Friday, June 17, 2011

Excerpt: WIP, 'Maintenon on Vacation.'

c2011 (S)

Author's Note:

This is an excerpt from 'Maintenon Gets a Vacation,' a working title only. The real title is much better. For the sake of clarity, Mr. Appleby is transporting the body of R.A.F. Flight Lieutenant Harold Hardy, victim of a mysterious plane crash, to the village morgue/undertaker's.

The recently-widowed Maintenon is, or was, on a walking tour of Dartmoor, in some sort of homage to his boyhood hero Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.


Mr. Appleby was apparently as dumb as a stick and as deaf as a stone. Jimmy held the side-car up close to the left of the plodding wagon and of course Mr. Appleby was on the far side, trying to control a suddenly-persnickety horse. The animal was all too aware of the sputtering motorbike coming up from behind. The horse, an old dappled grey mare of the massively-built variety, was not deaf. She clearly despised motorbikes, lurching to the right, and turning her head to the left, ears rotating around to locate the source of the threat. Ghostly beech trees jogged backwards beside the road at a sedate pace, with Jimmy driving one-handed and reaching down half under Gilles and tugging at his pack.

“Argh,” grunted Gilles, suddenly irritated beyond measure or rational control.

Hot angry grunts rent the night, his face went all tight and his chin went down…he got a grip on himself. A couple of deep breaths of chill night air helped, but only just. These people were all so stupidly innocent.

“Hold on,” Gilles added in a show of politeness.

Damn the English!

The land was dimly lit by the glistering light of a thin crescent moon and glowing, billowing clouds. Bright stars were visible in the patches of black velvet between them. Jimmy’s yellowing headlamp dimly lit the road ahead, and finally Mr. Appleby seemed to be aware that this lighting was not natural. Gilles saw the grey head spin around suddenly, but the blasted man simply would not stop. Jimmy only had a pint of petrol in the tank, as Gilles could see from his own seat if he really cared to look at the meter. The thought festered but a moment more.

“You’ll have to jump!” shouted Jimmy. “He’s real stubborn, and he has no idea—”

“Va te ferre foutre!” blurted Gilles, uncharacteristically for him.

“He thinks we’re playing some kind of prank,” shouted Jimmy.

It was completely unprofessional, but luckily Jimmy understood no French, or so Gilles thought.

“I have no idea what you just said, but honestly,” said Jimmy.

Finally the cretin Appleby, half standing in his perch, all red-faced and blustering in the darkness as if staving off a posse of highwaymen, pulled the ancient thing to such a sudden halt the doddering old fool almost fell forwards over the dash-panel.

Gilles hadn’t had such a strange day in many, many years. He wondered if it was going to get better, or worse. He wondered if it would ever end.

With a groan, he tried to unwind himself from the snug space of the sidecar, all his muscles and joints aching. His knee was on fire. It was about this time that a big black car, surely the car of an important man, perhaps even a doctor, raced past them with horn blaring. It was headed southeast, or in the direction of the nearest village. In an act of pure masochism, Gilles thumped carelessly onto the hard bench set.

“Merde,” said Gilles.

Hearing an indistinct thump from the bed of the wagon behind, Gilles turned.

Illuminated by strong moonlight, there was revealed a limp white wrist, with a pale and lifeless hand attached to it, jiggling ever so slightly as they hit another deep pothole.

The wind whipped up the shroud, and he turned firmly away after a glimpse of the dead pilot. Shaking his head, Gilles wondered if they would ever get to a telephone.

For some reason he kept thinking of Poe.

“Va te faire foutre, Monsieur Raven!” he muttered darkly.

What he wouldn’t give to speak to someone from home, from the department, if only for the sound of a rational voice; someone with some degree of separation from the day’s events.

The night had suddenly gone very cold.


Note: Since posting this, I have added another line or two, which shows how organic the process of filling in a plotline can be. This story is at 22,220 words now. I'm not trying to see how fast I can go or anything like that.

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