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  • Hardcover
  • Sep.24.2009
  • 9781888160444
  • Ice Cube Books

Larry gives an overview of the book:

A Good ManSynopsis Harry Ducharme is at the end of his rope. Booze and bad decisions have taken him from the A-list of talk-radio fame down to a tiny cinder-block station, WWHD in St. Augustine, Florida. He talks mostly to himself from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., not sure anybody is listening, reading books and poetry that he likes, not caring if anyone agrees with him, playing golden-oldies from the Sixties, and wondering how he got there. Then, as a hurricane pounds north Florida, with WWHD broadcasting to a town without electricity, Harry gets a visitor just as the eye of the hurricane passes over.  An old black man who calls himself a Prophet wants to borrow a Walt Whitman poem that Harry read the night before.  The Prophet wants “A Noiseless Patient Spider” to be the core of his next sermon, in which he announces the imminent arrival of a New Child of God.  Harry is a...
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A Good Man

Harry Ducharme is at the end of his rope. Booze and bad decisions have taken him from the A-list of talk-radio fame down to a tiny cinder-block station, WWHD in St. Augustine, Florida. He talks mostly to himself from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., not sure anybody is listening, reading books and poetry that he likes, not caring if anyone agrees with him, playing golden-oldies from the Sixties, and wondering how he got there.

Then, as a hurricane pounds north Florida, with WWHD broadcasting to a town without electricity, Harry gets a visitor just as the eye of the hurricane passes over.  An old black man who calls himself a Prophet wants to borrow a Walt Whitman poem that Harry read the night before.  The Prophet wants “A Noiseless Patient Spider” to be the core of his next sermon, in which he announces the imminent arrival of a New Child of God.  Harry is a bit skeptical.

A Good Man thus opens between the heaves of a hurricane and ends on Election night-2008 with the revelation of that Child.  Or perhaps not. Still, Harry is there, in the parking lot of a football stadium, surrounded by thousands of pilgrims, as witness to and participant in one final act of violence that might be a sign of the beginning, or the end.

The story weaves back and forth in time, revealing the history of an orphan named Harry Ducharme. From Iowa farm to Florida beach, Harry is finally surrounded by men and women with their own burdens to carry. Captain Jack Tunnel  is the morning host, more right-wing than Rush, with a cranky co-host parrot named Jimmy Buffett, but also with a gentle secret life. Nora James is the mysterious “cooking woman” who broadcasts from her home kitchen, but whom nobody has ever seen. Nora cooks on-air and discusses women’s issues. Harry spends his first year in town trying to find her, only to discover that Nora’s whereabouts are a communal secret, revealed only to a select few. Carlos Friedmann has the 2–6 a.m. slot, a fourth-generation Jewish Cuban who cannot speak Spanish, but whose forte is to broadcast  fake interviews with Fidel Castro. Friedmann’s great desire is to kill and cook the parrot Jimmy Buffett.

Harry had arrived in St. Augustine in November of 2000, just as the Florida governor was stealing an election for his brother. Living in a America’s oldest city, Harry reveals profound insights into American politics and history throughout A Good Man,  Eventually, his role in the New Child’s arrival becomes intertwined with contemporary politics, Iraq, 9/11, old-time religion, and classic literature from writers like Flannery O’Connor and Emily Dickinson, as well as the music of Harry Chapin.

Harry Ducharme has always believed that somebody has written about him in the past. All he needs to do is find the right book or poem, and then he will understand himself.  Only the reader will see how true that is.

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(this chapter is start of Part II)

September, 2007
The Prophet Appears
Harry Asks for a Miracle

“That’s not your real name, is it?”
Harry Ducharme could still spot a phony a mile off. It had always been his forte, his style, his ticket to the big time. Those years of practice had not quite been wasted. The slow foreplay of softball questions and feigned confusion, as if all he needed was just a little more clarification of the obvious, and then the pounce of a loaded question. His prey might dodge and squirm, but was, soon enough, in the bear trap, Harry would laugh to himself, and the bastard either dies or gnaws his leg off. But Harry’s best shots were behind him, he had accepted that reality, except for the shots of Popov in the glass in front of him. His guests were no longer giants. They were now seldom more than average, except for the writers, smart men and women whose political opinions were irrelevant. The smart politicians began avoiding him years ago. After all, this wasn’t New York. WWHD wasn’t NPR. Why bother? Harry would mutter to himself that he was talking to the lumpen-proletariat of America, and damn few of them. He had wanted to be Edward R. Murrow, but he had ended up being a late-night version of a Harry Chapin song.

