An Uncapped Pen

April 27, 2008

Las Vegas Writers’ Conference – 2008

Filed under: Dickens Challenge,Writing — cindylv @ 9:30 pm
Tags: ,

Last weekend I attended my second writers’ conference. I made a conscious decision NOT to worry about pitching to agents, editors or publishers. I remember last year when I got caught up in the excitement of pitching, I felt like I was drunk on the positive responses. Then I floated for a few months before I applied my butt to the chair to write. My focus this year was to listen to successful writers, and an agent or two, to learn what I could about the basics (characterization, structure, plot, description, dialog).

One of the first presentations I attended was “The Original Idea” by Bob Mayer, author of 38 books. I had never heard of him, but I didn’t see anything more interesting at that hour. In addition to being a moderately successful author, Mr. Mayer is a former Special Forces A-Team leader. Since I have a character in my story who is a SF team member, I thought I should listen to what he had to say.

First of all, The Original Idea is the foundation of your story, not the theme or the most important incident, but the very first idea you have about your story. You should be able to tell your idea in one sentence. Mr. Mayer says you can use the “what if” technique in clarifying your original idea. Create a sentence beginning with “What if…” that sums up your original idea. Then analyze it to ensure each word means something, and how your sentence can be improved.

The original idea can be the foundation for your query letter and the synopsis. Since I was having difficulty distilling my story into the synopsis a few days before the conference, I realized I didn’t really have an original idea. Maybe that’s why my story is stalling in chapter 16.

So I began with what I thought was my original idea, but couldn’t state it coherently in a single sentence. I also remembered a question from another session by author Thomas B. Sawyer. “What are the bad guys doing?” I realized that I have been totally focused on my main character, that I’ve lost the “story” in my novel. Time to go back to the drawing board. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

“What if international terrorists discover that Mexican druglords have been smuggling contraband into the United States through a network of hidden tunnels located on a top secret military installation for years and now appear to be planning to use them to launch a major attack against the installation?

I decided that I’m also to the point where I have to relook what I’ve written so far and make a few notes about emphasizing the activities of the bad guys. I know the rules of the challenge, so I won’t be rewriting, just adding a few notes. I’ve also got to take another look at my draft outline and add a few things.

Back to the conference, the BEST part of the conference was the Crime Panel, where the Clark County Coroner, a homocide detective, a senior CSI specialist, a bounty hunter, a PI, a retired deputy sheriff and a forensic lab tech answered questions for two hours. Then a little later, I attended a presentation on police procedure offered by the homocide detective. VERY INTERESTING!

Oh, and I won the best prize in the raffle again this year, a certificate for a 50-minute massage at the Canyon Ranch Spa!

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March 19, 2008

Chapter 14 – It’s a Guy Thing

Filed under: Dickens Challenge — cindylv @ 5:51 am
Tags: , ,

May, 1981
Technical Library

The burger place at the traffic circle was as far as she’d ventured on her own. This morning, with the key in her pocket, she turned left and followed the sidewalk around against traffic. Past yet another row of beige wooden buildings, she repeated Frank’s directions. You’ll see Colonel’s Row. Just follow on the left where it turns into Grierson. The main parade field and the flagpole’ll be across the street. Don’t forget to salute. It’s right in front of the General’s house and he’ll know if you skip it. Keep going to the end of the row. Can’t miss it. And it’s the only stone cottage on the whole damn post.

The sun shone brightly without a cloud in the sky, just like yesterday and the day before that. She’d heard it was supposed to get up to 98. It was just after 0900 and she was already starting to sweat. The constant breeze kept the temperature just this side of bearable. If she were home, she’d be in the lake floating on an inflated raft. But at home, it was probably still only in the high 70s and she’d most likely be in the kitchen shredding potatoes for hash browns with Sophie.

