Day Twenty Eight. I wore a shining star.
The Blood of the Gods- 1048 words
I do so love some of the Mel Brooks movies and do so hate what they spawned.
So very tired.
A post-mortem to come...
Oh, and I'm twittering-
“My name is Paet,” said Everess’s associate. “You’ve never heard of me, and I doubt you’ll meet many who have. I know a number of useful things, and I will teach you these things should you decide to accept our offer.
“And who, exactly, are you?” asked Silverdun, looking the man in the eye.
“I am a Shadow,” said Paet. “Nothing more.” He tapped his blackwood cane on the ground.
“What does that mean?”
Paet smiled, a tiny, precise smile. “Its lack of content is precisely what defines a Shadow, Lord Silverdun. That is one of the things I will teach you.”
Silverdun wanted to mock this strange man’s deliberate obtuseness, but found himself unable under the glare of those wolfish eyes.
“Here is another thing that you will learn someday, though you won’t understand it now. Shadows are not creatures of darkness. They are cast, by the sun. They are the necessary consequence of that which stands in the way of light.”
“You’re right,” said Silverdun, attempting a nonchalant smile. “I haven’t the slightest clue what you’re going on about.”
“You will,” said Paet simply.
No wordage today. I drove three hours away from Vernon to a small town in the Panhandle called Canadian. We're doing some life planning for the next two days. And when we're not doing that, I'm a writing fool, yo.
Some strong stuff coming tomorrow.
You've gotta be effin' kidding. I looked at the word count and thought, "hundred more words? No problem!"
Nothing to fill, nothing to add, nothing to rewrite (that usually involves subtracting words for me, not adding).
Argh! Fate! Why do you mock me so?
I've got two meetings today that will carry me through lunch, and then I'm not talking to anyone for the rest of the day. I'm shutting myself off in my room and pounding this keyboard like a chimp cracking on coconuts. Don't poke the monkey, Hoss. Not today. I gots me a word count to crack.
I woke up early, like I do every day, so I could read a book before breakfast. The book was called A Complete History of Marshmallows. A fourth-grader named Will Oblong had told me the day before that we should all stop eating marshmallows because they’re made of eye boogers. As a fan of marshmallows, I was understandably disturbed.
At first glance, it had seemed that Will was wrong. According to the marshmallow package in my kitchen, marshmallows are made out of sugar, gelatin, and something called “tetrasodium pyrophosphate.” I was about to leave it at that and tell Will Oblong to shove marshmallow up his nose, but my natural curiosity wouldn’t let the matter lie, and I found myself at Book Universe just before bedtime, loading up my arms with books about food.
And now, the following morning, in a small footnote buried at the back of A Complete History of Marshmallows, I discovered the horrible truth. Tetrasodium pyrophosphate, as it happens, is a chemical that is added not just to marshmallows, but also to pudding, chicken nuggets, and imitation crab. And tetrasodium pyrophosphate, I am sad to report, is the scientific name for:
I rode the bus to school thinking uneasily about how many S’mores I’d eaten in my life. I finally decided that there was no use in fretting over it. Some things you probably don’t need to know.
William Arterton had excelled in his studies in The University and he was without doubt at the top of his class in the information and detection arts. With his skills he could have worked for anyone on a permanent basis, but he had decided to remain independent. William valued his freedom more than anything else, so he worked with a wide variety of clients. Today, he was working for the temple of Kharvor as he was helping them look into the tragedy that had just befallen their new temple. He tried to stay out of the temple business, but they always had the most coin. And oh, how those coins talked.
He had been briefed on the carriage ride over to the organization's Oak Street location. It seemed that the night before, an assassin had entered the temple and he had killed several guards including one high- ranking member of the temple's security force that happened to be overseeing the new construction. William had been contacted in the dead of night and as he had a wife to support, he dressed and prepared his spells and met the coach when it stopped in front of his door. The temple itself had been cleaned with a neat little row of bodies wrapped by the front door. He got there just in time to see strong men get them into a wagon to cart them off. William Arterton was smart enough to forget to ask where the bodies were going.
After hearing a brief description of the events of the night before, he went to work. William cast the basic spells and found the killer by holding focus on the exit the killer had used and back tracking a bit. At the demand of his paymasters, he froze the man's image and held it so that the temple's spell casters could study him. William studied him while they worked. The man was five and a half feet tall and wrapped in grays and blacks. He did not seem to carry a weapon, but those could be hidden almost anywhere. The most unusual fact about the man was one of the details that was bedeviling his hosts. As he held the image, they tried to discover the way that the man had blurred his features. Then one of the three servants of Kharvor asked the other two where the map case was. That question triggered another argument. He was doing his best to ignore the men, but he was frozen in time with them. There was no place he could hide from the heated discussion. The spells he had cast to hold the moment were just difficult enough to require he hold his concentration on the job at hand. So here he was, listening to a family squabble.
