It's been a while since I shared a straight excerpt here on my blog, and since I am almost through editing The Proper Bearing, it seemed fitting to give you all one now. Our hero, Nick Forsythe, has just entered his final year of secondary school (what the English consider high school). His friends, trouble-making twins Cris and Terry, have been late in returning from detention for a couple of hours, and when they finally arrive, their reasoning is not what he expected in the least...
Since this week's theme is "First Line of a Scene or Chapter", I have two pieces to share, simply because I couldn't make up my mind. Both are from In the Cards, coming in September.
June shoved the door of her car shut with her hip and hoisted her bag up onto her shoulder. “Crowley!” She barked, jogging up the sidewalk toward the Balefires. “How many times have I asked you not to burn one while you're loitering outside my store?”
He took a long, defiant drag of his cigarette, then flicked it onto the concrete and ground it beneath the heel of one steel-toed boot. “Duncan never had a problem with it,” he drawled.
“Duncan never lived to see you picking his nephew up once a month, either.”
Crowley scraped his bottom teeth across the traffic-cone orange paint on his thumbnail. “S'a lotta love for an old family friend.”
June took a step back between the sidewalk and the white line, squinting at him. “You know, for an old family friend, you've got one hell of an aura.”
“Like that, do ya? Picked it up in Soho, back in the sixties.”
“I think so. Tell Ral he'd better be out here on time. We've got places to be.”
“Please and thank you,” she chirped, smiling as she breezed through the door. Still grinning, she spoke through her clenched teeth as Ral turned away from taking inventory. “Your very nice family friend is outside.”
The last in a series of rimshots echoed around the tiny gymnasium of the community center. With a squeak of sneakers against the floor, Troy hustled to retrieve his ball, and wiped his forehead with the back of his free hand. He'd gone down the street to Madie's for dinner, then come to the Center to work through his lingering frustrations after his meeting with Ral. Several laps around the gym and a bevy of free shots later, he was left only with his confusion. As he crossed the court to return the ball to the cage at the end of the bleachers, Troy ran back along his train of thought.
Never mind how weird the whole magic thing is ... Ral himself was acting weird, even without it. Why the hell did he run out of there? If only I knew who this friend of his was. I wonder if it was the guy he was talking to, before we went down the trail. He took off like a shot, too.... maybe that's what I'll go ask June, instead.
The back of his throat was parched, and Troy leant down to take a drink from the worn bubbler near the locker room doors. The water trickled down the basin in tiny lines, splitting and rejoining each other on the way to the drain. Lines, he thought. Like he ones he was telling me about. Even if the whole thing is a fish story, it's a popular enough one for someone to use as a pattern... why didn't I pick up on that while I was there? As he went back into the locker room to throw on the spare jeans and chambray shirt he'd brought in from the back seat of the cruiser, Troy hoped that the crude diagram Ral had sketched for him still remained on the path.
This week's excerpt from In The Cards takes place during a reading for its heroine, Beatrice, as she's trying to find her footing in her new hometown. The image to the right is from Peter Pracownik's "Dragon Tarot", which is the deck I chose for her new friend and mentor, Louise Mullein.
Beatrice glanced down at the tarot spread on the table and wrapped her hands around the tea like a life raft.
“No, you’re … you’re very right,” she said. “Go on. Please. … You said there was something I needed to be careful of?”
There were footsteps nearby – uneven, but quiet, and Louise glanced up, distracted for a moment, before continuing. “Yes. That’s this card, The Moon. It generally points to some sort of unseen influence. It can be a person, a thing, or even a group of people who are having some kind of effect on your life without your knowing it. It can also be an illusion, or something you’re not seeing clearly.”
“But isn’t it typically associated with the Goddess? Shouldn’t the moon be a good thing?”
“She’s the moon, yes, but think about how different things look in the moonlight, and how much harder it is to see. Think of all the fairy tales or horror stories where creatures or spells only have power by night, and fade in the light of day. The dark is where we keep our fears and our secrets. The Moon is the card that illuminates them and warns us that they’re nearby.”
“I see. So – there’s another card that can help me with whatever the darkness is hiding? That secret or illusion, or whatever?” Beatrice squirmed forward in her chair, careful not to spill her tea.
“Yes. There are a few.” Louise glanced down at the cards again, as there was a soft rustling from one of the herb racks nearby, and the muffled sound of someone coughing. “I see people who are willing to help you, but you’re going to have to make a very conscious effort to reach out to them and trust them...”
