NEW YORK • Rainier Velardo watched the tall man in the blue shirt who sat down next to him - the man had got on at the last subway stop, West Fourth Street, and this was an F train going to Brooklyn.
He watched the man tap the screen of an iPad. He heard him chuckle and say: "You'd think I would know this. I wrote it." And then, with even more of a chuckle: "Didn't see that twist coming."
The man was Harlan Coben, the prolific author whose fans really do not see the plot twists coming. He writes mysteries and thrillers. And here on the F train, he was in the digital universe, trying out Subway Reads - a Web platform that can be reached from a subway platform.
From Sunday, Subway Reads has been delivering short stories or excerpts from full-length books to passengers' cellphones or tablets. The idea is for riders to download a short story and read it on the train. They can choose what to read based on how long they will be on the subway.
"I would like to do it," said Velardo, a retired city sanitation department employee on his way to a bottle- distribution centre in Brooklyn.
He can, for eight weeks. Subway Reads will last longer than a summer romance, but not much longer. It was intended to promote something that will not disappear, something that transit officials see as a milestone in the digital age: Wi-Fi service in 175 underground stations.
Transit officials approached Penguin Random House, which has more than 250 imprints, because it had run a similar e-book promotion in the London Underground last year. But there is a difference between the e-books on Penguin Random House's website and the 175 selections on Subway Reads. The ones on Subway Reads are free.
The e-shorts also come with pull quotes in the text for easy sharing. A reader can tap a Twitter symbol above the quote and it will go out on his or her Twitter feed.
A Penguin official showed Coben a quote while they were waiting for the train. "'I'm underground,' he thought. 'I'm underground.' And then he started to scream."
"This is a really creepy quote," he said.
The two lines appear at the end of Chapter 2 of Coben's book, Missing You. "A different kind of underground," Coben said as the train arrived. That underground does not have Wi-Fi.
NEW YORK TIMES