A Brief Synopsis of
Brotherhood and Bartered Souls:

Brotherhood and Bartered Souls is a novel that transcends conventional publishing categories. In many ways, it's mindful of the gritty, coming-of-age urban novels of writers like Lorenzo Carcaterra or Dennis Lehane; but it also has a strong Christian supernatural component, in the tradition of Frank Peretti, Dean Koontz, and Tananarive Due. The action focuses on Jonathan Mac, who is born into poverty in Belmont, Ohio in 1950. Jon's the nominal leader of a small, close-knit crew of young men who've been best friends for literally as long as they can remember. EJ Reid and Neville Sparks are black, like Jon; Mike Tucker is white. All four come from dysfunctional families trapped in a rundown, hardscrabble neighborhood called Ramcat. Job opportunities are limited; those men able to find work usually end up in coal mines or dismal factory jobs. It's clear early on that if the boys want to have any kind of life at all, they'll have to make it on their own terms. So they scratch out success in one of the few ways available to them: by selling drugs. An intelligent young man, Jon he realizes that he's somehow different from the people around him, even his best friends, and suspects that he's destined for something special. He doesn't know what that might be though; and so he bides his time, trying to make something of himself. Jon quietly manages the drug business, maintaining a steady growth without going overboard, cautiously overriding the grandiose ideas of EJ and keeping the excesses of Neville, who is mentally ill, under tight rein. By the time the crew graduate high school, they're living together in an apartment away from their families, where they can run their business and do as they please. While tripping on a new product one night, Jon encounters an odd character -- an aristocratic white man with dark eyes who dresses as if he's walked straight out of a 1940s Hollywood movie. He addresses Jon as if he knows him. Jon's never met the guy before in his life, and suspects he's a drug hallucination. The man assures Jon that he is in fact real, and tells Jon that, in time, he will receive a remarkable gift -- and will have a life-changing decision to make as a consequence. Confused, Jon turns and walks away. After taking a few steps, he looks back -- and the man is gone.

Fast forward a couple of years. By now, the drug life has begun to wear on Jon. EJ and Neville have no concept of throttling down, preferring to live large rather than carefully. They can't see the big picture as Jon does, or any downside in the way they're going. Mike's not much help -- though he and Jon connect on an intellectual level, Mike is perfectly happy with their lifestyle and too laidback to worry about the excesses of his partners. Jon's convinced that they'll soon be busted; the only thing that's protected them up to this point is the fact that they've remained strictly penny-ante. If they grow any larger, he figures, they're likely to be caught. He decides he has to get away and do something else with his life for a while. He concludes that he should join the military, partly because he wants to see the world, and partly because he feels volunteering will keep him out of combat. It's the Viet Nam era, and he expects to be drafted anyway. Immediately after making the decision to join up, Jon encounters the mysterious stranger again. When pressed, the stranger calls himself Mr. Turel, and claims to be a messenger of some higher power -- though he doesn't explain who or what that might be. For some reason, Jon trusts him implicitly. Turel explains that Jon has been destined from before birth to receive some unspecified gift that he will someday use to help the world. Turel promises to keep an eye on him, and to reveal Jon's destiny at some future time -- but first, he insists that Jon needs to get away from his friends for a while. Jon is shaken when he realizes that what Turel is telling him to do is exactly what he's already decided to do. They part ways, after Turel tells Jon that he will see him again soon. Jon enlists in the Air Force, and is sent to Basic Training in Texas. His family and crew are astonished that he's chosen to leave what looks to them to be a satisfying life, and EJ, for one, seems resentful. While in BT, Jon meets Rafael Perez, a street-smart brother from New York with whom he immediately bonds. They're briefly separated when Jon goes to specialist training in Biloxi, MS., but Jon's mysterious benefactor arranges for him and Rafael to later serve together in Korea. While still in Biloxi, Jon again encounters Mr. Turel, who deigns to reveal to him a bit more of his destiny. According to Turel, Jon has been selected by a spiritual entity, one of two who reign in what amounts to Heaven, to perform a great service -- the nature of which Turel isn't quite ready to reveal. He does tell Jon that both of the spiritual entities came together long ago to create the physical world and humanity, which he condescendingly refers to as "dirt angels." Pure angels, he reveals, were either created by one or the other spiritual Parent, not both, and lack both human emotions and a soul. But there is no peace in Heaven: ever since they created humans. They have been fighting over their souls, to which they seem to be hopelessly addicted. Turel confesses that he doesn't understand this, and despite his supposed lack of emotions, it's clear that he's disgusted by and envies humanity. His manner is offensive to Jon, who nearly turns his back on the so-called "pure angel." Turel, however, manages to salve Jon's anger, and promises him that, in time, his destiny will come to fruition. He tells Jon that his crew is important in fulfilling that destiny -- and that Rafael is as well. The next day, Jon hears from Rafael; and a few days later, he's posted to the same Korean base where Rafael's Special Forces team is based. Jon works there as a software developer; Rafael takes part in black ops missions all over Asia. In their time together, they bond even more tightly.

Mr. Turel doesn't visit again until several years later, when Jon is rotated to a new duty station in Langley, Virginia. Again, he emphasizes the importance of Jon's forthcoming task. He also admits, finally, that he's working for the spiritual entity that Christians traditionally call the Devil, but denies that his Father, as he calls him, is actually evil incarnate. Turel insists that the two Beings who dominate the spiritual world are in fact equally good and evil, and equally powerful -- and that the Other, whom his Father is striving against, is female. He also insists that Jon retains the free will to either choose or avoid his destiny, but urges him to accept it. He promises to visit Jon occasionally in the future, and leaves. Not long after, EJ and Neville are jailed for their part in an armed robbery, a misguided attempt to acquire enough money to pay off their loan sharks. In Jon's absence they've lost all control of their lives, and they've let the business fall apart. Mike had nothing to do with the robbery, but without Jon there, he's too ineffectual to keep things together. Neville goes to prison for seven years, EJ for eight. Both are changed very much for the worse by the time they get out. Meanwhile, Jon re-enlists with the Air Force. He finishes up his tour of duty in 1978, at age 28, and lands a job at a bank in Wheeling, WV. Turel doesn't approach him for years, so Jon figures he must be doing things right. He gets back together with an old girlfriend, Kim, and life seems to be looking up. Then his grandmother suddenly dies, followed by his mother a year later. This leaves him reeling. Maybe this is why, once EJ and Neville get out of jail shortly thereafter, he lets them talk him into re-establishing their drug business. Once again, Jon runs the show, and soon their business thrives.