She turned at the corner. Another block of beige wooden two-story buildings, but further apart, arranged in a semi-circle block with front yards covered in grass. She stopped to stare. Thick, green grass. Each yard was lined with rows of flowers that spread into an arc around the base of each set of front steps, two per house. And toys. She saw a plastic doll carriage. A tricycle. A Big Wheel. This must be Colonel’s Row. She’d never thought about officers living in houses with flowers in their front yards. Children.

A pale yellow butterfly swooped and dove into the maw of a scarlet tulip reminding Bridie of the summer of her lepidopterist phase. She’d spent hours chasing butterflies with her net, carefully transferring each specimen in a screened jar, then checking her fingers to make sure she hadn’t stolen their powder. She carried a log where she recorded each species and the details of its capture before releasing them again in the garden. She’d had an ongoing dispute with Miss Clark, her third grade teacher, about the magical properties of butterfly wing powder. Miss Clark maintained that the powder was in fact, tiny scales that reflected sunlight giving the insect its color to attract a mate or serve as camouflage. Bridie knew better.

She spent a lot of hours hiding in the woods from Vinnie Caruso who liked to chase butterflies, too. Only when he caught them, he “zinged” them, pinching their wings and then snapping his fingers to launch them with a triumphant warcry “Hii-Yah!” Few butterflies survived more than a few seconds with Vinnie. She remembered the day she’d stalked a swallowtail for a while and Vinnie swiped it right out from under her net. She cried when he zinged it, and watched as it crashed to the ground. She wanted to kill him with her net, but he ran off. All she could do was lie down on the ground next to it, and watch its legs claw the empty air, shattered wings twitching. That night, she’d told her father what he’d done. Her dad shook his head and said, “Ain’t he the boy goes to Catholic school?”

Eighteen sidewalk squares and the next flower border began, petunias planted in bands of red, white and purple. Maybe they didn’t come in blue, she thought. Eighteen more squares to the next row. The street curved and turned into Grierson. Bridie saw the parade field with the post canon and the flagpole. Twenty-four squares between the rows of flowers here. These must be bigger colonels than the ones who lived on the other street. And don’t forget to salute. Was she supposed to stop, face the flag and salute? Or just keep walking and salute as she passed? There was no one on the street for her to watch as an example. She decided to err on the side of more respect and halted, executed a right face, whipped off a snappy salute, a left face and continued walking. Twenty-seven squares of yard for the General’s house.

The sidewalk ended at the edge of the last wooden house, leading to a gravel driveway for the stone cottage. A sign out front confirmed she’d found the Tech Library. She stumbled, catching her boot on a warped step and kicked a large rock next to the front door. “Dammit!” How long had she spent polishing last night? She tugged the scrap of stocking from her pocket and wiped. Who keeps a boulder on the front steps?

She pulled out her key, unlocked the front door and ducked under a lacy cobweb. At least it’s not a spider web, she thought. As she fumbled in the dim light for the light switch, her hand found the spider web. She yanked back and wiped away the tickle on the leg of her trousers. What a mess!

A wave of stink broke over her and rushed outside. Sweat, rotten food, dust and, please don’t let that be old dirty diapers. The only way through it is to DO IT, SuperTroop! Thank you, SFC Barrett. She folder her arm over the bottom of her face and pushed her way in.

The lights warmed up, casting a greenish glow that revealed a long, narrow room, shotgun style, with most of the interior walls removed to make a single bay. Someone had boarded up and painted over all but one of the windows, and that one was covered in some kind of wire mesh. The wooden floor sloped unevenly and creaked beneath her feet. Two wooden doors were centered on the back wall, one with a gaping hole where the doorknob was missing, and a second one secured with a military-grade padlock. A sign declared that whatever lurked behind the locked door was considered to be a restricted area and admittance was strictly forbidden. She pushed open the broken door with the tip of her finger. She’d found the source of the diaper smell.

