C ooper Chance, Army sharpshooter and deserter, wants to go home, but cannot knowing that he’ll be jailed. He’s ended up a mercenary in Africa in a gritty world of thugs, prostitutes and corrupt cops. He trades diamonds to survive and meets Sadiq, a young merchant as lost in the world as he is. They fall in love, but unbeknownst to Cooper, the youth has ulterior motives. When huge oil reserves are discovered, the CIA offers Cooper a way home without jail time if he carries out a risky high-stakes mission. Cooper balks until a teenage prostitute he’s promised to save is trafficked and disappears. In hopes of rescuing her, Cooper agrees to carry out the CIA’s plot with unexpected consequences.

Cooper Chance is “a complex character in the vein of classical leading men. If Humphrey Bogart were alive today, he’d be attracted to this role…” Fresh Voices International

"The rain turned to steam as soon as it hit the ground, or so it seemed to Cooper as he ran down the street, stopping only long enough to help a woman load a box onto a pickup truck before dashing off again..."

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The rain turned to steam as soon as it hit the ground, or so it seemed to Cooper as he ran down the street, stopping only long enough to help a woman load a box onto a pickup truck before dashing off again. He heard a girl shout from a doorway, “You going to see Little Sister, American Cooper?” and he turned around to run backward, water splashing at his heels as he spread his hands, silently asking, What choice do I have?

The girl flashed her white teeth in a big smile. A second prostitute, the same young age as the first, cried out, “Why you go all that way, American Cooper, when you got a Little Sister right here?”

Their laughter trailed him all the way to The Mining Pan. When he pushed through the saloon doors, everyone in the bar, by a discreet glance or hiccup in their conversation, took note of his entrance. Staying alert is how you survived in Lalanga, but by the time the doors stopped swinging behind him, Cooper’s small ripple effect had already passed through the room, and he made his way to the long bar. The storm had knocked out the power, and water streamed in through the damaged roof where a mortar shell had landed during the last rebel offensive—if one mortar shell and two dead drunks merited being called an offensive—but no one seemed worried about the puddle creeping across the floor, certainly not the men preoccupied with fixing themselves up with a girl. They had more pressing matters than rain puddles and civil wars on their minds.

Cooper brushed water from his buzz cut but didn’t have a sleeve to wipe off his face. He’d torn those off his army-issued shirt as soon as he’d arrived in the godforsaken country and felt its waterlogged air. He slid onto a barstool and ordered. “A G and T, Juma, and this time, try to remember the ice.”

The barman, his eyes bloodshot from the perfumed smoke perpetually hanging around his head, took a hit off a joint before handing it back to a customer. “Americans always want too much ice,” he complained. Juma was tall, with a shaved head and a pirate’s gold-loop earring.

Cooper swiveled his head to the left and right. “If you’re worried about running short, I don’t see a lot of my compatriots around.”

Juma scooped some cubes into a glass from the wheezing ice machine. “Too much ice makes the gin no good.”

“It’s no good anyway.”

“It’s distilled properly for our weather.”

“You got that right; it sucks and leaves you thirsty.”

The barman passed him his drink, and Cooper took a long swallow. He knew he’d been in Lalanga too long when the flat tonic and gunpowdery gin had started to taste good. Rolling the cold glass across his forehead, he swung around on his seat to check out the room. The usual hookers and thieves were there, but no Lulay. She called herself Lucy for the johns, but he preferred her real name: Lulay.

When the power flickered back on, Juma plugged a coin into the jukebox so his girls could keep their johns dancing between drinking. Conversations grew brighter. There was raucous laughter from a corner where a couple of sotted Thick Necks, holed up at a table, were pawing two girls and grabbing the asses of any others who came within range. Cooper had seen the oilmen’s whole whiskey-and-groping scene so many times it felt exponential. He assumed they were oilmen; as far as he knew, no other white men had remained in the country except for oilmen, and every one of them seemed to have a thick neck.

