Solitaire, Part 1

This is a short story I wrote several years ago as an introduction to Eddie Hazzard and the city of Arcadia.  A new chapter will run every day this week, leading up to the release of The Invisible Crown next Monday!  Come back tomorrow for Part 2! 

* * *

I was playing my 2,134th losing game of solitaire in a vid window, a hard light interface, when she walked into my office.  She was impressive-looking, with her close-cropped hair, dark skin, and tall stature.  I immediately flicked the floating screen away into the corner of the room and attempted to look as professional as possible.  The woman was clearly someone very busy and very confident; I could tell by looking at the smart, no-nonsense business suit she wore and the vid windows floating around her head at eye level like a low-slung halo.

“No, I want you to sell the shares of Vitruvian Dynamics,” she was saying to one of the screens, “and buy 100 shares of Relativistic, Inc.”  She pinched the vid window closed with an exasperated sigh, and waved away the rest to gather into a stack that floated just outside of her peripheral vision.  The long-suffering woman turned her well-manicured attention on me.  “Detective Edward Hazzard, I assume?”  It was less a question and more a resigned statement of unavoidable fact.  She was clearly unhappy that I was the man she’d discovered behind the desk.  And I couldn’t really blame her.  My appearance doesn’t inspire much confidence: I’m scruffy, slovenly, and only kind of sober.  Her attitude stung a bit, though.

“Yes ma’am, though I prefer ‘Eddie,’” I replied, trying to ignore her disdainful tone.

“I’m sure you do,” she sniffed.  “I have a…case for you, detective.  The subject matter is quite distasteful, and I would prefer if it were kept quite confidential.  I don’t want my business all over the tabloids.”

“Of course, ma’am,” I replied smoothly, easing my way out of my battered chair and around the corner of the scarred, ancient desk.  “We are very discreet, you have my word.”

The woman arched a tweezed eyebrow.  “Well then, I guess I should provide you with the lurid details,” she said, snapping open a smart leather briefcase that was older and better-cared for than anything in my shabby life.  She withdrew a small datachip and handed it to me.  “This is a file on my ex-husband, a man named Geoffrey Witherston Pennington III.  We divorced recently over his rather…unfortunate nocturnal habits.”

“Sleeping around on you, was he?” I asked with a wink.  The woman looked aghast.

“No!  He…had a habit of getting temporary genetic modifications and running around town naked.  It was…unseemly.  I could not handle the personal stress and the lost face in the community, so we quietly separated a few months back.”  A gen-mod tourist, a guy who used a chemical cocktail to give himself the traits of some other animal – snake scales, bird feathers, whatever – and ran around the city making a fool of himself.  It wasn’t all that unusual, but the obscenely wealthy did live in a weird bubble.

“So what do you want me to do, then?” I asked, slipping the datachip into a small port on my desk.  A vid window popped up with a picture of the man and physiological information.  He was around 55, in good shape, with a thick head of still-dark hair.  He was handsome, clearly, and didn’t look unkind or all that odd.  Guess it just goes to show, you never can tell.  “Sounds like anything that he does now is somebody else’s problem.”

“I wish it were that simple,” the former Mrs. Pennington replied, snapping her briefcase shut.  “When we separated, he took with him several documents and files that were quite important to me and my business.  I need you to retrieve them quietly and without causing a scene.”  I opened up a second file from the datachip, which turned out to be a list of the documents the woman needed.  Legal documents, going by their titles.

“Lady, not causing a scene is my bread and butter.”  I didn’t mention I couldn’t afford bread or butter, what with my wholesale whiskey bills.  “It’s $500 a day plus expenses, first two days’ pay upfront.”

Ex-Mrs. Pennington flipped a vid window back in front of her from the stack, tapped a couple of buttons on window, and pinched it shut.  “The money has been transferred to your account.  I expect results, Detective Hazzard.  Do not disappoint me.”  She pivoted and headed out the door, her heels clicking loudly across the scuffed linoleum in the quiet room.

Tuesdays

Another short vignette from a few years ago that I thought you all might enjoy.

“God, today fucking sucks,” Walter said, collapsing into his chair at the cafeteria table like the fall of empires.

Molly sat silently for a moment, expecting Walter to elaborate.  Clearly, he wanted to say more.  You could see it in his face.  And though she was curious, she would not give him the satisfaction of asking why.

“Why?” she finally said, despite herself.