Somewhere in America a Greyhound bus station was missing its men’s room, a filthy toilet with a sink to match and a stack of dirty magazines tucked behind exposed pipes. No toilet paper or even a dispenser, for that matter. The only decoration in the room was a speckled flystrip dangling from a thumbtack in the ceiling. Correction. Miss October 1978 peered down over mammoth breasts from her post behind the door. Was that camouflage she was wearing? Bridie leaned in closer to see. Yep. The bottom of a string bikini the size of a silver dollar lined with white bunny fur! She hoped that was not an officially-sanctioned uniform for female soldiers.

She heard a noise and froze in place. The wind? It sounded like a child crying. Must have been the wind creaking something. From somewhere below her feet. She waited with an ear cocked. Maybe it was one of the ghosts Frank and Val told her about, back from the time when this building used to be the post morgue?

She announced, “Well, if you promise to behave and be quiet, I’ll bring you back some cookies from the chow hall after lunch.” She waited. Still nothing. She hoped ghosts liked oatmeal raisin.

She turned around again and looked at the maze of tables, desks, counters, book shelves sagging under the stacks of black binders, notebooks, reference books and maps. And everything coated in a few years worth of dust. You don’t have to do nothing. Just answer the phone.

Nothing obviously included cleaning, opening windows, or even flushing the toilet. No way was she going to sit here for eight hours a day and watch dust gather. Two and a half hours later, she’d emptied all the trash she dared to touch and tied up the bags outside against the front wall. The boulder on the top step she’d drafted into duty as a doorstop. How convenient to leave a rock on the top step! She’d discovered the switch for the heavy-duty exhaust fan in the latrine. Between the open front door and the exhaust fan running for an hour, her eyes stopped watering from the stench. She wasn’t sure if her ears would recover, though. The bathroom fan sounded like it had been kludged together from parts stolen from a 747 jet engine.

In the center of the main desk, she found a low spot between the stacks in front of the chair. This must be her new workspace. The blotter calendar held a single page from November 1972. On the seventh, someone had drawn a cartoon labeled “Tricky Dick says Go Home, McGovern!” She bumped a stack of binders with her hip, knocking them to the floor. Once the mushroom cloud dissipated, she realized she’d discovered the infamous Class A phone. It looked like a normal everyday desk phone, but black. A smudged white label with a red boarder stuck to the center of the handset declared the phone was not secure, and not to be used for classified conversations. She picked up the handset and turned it over to check it for the kind of sludge that collected on public phones. She wasn’t disappointed. She also found two buttons on the underside of the handset between the earpiece and the microphone. Buttons? She wiped most of the dirt off and put it close to her ear. No dial tone. She hung up. Not just a Class A phone, but a broke-dick Class A phone. This detail just keeps getting better and better.

Underneath the phone, taped to the corner of the desk was a Fort Huachuca bulletin detailing the procedure to be followed in the event of a telephonic bomb threat. It was covered in doodles and scribbled phone numbers. Someone had added their own note, “Lemmit calls to 5 min — Collect. Dont fuck it up for everone!”

She was wiping the tops of the stacks with a remnant from an old olive-drab bath towel she’d found in a desk drawer when she heard boots on the wooden steps. A Specialist Fourth Class with Gruber stenciled on his pocket tab entered. He held an envelope in his hand and pointed at the phone.

“Uh, I need to use the phone, okay?” Without waiting for her reply, he grabbed the phone and started dialing.

Miffed at the thwarted opportunity to flex a little of her phone muscle, she snapped, “Five minutes. And be sure it’s collect.” She didn’t bother to add the last line, figuring it was understood. The phone seemed to work just fine for him.

He turned his back to her and said into the receiver, “Yes, ma’am, I need to make a collect call to a number in Asheville, North Carolina. From Michael.” Pause. “Yes, I’ll hold. Thank you.” Then back to Bridie, “And could you cut that fan off? I can’t hardly hear.”

