I thought it might be fun (bwa-ha-ha) to post the opening of my “Novel in 90 Days” book. I’m working on it at the same time that I’m working on the Talking Head novel, but because it’s a mystery, it may have a better chance of selling or of winning a contest. It surprised me by becoming an Ari book and turning into Book One of her series. That will let me take a lot of backstory and explanation out of the existing _Ariadne’s Web_, which will become Book Two of that series. It might work.
I considered having a more grabby opening for this one, but right now I think it’s more fun to sneak up on the reader.
BAD HEIR DAY
(Let’s put this under an LJ cut.)
I clicked the mouse button to retrieve my e-mail. As slow as this old PC was, the hourglass cursor was misleading; its icon should’ve been a calendar, with pages slowly tearing off to represent the passage of time, like in an old black-and-white movie. Then I realized I’d neglected to turn my phone live for customer calls, and pecked in the code.
Obligingly, the phone rang.
A customer call and not my boss with some cranky Monday-morning request, I was sure, because it was a double ring, indicating an outside line. I prepared my phone voice.
“Aqualife Tech Support, The Fishes’ Lifeline. This is Ariadne. How may I help you?”
A tentative-sounding male voice said, “Um. I’m looking for Araliadden French?”
Pretty good pronunciation–he hadn’t entirely mangled my first name, the way most people did the first time. My name is said “R. E. Oddney,” as if I were an initial-author, like C. S. Lewis or J. K. Rowling.
“This is Ariadne French.” A personal call coming in during work hours? Gina wouldn’t like that. But the voice was a reedy tenor I didn’t recognize.
“Oh. Sorry, Ariadne.” He got it perfect that time. “I’m looking at some bad handwriting here. You see, it’s handwritten.” He cleared his throat.
“What’s handwritten?” My old paranoia danced in the background: if this was a customer who’d spoken to me in the past and had asked for me again, I could only hope I hadn’t given unclear or misguided advice that had resulted in a tankful of floaters and a houseful of howling, broken-hearted children who’d named every one of the fish and had trained several of them to do tricks and answer to their names. “If you’ve misplaced the manual for your aquarium, we have digital versions downloadable from our Web site. Do you have a specific aquarium problem I can help you solve?”
“Er . . . no.” He sounded mystified as to why he’d have such a thing. Well, he’d called a customer service hotline for Aqualife, and he’d reached a call center, so what did he expect? “Actually, this is about a personal matter.”
My chest chilled ten degrees. Surely not a bill collector? “Oh. How can I help you?”
“I guess I should’ve introduced myself. My name is Gil Rousseau, and I’m Aaron’s closest neighbor on the mountain.”
I felt my heart thudding against my breastbone. “Aaron Beecroft?”
“Yes. Of course. Sorry I’m not making myself clear. The purpose of my call is . . . well, it’s about your friend Aaron. I’m afraid I have sad news.”
That never meant anything good. In fact, it meant only one thing. The bombshell. I heard myself gasp. “No.”
Gil cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you this, but Aaron has passed away.”
I couldn’t find my voice. “Is this a crank call–some kind of juvenile humor–because if you think that’s funny. . . .” Oh, dear God. Please, please, Lord, let it be a prank. Please. “All of our calls are recorded for later review. But I’ll take care of that problem if you’ll only tell me you’re yanking my chain.”
“No, I’m sorry to say.” The rustle of paper formed a contrasting background for his hesitant voice. “I wish I were joking, but it’s true. Aaron was found dead in his cabin night before last by a neighbor who became worried when his lights didn’t go on two nights in a row. The neighbor decided he could’ve fallen, because his cars were still in the driveway, and used the key they’d exchanged to go check.”
“I apologize,” I said stiffly, my voice cracking like the falsetto in a boys’ choir on the edge of maturity. “I didn’t mean to impugn your kindness.” Impugn? Some officious part of my brain that handled matters when reality folded over itself and became impossibility had taken over, and apparently it was a major pedant. Sister Mary Theodosia’s voice had, indeed, followed me into later life. “I just . . . my God, what can I say? I can’t believe it.” My throat tightened up, and my voice didn’t sound like me, to my ears.