This week's optional theme for #2bitTues is "Forgotten" ... in searching In The Cards for good lines, I found this little gem of a scene, and decided I had to share it with you all.
As the last few rays of sun disappeared over the horizon, they were replaced by the spark and flare of a lighter, then the single glowing eye of a cigarette. Crowley drew in a lungful of nicotine, then sent it up to join the dark clouds closing in over town. “Bugger of a storm comin’ down soon.”
“Okay, seriously?” Fritz kicked over a rock with his sneaker as one of the first fat raindrops landed on his shoulder. “Being here is already enough of a cliché. Do you have to add the dialogue?”
“Not my fault the weather agrees.” Crowley bared his nicotine grin, turning toward the riverbank. “Besides … they’re getting closer.”
“Not that I mind a little rain, but we really should get outta here before anyone sees us.”
Crowley flicked his thumb, sending a spit of ash into the current as the rain begain in earnest. “Think you just bloody well jinxed yourself there. But at this point, it don’t matter who sees us. As far as I could tell this afternoon, cat’s nearly outta the bag.”
“That was awful. Why can’t we leave him out of this mess?”
“Those’re the orders.”
“Said the guy with the anarchy patches on his jacket.”
Crowley reached out and dug his neon fingernails into the collar of Fritz’s coat. The blue and green highlights in his pale blond hair flopped into his face as he leaned in close and bared his teeth. “Listen, you walking ball of nerves. I don’t know if you forgot what tree you stashed your brains in this morning before you drank your Ovaltine, but there’s only one authority I respect enough not t’question. It’s in your best interests – and Ral’s – t’do the same!”
Fritz flailed, swatting Crowley’s hand as he tried to wiggle free. “I – but – it – just - that – I – he – let go!” He squeaked, swiping raindrops off his chest and straightening his collar. “It isn’t that I question the big black bossman. I just don’t see why he doesn’t let you handle the girl.”
“I’ve got my own hand to play. As for the girl,” Crowley said, shielding his cigarette from the rain, “it’s gotta be one of you. When it comes to Iknara, I paid my dues a long time ago.”
Fritz shook his head. “I don’t care what he says we’ve got to do. There must be some way to finish this without getting someone else’s blood on my hands.”
Crowley rolled his eyes.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that. Not everyone likes being a pain in the … butt.”
“One of these effing days, I’m going to see you swear.” Crowley smirked, pulling a cell phone from his pocket.
Fritz slicked rain from his broad forehead and shook it out onto the ground, where the riverbank was quickly degrading into thick, red mud. “If you make that call, I’m leaving. I can’t watch you involve anyone else in this mess and just lurk around getting your kicks out of watching them flip out.”
“Suit yourself.” Crowley shrugged mid-dial. “Just remember how t’make an omelet. Wouldn’t want you to starve.”
As he trudged up the hill to where he’d parked his Galaxie, Fritz raised his eyes to the storm clouds and let out a wordless whine. “Trixie,” he told his car, settling in behind her wheel, “I’m liking this job less and less.”
This week's excerpt is straight out of From The Desk of Buster Heywood, due for release in mid-September!
The overhang outside the door kept him dry as he looked out at the storm that had rolled in over the North End. The slush banks Cameron had kicked to pieces were already melting under the onslaught of the rain, pitted and spiked like termite hills, and rivers ran past the edges of the sidewalk into the gutter. Buster pulled his gloves on and buttoned up his coat to steel himself, then stepped out into the frigid deluge.
The tenement building had no roof overhang for him to duck under, so he was soaked by the time he reached the alley. Even so, the building shielded him from any gales coming at him from the side, leaving him to contend with the rain from above. He ducked beneath a fire escape and paused to remove his glasses, wiping droplets off with his scarf. It wouldn’t last long, but at least he’d be able to see long enough to find his way back to the Jetta.
“You,” an unfamiliar voice called out from behind him.
Buster turned, feeling his dinner turn, as well.
“Yeah, you.” A short, thin man with a patchy goatee moved forward into the alley. He wore a faded grey wool coat that looked as though it had seen several previous owners before him, and tattered jeans. The stained apron around his waist and red bandana tied over his hair marked him almost unmistakably as Luis’ busboy. “I know who you are..."
In honor of the first Two-Bit Tuesday, here's an excerpt from In The Cards which follows the optional theme!
