Rod Philbrick stretches the better portion of his 6' frame across the 100-year old pool table in an equally ancient Portsmouth club. He sites down his cue, tilting his head to see around an exceptional cigar with a daring expanse of ash, smoke drifting into the bank of tin lamps hovering above the table. The man is a painting. Only the smoke and the cue ball are in motion. It strikes the two ball sharply, sending it against the bumper. It rebounds, nudging the nine, which disappears into the leather pouch.
Another player, winning the game on the second shot, might be elated. Rod studies the table, waiting perhaps, for the ball to rise back out of the pocket, struggling perhaps to hold down a victory smile. With a dozen novels behind him and his first major success "Freak the Mighty" still topping the adolescent fiction charts, he remains a cautious man.
Later, he seems less cautious but no less reserved, as his classy fishing boat skims the Piscataqua at 50mph. With 40 years fishing the river, this is his first-ever new boat, courtesy of Freak the Mighty. Now working with his wife Lynne of a third trilogy of teen novels, Rod Phibrick is an overnight success at 45. He has done what most local writers can only imagine -- he gets paid to write, enough to keep an apartment in town, winter in the Florida Keys, fish and smoke decent cigars. Approaching the harbor at sunset, he rounds Badger's Island at trolling speed. It's one of those purplish red sunsets that so often encircle the city. And thereís Rod, still as a painting again, still fighting back that well earned victory smile.
Rodman Philbrick was born in Boston in 1951. The eldest of four brothers, he was raised in Rye Beach, attended Rye Schools, and graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1969. And indifferent English major at UNH, he dropped out in his sophomore year to help open The Stone Church, Newmarket's 'folkie' beer joint. He worked variously as a carpenter, boat builder, and mold maker while writing nine or ten frequently rejected novels. St. Martin's Press eventually contracted to buy his 'first' novel in 1978. In 1980 he married editor and writer Lynn Harnett.
Several of Philbrick's novels are set in the seacoast area, including 'Slow Dancer', 'Brothers & Sinners', and 'Freak The Mighty'. He and his wife currently collaborate on several series of books for young readers, and he continues to publish adult thrillers.
Mr. Philbrick is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and The Writers Guild of America, and is a proprietor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.
By J. Dennis Robinson
the T.D.Stash detective series, paperback original:
As William R. Dantz:
PULSE '90 Avon (paper)
THE SEVENTH SLEEPER '91 Morrow (hardcover)
FREAK THE MIGHTY, Rodman Philbrick, '93 Scholastic - Hear about Sharon Stone's role in this upcoming movie and view exclusive pre-release photos.
Young Readers (with Lynn Harnett)
Stories selected for anthologies:
Awards & Nominations:
Shamus Award, Best Paperback Detective Novel '93: Brothers & Sinners
Freak The Mighty: Judy Lopez Honor Book '93, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, ALA Recommended Books for Reluctant Readers, California Young Readers Medal Winner, Arizona Young Readers Medal Winner. Foreign editions in Denmark, Japan, France.
Works currently under film option:
Currently working on:
"There will be time to murder and create."
Dark matter: the unseen , unknown mass that comprises 90% of the universe.
In 1927, Edwin Hubble, using the powerful new telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory, made a startling discovery. The universe, assumed even by Einstein to be static and unchanging, was actually expanding in all directions. Hubble proved beyond doubt that the most distant, red-shifting galaxies spin away from our own Milky Way, the speed of expansion increasing with distance. It followed that the universe must have been created in a primal, cataclysmic event that became known as the Big Bang. The force of that unimaginable explosion still drives the stars. In 1960, the great astronomer Jan Oort discovred that galaxies spin with a gravitational force that can only be explained by enormous quantities of undetected mass - an invisible something that whirls the stars through eternity. This unseen mass became known as dark matter. The search for what dark matter is, and how it will affect the fate of the universe, and of humankind, is the last great mystery.