“It’s Tuesday, Molly,” Walter replied, as though the answer were self-evident.

Molly pondered this for a moment, probing the statement’s depths and finding them unfathomable.

“Okay, I’ll bite.  Is it this particular Tuesday that sucks, or Tuesdays in general?” she asked.

“Tuesday,” Walter said, with the air of someone about to impart great wisdom, “is the worst day of the week.”

“That seems…well, that just doesn’t make any sense,” Molly said, frowning.

“It’s quite simple,” Walter replied, wagging a finger at her.  “Mondays, for all of their horror and frustration, are really not to be feared.  Most folks are still too hung over from the weekend to really notice Monday is even happening.  We have the afterglow of the weekend to keep us warm on a dreary Monday.”

“I’m not entirely sure I agree with that, but I’ll give it to you for the sake of argument,” Molly said doubtfully.  “What about Wednesday?”

“Wednesday is New Comic Day,” Walter replied bluntly, as though no one could possibly not know that.  “Thursday, of course, is the day before Friday.  There’s anticipation.  There’s light at the end of the tunnel.  There’s hope.”

“And Friday, of course, is Friday,” Molly finished for him.

“Of course,” Walter said.  “Which leaves only Tuesday, that poor, misbegotten naïf with nothing to recommend it.  Think of it.  Every other day has at least something happening.  Tuesday is the week’s equivalent of an hour spent in a doctor’s waiting room.”

Molly considered Walter’s assertion.  “I still maintain Monday is pretty horrible,” she said tentatively.

“Oh, I’m so sick of everyone going on about Monday!” Walter cried, rising to his feet and startling people around them.  Molly scrabbled at his arm, trying to drag him back down into his chair and mentally willing everyone in the cafeteria to look the other way.  Walter returned to his seat without appearing to notice.  “Monday is a much-maligned day, I tell you, a day with much to be joyful about!  Why, it gives you the opportunity to reconnect with comrades, to discuss the events of the weekend and dissect them with excruciating detail among friends and confidants.  Monday is the chance to strut back into your place of work or what-have-you and proclaim, loudly, ‘I got laid on Saturday, even with this haircut!’  Monday is the weekend’s not-quite-sober victory lap.”

Molly’s brow furrowed, her left eyebrow arching in barely-sustained suspension of disbelief.  “Okay, so let’s say Tuesdays are as bad as you say,” she began.  “For the sake of argument, we’ll go with that.  If your big problem with Tuesday is that it’s got nothing to it, why not give Tuesday some deeper personal meaning?  Why does it have to be the ennui of the work week?”

Walter gave Molly a look of mixed sadness and condescension.  “Molly, my dear, dear Molly, it does not work that way,” he said pityingly.  “One cannot simply ascribe any old meaning to a day and expect it to stick.  Reality is not so easily convinced.

“Let us say I were to, as you put it, ‘give Tuesday a deeper personal meaning.’  What then?  Will everyone else take up the change?  Will Tuesday become a personal day for the whole world?  And if it does, how do we benefit?  No, Tuesday must remain as it is, unloved and unfulfilling.  It provides the context for the rest of the week, and nothing more.”  He sighed as a Byronic poet might, gazing off longingly into the middle distance.  Or possibly he was staring at the pudding, Molly couldn’t be sure.

“Whatever,” Molly replied, giving up on the conversation and gathering her empty lunch things onto her tray.  “I’m off for Physics.  You coming?”

“What’s the point?” Walter asked somberly.  “It’s Tuesday.”

“Well, we’ve got that test today…” Molly said.

“Oh, right,” Walter said, his eyes suddenly refocusing.  “Off we go, then.”

My Story

While I attempt to dig myself out of my depressive funk, enjoy this thing I wrote years ago that I re-read the other day and didn’t hate.

When I write my story, there will be no hero.  There will be no happy ending.

There will be an infinite sadness, a streak of pain painted across the night sky, an arc of red against a field of black.

There will be blood, and a wailing, and a gnashing of teeth.

And ponies.  There will probably be ponies.

* * *

My main character will not be a white male.  No, my protagonist won’t even be human, or sentient, or recognizable as a character.  It’ll be a bacterium, or a fugus, perhaps a particularly plucky protozoa.

There won’t be a determined, independent woman in the story, either.  No humans at all, except maybe as the setting.  Or the antagonist.  We’re pretty antagonistic towards every other living thing in existence, it seems, so we’d make pretty damn convincing antagonists.

