Thursday, July 28, 2011

Excerpt: Maintenon Gets a Vacation, (WIP)

c2011 (S)

This is a first draft only and everything you see in it is subject to review or revision. So far I am up to 29,045 words of a novel-length project. I've been working on it for a couple of months. Detective fiction, this one is set in 1927.


The sweat had dried on his face. Luckily the bugs left him alone, although he had a suspiciously itchy spot on his wrist. The pain was a dull throb. All he could do was to wait, but the thick grass was dry under the biggest tree. He was comfortable enough, for the time being.

A spider web, thinner than the thinnest human hair, trembled on the breeze. Gilles watched in fascination as the creature, an infernal optimist as all arachnids were, fed out the glistening line in the most damnably slow fashion. It wavered, up and down, here and there, trembling on every thin zephyr of the breeze; and then it actually caught! The end of the line caught on another milkweed, and then the creature began going about the solitary but ultimately rewarding work of building a web. He saw it as a microcosm of all existence. Everything eats something else, and there is no escaping this aspect of reality. It became a matter of brains versus brawn, might versus stealth, theft versus persuasion…all of reality could be boiled down into these terms, even math, physics and chemistry in some odd way. At least that was how the untrained Gilles now saw it.

He wondered if that was how the average killer saw it, deep down inside, and it was just that no one had ever been able to put it into words before.

Normally he never thought of such things. He rarely had the opportunity, the free time. It was unfamiliar to him. So much of life was time spent in needless suffering. And waiting. Gilles hated waiting just then.

The sound of sputtering in the distant haze up the road somewhere broke Maintenon out of his self-induced trance of misery and self-recrimination. The water bottle held one-quarter now, and he was just debating whether to drink it.

“Ah, nom de Dieu,” he gasped. “At last!”

He was able to make it to his feet, pulling himself up using the fence. Holding on with one hand, he managed to snag the pack and sling it up on his left shoulder.

Hobbling out into the sunlight, Maintenon stuck out a thumb like the most humble transient labourer and prayed for a good Samaritan.

Gilles tried to rub the rust from the fence off on a trouser leg as he waited a little impatiently for help.

...okay, so that's early in the story. The next excerpt is from page forty-seven or so. This is the first time I have written without paying any regard to chapters. Normally I would start with a chapter title and write from there, however long or short it might be. This time I have tried something different, but I figure I can still divide it up logically, and write the chapter headings according to content.

He put down the report from Dartmoor’s finest. Tire tracks, in fields, in woods, going in through closed and wired-shut gates. They were from a number of different vehicles. Some of those could be accounted for by the landowners themselves, but not all of them. The problem was guessing the age, and finding out which marks belonged to which local resident, and accounting for when and why they were in such a location. It was tedious but necessary work, and very time-consuming in terms of manpower. His old friend was pulling out all the stops.

“Some positively identified with Mr. Martin’s sidecar, and some not. The worst are the inconclusives,” admitted Dawson. “I see your point, actually, regarding the defense and their probable strategy.”

Gilles sat with Dawson in his humble and rather dark office with a female sergeant to bring files and dockets and answer general queries. Another desk and a phone had been brought in as well. A little overcrowding was a seemingly necessary part of police work.

“The basic premise is that Martin had a lot to lose. His chum, who also had a lot to lose, was helping him to study and found out. A lie like that, he’d be up shit creek. Technically it’s not illegal, but there really is a glass ceiling—some say there’s none here, but that’s nonsense,” explained Dawson as an impassive Sergeant Lynda Kersey took extensive notes.

Gilles wondered if the sergeant was a Catholic. Something about her posture.

Certainly those others must have known or surmised that Gilles was also Catholic.

Some of their reluctance may have been due to that unconscious bigotry that flowers from long example and early teaching.

“Hmn,” said Gilles. “It seems to me that two things can happen here. Either we shall nail down James Martin beyond any reasonable doubt, or we somehow find an alternative explanation of what happened.”

“So all you’re really asking for is objectivity,” muttered Dawson. “Hah. Martin is not talking upon advice of counsel, which is good advice whether guilty or innocent. But my impression is that he wasn’t going to talk anyway…”

Gilles nodded. A lot of the time even the most guilty people couldn’t wait to talk.

The trouble was that the whole thing was based upon a lot of unsupported assumptions, and some prejudice, right from the start.

He couldn’t deny that James Martin had bolted from police when they called at his London flat, and then refused to talk to anyone. Gilles wondered if he was even speaking to his solicitor. No one knew the answer to that. It was being openly acknowledged that the Air Ministry probably didn’t want a big investigation.

They would have plenty of good reasons for that as well. Certain issues might be raised.

Particularly affecting had been the sight of Jimmy’s mother, Mabel Martin, sitting in calm dignity with other neighbourhood ladies at the inquest. Gilles had become emotionally involved in this case somehow.

Maintenon became aware the sergeant and Dawson were staring at him.

“Pardonnez moi,” he grunted. “It’s just the notion that James may be totally innocent, and yet he still refuses to defend himself. This, if true, implies much. But what?”

“Do you really expect to gain anything by tramping up and down all over Dartmoor?” asked Dawson, somehow managing to imply that Gilles would equip himself with a pipe, a deer-stalker hat, a short cape in colourful plaid, and a big magnifying glass. “And I still have this horrible feeling that you know exactly what happened.”

“Non, to both,” said a studiously-indifferent Gilles Maintenon.

It was nothing more than the truth. But his impression of James Martin was that he was not the murdering type, although you never really knew for sure. The human animal was capable of anything, in the final analysis.

“We should dress up as Lascars and go and sit in an opium den somewhere,” suggested Maintenon.

There was a profound silence as he took in the smoke-stained walls, once painted but now mostly stained by years of coal smoke and tobacco. Small, spreading patterns of mildew on the plaster above attested to the age of the building and its own personal history, quite aside from human events. Dawson was inclined to stick things to the wall with pins. The most recent were still white paper, but the spectrum was fully represented by business cards, advertisements for take-away ethnic restaurants, staff bulletins, and the odd ‘Wanted’ type poster. One or two of them had darts sticking out of them. He wondered where the third dart was, and could not help but to search for it up in the corners and bulkhead areas of the ceiling.

“Why?” asked the sergeant, mystified by this turn of events.

She put the pen down in a kind of disgust.

“Because we might learn something,” concluded Dawson. “I’ll tell you what, Inspector. Make it a good stiff lunch somewhere half-decent, and you’ve got yourself a couple of customers.”

“What if Martin is covering for somebody else, a woman, maybe”? asked Heather, reaching for the phone to call down for a driver and a car.


Anyway, that's the sort of thing that I've been working on.

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