There was a loud crack from the direction of the door and then another. He decided to drop the spell. It was simple enough to cast again and William had a bad feeling about being blind in the temple. To him it seemed cursed. When he let go of the charm, he and the others dropped back into seeing the world in real time. For a split second he was sorry he had dropped the spell. A gray skinned giant, standing a man and a half tall was swinging the largest hammer he had ever seen around the room. The double doors that led to the street bad been blown in, the hinges shattered. The creature was standing so that his deadly hammer would have the chance to strike him if he made a run for the door.
"Do something," one of the men screamed at him.
William staggered back and did the only thing he could imagine. He weaved his hands together and brought back the scene from the night before.
The giant staggered when he saw the assassin standing in the middle of his huge form. He rubbed his chin and looked at the fleeing figure that was frozen in time. "That figures," he said with a sound so deep it rattled in the spell caster's chest and drowned out the mewling of an injured man by the front door. The giant swung his enormous head in William's general direction. "Stop that," he growled. The creature staggered back a step and felt his chest and he was outraged when he saw his black blood.
William choked out a single word in a hoarse whisper. "Leave."
The giant smiled and closed his eyes. He swung his hammer in a wide arc to a chorus of screams and bone-shattering collisions that came from unseen opponents. The giant's eyes snapped open and focused on the spell caster who had trapped them in the image of that moment together. He closed the distance and backhanded the magician into the nearest wall.
In a shattering instant, William was against the wall and his spell was gone. His eyes were full of stars and then a mixture of cold sweat and blood. Then they closed for a day and a half. When he awoke, he was in a basement hospital in the temple of Kharvor across town. They took care of him for a few days before he went home to be with his family. He recovered there and took the time to consider his future. On making a full recovery, he decided to go back and teach at The University. The words of one of his instructors rang out in his memory. When he had asked one of his favorite people at The University why he had gone to a life of teaching he had gotten an answer he now knew to be true. He smiled to himself as he signed the first of many annual work contracts.
"We may have the occasional accident in the study or in the summoning chamber, but that pales by comparison to the hazards of doing field work."
I'm still dealing with my twin tragedies, but I did get a couple of hours to myself, and got some necessary characters moving forward. It's not much, but progress is critical in a writing project, and if you miss a day, you just have to pick up where you left off tomorrow. It's the only way to ever finish anything.
Here's a taste, then, of my two new favorite people, Finch and MacElroy:
Detectives Ethan Finch and Jack MacElroy rode to their first call together. MacElroy drove while Finch worked the box of donuts. Every day with the donuts. Finch was five six and weighed 120 pounds at his heaviest. But the man could put away a dozen donuts like no one’s business and not have a thing to show for it. Every morning, he got donuts from his neighborhood bakery, and a big cup of coffee. He used to share them with MacElroy, but after six years of the same thing every single day, Mac couldn’t look at donuts anymore, cop-jokes be damned.
MacElroy watched Finch for not the first time in the morning and ruminated on the notion that if Finch was ever on the slab, they could cut him open and figure out his age by counting the rings of sugar and coffee inside of him. Mac sipped the coffee that Finch brought him; it burned his empty stomach and exacerbated his already agitated state. They were going to a murder scene.
Six years on the job, and his stomach always soured up when there was a murder. He wasn’t squeamish, not after all this time. It was performance anxiety. So far, he’d managed to close every one of his homicide cases, so in some ways, he was thankful that he still got nervous. It made him more careful.
“You sure you don’t want one?” Finch asked.
“Poso-tively,” MacElroy said.
“Charlie put a couple of cake donuts in today,” Finch said. It was part of the deal. Finch got a deal on a dozen donuts, at the discretion of Charlie. Inventory control.
“Cake donuts? Oh, hell.” MacElroy held out his hand. Finch filled it with one of Charlie’s masterpieces. He ate it quickly, not really tasting it. The donut soaked up his coffee burn, but did nothing for the butterflies.
“Who’s first?” MacElroy said. They were on the third floor of a six floor tenement, looking down a long hall. Cops had cordoned off the elevator and were sending all but the elderly down the stairs. Every other tenant on the third floor was in a small clutch at the end of the hall, being questioned by a uniformed officer. The crime scene guys, Riveria and Lowe, were busy taking photos and taping things off. Another uniformed officer popped his head out of the victim’s apartment. “Me, sir,” he said, hurrying over.
“Talk to me,” MacElroy said.
“Got a call over the wire, open door, man on the floor, phoned in by the neighbor, Mrs. Perez,” the officer said, flipping through his notebook as he spoke. “She didn’t go in the apartment because she had to walk her dog.”
“Makes perfect sense,” MacElroy said.
“We got here before the paramedics, and when we saw...well, we told them not to bother, they’d just get in the way.”
“What happened?” Finch asked.
“Uh...well, it looks like the guy stabbed himself with a sword.”