The setup of the morgue hadn’t changed much at all during Sam’s years on the force: some of the equipment had been modernized, but the large double doors, mosaic-tiled floors, and layout of the place remained the same. The banks of large, stainless steel drawers along the right side of the room that held the deceased, the wide, open space reserved for examinations, and the file cabinets along the left wall that gave way to storage space for personal effects, and the small office alcove at the back reserved for the mortician… all of that was the way Josie Belmont had left it when she retired. It was her replacement, Sam decided, that made it all so very different.
Everything had its place, still – in fact, in some ways, the young man who’d stepped into Josie’s tennis shoes was neater when it came to his paperwork, even though it was piled high on his desk. The difference was in the details: the ice in the channels along the examination tables couched cans of soda, one rolling equipment table held a bowl made of a human skull, lacquered and filled with fun-sized candy bars, and of course, there was the matter of the music. One thing Dr. Jonathan Knight had made very clear from the day Sam had met him was that he liked his music the way he liked his women: loud and fast. On this particular afternoon, the mortician was leaning back in his chair, clipboard in hand, working away on a form and scatting along to the jazz oozing from the stereo, ticking off boxes on the paper in time with the music. He bobbed his head back and forth, vibrant waves of ginger hair bouncing, and paused for a moment to conduct the horn section.
“JON,” Louis hollered over the din.
Dr. Knight spun around in his chair and launched himself onto his feet, grinning. “Whoa, hey! Sluggo and Blankman! … And guests.” He snatched up the stereo’s remote off his desk and turning the music down to a more civilized level. “Sorry, I was getting my paperwork groove going. Breaks up the monotony, you know? But this works, too. What the hell happened?”
“We got an anonymous call,” Sam repeated, as Steve handed Jon the paperwork from the ambulance. “They found the body buried in leaves in the culvert behind the Starlite alley.”
“I knew I couldn’t trust their nachos.” Dr. Knight lifted up the sheet to take a look at the body. “No confirmed ID?”
“Not yet. We’re waiting on the person who reported him missing to come and give us a positive. Only got the call yesterday. But I figure you might be able to at least have a look and give us a cause of death.” Sam sighed out the last word, his posture sagging. “You’re a nice guy, Dr. Knight, but I sure do hate bringing you business.”
“It’s okay. He’ll keep me company while April’s elbow deep in lab sludge across the hall,” Jon shrugged, his oversized white blazer bunching at his shoulders. “We’ll have a regular dead man’s party in here, get to know each other. And I’ll call you once he tells me what happened to him. I should have something for you by tomorrow morning.”
"Thank you, Doctor.”
“Doctor. Psssht! Seriously, when the fuck are you gonna just drop it and call me Jon, like everybody else?”
“When are you gonna watch your mouth?”
“Well, let’s see now. Uhhh … Proooobably never.” Unbowed, he shot Sam a cheeky smirk.
“There you go, then, Dr. Knight. Steve, Louis? Thank you, gentlemen. The three of you have a good evening. I gotta get going and fill Troy in on all of this. He’s already flipped his lid on me once today for spending the day going after leads on someone who’s just turned up dead. Least I owe him is the story he’s been diggin’ for. Pun unintended."
As the EMTs and mortician waved their goodbyes, Sam turned on his heel and headed back out of the morgue. He wasn’t even halfway back to the elevator before he heard the music being turned up again, and shook his head. “I know you wouldn’a picked him if he weren’t any good, Josie,” he muttered under his breath, “but I gotta tell you something: that boy is just plain weird.”
For the last few weeks, I've been sharing excerpts which fit the weekly theme for Twitter's One Line Wednesday. Though this week's theme is "coffee", I admit to stretching it a little with this scene out of From the Desk of Buster Heywood... by taking you to the haven of 9-to-5 coffee drinkers everywhere: the break room.
The water cooler was one of the most useful yet frustrating points of interest in any given workplace. Long before fad diets had started pushing the importance of eight glasses of water a day, Buster's mother had been a vocal fan of hydration. When most kids had gone on field trips with bottles of Gatorade or foil pouches of Capri Sun that shined like status symbols, the Heywood kids had clambered aboard their fair share of buses and mini-vans with thermoses full of fresh, filtered water. But while there was an ingrained predisposition for Buster to seek out the nearest watering hole in lieu of cracking open a can of soda or popping out for a cup of coffee at the shop across the circle, there was also the fact that he often felt like the lone gazelle in a crowd of hyenas.
"... and can you believe what they did with the lobby of the Courier? Completely gutted it, made it all modern. I don't know how the Historical Society ever let that one slide, or who approved the building permit there." Ben, the salt-and-pepper-haired town registrar, was leaning against the counter near the microwave, addressing two of the clerks who were sharing their lunch at the table.
