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An Underworld Quartet: Fatman’s Inferno

Buy — One: Fatman Descends; Two: Duke Is Dead; Three: Know the Time; Four: Fatman in Eternity

This four-part series of novellas follows the exploits of Charles Fadiman, AKA Fatman, as he attempts to deal with an intrusion of the not-exactly-living in Frogtown, his sketchy neighborhood.

Here’s the back story on this collection. Around 2015, government officials undertook a light-rail building project in Minneapolis/St. Paul, where I live. A local organization offered artists of all stripes a $1,000 stipend to create public works that used the rail line build out as a point of inspiration.

An effect of the construction process — the demolitions, the digging, all the moving and shaking — was to stir up the colonies of rats living beneath the city streets. It’s possible that people would be interested in reading a treatment of a rat invasion. But it seemed to me that there were more possibilities in the notion of an Underworld, where the in-betweeners — those suspended between life and death — went about their business. Their business being an effort to settle old scores and right various wrongs.

I started this series on a Halloween, with a serialized novella titled Fatman Descends. Subscribers got a free 300-500 word episode delivered via email every weekday, with the idea that they could read it on their phone as they made their way to work.

Fatman Descends described the realization among Frogtowners that something had gone horribly wrong. In their bids to settle old scores, the undead were not subtle. They might crush you under a car, toss you from a window, or employ their signature move, the twist-off, in which they used their extraordinary strength to twist a victim’s head from his or her body. With the collusion of a Duke Black, a childhood friend turned cunning attorney, Fatman conspires to seal up the underworld and put the undead back in their place.

Because I enjoyed the process, and even though there was no more government largesse for season two, I started a new version of the Fatman saga on the following Halloween. Duke Is Dead starts off with the undead pulling off another escape, this time with the intent of getting even with Duke. Duke shows up with a knife in his back on Fatman’s stoop. Fatman and his siren wife, Doris, are implicated in Duke’s murder. By fits and starts they learn that Duke’s apparent murder is much more complicated than that.

Another year passed and, well, I couldn’t resist. On Halloween, once again, my subscribers began to receive episodes of Know the Time. In this story, Fatman has made a pact with Duke, now holding office hours in the underworld with his lawyer pals, Pimlipper and Graydon. Duke outlines a business scheme for his friend. The undead can tell you when you will die. Duke proposes that many among the living would pay dearly for such knowledge. The ensuring business lines Fatman’s pockets, but also brings new forms of grief.

In the final season of the Fatman quartet, Fatman’s Inferno, Fatman and Doris become residents of the underworld themselves after a bit of casual mischief sends them crashing to their deaths. Now they must decide how to comport themselves in the afterlife. Will they tally their old grudges and get their revenge? Tip the scales of justice toward greater love, truth and beauty? Or accept that their time is over, and lurch toward the next stage of existence (or non-existence), whatever that might be?