“Really.” Finch’s eyebrows rose. Half-lidded eyes made him look like a mildly interested hound.
The officer nodded. “That’s what it looks like.”
“But that’s not what you think,” said MacElroy.
“No, I think someone killed the old man and then staged the crime scene.”
MacElroy looked at Finch. “What say you, Brother Ethan? Shall we go test the kid’s hypothesis?”
“Okay,” said Finch.
They walked into the apartment and the uniformed officers parted before them. MacElroy led the way; he always led the way. At six-two, two hundred and fifty pounds, he had the shoulders and the presence to command attention. Finch, on the other hand, looked like someone’s dirty little accountant. He wore wire-rimmed glasses when he needed to see, and this gave his face a more blank countenance than normal. He just didn’t impress. But his mind was fast and agile. Mac’s brain was smart enough to make detective, but he knew who the real thinker in the team was, and he was okay with that. Mac got what he wanted through charm, guile, and physical presence, in that order. It was a set of skills that Finch never had. Together, they were one really good detective.
Finch sneaked around MacElroy to get a look at the body. They stared at the victim for several minutes as life around the crime scene slowly resumed.
“Who is the Everyman?” Finch read. He reached into his pocket for his notebook and began scribbling.
“Willie Loman?” answered MacElroy. He looked at the victim; black male, mid-sixties, pretty healthy except for the gut. He died with his eyes open, probably looking at the killer.
“Could be,” said Finch, who was leaning over the body with an unsharpened pencil and poking at it. “Well, there’s no way he did it to himself.”
The uniformed officer nodded in self-congratulatory triumph. MacElroy asked, “Says who?”
“Says his right hand. It’s broken.”
The officer’s eyes bulged. MacElroy smiled. “When you’re right, you’re right, Bre’r Finch.” Mac rubbed his chin. “Where the hell did he get that sword? There’s something familiar about it.”
Finch smirked. “You got a positive ID on the sword?”
“No, not like that. I just get the feeling I’ve seen something like it before.” The blade was thirty-six inches long, flat, but with a bevel in the center, wide at the pommel and tapering to a triangular point. Like something a knight would carry. The blade was awash in blood.
“No one saw or heard nothing, eh?” Finch asked the officer.
“We’re questioning everyone now, but so far, no go on either side of the apartment or up or down. However this went down, it was quiet.”
“Dunno, Finch, it was me, I’d be wailing like a banshee if that thing went into me,” MacElroy said. “So, what does this tell us about our guy?”
Finch made a strange face. “Maybe that he’s no stranger to pain.”
“Sheesh. Who was this guy?” MacElroy asked.
The officer on the scene pulled MacElroy aside. “Name’s Lincoln Childs. Landlady says he’s retired, living on a fixed income and the occasional settlement check, which we found in his wallet. Library card. Other stuff. Not much there.”
“It’s enough,” MacElroy said. They had done more with less information in the past. He’d never tell the uniformed kid, but there was something about this murder that made him wish he had stacks of information to sift through. “Any signs of a robbery?” he asked, even though he knew the answer.
“No forced entry, no money taken from the wallet, no other parts of the house disturbed.”
“Jeez Louise,” MacElroy said. He drained his coffee and pocketed the cup. “This is one for the books.”
Finch turned to his partner. “Anything else you want to see here?”
“Guess not,” MacElroy said. “When it hits our desk, we’ll start calling.” He fished out one of his cards from his coat pocket and handed it to the kid who’d been their guide. “Nice job. Give us a call if something big happens here.”
The uniformed officer looked at the card like he’d been stink-palmed. “Sure thing,” he said. As soon as they were out of earshot, he wadded the card up and shoved it in his pocket. “Some detectives.” He looked down at the corpse of Lincoln Childs. “You poor bastard.”
“What am I looking at here?” Yacov asked, scanning down the first of the handwritten pages, wincing at Segal’s questionable penmanship. The kid wrote in Official Speech, but was so shaky with the pen that it looked like it could have been meant to be Yiddish.The rest of the day was spent with administrivia, as is today. Hopefully in the next day or two I can start work on the new novel in earnest, and at least post some real numbers before the month is out.
“We’ve got this idea for a character…” Kurtzberg began.
“He’s from the future, see,” Segal cut in, hands on Yacov’s desk and leaning forward eagerly. “He’s the son of the last man on Earth, and he gets sent back in this time machine just before the red sun explodes!”
Itzhak held up a pen-and-ink sketch of a muscled figure holding a car up over his head. “Come on, a car? Really?”
“Gravity’s stronger in the future,” Kurtzberg answered, a touch of defiance in his tone. “So when he comes back to the present day it’s like, what if there was a guy who was as strong as an Earth-man is on the moon… but here on Earth? He can make big jumps, pick up cars, that kind of thing.”
“I don’t know, guys…” Yacov pulled another cigarette from the pack in his pocket, and lit it from a table-lighter. “The future?”