If you don’t yet have a copy of The Virgin Birth of Sharks and you’re thinking of picking one up, I’m sure you want to do what you’d do in a book store: open it and read a little bit to see if you like it.
You can do that on Amazon or any of the other online sites that sell it (listed below), but their preview options tend to cut off at an arbitrary point — sometimes in the middle of a chapter.
This section is gives you four chapters of the book (I usually give three, but the chapters one and four are short). If you read that much of a book in a store they’d probably start looking at you funny, but online no one’s looking over your shoulder, so go ahead — take your time, read as much as you like, and then decide.
Virgin Sharks, like all my books, is available through these outlets:
- Kindle format: Amazon.com (U.S., Canada, India), Amazon.de, Amazon.es, Amazon.fr, and Amazon.it.
- Epub format: Kobo (Canada, U.S., Australia, New Zealand, UK, Japan, Hong Kong, Europe) and WH Smith (UK).
So read on and decide for yourself if you want to buy a copy.
One: The Virgin Birth of Sharks
TorontoNewsCrawl.com, May 5
MYSTERIOUS ZOO BIRTHS
Scientists were puzzled this week when a great white shark named Maddie gave birth to two healthy baby sharks, both female. The births are a mystery since Maddie has lived alone in an enclosure in the South Africa Pavilion of the Toronto Zoo for four years and has had no contact with male sharks during that time.
There have been only two similar births recorded. A spotted bamboo shark gave birth to two offspring at the Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit in 2002, despite the fact that the mother had not been near a male in six years. A bonnethead shark at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska gave birth in 2001 under similar conditions.
Parthenogenesis, a process by which an animal may give birth without mating, is not uncommon amongst some species, but was unknown amongst sharks until 2001.
Officially the baby sharks have been named Carmen and Miranda. Unofficially, however, zoo staff have jokingly taken to calling them Lust and Pride, after two of the seven deadly sins.
“It was a bit of black humor, because of the great white’s deadly reputation,” a member of the staff who did not wish to be identified told TorontoNewsCrawl.com “but the names just kind of stuck. The paperwork says Carmen and Miranda, but they’ll always be Lust and Pride to us.”
Two: In the Cold
Rani is in the cold.
The night air is hot and it’s thick with humidity, but she’s drawing in the cold from the gun in her hand. It runs like a current up her arm, filling her up and surrounding her. In the cold her heart empties and her head seems light, her thoughts clear and sharp. In the cold she feels nothing at all.
The Bersa Thunder Concealed Carry is a .38, but it weighs only 16 ounces, which is why she selected it. At eighteen years old and five foot two, anything bigger would be impractical. Most girls her age would have chosen the nickle finish version that Toller had offered — it was mirror-surfaced and teenagers like shiny things — but Rani knew the dark blue was a wiser choice: the matte finish makes it less likely to reflect light, less likely to give away her position in the dark, like now.
She crouches in a patch of tall, neglected grass, partially hidden behind the rickety back porch of someone’s darkened house. Her forearms are braced on the raised surface of the porch floor, splintered wood pressing against her skin, the gun extended in front of her. She remains perfectly still, waiting, aiming back the way she came across the uncut lawn. The Thunder is loaded with overcharged rounds for better speed, which means greater accuracy. It wears on the barrel, but so what? She can always get another gun from Toller. She’ll have to get a new one anyway if she uses this one.
Crickets ratchet to each other in the weeds and quiet music drifts from the window of a nearby house, but Rani hears none of it. In the clear sky above her the constellations turn slowly in space, seeming to revolve around this very spot, as though she were the center of the universe, but she doesn’t even know they’re there.
Deep in the cold, Rani imagines the sound of the female cop breathing hard as she tries to catch up to Rani, the sound of her heart beating. That is all Rani knows.
There will be only one cop, she’s sure of that. The male cop took off in another direction chasing after Jenna, and there hasn’t been time for others to arrive yet, so the female will be alone. In her imagination Rani can see exactly how she’s going to look coming around the corner of the fence and into the yard: charging hard, running headlong so as not to lose Rani’s trail.
She could have just kept running, she would probably have gotten away, but probably isn’t good enough. To make sure, she’s changed the rules, turning on her pursuer.
She struggles to remember how tall the cop was; she got only a glimpse of her before taking off. Five seven maybe? More like five eight. She estimates the height of the fence and uses it as a guide, raising the barrel of the Thunder just slightly, anticipating where her head will be. Have to make the headshot these days, everybody wearing those vests.
By the time the cop arrives, Rani’s ready. The cop turns the corner in a stride and before she can take another step Rani’s let off three rounds. The first two hit her in quick succession. By the time the third bullet arrives at the spot where she’d been, her body has arched backward and pitched to the ground and the bullet passes above her, continuing on its trajectory, heedless.
Rani has to leave quickly now – people will report the sound of gunfire – but she also needs an insurance shot. She rises fluidly and crosses to where the cop is lying by the fence. On the slim chance that she’s still alive Rani keeps out of reach of her arms and stands over her, carefully putting a last bullet into her.
