RELEASE DAY — And Chapter Three

August 18th, 2009

Today’s the day of BREATHING WATER’s release, so these chapters have ceased to be previews. Before I go to Chapter Three, I want to thank everyone for playing along and to say that the contest winners will be announced in a week and I’ll ask the winners to e-mail me their mailing addresses so I can send out the books.

This chapter feels completely different from the first two.  It introduces three main characters — Rafferty, his cop friend Arthit, and the business mogul Pan — and it sets into motion another of the book’s three primary stories.  With the exception of Rose and Miaow, Rafferty’s wife and adopted daughter, we’ve now met all of the book’s main characters — Da, the baby (later named Peep), the boy in the street (Boo), Poke, Arthit, and Pan, and we’ve started two of the three stories that are braided together over the length of the book.

I don’t plot in advance at all, and it amazes me that I wound up with something this complex, and that many of the reviewers are specifically praising the plotting and pace.  All I can say is that there are angels at work somewhere, and that some of them were kind enough to persuade me not to toss the whole book during the long nervous breakdown that made the writing of it such an interesting experience.


The Big Guy

The big guy’s eyes keep landing on Rafferty.

He’s developed a visual circuit that he follows every time a card is dealt: look at the dealer’s hands, look at the new faceup card in the center of the table, look at Rafferty.  Then he lifts the corners of the two facedown cards in front of him, as though he hopes thay’ve improved while he wasn’t paying attention to them.  He puffs the cigar clenched dead center in his mouth and looks at Rafferty through the smoke.

This has been going on for several hands.

Rafferty’s stomach was fluttering when he first sat down at the table.  The flutter intensified when the Big Guy, whom no one had expected, came through the door.  Like the others in the room, Rafferty had recognized the Big Guy the moment he came in.  He is no one to screw with.

But Rafferty may have to.

He has grown more anxious with each hand, fearing the moment when he’ll have to test the system.  And now he can feel the Big Guy’s gaze like a damp, warm breeze.

With a flourish, the dealer flips the next-to-last of the faceup cards onto the green felt.  It’s a six, and it has no impact on Rafferty’s hand, although one of the other men at the table straightens a quarter inch, and everyone pretends not to have noticed. The Big Guy takes it in and looks at Rafferty. His shoulders beneath the dark suit coat are rounded and powerful, the left a couple of inches lower than the right. The man’s personal legend has it that it’s from twenty years of carrying a heavy sack of rice seed, and he’s said to have punched a tailor who proposed extra padding in the left shoulder of his suit coat to even them out.

A massive gold ring sporting a star ruby the size of a quail’s egg bangs against the wooden rim of the table as he clasps fat, short-fingered hands in front of him. Rafferty finds it almost impossible not to look at the man’s hands. They are not so much scarred as melted, as though the skin were wax that had been stirred slowly as it cooled. The surface is ridged and swirled. The little finger on the left hand doesn’t bend at all. It looks like he had his hands forced into a brazier of burning charcoal and held there. The mutilated left hand lifts the corners of the facedown hands with the careful precision of the inebriated, the immobile little finger pointing off into space. The Big Guy was drunk when he arrived, and he is well on his way to being legless.

“What are you doing here, farang?” the Big Guy asks very quietly in Thai. The soft tone does not diminish the rudeness of the question. His mouth is a wet, pursed, unsettling pink that suggests lipstick, and in fact he swipes his lips from time to time with a tube of something that makes them briefly even shinier.

“I’m only part farang,” Rafferty says, also in Thai.  “My mother’s Filipina.”  He smiles but gets nothing in return.

“You should be in Patpong,” the Big Guy says, his voice still low, his tone still neutral. “Looking for whores, like the others.”  He picks up his glass, rigid pinkie extended like a parody of gentility.

“And you should watch your mouth,” Rafferty says. The glass stops. One of the bodyguards begins to step forward, but the Big Guy shakes his head, and the bodyguard freezes. The table turns into a still life, and then the Big Guy removes the cigar from the wet, pink mouth and sips his drink. Minus the cigar, the mouth looks like something that ought not to be seen, as unsettling as the underside of a starfish.

The others at the table — except for Rafferty’s friend Arthit, who is wearing his police uniform — are doing their best to ignore the exchange. In an effort to forget the cards he’s holding, which are terrifyingly good, Rafferty takes a look around the table.

Of the seven men in the game, three — the Big Guy and two dark-suited businessmen — are rich. The Big Guy is by far the richest, and would be the richest in almost any room in Bangkok. The three millionaires don’t look alike, but they share the glaze that money brings, a sheen as thin and golden as the melted sugar on a doughnut.

The other four men are ringers. Rafferty is playing under his own name but false pretenses. Arthit and one other are cops. Both cops are armed. The fourth ringer is a career criminal.

One of the businessman and the Big Guy think they’re playing a regular high-stakes game of Texs Hold’em. The others know better.

It’s Rafferty’s bet, and he throws in a couple of chips to keep his hands busy.

“Pussy bet,” says the Big Guy.

