked around the interior of the warehouse. “I thought I saw an aerator back there on one of those shelves near the door. Couldn’t we connect that to a big cooler with some water line and run it off a twelve-volt battery? All we’d need is some marine glue and a couple of alligator clips.”
Junior looked surprised. “It has to stay cold.”
Quinn sighed. He was really making her work for it.
“I suppose we could fill a couple of those grape Fanta bottles with water and freeze them—deep-six them in the cooler with the fish?”
Junior was silent for a few moments. Quinn hoped that meant he’d run out of obstacles.
“It costs fifteen hundred bucks to enter.”
“I can cover that. I have a lead on a sponsor that’ll kick in the whole fee in exchange for us putting their name on the boat.”
Big Boy cleared his throat. Junior looked at him. Big Boy shrugged. Junior blew out a breath and slowly shook his head before turning back to face Quinn.
“So all I gotta do is show up and ride along? And if we win—which ain’t gonna happen—I get the rig and you get the cash?”
“And you fix granddad’s bike—for free?”
He sighed again. “Okay, then. I guess I done stupider stuff in my time.”
Quinn gave the brothers her biggest, toothy grin. “You won’t regret it.”
“Hold on a minute.” Junior had one more question. “Who is this sponsor you got in mind?”
She smiled. “You boys ever heard of Astroglide?”