“I was born in P4W cop, I’m not going to let you take me back.”
She slides the gun into its holster, hidden by the drape of her army surplus jacket. The night is hot and makes her sweat, but that’s okay because Rani is in the cold. Only once she’s put the gun away, as she’s leaving, does she re-enter the world, sensing the warm summer air on her skin and inhaling the perfume of flowers, the fragrances of grass and hot asphalt.
Later, Rani calls Jenna’s cell phone from a payphone in Woodbine subway station. A man answers.
“Hello?” Totally cop, stiff and officious even as he tries to sound casual.
Rani considers saying something, but in the end she simply hangs up. They’ll locate this payphone fairly quickly – a dead cop will give them a sense of urgency for sure – but by then she’ll be long gone on the subway. The phone will not have her fingerprints on it; she’s too professional for that.
So Jenna didn’t make it. That’s too bad, but Rani isn’t worried about her. Jenna will probably get done for the robbery, the thing that had attracted the cops in the first place, but she wasn’t an accessory to the shooting in the back yard. She’ll do some time in a juvie facility, but that’s nothing new for Jenna. She only just got out anyway.
Rani isn’t worried about herself either. Jenna knows not to talk. Nothing the system can do to her can compare with the retribution Rani would exact if she ratted Rani out. As for the dead cop, she doesn’t even enter Rani’s mind, not just now. She pays her fare and runs down the steps to the platform to catch the train.
Three: Toller’s Bitch
The next morning Rani feeds her news habit, drinking a coffee and scanning TorontoNewsCrawl.com on her iPhone. The dead cop is there of course: Agatha Lewin, 34, mother of one. She reads the details dispassionately, professionally, scanning for any sign that she’s a suspect. They talk about Jenna, though not by name since she’s underage. The article mentions that Officer Lewin’s shooter is at large, but if the cops know Rani’s name they haven’t shared it with the reporters. Last night she wiped the gun clean of prints and ditched it in Lake Ontario, so there’ll be no ballistics to tie her to the incident. She threw the shoes she’d been wearing into a dumpster to avoid being tied to any footprints she might have left at the scene. As far as she can tell, she’s probably safe. She scrolls to the next news item and continues reading.
After catching up with the news, Rani takes a cab to Toller’s. She calls ahead – there’s no other way to get in. Toller’s house in Rosedale is surrounded by a wall of hand-cut stone that has stood for over a century, weathered and covered in places by moss. The wall is topped with another three feet of more recent decorative wrought iron which conceals non-decorative electrified wire and the trigger for the estate’s alarm. She presses the intercom button at the front gate and waits. No one says anything from inside, but she hears the click as she’s connected.
“Toller, it’s me.”
The lock on the gate clicks smoothly, allowing her to push it open. Once she’s inside it swings shut automatically behind her. She approaches the house by following a gravel path that wends its way through a well-tended garden that’s lush with flowers and fronds, many of them rare and difficult to grow. Toller does the work himself, one of his hobbies. Ostensibly Toller is a dealer in antiques, and he does maintain a shop, but he lets a lackey run it. His real business is guns and business is good.
Reaching the front door of the house, she simply lets herself in. There’s no need for a lock at this point; anyone who’s made it this far has clearly been invited. While the house is old and its exterior is decorated with architectural frills, the inside is modern and sleek. Wall to wall carpeting in a pale green color covers large, open spaces, dotted with clusters of furniture with smooth, graceful lines. The entire house is well lit and filled with a fragrance Rani can’t identify, something Toller cooked up himself no doubt. There’s coconut and lime in it, but there’s a bass note she can’t name, something that gives it a powerful undercurrent. Amber? The fragrance seems to come from everywhere and nowhere.
Toller emerges from a hallway, trying to remove a ring from his finger. He’s followed by his two dogs, a Great Dane named Minsk and a Chihuahua named Odessa. Despite their difference in size they’re the best of friends, and if anything Odessa is the dominant one. The great totem pole of dog status has little to do with size or muscles.
“Sweetie, see if you can get that off,” he says to Rani, proffering his hand.
Rani takes his hand and turns the ring gradually, drawing back slowly and evenly, and it slides over his knuckle and off.
“Thanks,” he says, pocketing it and heading for the kitchen. There’s no sense talking business to him until he lets you know that he’s ready. He will not be hurried.
Toller is flamboyantly gay. Tall and well built, with flowing black hair, he works to keep his muscles sleek but very toned. Today he’s wearing casual women’s slacks, a light knit top, and topsiders, all in shades of tan, cream, and white. Around-the-house casual wear.
In the macho world of guns – among the colorful Jamaican rude boys and the rigidly disciplined Chinese Big Circle boys, the teenage Vietnamese gangbangers with spiky plumes of hair and beefy Russian mafiya with hieroglyphically complex tattoos, all the endless varieties of gangstas and gangsters – no one would think of mocking Toller’s sexual orientation.
First, it would be bad for business. He’s the city’s leading supplier of light and heavy artillery, guaranteed untraceable to any source and guaranteed not to be ballistically related to some prior crime.