“Just trying to make you feel at home,” Rafferty says. In spite of himself, he can feel his nervousness being muscled aside by anger.

The Big Guy glances away, blinking as though he’s been hit. He is an interesting mix of power and insecurity. On the one hand, everyone at the table is aware that he’s one of the richest men in Thailand. On the other hand, he has an unexpectedly tentative voice, pitched surprisingly high, and he talks like the poorly educated farmer he was before he began to build his fortune and spend it with the manic disregard for taste that has brought him the media’s devoted attention. Every time he speaks, his eyes make a lightning circuit of the room: Is anyone judging me? He doesn’t laugh at anyone’s jokes but his own. Despite his rudeness and the impression of physical power he conveys, there’s something of the whipped puppy about him.  He seems at times almost to expect a slap.

The two architecturally large bodyguards behind him guarantee that the slap won’t be forthcoming. They wear identical black three-button suits and black silk shirts, open at the neck. Their shoulder holsters disrupt the expensive line of their jackets.

The Big Guy’s eyes are on him again, even though the dealer’s hands are in motion, laying down the final card of the hand. And naturally, it’s while Rafferty is being watched that it happens.

The final card lands faceup, and it’s an eight.

Rafferty would prefer that someone had come into the room and shot him.

Question Three

In your opinion, is Rafferty afraid of (a) losing or (b) winning?

20 Responses to “RELEASE DAY — And Chapter Three”

  1. Walt Pascoe Says:

    It sounds to me like the sh*t will hit the fan because Rafferty is winning. And beating him is the one thing the Big Guy is unlikely to overlook.

    Release Day! Congratulations,Tim!

  2. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Congratulations, Tim! I went to three branches of B&N to get my copy. My neighbor Laurie has also been eagerly awaiting its release. She’s picking up her copy at the airport tomorrow when she goes to work.

    I’ll read Ch3 directly from my copy and post my answer tomorrow!

    And Congratulations, again!

    Captcha: Don autopsy

  3. fairyhedgehog Says:

    I think he’s afraid of winning, because his cards are described as “terrifyingly good”.

    This is great writing. It’s not a genre that I’d usually read so to feel so drawn in by it shows how good the writing is.

  4. karen from mentor Says:

    Hey Tim,
    Great scene. B) Winning. The clue was his cards were “terrifyingly good”

    Congrats on the release..I can’t wait to get my hands on the book.
    Karen :0)

  5. Brynne Sissom Says:

    I agree with Walt but it may be more than the Big Guy who wants Tim neutralized or who perceive him as a threat.

    captcha: Ghastly then some weird shapes

  6. Rachel Brady Says:

    I think he’s afraid of winning. And I liked the underside of a starfish analogy, as well as the description of “melted” hands.

  7. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Winning, of course. Poke knows that there’s no turning back once he wins. And even though he’s never run from trouble, he’s got a family now.

    I have to admit that I stayed up far too late this morning reading. And I’m taking it to my doctor’s appointment so I can get right back to the story.

    Thanks again, Tim!

    captcha: binges of

    Oooh, the possibilities!

  8. Sylvia Says:

    Release Day – hurray! That’s wonderful!

  9. Greg Says:

    It’s got to be (b) and I’m guessing he’s drawn a straight rather than a flush because there was no mention of suit.
    Or were they playing crazy eights?

    I loved the “glaze that money brings” line with the doughnut analogy.

  10. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Him everybody, and sorry for not responding till now. This is one of the craziest weeks of my life: the release, guest blogs, bylines, planning the tour, writing and putting together the powerpoint presentation I’ll be doing in bookstores, and maintaining a 1500-2500 wpd pace on THE ROCKS. I’m liking THE ROCKS enough to make me worry.

    Walt — dead right. The Big Guy (whose name is Pan) has gotten out of the habit of losing. This is the beginning of a very complicated relationship.

    Cynthia, thank you so much for persevering. What’s wrong with those other B&N branches, anyway? And don’t forget that you may still win a copy. Oh, and I’m sorry the book kept you up late. Not. It’s what we all dream of — people huddled in bed, hypnotically turning the pages as the sky pales in the east.

    fairyhedgehog, thanks for the call-out on the writing. Here’s hoping you win one, although it may be lonely on your shelves since it won’t have the company of other thrillers.

    Karen, I hope you manage to get your hands on a copy soon, although you’re in the running to win one. I won’t have a heart attack if you run out and buy one, but read that copy lightly just in case you get to take it back. By the way, I just came across Karen’s site, and it’s fresh in the extreme:

    Brynne, you’re right — Pan is just one of several people who want Poke dead in this book. Pretty much everybody wants him dead.

    Rachel, I like the starfish myself. I remember turning one over when I was a little kid and being absolutely horrified.

    Sylvia, thanks for the congrats. No guess? Aww, come on.

    Greg, you’re absolutely in the running. And thanks for picking up on the glaze. Actually, the two things I like best in the chapter (in terms of brief descriptive material) have been singled out. And that feels good.