“I mean, you’ve used more than one name, so why should I believe this one is real.”

Here he was at midnight, a hurricane blowing outside, sitting across from a man who called himself Peter Prophet. Snake-handling, had to be; verse quoting, or so Harry had heard; a soul cleansing prophet who had not said a word in twenty minutes. Harry had been working to fill the dead air, telling himself that he ought to win a Peabody just for doing a radio interview with a mute. He had once interviewed Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. Midnight tonight, he was interviewing a lunatic, and talking to himself. In the station office next to the studio, Jimmy Buffett was asleep.

“So, come on, just between me and you. What’s your real name? I mean, who’s to know. Nobody’s listening. Who are you, really?”

A late-season hurricane was coming, or so the pros said, but hurricanes had been coming to north Florida for a thousand years, and they had always bounced up to the Carolinas. If he were still talking in South Florida, near the Keys, Harry would have packed his Popov and headed north or inland. He learned that with Andrew in 92. He had sat in a motel for a week after that one, his station down, his vodka stretched into potato vapors, and his core philosophy confirmed: Mother Nature doesn’t give a shit.  
WWHD had a tin roof, and Harry could measure the Hurricane’s progress by the BB pings of hard rain. The pros had predicted a storm surge of ten feet, but Harry knew what was happening. Katrina in 2005 had scared all the pros. No more half-hearted warnings. Tell everybody that End-Times was here, grab your kids and dogs and get out of Dodge. You stay behind, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Your ass is your own. Harry knew the routine. But he also knew he was safe. The WWHD elevation was five feet above sea level, but a five foot reinforced cinder block and concrete foundation had been had been added by the Old Man, who, legend had it, had predicted the Crash of 29 and Truman whipping Dewey, making a ton of money on both. If that surge came, it would be just enough to kiss the front door, and the 120 mph winds would be matched by a WWHD tower that had been double-bolted and double-tethered back in 1972. It had been the Old Man’s promise to north Florida: We Never Close. When a storm in 74 knocked out power all over St. Johns County, making him break that promise, the Old Man added a room to the station and had a gasoline generator installed. We Never Close.   
The only thing troubling Harry this night was the wind. Not that it could blow down WWHD, the walls were two cinder blocks thick and the tin roof had been welded as well as bolted down. Harry just hated the wind screaming. The slap of palm fronds against tin, or the yowl and thud of flying cats hitting the outside walls, those were merely entertainment; proof of the wind’s power, not its soul. No, for Harry, the wind was more human than the water. It had a voice. He did not know the language, but he understood the tone.
Carlos Friedmann had called this hurricane Diablo, but Captain Jack was more creative. For the previous four mornings, he had grabbed the shrinking scrotum of his Republican dittos and twisted, “Hurricane Hillary is coming! Batten down your hatches. Freeze your semen and leave copies of your will with all your friends and relatives. Make sure your bullets are safe to fire another day, even if they have to use a turkey-baster. Hillary’s coming and she’s taking no prisoners. I’ve seen rain, and I’ve seen fire, folks, I’ve seen bad moons rising, and THIS windbag is the Tommyknocker that’s gonna scourge the Sunshine State. Run for your lives. Hillary’s coming, but I’ll be here to fight the fight for you. Captain Jack’s ready to go down with the WWHD ship. That fem-nazi and me, right here at WWHD, main event, so stay tuned if you can. Pray for me. Light your candles. I need your love. And now a word from the Sally Walton Dance Studio, St. Augustine’s door to Broadway. Cloggers and line-dancers, ya’ll get to Sally and tell her that Captain Jack sent you.”