Second, he has a temper. As Toller would say, his bitch would come out, and nobody wants that. Toller’s bitch will see you dead no matter who you are, no matter what the circumstances. And given his reputation, no one will help the fool who let the bitch loose in the first place. There’s just no mileage in it. So you’ll die alone and be quickly forgotten. Toller is simply too dangerous for him to bother with pretense.
While he putters in the kitchen, Rani peruses his bookshelves. Most of the books relate to art or history, and many have scraps of paper between the pages, marking a passage or an interesting fact. On a glass end table, volume two of Gibbons’ Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire is open. Beside it are Toller’s reading glasses and a ruled pad filled with notes in his small, clear hand.
Rani hears the clinking of ice cubes falling into a glass. A moment later Toller re-emerges from the kitchen with a tall green drink and a can of cola. He knows that Rani doesn’t generally drink alcohol, hands her the soda. He sets his glass down on the end table beside his book and sits in the armchair next to it.
“I hear Jenna didn’t make it home last night.”
Toller hears everything; it’s his way.
He makes a titching sound with his tongue.
“I told her she ought to carry a get out of jail free card.” Toller’s euphemism for a gun. One of his many euphemisms – they range from legal terms to aesthetic notions, from the economic to the sexual.
“I told her too, but she made up her own mind,” Rani says.
“Well, it’s a free country isn’t it? That’s what’s so great about it. Anyone can do anything she pleases, stupid or not, moral or immoral, viable or doomed. The rich can squander their money and the poor can rob and plunder and one day be rich themselves. God bless America.” He takes a sip of his drink.
“Toller, this is Canada.”
We wags a finger back and forth.
“Details and trivialities. You’re sticking with the streaks I see.”
Rani combs her fingers through her short hair, ruffling it.
“Yeah, you were right.”
Fashion is the one thing Rani regularly discusses with Toller besides guns. Clothes, makeup, how to wear her hair. Recently she’d considered getting blond streaks in her hair, which Toller had encouraged, saying it would play off her East Indian features, give her an exotic appeal. He was right, although Rani knows she’s not pure East Indian. Her skin’s too light and her eyes are grey rather than brown. And then there’s her last name: Perreira. What kind of Indian name is that? Still, her features are obviously Indian, as is her first name. She looked it up on the internet, found out it meant “queen.”
Toller likes the streaks, but he disapproves of her scarring. Rani discovered when she was still in her early teens that her looks attracted attention she wanted but also attention she didn’t. To scare off the boys she didn’t like, the timid ones, she adopted facial scarring. It resembles the tribal scars used in some parts of Africa, but her own design. She did it herself, using a razor to cut four parallel diagonal lines in each of her cheeks, running from high on her cheekbone down toward her chin. Then she rubbed the fresh wounds with a deep purple tattoo ink so that the scars now have a permanent dark tint that contrasts with her light brown skin.
Toller takes another drink, then gets down to business. “So dearie, what do you need?”
Toller knows perfectly well that she needs a new gun, and he knows that means she must have used her old one. Besides, his web of informants, friends, toadies, and lovers would inevitably have informed him about the dead cop stretched out on the uncut lawn in the east end long before the news appeared on TorontoNewsCrawl.com. Rani knows that Toller’s offer of weaponry encompasses anything from a .22 up to a tank, but she settles for another Thunder. Toller got a couple dozen of them the year before, direct from a source in Argentina where they’re manufactured, half of them with the dark blue finish, and it’s become her gun of choice.
Four: Abomination Upon Abomination
TorontoNewsCrawl.com, May 8
RELIGIOUS DUST-UP OVER SHARK NAMES
Pastor Carl Hughes, of television’s Hour of Faith and Power, yesterday called on his viewers to boycott the Toronto Zoo. At the heart of the difficulty are the two babies recently born to Maddie, the zoo’s great white shark. Officially Maddie’s offspring are known as Carmen and Miranda, but unofficially zoo staff refer to them as Lust and Pride, after two of the seven deadly sins.
While zoo staff say the nicknames were given in a light-hearted spirit, Pastor Hughes isn’t laughing. “To honor sin in this fashion is an abomination,” he said “and to do so in the context of a supposed virgin birth is to heap abomination upon abomination.”
Even though the names are not official, Pastor Hughes noted that zoo employees used the nicknames when exhibiting the baby sharks to tour groups. Zoo Administrator Wes DeVont says he has now ordered staff not to use the names with the public, but emphasized that he has no control over what his staff say in private or, for that matter, over what names members of the public use to refer to the baby sharks.
“Pastor Hughes may not like it,” DeVont told TorontoNewsCrawl.com, “but there’s not a thing I can do about it. The names may have originated with zoo staff, but it’s out of our hands now. It’s unfair to punish the zoo for something it can’t control. To the public at large these animals are Lust and Pride. Carmen and Miranda are just the names on their birth records.”
And here ends the excerpt. Interested in reading more? Here are the links again — these will take you to all of my books.
- Amazon.com (U.S., Canada, India and several other countries)