Disappointed that she wasn’t able to see how he worked the phone, she made her way back to the latrine and wondered about the informal protocol for phone conversations. She couldn’t very well step outside every time someone came in to use the phone. And she had no intention of hanging out in that latrine for a minute, let alone the allotted five minutes, but she couldn’t exactly sit at the desk and stare either.

“Sheila, honey, please. Don’t do this. It’s just another three months or so. Ninety days, that’s all I’m asking.” Quiet. Well, not exactly quiet. Bridie could hear Sheila screaming all the way from North Carolina. And she didn’t have a sugar maple drawl like her husband did.

* * *

Bridie accepted a plate heaped with something that had most likely been over-salted and boiled for far too many minutes after it came out of a jumbo can. Maybe the white stuff peeking out underneath it was actually rice. She slid her tray another foot and waited for her turn at the tongs to pick a roll.

“At first I was pretty disgusted with the whole place, the dirt and cobwebs. And the latrine! Disgusting! So I cleaned up what I could. Not the bathroom, of course. Not that there was anything to, you know, clean with, or anything. Except I did dump out the trash. And I went through about 100 dried up pens, testing them out on scratch paper before I found one that still worked.”

“Then I started in on sorting all those stacks of binders and books and all. I sorta got the system figured out. There’s manuals, and reports, and regulations. Circulars, some are maintenance and some engineering. I think I even saw some flight ones, too. And plans, bulletins, and publications. Although, I can’t figure out what the difference is. I’m just going by the labels. So I figure if I can get them all sorted into type, they organized by date or something—“

“Hey, take a breath,” Frank interrupted, holding up his hands in surrender. “Top wants to see you ASAP. You can probably finish your lunch, though.” He helped himself to a carrot from her salad and popped it into his mouth.

Now what, she wondered. I’ve already signed for my new room key, and I was gonna move after chow tonight. She picked up her tray at the end of the rail and carried it over to the beverage station. She poured herself a coke and looked up to see where Frank and Val had settled.

She sat down and scooted her seat in. Before she could continue her barrage, Val preempted. “So what’d you do with the, um, any magazines and stuff?”

“The porn?” She shot him a surprised look. “That was disgusting. Old people. Fat people. And some other stuff. I just couldn’t . . .”

“Like what kind of stuff?” Val asked.

“Animals? Circus freaks?” Frank offered.

“So you’ve seen that latrine, have you?”

“Maybe once. Or so.” He looked down at his plate.

She stared at him.

“Maybe more.” He put his fork down. “Look, I didn’t buy it and I didn’t go every day. It’s just something. A guy thing. You wouldn’t understand.” He looked at Val.

Val missed his cue and kept shoveling food.

“And Miss October?” she asked, not relinquishing her stare.

“Miss October?” Val looked up.

“She looked kinda cold. I thought.” Bridie took another bite, smiling to herself.

Frank choked on a mouthful of bread. He still didn’t look at her.

“Miss October? You didn’t tell me about her,” Val complained to Frank. “And some of that other stuff, too.”

Frank pushed back his chair. “Val, my man. Your future wife will thank me one day.” To Bridie, he said, “Let’s hit it. Can’t keep the old man waiting.”

She remembered to grab a couple cookies for the ghosts on her way out the door.

* * *
Outside the orderly room, a tall, black guy leaned against the block wall. The guy from Georgia, she’d met on The Line a few weeks ago. What was his name, Charlie something or other?

“Watkins! Still on The Line, dude?” Frank offered his hand for a complicated ritual. Another guy thing.

“You better watch who you hang out with, Bridie from a small town in Wisconsin.” Charlie said pointing his head at Frank. “Girl get herself a reputation.”

“My mother raised me to be kind to animals and small children,” she quipped as the door closed behind them. Bridie tucked the brim of her cap in the back waistband of her fatigues, took a deep breath as Frank knocked on the platoon sergeant’s office door.

“Enter.”