“And tell me again, why are you here? You called me. You asked to come on my show. And tonight of all nights? But now you’re not talking? This is starting to get spooky. I’m doing all the talking. So, tell me. Are you a spook? I mean, Halloween is a month away. Is this a trick or a treat, and what the hell is your real name?”
Harry froze in his seat. He had done it again. But this is really it, he told himself, this gig was already the end of the line. I can’t get any lower on the radio dial. And I just asked the blackest man in America if he was a spook? To his face? Please, god, tell me that, for once, I’m right, that nobody really is listening.
Two stations up the radio food chain, a six figure salary in the past, it was New York all over again. He had not been legally drunk then, merely oiled and careless. A conversation with a rabbi about Israel and the PLO, there had not really been a reason to use the word Hebrews, but he did, except that he had slurred and it sound like Hebes. Worse, he did not hear himself. He did not correct himself. He slurred it out and kept talking as the rabbi grimaced, and then the phone calls began. He was gone the next day, down to Atlanta, where he lost his temper in a conversation with Ralph Reed, implying that the boyish swarmy Reed was a money-changer in the Temple. From there, Harry had started walking to Damascus and ended up on the beach at St. Augustine just as Jeb Bush was stealing the state for his brother.
Except for the wind, silence. Harry stared at his guest, but the black man’s face was indecipherable. Perhaps a slight tilt of his head, perhaps a squint, perhaps even a smile. Harry had a flashback: him back on the beach that first morning in 2000, still wearing his shoes, his feet planted in the sand as the ocean swirled around them and then up to his knees, coming in and pulling back, his shoes surely ruined and his feet sinking further into the sand, his pants soaked, his face looking east and the morning sun breaking over the horizon as he asked himself the perennial question of his life: How the hell did I get here?  

Harry knew what he had to do at this moment. He had one chance to redeem himself. I have to apologize. I have to tell this stranger that I’m a compete fool, and I need for him to forgive me. Harry looked at his microphone and then at his guest. The two words…I’m sorry…were on his lips, but a simple motion of his guest’s head stopped him cold.
Prophet looked straight into Harry’s eyes and then slowly shook his head side to side. A slow shake that said what? Anger, or pity, surely disappointment? But unmistakable was the implicit command: do not talk.
Dead air in the studio, hurricane winds screaming outside, two men staring at each other, and then Harry’s cell phone rang. He looked at his guest. Prophet nodded toward the phone. This really is starting to get spooky, Harry thought. He took the phone off the table and flipped it open.
Carlos Friedmann was frantic. “Cracker Man!  I’m in deep abano and need your help! Por favor?”
Harry’s body went limp. But then he looked back at Prophet, who almost seemed amused. “Carlos, I’m on the air, and in a bit of a mess myself, so you better be sitting across from Bin Laden right now.”
“Worse than that. I can’t get to the station tonight. My mama didn’t raise no adoquins. You gotta cover for me. Can you do that? I’ll be your best friend. Come on. Captain Jack was right. This storm is a perra. I’m staying home with Chickie. Come on. Four more hours. And it’s not like you have anywhere to go yourself.”
Carlos was right.
“Sure, I’ll cover for you, but anybody calls for you I’m going to tell them that you were kidnapped by Castro.”
“Perfecto, Cracker, but don’t worry about any calls. Why you think I called your cell? Lines are down. But since you mentioned the Old Man, I have another favor to ask. And I am damn pesado about this.”
Harry had given up pointing out to Carlos that, descended from Jewish Cuban cigar rollers or not, he was fourth generation and his first language was English, so his constantly tossing in cherry-picked Spanish was becoming a less and less endearing affectation.
“Carlos…,” he started to say, wanting to get back to Prophet.
“Mucho gracias, mi amigo. I promised my people a big announcement tonight. You gotta deliver.”
 “Tell me, Senor Barnum, what should I tell your teeming peons?”
“You are THE man, Cracker. Here’s the deal. Tell everybody that sometime near the end of the week, no advance warning, I am going to interview…you ready for this?….”
Harry felt good, his earlier faux pas almost forgotten, Hurricane Hillary somebody else’s problem, his outlook on life improving simply by listening to Carlos get excited about his own ideas.
“You tell my posse that…you hear that drum roll, Harry, you hear it?…that I have arranged a secret phone interview with Elian Gonzales, straight from Havana. The little dolphin boy himself. Am I not a genius?”
When he finally heard who the guest was, Harry laughed out loud, and Prophet smiled with him.  Harry then almost gagged laughing. “Carlos, you do not…”
“Oh, hell no, of course not. But you tell ‘em anyway. Me and my amigo Steve Sapperstein have been working on this for a week. His Spanish is exactamento. And this will drive those Miami Cubans even crazier than they already are, ‘cause Elian is going to tell everybody that he is being groomed to replace the Old Man himself. Tell me, Harry, is this going to be muy placer, or what? So, you and me, socios? This’ll be bigger than Orson Welles and those Martians.”
Their partnership sealed, Carlos had one last request for Harry, “Off the record, amigo, you got to quit drinking. You think we don’t know what’s in that big glass of orange juice in front of you? You’ve been talking to yourself for a long time on the air, even Chickie was getting creeped out, and with the phones down you won’t be getting any call-ins, so you might want to take a break and play some of that old fart music of yours.”