Buster winced: the three of them had formed the dreaded Break Room Triangle, a configuration which not only allowed for the maximum amount of possible social interaction before he could collect his cup of water and retreat, but demanded that he pass straight through the middle of it in order to do so. He prepared for the imminent small talk, and stepped forward with his customary nod of greeting.
"Oh, hey, Buster. How's it going?"
"That good, huh?" Ben chuckled, though Buster found the joke as funny as he did every single time it was made. "I was just telling the girls about the remodel the Courier had done. They're the first winners of that local business makeover contest Loren's committee started."
Buster's hand hovered below the cup dispenser as something clicked. Loren's committee... maybe this had something to do with his promised errand, later in the afternoon. There was a slim chance of it, after all. But he wasn't prepared to doom himself to being stuck in the Triangle just for a slim chance, and made another quiet noise of agreement.
"What is it, one every three months? They're due to pick the next one pretty soon." The part-time girl from upstairs nudged a carrot stick through a Tupperware container of dressing. Buster couldn’t remember her name, but it was hard to forget the heavy floral perfume she tended to drench herself in, or the way her feathered blonde hair stuck out at strange angles, like tiny wings all over her head. He'd learned to keep his eyes fixed on the water cooler as he filled his cup, so he wouldn't stare at her head, wondering when it was going to take flight off her shoulders.
"Probably voting on it at the next town meeting, yeah," Ben agreed, sipping at his coffee. "Whoever it is, I sure hope they do something nicer than the paper's done. The whole point was to keep the spirit of the town, not ... I don't know, try and drag it kicking and screaming into modern day style. People like this place because it's classic, you know? Some things need to be kept the way they are."
The part-timer pointed her carrot at him with a raised eyebrow. "I bet you don't want that new shopping center, either, Ben."
"Right you are. Even if I did, I couldn't afford to go to it, am I right? Not on what they pay me." At this, he let loose a wheezing, fake laugh - something that most people found charming in a self-deprecating sort of way, but just tended to grab Buster's spine and twist a little. It reminded him of sitcom scenes where a character was choking, but no one else noticed until the last minute: something else that he had never thought was funny. He topped off his cup and headed back to his desk.
For the last few weeks, I've been sharing excerpts on Facebook which fit the weekly theme for Twitter's One Line Wednesday. I've decided to move them here. Here's the latest offering: a tidbit from In The Cards.
“We got any other loose nails need fixin’ around here?”
“Not that I can think of. I’m looking at a loose screw right now, though.”
“Har har har, Slovich. Bite me.” Ral positioned the nail carefully, then gave it a few taps to seat it. Just as he was about to drive the hammer home, the phone behind the counter rang.
“I would have laughed if you hit your thumb.”
“You are my very, very best friend, you know that? Answer your damn phone.”
“Bestest of friends forever and ever,” she smiled as she picked up the phone, only to shriek mid-greeting as he hurled a crumpled paper from his pocket at her. “Balefires, June speaking—aah. Dick! … Not you, of course. How may I help you? … Oh, thank Goddess, hi Sam. I was super crazy hoping it’d be someone I knew. Ral’s throwing things at me, I think I need to report a case of disorderly conduct. … Oh. … Yeah, I guess I could. … I mean, only if you throw in an hour of community service too. … Cool, it’s a deal.” She covered the mouthpiece and leaned over the counter. “It’s Sam. He says he won’t lock you up for bullying me if you swing by his place when you get out tonight.”
“And my community service?” Ral grinned.
“Taste test Barb’s new lasagna recipe.”
“That’s gonna be tough.” With a few sharp swings of the hammer, he took care of the cabinet, then set the tool aside and stood up to take the phone. “Oi, Sam. Haven’t even heard my story and you’re already pickin’ out my sentence! What’s the matter with you?” As he listened, the smile faded from his face, and he gripped the edge of the counter. “… Oh. Yeah, absolutely. Don’t know how much help I’ll be, but … I’ll try.” With a wince, he nodded, despite the fact that the Lieutenant couldn’t see him on the other end of the line. “Sure thing. Be there tomorrow.” He held the receiver back out toward June.
“What’s going on?” She asked, as she hung up.
“Can’t say,” he insisted, letting go of the counter, careful not to let the fresh scratches in the worn oak show. “But I might need to leave early tomorrow. Nothing’s wrong with Sam, but … somebody around here might really not be right in the head.”
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