She trailed in and positioned herself at Attention slightly behind Frank in front of SFC Simpson’s desk. Frank looked over his shoulder and moved aside, leaving her to stand by herself. Maybe he was a little pissed that she’d teased him about the porn.

“You out at the Tech Library this mornin’?” Simpson asked without looking up.

She glanced at Frank. What was the problem? “Yes, Sergeant. I got there around 0900 and locked up when I left for chow at noon. I’m going straight back.”

“Change of plans. New directive down from the post commander. No females can be assigned to solo duty at remote locations. Tech Library’s a solo post. And it’s on the remote list. Ain’t a goddamn thing I can do about it. Got nuthin’ else open right now.”

He raised his head and swapped his pen for his coffee cup before he looked up at her. “I put you on Advance Party for the Exercise. You wait out front with Watkins, and go along with Staff Sergeant Jackson. Do what he tells you.”

She stood fast. Even if the detail sucked. It was her detail. She had the key. She was in charge of the phone. There must be come kind of mistake. “But . . .”

“That’ll be all.”

February 6, 2008

Crap – nonsense, rubbish, poop, something of poor quality

Filed under: Dickens Challenge — cindylv @ 6:51 am
Tags: , ,

Hey, I did it!

I wrote some crap and posted it on the internet!

STAND BACK!  THE INTERNET IS NOW CONTAMINATED!!!

I did it and I lived to tell about it.

And the internet police didn’t pull my plug.

And I lived to tell about it.

Chapter 11 of Casual Duty (Desert Survival Training) is hereby withdrawn for rewrite. I mean I’m gonna leave it up — for educational purposes. I’d like to thank Lisa Kenney for her comment that first alerted me to the whole issue. It’s an info dump. It’s info that’s necessary for my main character to know later on, but the method of dissemination is clumsy and awkward. It’s all in Bridie’s head and it’s all telling, not showing. And I’ve sorta been priding myself on the showing part.

So, on Friday (my primary writing day), I will reach under my bed and pull out my butterfly net and see if I can’t capture a few of these dragonflies that have been circling my head for the last few days.

Thank you Lisa Kenney, for your emotional support, continued cheerleading and your constructive criticism. Oh, and the shameless plug, too!

January 7, 2008

CASUAL DUTY – Chapter Six – The Line

Filed under: Dickens Challenge — cindylv @ 12:57 am

May 1981
Fort Huachuca, Arizona
Old Hospital Grounds

“No, no! Not like that! You gonna cut off you damn foot, you keep on like that.” He backed away, holding up his hands up. “That there’s a scythe, not a sickle.”

Bridie stopped mid-swing and squinted up at the next soldier in line. The glare of the sun burning through the thin atmosphere stung her eyes. She dropped her arm, holding the tool at her side, out of range. “What?”

He tossed his sickle on the ground and stepped closer, taking the implement. He turned the blade down and wrapped his hands around the grips. “Lay it down. The blade, see? Like this, and pull. Just give it a little tug is all. Cuts real good.” He handed it back with a shy smile and turned back to retrieve his own blade.

Bridie thanked him. She tried to copy his graceful movements, but her blade kept getting tangled in the tall grasses. She stood up and stretched, rotating her shoulder to work out the kinks. The sun burned across her shoulders and the back of her neck. She wiped her face with her sleeve, surprised to see it was dry. She felt like she was sweating, but there was nothing there. Most of the others had their uniform blouses off, working in their T-shirts. Some of the men had even taken them off and draped them over their heads like the pictures she’d seen of people who live in the desert. She noticed that the girls who were working mostly kept their shirts on, but a couple of them who were sitting in the shade of the old hospital, sat with their sleeves rolled up, sunbathing like they were at the beach.

She continued to hack away. A flock of grasshoppers, disturbed by Bridie’s blade, launched a hasty counterattack, flying in every direction. She batted them away from her face with a shudder. What else was hiding in this sea of grass? Snakes? Locusts? Another yank and the tool slipped out of her hands. She sighed and surrendered, throwing her hands in the air. “This is hopeless!”