* * *

I don’t really think I’ll have a theme, or follow much in the way of writing conventions.  Everyone’s done pretty much everything you can with stories that make sense, that follow narrative structure.  Hell, everything’s been done with stories that don’t follow narrative structure.  I’ve read Joyce and Bely, I know all about that whole stream of consciousness nonsense.

My story will be told through pheromones and suggestive twitches of flagella.

* * *

It won’t be a long story.  There’s no need to go on for thousands and thousands of pages, hundreds of thousands of words stacking up like bricks in a wall or CDs on a club kid’s nightstand.  There may only be a single word to my magnum opus.  It’ll be a word that rolls over the tongue, one that lolls about in the mouth, coating everything in a thin film.  Something like “lugubrious,” or “gibbous,” or possibly “sumptuous.”

Or maybe it will just be a description of some hardcore bestiality for a thousand pages.  I’m not set on anything just yet.

* * *

Ultimately, no one will read my story.  It will exist only in my head, if even there, and only for a short while if at all.  I’m not entirely certain the world is ready for my work of speculative flash fiction featuring an unknowable protagonist and us as the antagonist.  It’s a bit of a stretch, really.

Also, I haven’t found a publisher, and I’m sure as hell not gonna self-publish this mess.

Deliberate Writing

I write by the seat of my pants.  I make it up as I go along.  Everything is pretty fast and loose, and it usually (for the most part) works for the Eddie Hazzard stories.

Over last weekend, though, I started a new story, a different kind of story.  And I’m approaching it differently.  I’m writing and rewriting the same few paragraphs over and over, trying to get the wording and tone perfect.

It’s strange, writing very deliberately like this.  Not bad, per se, but very different from what I’m used to. The story evolved quite a bit from when I first started it; originally, it was a pretty bland fantasy story.  But I scrapped that in favor of a western style story, about an old Native American woman.  As of this writing, I’m not very deep into it.  I’m moving slowly, writing a few lines at a time, then thinking about what to say next.  I don’t have a tight plot for the story (I can only change my writing process so much), but I do have a good idea what will happen in the story.  I know how it ends.  I know some of the things that have to happen in between.  I don’t know how long it will end up being.  I do know I’m enjoying the process of writing this story.  It’s a nice palate cleanser in between Hazzard novels.  Hopefully you’ll get to see it sooner rather than later.

The Summer of ’02 and the Birth of Eddie Hazzard

I’m going to tell you a story.  A story about mountains, and hiking, and storytelling, and the search for some sort of direction.  It’s the story of how I spent a summer in Yellowstone National Park and wrote a short story about a down-on-his-luck private detective with a serious drinking problem.

The summer of 2002 followed my graduation from college.  My younger brother and I got jobs working for Xanterra, the concessions company that operates food service and gift shops in a bunch of the national parks.  We were working as table bussers in the dining hall at Mammoth Hot Springs, at the north end of the park.  It wasn’t a particularly difficult job; we had difficult shifts sometimes, and were often very busy, but it was simple and straightforward and didn’t require much in the way of thinking.  In our downtime, we hiked, played basketball and soccer, and worked on writing songs.  I also spent a significant amount of time reading; that was the summer I got into Terry Pratchett, reading almost a dozen of his Discworld novels over those few months.

When I was between books, I’d spend time writing.  I had a Mead 5-Star five-subject spiral notebook, in which I wrote poems, songs, and a short story idea I’d come up with.  The story, which I eventually called “Missing Person,” is barely recognizable as the same story that will be published in December as the full-fledged novel The Invisible Crown.  The basic bones were the same: woman comes into the detective’s office, hires him to track down her missing husband, he goes through a series of misadventures until he discovers the missing man’s fate, and…well, telling anything more would be giving away the story.  Eddie was still Eddie Hazzard, though he was less snarky and more a misogynist jackass.  The story itself was more of a pastiche of noir cliches and was set in some undefined time in the past.  The story wasn’t great, but there was something in it that I must have liked, because I kept coming back to it over the next decade.

I don’t know where that spiral notebook is now, which is kind of sad.  I’d like to go back and re-read the original story, the handwritten kernel of a larger, more elaborate work that will finally see the light of day before the end of the year.  Things have changed, but Eddie is still around, and he has lots of new adventures ahead of him in the coming years.