The following is an excerpt from Poverman’s novel, Love by Drowning, forthcoming from from El León Books in Berkeley, California.

Click here to hear Poverman read an additional excerpt from his novel.


 … And Val was still drifting, Michael’s small hand in his as they walked toward the swings, Val kneeling to peer into his face. Michael was so young. How old was he? Six? How could he be only six? Was it now or then, and if it was now, when or what was now? He heard Kazz laugh once in her sleep, and when he looked again, she was holding Michael, who was a baby, but big enough to balance astraddle on her hip as she came toward him, and Val felt a keen yearning for his wife, for their son, and he could feel time gone, its absence palpable …

And when he looked for Kazz again—where was she?—he saw that a man had come into the room. What room? He remembered. He was in a hospital. Val sat up in bed. The man was Val’s age, maybe a couple of years older, a bit of a gut, burly. Yet with pale white skin, blond hair going gray, a receded hairline and light blue eyes, he seemed delicate, almost translucent. He was carrying a folder and a shopping bag. Val knew he wasn’t a doctor. Without having to think about it, Val recognized him as a cop. He introduced himself, Bill Dickerson, showed his identification, a sheriff’s department detective, added a comment about Val’s amazing ordeal and how lucky he was to be picked up—a chance in a million. In fact, if one of the crew hadn’t just happened to look up from his work and see a flash—it was the sun hitting the stainless steel prop of the overturned Robalo—then … Dickerson shrugged and didn’t finish the sentence. How grateful Val must feel to the fishermen, which, of course was true, though Val had not met or had a chance to thank them. Dickerson said, “I’m a sports fisherman, myself. Stripers and blues. You just never know. Things can go wrong out there fast.” Dickerson paused. He was still standing.


He indicated a chair beside Val as if to say, “May I?” And Val nodded, wary of the formality. He set the shopping bag on the floor beside him. As he sat down, his jacket slid back and Val saw his gun. Dickerson said simply, “I’ll get to the point.”

He reached into a folder and placed a stack of glossy, eight-by-ten, black-and-white photos on the table beside Val. Val picked them up. They seemed to be of a fishing boat. A trawler. The one that had rescued him. The deck. Mountains of netting. He looked more closely. He saw a boat. The Robalo. On the deck. Line trailing from the boat. Val lifted the picture and held it up close. Something in the line. Several more pictures. A huge snarl, some of it slashed, but the rest drawn tight into an enormous knot, and within that tangle, a body. Close-ups. Val could see the teeth marks, the missing chunks of flesh, and the cinderblocks cinched tightly around the flesh of the ankles. Val suddenly remembered the violent yanking tremors going through the hull, felt himself go cold and breathless. He heard the crewman’s voice before he passed out in the cabin. “We just brought your boat up on deck … ” The look on his face as he peered down into Val. Surprise. Horror.

Val glanced up to see the detective looking at him.

“Is there anything you want to tell me?”

Val pushed the pictures away and made an enormous effort to bring himself back. He realized the pictures were an attempt to shock him into a sudden explanation, a confession, or at least to get him to say enough to trip him up, confuse him, start the process of later trying to reverse himself … He remembered when he’d been a defense attorney how crucial it was to keep pictures like these out of evidence when possible. Once a jury saw them, the case was all but lost. He was surprised to hear the marked coolness in his voice. “Are you arresting me?”

The cop said, “That maybe depends on what you tell me. You’re picked up in a boat. There’s a body weighted with cinder blocks still attached. It looks like murder, doesn’t it? Do you have something you want to tell me that can help you?”

Val drifted again and then came back from a long way off and repeated himself. “Are you arresting me?”

The cop shrugged. “I’m willing to listen.”

Val recognized the moment. The start of a game. An old game he’d once come to know well, but hadn’t played in a long time. One he’d finally been relieved to stop. Now he thought Dickerson was pretty good. Willing to listen. Empathetic. Low key. He knew that Dickerson would already have a warrant for his arrest. That Dickerson probably knew little or nothing about him yet. From police reports, he would know that something had gone wrong in Lee Anne’s house several nights ago—how many was it now? It seemed like years ago. He probably also had Lee Anne’s statement. Val didn’t know what Lee Anne had said, but he suspected she had come out of her trance, pulled herself together—how many times had he seen her face go from vacancy to hard defiance—and said whatever she’d had to say to save herself. In fact, Lee Anne had saved his life the other night by killing Brent. He still wasn’t sure why she had chosen to do that, but he did know now that it was going to be her or him, that he was up against a fearsome brilliance in Lee Anne. He glanced at Dickerson, who was watching him. Back in an old game. Val realized he was behind in the game. Way behind.