Harry and Prophet were alone again, and Harry remembered the thread he needed to pick up. Contrition was a breath away, but Prophet stopped him by leaning forward and touching his hand, speaking on-air for the first time, “You asked about my name. Let me tell you why it does not matter.”
Harry had a revelation: This guy is a pro. His voice changes when he gets close to a microphone.
Prophet had arrived a half hour earlier. Harry had been airing a series of public service announcements while taking a bathroom break, and their introduction had been brief. The visitor’s voice was different then, a low tenor, but as soon as he spoke into the microphone it became clear bass. A slow bass, much slower and lower than private conversation, a bedroom bass.
“I am Peter Prophet now because I am about to begin the final phase of my journey. My work is almost done. I was John Bourne. I was Paul Brand. I was Simon Goodman. I was James. I was Saul. I was all of those men, and more, and none. But now I am Peter Prophet, and I need your permission to use a poem of yours for my next sermon. That is why I called you.”
Did I say spooky? Harry asked himself.
And then spookier. The black man in front of him became someone else. His face changed. All the hard edges around his eyes, the tight features in his face, they all softened, as if the man had become his own elderly father. Harry looked at the glass in front of him, blaming it again for every blurry vision of his life. The new old man across from him put his hand over the microphone and whispered to his host, “But you wanted the truth, right? You want my real name, as if that really mattered. But here it is anyway, Harry. I’m Bevel Summers. But, see, nobody wants to hear from a Bevel Summers. They want to hear from a Prophet, so I lend myself to that Prophet. And the Prophet supplies the other names that he uses in public. I’m the Prophet. That’s the important thing. I’m the Prophet. I have been for a hundred years. I wish I was just Bevel Summers again. But my role is to be the Prophet. I was chosen a long time ago, and I’m soon to be released, thankfully, but not before I introduce the new Child. And I need you for that. Your permission to use your words.”
Bevel Summers disappeared. The Prophet came back, took his hand off the microphone, and waited for Harry.   
 After another thirty seconds of studio silence, his cell phone rang. Caller ID: Carlos again. He did not answer it. Harry had never written a poem in his life, but Prophet was waiting for him to speak, that was obvious. Prophet, or whoever he was.  
 The goddam ball is in my court, Harry told himself, but he remained silent, riffing unspoken one-liners back at his guest, eyeing the glass of orange juice in front of him. At the beginning of his shift, the glass had had six ounces of Popov and twelve ounces of Florida’s best pulp-free sunshine juice, an eighteen ounce drink to last four hours. Harry had always been a methodical drinker, proud of his pacing ability. Prophet kept waiting. The wind outside was louder. The cinder blocks of WWHD, to Harry’s ear, were grunting, as if their shoulders were shoved up against a door that was too weak by itself to stand up to an assault of wolves, or barbarians. Harry smelled his own sweat. He was alone in a room with a shape-shifting mad-man, and the only moment in his life that was comparable was the time he had stood on his front porch, barely eighteen years old, and an Iowa State Trooper had walked toward him with news about his missing parents, Harry understanding that any news was going to be bad news, the sound of doors closing, and the present was about to become the past.
He looked at the glass in front of him, but all he could do was whisper, “I’m sorry. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Prophet shrugged and leaned closer to him, “Your spider poem, the noiseless patient spider poem. With your permission, I would like to use it as the core of my first public sermon at the Amphitheatre. And, of course, you are invited.”
Harry was even more confused. “A Noiseless Patient Spider? But that’s not my poem. I never claimed that. I always give credit. It was…”
“Walt Whitman, I know that, Harry. You told everyone when you read it last night. I had been listening to you for many days, but last night was the first time I understood you. And understanding you helped me understand myself and my ultimate purpose.”
Harry was almost irritated. “You don’t need my permission, whoever you are, to quote Walt Whitman. I didn’t write that poem. I don’t own that poem. I do not…”