“I hope I haven’t reached you at a bad time,” the voice said apologetically. As though there could be a good or an appropriate time to hear that the great love of your life who’d dumped you but whom you had always hoped you could get back together with has now crossed over to the other side, where you don’t know when or if you’ll meet up with him again or not. “But I found your home number on his caller ID, and I realized, you’re probably the same Ariadne French.”
The same Ariadne as what? But he kept talking. “I got your machine, but I didn’t want to leave a message, so I called the number that the machine told me was your emergency-only line.” So that was how he’d ended up calling my direct number here at Aqualife. I’d added that detail to my outgoing message after a chilling series of events the previous year involving my late nephew, events during which no one could find me. “I thought talking to you in person would be better than sending a registered letter.”
“Of course.” I found my voice. It was cowering in the pit of my stomach, but I forced it up and out through my throat. Why would he need to send me a registered letter?
“At any rate. The reason I’m calling is that Aaron named me executor of his will. And you’re his sole beneficiary.”
It’s practically writing itself, and is a lot of fun to write. The next thing that happens is that Ari boards a plane into Far West Texas, so we get out of boring old Dallas/Fort Worth. The book has a Southwestern flavor and a Texan/Southwest setting. Very Trans-Pecos.
This is fun because I get to do research on the area. We drove out there when I was a kid, but what I remember is the kind of thing children remember–seeing a bull, going to a convenience store where a nice man gave me a sprucewood toy plane/glider thing, getting ice cream, having dust blow into my eyes during a dust storm that got so bad we couldn’t see the road even with fog lights and had to pull over (not knowing if we were on the shoulder or what) for some time until it stopped, seeing a sunset as we splashed in a Motor Courts pool while my parents and their friends we’d come to see sat smoking nasty-rettes at the rusty round metal poolside tables and looked over occasionally to see whether I was holding the friends’ twins underwater. I wasn’t, although they were three years younger and bratty. So anyway, I needed to do research on the area! Thank God for the Internet, once again!
I think I am doing better now that I’ve given up all that Positive Thinking and Sure Hope of Publication and so forth. It’s fun again. Which can’t be all bad.
In other news . . . I wanted to get the Monkees “Headquarters” album on CD, as it’s the only one I haven’t gotten yet, and discovered that there’s a “Headquarters Sessions” set that is really neat. (For those of us who, as preteens, were obsessed with Micky and Mike and possibly Peter but not so much Davy despite the accent.) I tried bidding on the set twice on eBay over the past couple of days, and my bids of $31 max were quickly overtaken. Do you wanna know how much those sets sold for?
Now, c’mon. It’s the Monkees, not God Himself (as far as I know), and seriously, folks, that is nearly a car payment. It’s more than what I’m paying on my credit cards this month!
But I turned to iTunes and discovered that the tracks could be had for a dollar each, or around $60 for the entire album set. Well, that’s still a lot, but seeing as how the set apparently sold for around that when it was being retailed, I figured I could put that on the *ahem* credit card I just paid a bit on. It’s better than $300.
I like several of the tracks, although a lot of the others are just instrumental backing tracks. I thought the “chat” tracks were a hoot. And a lot of that banjo and six-string stuff must be Nesmith and the studio musicians (there have to be a few, because I hear others talking.) I didn’t get the little book that you get with the CDs, so I don’t have all the details of each track. Anyhow, I now have several of the alternative takes and the various snippets on my iPod playlist. If you’ve never heard a falsetto rendering of “Until It’s Time For You To Go,” you’re better off than I am. (grin)
Still want to pick up the original album with bonus tracks on CD. That sells for around $30, though the opening bids are more like $16. I’ll have to catch one when they’re not looking. The CD stores around here just don’t have the album. Though I did find a few other obscure things I think I’m going to like. And eventually I’ll mail-order Mark Lindsay’s “Arizona” CD. I may have to wait for some more money to flow in. Money flows towards the writer, doesn’t it? Well, it SHOULD.
Back to the fun stuff.
Marfa mystery lights. Chili cookoffs (preliminary rounds). A cabin in the desert woods. Gravel-floored showers. Midcentury Modern motor courts. This one is certainly going to be . . . offbeat. Like the rest of my stuff.