He surprised himself, “If you’re arresting me, then why would you interview me before you Mirandize me?” Val felt something change in the room between them. They’d had their two minutes. Val felt Dickerson hold his affable mask. Val said, “I mean, you might get a confession but without the Miranda it’s coerced, it’d be thrown out. Of course, it’s your word against mine, and mine, under these circumstances, should be easy to discredit. You go for the conviction first. If you get it, I’m the one who’s got maybe five to ten years of appeals, always an uphill battle, and then it’s still my tough luck … ”

“You seem familiar with the law.”

“And you were counting on my not knowing it. I’ve been in the water fifteen hours, and as you said, I’m lucky to be alive, but I’m still not an idiot.”

The cop pushed the pictures back toward him on the table. “I didn’t say you were an idiot. I only asked you if you wanted to talk to me about these pictures.”

“And I asked, ‘Are you arresting me?’”

As if to say, have it your way, Dickerson shrugged. “Yes, I’m arresting you.” He arrested him for first-degree murder and Mirandized him, and Val came back from a long way off when the detective said, “You have the right to remain silent.”

Val said, “May I make my phone call?”

“Make the call and then I’m taking you in.” He pulled the warrant out of his jacket, placed it on the table beside the pictures. “Your doctors say you’re well enough to leave the hospital. I’m booking you into the county jail.” He indicated the shopping bag beside the chair. “I brought you some clothes, courtesy the State of New York.”


“Figured you for large, extra-large, Pants: thirty-six, thirty-four.”

“That’s about right, but you’re going to turn out to be wrong about everything else.”

“We’ll get to see, won’t we?”

Val said, “I’d like to make the call in private, please. If you don’t mind.” Val looked around. “Promise I’m not going out the window.”

“You can try, but we’re on the fifth floor.”

“Could you give me the name and phone number of the jail? It’s for my attorney.”

Dickerson wrote it on the back of his card, slid it across the table. “I’ll be right outside the door.” Dickerson placed the shopping bag on the bed. “Make your call and then get dressed.”

After he’d gone out, Val placed a collect call to Stan Miller and reached him at his office.

When Stan picked up, Val gave his name and Stan accepted the charges.

“Val. God, where’d you disappear to?”

Val said, “It’ll take too long to tell you now, but I’m in a hospital. I’m OK. As soon as I hang up, I’m being checked out of here and I’m on my way to the county jail.” Val gave him the location and said, “There’s too much to explain, but it’s for murder. I didn’t do it. I think I got led into something, but I’m not sure how or why. Revenge, maybe, but that doesn’t seem right. Or maybe that’s not all of it. Or enough. It’s something else. I’m just babbling, but the main thing is I didn’t do it, Stan, which probably won’t matter. I panicked and ran, and that made it worse. Probably hopeless. Could you find me a good criminal lawyer? One who can deal with the State of New York.”

“I know someone.”

“And could you call Kazz and my mother and tell them … I guess tell them what I told you, that I’m getting taken in for murder. And that it looks like I did it. But that no matter what, I didn’t kill anyone. I just don’t know if I’ll be able to make anyone believe me.”

“I’ll come over there.”

“I’ll tell you everything when you get here.”

Val hung up. He looked in the bag of clothes Dickerson had brought, pulled out the pants. Dickerson had sized him right. As he eased himself out of bed and stood to dress, his legs shaky, he suddenly knew that Kazz and Michael were lost to him.


C.E. Poverman’s first book of stories, The Black Velvet Girl, won the Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction. His second, Skin, was nominated for the L.A. Times Book Award. His stories have appeared in the O’Henry, Pushcart, and other anthologies. His novels are Susan, Solomon’s Daughter, My Father in Dreams, and On The Edge. He has just finished a screenplay, Baby R, and a new novel, Grace Within Her Mother’s SilenceLove by Drowning, from which this story is excerpted, will be published in August 2013.

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