    Will post winners in a few days, and thanks to all for playing.

  11. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    You’re most welcome, Tim.

    My neighbor Laurie (who is your third favorite fan in Las Vegas) spent her first day back from vacation searching all the Borders stores for a copy. No joy. (Did you know that B&N and Borders told us it would take EIGHT WORKING days to receive it? As if we haven’t waited long enough already!) She came over tonight to complain, but first stopped by my bathroom before she came outside. After 15 minutes, I came in the house to look for her and she yelled through the door (Just a minute! One more page!)

    So….I’m doing my part, Tim. Increasing the demand. You need to work on SUPPLY. Maybe you could deliver us a couple copies???

    PS: I’ve now hidden my copy from my husband AND my neighbor, until I finish sometime tomorrow morning!

    My captcha: Williams moog

  12. Sean Bunzick Says:

    Oh, it’s definitely B.) in this case! When you’re dealing with people like Big Guy, no matter how it’s going, THEY win–and you lose, sometimes in a very big way.
    This is why Poke is scared and I don’t blame him one damn bit. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of what I know is going to be a fantastic novel. Also, it helps me deal with The Homesick Blues until I can catch a plane back to Thailand in October.
    By the way, Martin Limon IS a wonderful writer–his books about the US Army MPs in 1970s South Korea are incredible. He does to South Korea what many of us try to do in our stories about Thailand.
    Tim, in the words that Chris Moore always uses on me: Keep writing!

  13. Ken Lewis Says:

    Congrats Tim! I can’t wait to read it. My publisher just did a slight revision to my book’s cover today, so while they were at it I had them add “Breathing Water” to the blurb you wrote for me on the back cover. Best of luck with the new book…although I doubt you will need it.

  14. Raymond Says:


    It’s past 12mn EDT and I finally figure out what kept me awake…I suddenly remembered missing your reminder e-mail! Looks like I’m 3 days late and am catching up with the blog.

    Congrats though on the release and I look forward to reading the entire book.

    All the best!

  15. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Cynthia — Borders only carries me online. Therefore, I no longer shop at Borders. But congrats on finding one, and I’m a little nervous about the recent ominous silence. And who knows, you may still win another copy. (But don’t forget Amazon.)

    Sean, a good writer like you would be bound to recognize how good Martin Limon is. He catches that world — post Krean War Seoul — really brilliantly. Great mysteries, too. Gee you have to wait all the way to October before you go back to Thailand — for me it’s going to be late Feb or maybe early March.

    Ken — Thanks so much for being so nice and also for making the change to your book. For all of you who like really intelligent thrillers, Ken’s LITTLE BLUE WHALES is killer. No pun intended.

    Raymond — I’ve been drowning and didn’t have time to send out the reminder. Where’s your answer to Q3? You’ll be in the running if you get it right, and it doesn’t seem that I set the bar too high if all the correct answers are any indication.

  16. Cynthia Mueller Says:


    OK, I made it to the last page, but I’m not calling it finished yet. I’m still flipping back and forth to re-read a few places before I start over at the beginning. My husband and neighbor (LV Fans #2 and #3) will just have to wait awhile longer.

    I have to admit that I got frustrated when you left the Da and Peep storyline to return to Poke’s story. I actually skipped ahead to find out what happened (I mean, what YOU DID) to those kids, before flipping back to check in with Poke. Then, feeling guilty for cheating, I re-read through the chapters in order.

    Noi/Arthit’s story – priceless. Your gentle touch is masterfully understated.

    And thanks for not shooting the dog. I don’t think I would have been able to forgive you for that.

    Miaow’s tangled emotions were spot on. If I hadn’t met you in person, I would have sworn you’d been an angsty pre-teen girl in your youth.

    Thanks for giving Rose the spotlight at the party, and for letting her enjoy the bling. I got REALLY creeped out by the bad guys discussing what they’d planned for her.

    Superman! I love this complicated character! :^D

    GREAT JOB!!!!

    OK, back to page 1….

  17. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hey, Cynthia — I have an idea. Why don’t YOU go on tour. The DISCERNING READER tour — you go into bookstores, explain why you like this one so much, and demand that they stack it in their window and order more copies forthwith.

    Or, if that doesn’t jibe with your schedule, could I ask you to write an Amazon review? I haven’t checked. but I don’t think there are any up yet.

    And I’m not glossing over all the terrific things you said — I just have trouble handling praise. I’m really grateful about everything you said, and thanks especially for singling out Arthit and Noi, which I worked my ass on and which no review has yet paid attention to. Oh, poor me. They liked other things in the book. How can I survive?

    Thanks again.

  18. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    PS, Cynthia — I wouldn’t shoot a dog, and for some reason Miaow is the easiest character in the whole series for me to write. Go figure.

  19. Raymond Says:

    Ooops! It’s definitely (b) for me!

  20. Helen Kiker Says:

    He is definitely afraid of winning.

    This has been a busy week for me so I forgot to check your site when no reminder email arrived. Hope I am not too late.

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