He swung back around so as not to see them but couldn’t help looking in the mirror running the length of the bar when one of the Thick Necks started banging his bottle on the table to order a second. Cooper recognized him from his fancy moustache, twisted at the ends like a dandy’s—though as acne-scarred as he was, he was hardly a dandy. Rarely without the stump of a cigar clenched between his teeth, he had a habit of getting very drunk and more than a little rough with the girls.

“Must be payday,” Cooper remarked.

Juma pulled a bottle off the shelf. “They’re celebrating,” he said.

“What’s to celebrate?”

“They found oil.”

“Sure they did. Just like the last time and the ten times before that.”

“This time,” Sam Brown said, sliding onto the next barstool, “it’s been confirmed by experts.” He wasn’t brown but black, and not African but American—soul patch included—and he had scars on his cheeks that could have been mistaken for tribal marks if they’d been more symmetrical. He had started showing up at the bar two weeks earlier and had become a regular pain in the ass, acting like they should be friends, both being Americans and all.

Cooper didn’t bother to look at him when he asked, “What the fuck do you want?”

“They have nice girls in here, or haven’t you noticed?”

At that moment Lulay splashed her way out through the tinkling beaded curtain. Behind it was a labyrinth of rooms that offered mattresses and little privacy. An almond-eyed beauty with skin the color of a dark nut, she had every man’s attention as she headed straight for the bar, where Juma held out a glass of ice water for her. She popped her bubblegum as she reached for it, and he nodded discreetly at a fat man sitting alone in a booth. Lulay glanced around at him. Cooper did too. He didn’t want to think of Lulay going with the fat man, but he knew she would; he knew they’d be together. It was something he couldn’t stop, not every time, not without enough money to buy Lulay a free hour, let alone all her hours.

“She’s a pretty one, for instance,” Sam Brown commented.

“She’s a kid.”

“She’s still pretty.”

Cooper knew if he said anything more, about how it wasn’t right to look at kids in that way, they’d probably come to blows, and coming to blows with Sam Brown wouldn’t change Lulay’s foul circumstances. He’d only manage to get himself exiled from the bar. Juma had strict rules about not causing trouble.

Lulay drank her glass of water slowly, rattling the ice in it, buying herself some time. She touched her hair and straightened her skirt and snuggled her toes in her flip flops to make them fit tighter as she crossed the room. Cooper knew that she knew he was watching her by the way she sashayed her bottom, exaggerating her own pigeon-toed way of walking before sliding onto the bench across from the fat john. He seemed genuinely surprised that she had appeared and quickly called out a drink order. Lulay accepted his offer of a cigarette and lit it with his. Once it caught, she swiveled around and blew smoke directly at Cooper—fiercely, in Lucy’s angry way.

Cooper stood to leave, pulling moldy bills from a pocket in his cutoffs and stacking them on the bar. “You leave too much money,” the barman said while making no effort to hand it back.

“Buy Lulay some bubblegum, will you?”

He’d stepped away when Sam Brown said behind him, “Aren’t you going to say good-bye … Sergeant?”

Cooper stopped, swallowed hard, and turned around slowly. He remembered the first time he’d seen Sam Brown, when he’d caught him staring at him in the long mirror. He had glanced up and Sam Brown hadn’t looked away. That’s why Cooper had always suspected that he’d come looking for him, and there certainly were enough reasons why someone might. “You got a reason for calling me that?”

“You just look the part, with your half uniform and all.”

“I bought it at a half-price shop.”

“Sounds like you could use somebody to buy you a whole drink.”

“I thought you preferred little girls.”

“Maybe we should finally talk business.”

“I don’t want any business with you.”

Cooper turned on his heels to maneuver past sodden dancers before pushing his way out the saloon doors. A cheer went up as he did, and he glanced back to see the Thick Necks boisterously toasting each other. The fat man was disappearing behind the beaded curtain close on Lulay’s heels, and where they’d been sitting, another girl and her john now shared the booth.

