A man approached me in 1992 to tell his story — his name was Joe January, and he was a private investigator from the South Bronx circa 1940. A twenty-first century Philip Marlowe, January can best be described as an indignant Humphrey Bogart. That encounter resulted in January’s Paradigm. One Hot January and January’s Thaw conclude the January saga. Combined, they paint a profile of a man out of place out of time. Set against the backdrop of an alternate reality in which we are living in a timeline created by time travelers from the future, January’s tale is compelling, and I couldn’t be more pleased he chose me to tell it. I think I’ve managed to remain true to his story as well as his voice. —J. Conrad Guest
Fellow Michigan writer Rachael Perry and author of How to Fly writes of January’s Thaw, “Great books strive to entertain, enrich and do nothing less than change the world. In January’s Thaw, J. Conrad Guest gives us an unforgettable adventure seen through the cracked lens of our broken present and an all-too-possible, what-if past. Full of intrigue, romance and scathing social commentary, it is both an ambitious novel and an exciting, page-turning imaginative quest for that which is beautiful and true.”
Weary from consternation as well as the day’s events, which included a six-hour bout with airsickness, I climbed the stairs to my third story office and was surprised to find the door unlocked; a light shown through the frosted glass that identified the tenant as Joe January, Private Investigator.
Inside, Lindy was finishing the Chinese she’d ordered from around the corner.
When I didn’t go on, she said, “You said yesterday you hoped to be back in New York today.”
“I should’ve called you when we landed at Teterboro.”
“When I didn’t hear from you, I figured either you were okay and you thought it unnecessary to call, or something had come up and I should make myself available.”
The formality of this discussion was beginning to annoy me. I’d been gone for only a day and a half, but somehow it seemed much longer, and Lindy, despite the accusatory tone in her voice, was a sight for sore eyes. What I said was, “It’s good to be home.”
I hung my hat from the coat tree by the door and took a step, takeout in hand, toward the couch.
“Joe …” she said tentatively, her voice suddenly warmer, and I stopped. When I didn’t come to her rescue she went on.
“You look tired. You probably don’t want to drive home. That couch can’t be comfortable. Why don’t you stay at my place? I’ll drive and you can eat on the way.”
On the ride to Lindy’s place I filled her in on the high-lights of the day, primarily of our flight from the hotel to the track, leaving out the details—I was convinced she wouldn’t have believed me anyway. When she asked about Melissa’s brother, I told her that he had been a victim of mistaken identity but didn’t add that I thought it likely he was dead. I explained that I’d hoped the case was closed but thought it unlikely, and that I expected yet to hear from the MacIntyres, probably in the next day or two. That was the clinical part of our reunion.
Later, I undressed her slowly, gently touching her in those places I knew would bring, for both Lindy and me, the desired response.
I made love to her then, slowly, gently, but more passionately than I ever had before. Being an emotional coward, it was perhaps the best I could do in terms of an apology.
Maybe it’s because of the many years since that long ago night that today I surmise some part of me at some level knew I was about to lose Lindy.
“Lindy,” I said afterward, needing to come clean. “About the other night … Ginger—”
“Shhh,” she said, and covered my mouth with her hand.
I wanted to be angry at Lindy for not allowing me to make this confession—perhaps she feared it was a preface to my breaking it off with her—yet angry at myself for taking so long to admit to myself what she’d come to mean to me, and angry at her again for being so forgiving of my transgressions against her. I heard, and not for the first time, Melissa’s accusation: She sees in you what I see.
But Lindy was laughing softly in that melodious way that was hers and hers alone. Resting on my right elbow, I watched with fascination as her bare breasts, their nipples still erect, shook with her laughter.
“What?” I asked, surprised that my mention of Ginger had elicited laughter instead of tears or anger.
“I didn’t tell you this,” she said, her preface wresting my attention.
She was looking up at me in that way that was hers alone. Where my eyes once rested I now placed a hand; Lindy sighed softly and closed her eyes. Her tongue, moist and rough, darted out to wet her lips and I thought she would forgo the story she had not quite begun; but I was mistaken: the evening was yet young and the night long. She took a breath and continued, even as I felt her nipple stiffen between my thumb and forefinger.
“When I was talking to Ginger about Lance, she asked me how many medals he had.” Her eyes fluttered open and she laughed again, but not before I noted her quickened heartbeat. “It was the first time I could recall Ginger ever asking about someone else’s jewelry.”
“Lance would be offended,” I said. “In the service they refer to medals as decorations.”
“I know that, Joe. But a woman’s jewelry amounts to pretty much the same thing, doesn’t it—decoration?”
I laughed, and a moment later Lindy joined me. I rolled onto my back and after our laughter subsided Lindy covered my mouth again, but this time she covered it with her mouth.
I spent that night with Lindy, a rarity for me, as I preferred instead the distance that spending the night alone provides. I’m glad now that I stayed, no matter that my initial reason was one of convenience.
In the morning, after our shared shower, we made love to the sound of softly falling rain outside the bedroom window. In the afterglow neither of us told the other that we loved them.
I doubt that Lindy couldn’t have known how I felt about her. Perhaps in knowing, she didn’t need my reassurance; still, I regret not telling her, if not for her sake then for my own—to hear myself say the words, especially now, after discovering these many years later that she carried my child.
Click here for an interview with: J. Conrad Guest, Author of “January’s Thaw”