Whoever discovers the secret of dark matter will be remembered for all of history. For some it is a search worth dying for...
1. The Riddle
I am a creature of the night. My father was a dying fire, my mother a dead star, and my children gave birth to me in the time before time began. Who am I?
An astronomer on top of an dormant volcano, thinking silly thoughts because my brain is starved for oxygen. Specifically, I'm in the Mauna Kea Observatory, on the big island of Hawaii, altitude 13,800 feet, where the air is so thin that plodgy PHD's sometimes strip off their clothing and attempt to ski from the cinder-strewn summit all the way down to the sea that lies like a sky-blue refracting mirror almost three miles below us. And below that enigmatic sea-mirror, six more miles to the unseen, black-holed bottom of the world.
God help the poet who spends a shift up here! Imagine that addled brain reeling off quantum equations instead of verse, and you have the rough equivalent.
Let me take a deep, unsatisfying breath and being again. My name is Stephen Shelby, and I am by trade a simple astronomer. Not an astrophysicist, nor a cosmologist, nor any of those with Nobel possibilities, but a mere observer of heavenly bodies. Even so, I once found a distant galaxy, an enigmatic spiral of stars glittering like icy blue diamonds in the darkness of eternity, and named it for the woman I loved. She thanked me politely and left, having already decided to make her life with a crippled genius whose prospects for immortality were better than my own. Story of a star find, story of my life. Not to mention the heavenly body herself, otherwise known as Diana, Goddess of the Hump. A small, stupid joke I once made, to which she smiled secretly and replied, "Careful, I know why little boys like to play with big telescopes." Skewered with another of Diana's insightful erotic arrows. She rarely missed, which pleased me at the time.
But never mind about my love life, or lack thereof, let us speak of another dark matter. Which begins a few stray, oxygen-depleted thoughts ago, when a buzzer in the focus cage sounds, indicating an incoming phone call. "Hello? Hello?"
The line is clear but my mind is not, and it takes several long, thumping heartbeats before I put the seemingly disconnected words together inside my head.
There has been an accident. Dr. Harold Wittstein is dead. "Who? What are you saying?" I sound like a bleating sheep. The thin air does that to your voice, and it tends to echo inside the mind rather unpleasantly. "Stephen?" The sound of my name buzzes like a tiny insect trapped inside the phone. I identify the voice as belonging to Tim Giotti, an associate and friend from the Joint Astronomy Center. "Are you all right?" Tim asks. "No," I say. "I am not all right. I can't think clearly. End of the shift." "What?"
"End of a long observation shift!" I explain, raising my voice unnecessarily. "Too many hours in the thin air. It fogs the brain. Can't think clearly. For a minute there I thought you said Hank Wittstein died." Several miles below me, ensconced in his comfortable, aloe-scented office, Tim purposely clears his throat. "I know about the thin air problem, Steve. But I'm afraid the fact is that your old pal Wittstein really has died. Something about a wrecked Lamborginni. Or maybe it was a Ferrari. Anyhow, a mountain road somewhere in Switzerland ." "Hank dead?" I say. "Impossible."
"I'm very sorry," Tim says. "I'll see you at the base camp, okay?" He pauses, leaning into my silence. "Steve, are you there?" After a while I say, "I'm here," and then break the connection. My brain tells me there is nothing in particular to feel, that certain information has simply been delivered and filed away under Collegial Associates & Former Roommates.
But my tears fall 38 feet to bank of parabolic mirrors below, and I can hear them strike the perfectly formed glass. Small, hot drops of sorrow quickly evaporating into the dry, thin air.
My brilliant friend Henry Lawless Wittstein is dead, dead, dead. As dead as the starlight trapped by the focus lense, not a foot from my unseeing eyes. As dead as the nine mile high volcano upon which I'm perched, weeping like a boy. As dead as Diana's love for me. We ever-questing men of Science know not whether God exists, or how the stars first came to shine, but this one thing we know.
Dead is dead.
Copyright 1996 Rodman Philbrick
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