The monsoon had left behind heavy droplets to ping on Langatown’s ubiquitous tin roofs. After such a thorough washing, Cooper almost liked the place. The peeling colors seemed brighter, the streets cleaner, the people cheerier. It was all illusion, of course; like a shower after a long trip, the rains refreshed Langatown without curing its essential exhaustion. When the last rainbow had dissolved, men would still be leaning against their bicycle taxis, hoping for someone to need a ride home, and the maimed—the lucky minority who had survived indecent wounds—would still be waiting patiently next to their almsmen’s cups for pity’s coins.

“Smith’s first effort is a poignant experience. He wastes no time in deftly establishing the atmosphere...Literary dynamite.” -Kirkus Reviews

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“Sgt. Cooper Chance, an Army deserter, spends his days in Lalanga, drinking cheap gin in a dive. He makes a promise to Lulay, a young girl who sells herself each night, to someday take her away. What little money Cooper makes comes from buying smuggled diamonds from a blind boy and his sister, and turning a meager profit at an Arab merchant’s shop. There, he meets the merchant’s son, Sadiq, with whom he becomes quickly enamored; he longs to accidentally run into him at a local hammam (a bathhouse and massage parlor). But Cooper’s life is confounded by a strange man named Sam Brown, who offers him a way to return to the United States with an honorable discharge—if he’ll use his sharpshooter skills again. Smith’s first effort is a poignant experience. He wastes no time in deftly establishing the atmosphere: ice-cold glasses set against sweaty brows in the blistering heat, with frequent power outages that leave Cooper lying on the bed as he waits for the ceiling fan to come back to life. Characters are enhanced by their association with Cooper’s past: His need to save Lulay recalls his kid sister being tormented by their father, while his wariness of forming affection for Sadiq echoes a horribly failed relationship in the Army. At its best, the book is slightly refitted yet indomitable noir: the protagonist knocked out cold and tossed in jail; Lulay’s constant pleading for help like a vulnerable dame “hiring” Chance; and the mysterious Sadiq calling to mind a femme—or homme—fatale. The novel, a quick read at a little over 200 pages, is rounded out by sharp, cynical dialogue: ‘Where’s this?’ Chance asks, pointing to a postcard; ‘Somewhere else,’ he’s told. Literary dynamite.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Cooper Chance is one of the good guys, despite being an Army sharpshooter, deserter and mercenary. Stranded in Lalanga, a small African country where diamonds are the currency and children are sold into slavery and prostitution, Cooper takes a young girl, Lulay, under his wing. But he has no source of income for food, let alone extra to pay her enough to keep her from “working,” so he takes to the underground diamond trade. Through child diamond smuggler connections, Cooper gets into the racket and encounters children who have lost hands as punishment for stealing, as well as other butchering.The saddest note of all is that while the country in “Cooper’s Promise” is fictitious, the conditions are very real. Readers will quickly come to care about the characters and their story — which will linger long after the book is over.” – The Philadelphia Gay News, Suggested Reading “Timothy Jay Smith’s Cooper’s Promise: A Novel is an intriguing potpourri of themes that include a compassionate vision of tragedy and suffering, human trafficking, child prostitution, gay love, blackmail, sexual harassment in the military, diamond dealing and terrorism, CIA shenanigans, and promises made and kept, even if it involves assassination. It is also a novel that beneath its surface swirls with elements that become more disturbing the closer you look.” – American Chronicle, Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

“Smith and his novel are jointly fascinating in the way that Gore Vidal and Ernest Hemingway were…” – South Florida Gay News

“…passionate thriller.” – Sydney Star Observer

“Readers will quickly come to care about the characters and their story–which will linger long after the book is over.” – Philadelphia Gay News

“…you should clear your schedule before you start reading because you will be so engrossed that everything else will seem unimportant.” – The LL Book Review

“If you can handle an intense read, give it a try.” – Simply Stacie

“Mr. Smith hooked me.” – MM Good Book Reviews

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Coopers Promise