Prophet ignored his protest. “As I listened to you, I felt that poem’s essence, Harry. The sense of that poem, as you spoke, belonged to you. The truth of those lines. I have heard it before, with other lines and other readers, with music and singers, the work of one artist possessed by another. That was you last night, Harry, possessed by and in possession of that poem. Whether you understand this or not, I must now have your permission to speak those lines myself.”
Harry’s cell phone rang again. Caller ID: unknown. He ignored it. He then heard the explosion of something smashing against the metal roof. On the wall behind Prophet was a round white-faced clock, black hands and a red second sweep. Now past midnight, a new day, Harry thought about his feet on the beach that first morning in St. Augustine, how warm the ocean felt. He had wanted to keep walking out into the ocean that morning, to float away. Instead, he had gone to look for a job.
“Sure, why not,” he finally exhaled as he looked at the Prophet. “Go crazy. Knock yourself out. Lord knows, Whitman would be pleased.”
“And you will be there?”
“I doubt it. I’m a little jaded about preachers, no offense to you, of course. I tend to be a little skeptical of motives, no offense to you, of course.”
“No offense taken. I know your views on Falwell and Robertson and Dodson, the others. You are not subtle.”
Harry leaned back, suddenly pleased and suspicious at the same time. “You’re not offended?”
“I am never offended by the truth.”
They talked for over an hour. Harry knew enough about Prophet to ask simple questions that could either lead to short truths or long evasions. He understood the first line of defense for all frauds, so he had to go beneath and around it. Prophet was a fraud, he was convinced of that, but a compelling fraud. Like the best frauds, Prophet believed everything he said. The longer they talked, however, the more Harry thought he might have been too harsh. If not a fraud, Prophet was surely delusional, and harmless. The acid test was money. Prophet never took a collection. He never asked for a donation. He had no church. He spoke in homes and fields, always unannounced, but his followers always seemed to know. He spoke at funerals and weddings. He had never spoken to more than a few hundred people at any one time. He spoke, and then disappeared. He had no address, no phone, and no friends, but he had followers, and those followers spread the word about his next appearance, and they avowed the truth of his miracles, lives and souls saved.
Harry was the first person who had ever formally interviewed him, and he was sure that nobody was listening. Past one in the morning, he asked about the miracles. Were the stories true?
Prophet paused before answering, cocking his head as if listening for something.
“You are an educated man, right?”
Harry nodded, suspicious again.
“You have read Flannery O’Connor, right?”
Harry nodded  again, more suspicious.
“Yes, I know you have, because that is how I learned of you. Someone very close to me heard you one night. You read one of her stories, all of it, on the air. Do you remember?”
Harry slammed his fist on the table, his body quivered once, and he almost growled, “Hell, yes, I remember that night. I read one story. You know the one. Obviously. So, did your close friend also tell you that I got a call-in that night, some Christian who threatened to kill me for mocking God. And then an hour later somebody fired a few rounds into the WWHD building. All because I read a story, a piece of fiction. So you tell me now, what the hell does this have to do with me asking you about the miracles that others give you credit for? Am I going to get shot at again?”
“Harry, you were in that story. Among the many stories from which you come, you were the core of that story.”
Full circle, Harry told himself, We’re back in bizarro world and I’m waiting for guys in white jackets to either come get me or this guy in front of me. One of us is crazy for sure.
“You were once just a lost child from Ashfield, but now you are The Misfit.”
Harry blinked and shook his head as if his ears were full of water.
“But, you still have a choice. The Misfit told himself that he was the way he was because he had not been there when Christ was crucified. If he had been there, he would have seen the truth, he would know the truth, he would know how to act, he would not be the killer he was. You are like that, Harry. You want to know the truth, but you lack the faith to believe the truth. To believe is to know. It is a truth older than you or me. You are a Misfit, Harry Ducharme. You can do great harm, or you can…” Prophet stopped abruptly, cocking his head again, listening.
“The eye of the storm is almost here,” he continued. “I must leave soon, while it is calm outside, but my invitation still stands. Come see me. Be in the crowd. Be my witness.”
 Harry looked at the clock. “I was asking about the miracles. You never answered.”
Prophet was sitting straighter. “I am not God, nor the son of God. If you look closely at any miracle attributed to me, closely, you will find a rational explanation. Trust me on that.”
“Well, I suppose I’m disappointed,” Harry said. “I’d like to see a miracle someday.”   
“Harry, were you listening to anything I just told you?”
Outside, a horn was blasting. Harry realized that the wind was gone. The only sound in the studio was the hum of electronic equipment.
Prophet had one last request. “Before I leave, would it be possible to get a glass of fresh water?”
Harry plugged in a PSA tape and went to the WWHD refrigerator in the office next to the studio. He found an unopened bottle of Dasani and a clean glass. Back in the studio, he poured the water into the glass and set it next to his juice glass. As Prophet extended his hand toward the glass, he smiled and said, “You want a miracle?”
Harry answered quickly, trying to joke, “If that water turns red I’m going to believe in God for sure.”
Prophet said, “The water is for you.” With that, he picked up Harry’s juice glass, still three-quarters full, and downed the contents with one long swallow. Then he reached into his coat pocket and handed Harry an old newspaper photo. “This is me in the beginning. Look at it. Drink the water. Come see me in a week or so. If you cannot be my witness, please be my guest.”
The horn sounded again.
The two men stood and shook hands. Harry plugged in another round of PSAs and walked Prophet outside. WWHD was surrounded by total darkness. The lights of St. Augustine were out. Except for the sweep of the lighthouse across the inlet, the night was black. Prophet walked around to the front passenger side of the old VW van and opened the door, calling back to Harry, “Good night, Mr. Ducharme. Take care.”
Harry stepped back as Prophet entered the van, and he saw the driver for the few seconds the inside light was on. She was looking directly at him. Harry sucked in a quick deep breath, frozen in the vision of a stunningly beautiful child. Long wavy silver-blond hair, her eyes piercing blue, milk-white skin, surely no older than a teenager. The door slammed, the light went out, the girl’s face disappeared. Absorbed in that face, he did not notice the men and women in the back seats.
Harry watched the headlight beams lead the van away. He was alone, and he had four more hours to fill. He took a deep breath, looked around one more time, and then went back inside to discover that the PSA had finished and WWHD was broadcasting silence. Sitting down, putting his headphones back on, he noticed the red flashing light of his cell-phone. He had a message. The untouched glass of water was next to the microphone, but he did not reach for it. Plugging in a commercial tape for his favorite garage in St. Augustine, he listened to the message.
“Harry, you were wrong about one thing,” Prophet’s voice told him. “In the beginning, you thought that I handled snakes. That is not true. I never touch them. So, my offer still stands. Come see me. I promise, no snakes. And something else. You and I met a long time ago, when I was Bevel Summers, but I am sure you do not remember.”
He tried to remember, but it was hopeless. His memory only went back to his parents in Springdale. Peter Prophet was nowhere after that, and any time before that had been erased. Harry picked up the glass of water and drank.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Larry

Larry Baker’s wife would insist that the use of “career” in conjunction with his life is a bit misleading. Admitting that, however, Larry would still insist that he has done a few things in his life that might constitute real work.
He is currently an adjunct Assistant...

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Published Reviews


The reviews for Larry Baker’s A Good Man are starting to come in and they are good, from Iowa to Florida people are impressed:

“Baker is a smart writer. That’s obvious, especially in the last half of...