“Slow down, girl. You got too much fight in you,” he said. “Just keep it moving, slow and easy like, in a straight line. Ain’t in no hurry. We gonna be out here til lunchtime anyways. No sense in working yourself up like that.”

“Well, how are we going to finish, if we don’t hurry? There must be miles of this grass.” She pointed out toward the road where the detail bus had delivered them this morning. “How are nine people supposed to get all this grass cut? And what about rakes? We’re gonna have to . . .’ She stopped when she heard his laugh.

“What?” she demanded. “What’s so funny?”

“Done? Girl, ain’t no such thing as “done.” He shook his head. “You on the line.”

“The line?”

He nodded. “That’s what we call it, out here. Cuttin’ grass or bush. Haulin’ rock. Weeds. Paint. Whatever. If you don’t have permanent detail, and Top don’t have nothin’ specific for you, it’s the line.”

“But I’m supposed to start class, 96B School. I’m going to be an Intelligence Analyst. My orders—“

“You and everybody else. They only got so many slots, and there’s, well you saw how many there was at formation this morning.” He took off his utility cap and wiped his brow. “Look girl, what we doin’ here, it don’t matter none to no one. We just here on the line. The bus come back at lunchtime, take us to chow. Then we come back out, maybe here. Maybe somewheres else, ‘til the bus come. Then we go back and it’s PT. Then chow. Next day starts again.” He shook out his cap before putting in back on. “It ain’t that bad. Nobody around to bother you. If it look like we’re busy when the sergeant drive by, he leave us alone.”

“But . . “ she started to renew her complaint. What was the use complaining to him? He was stuck right here with her.

“You keep on complaining, keep fighting, it only feel worse, you know. You in the Army now. Get used to it. It’s too hot. All the time. Or too cold. You’re gonna be tired. Hungry. Feet hurt. Suck it up and soldier on is all’s you can do.”

“I guess. Be all you can be, right?” she added with a laugh. “Join the Army. Travel to exotic lands. Meet new people.”

“ . . . and cut the grass,” he finished with a smile.

Bridie reached over and offered her hand. “I’m Bridie Traynor.”

“Charlie Wilkins. From Waycross, Georgia.” He shook her hand.

“I’m from Wisconsin. A small town just over the border from Illinois.” She added, “ Twin Lakes.”

His gaze shifted to just over her shoulder. “Here come Top now.” He stepped away and went back to work swinging the blade.

Bridie turned and saw a cloud of dust spreading just beyond the edge of bushes at the road. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the soldiers who had been sunbathing jump up and start cutting grass with gusto. She bent back over her scythe and dragged the blade as she watched the truck drive slowly past the detail and continue down the round around the bend without stopping. If it was the Sergeant Simpson, he wasn’t after anyone out at this site.

The sun continued to blaze without mercy. Bridie’s stomach rumbled. The can of Coke and the package of cookies from the vending machine she’d eaten for breakfast on her way to formation were a distant memory. She wondered how much longer until the bus returned to take them to the mess hall. She had another reason to want to get back to the barracks. There didn’t seem to be a latrine anywhere in sight. Throughout the morning she’d seen some of the men disappear around the back side of the hospital building, and then return a few minutes later. Maybe there was a latrine in there? She yawned and continued to hack, working into an awkward rhythm, her attention drifting. Last night after she’d finished in-processing, found her duffle bag and moved into her temporary room in the barracks, it was almost 0400 in the morning. First formation was at 0500 for PT. Not enough time to shower and sleep, so she’d opted for the shower. No one else was up at that hour, so she enjoyed a few minutes of privacy and all the hot water she wanted. Maybe she should have skimped a little in favor of a quick nap.
“Nobody move.” The barrel of the gun loomed in her face. Bridie flinched and swung her scythe up in defense. She froze. The glare of the sun blinded her. The sounds of other soldiers’ voices drifted past. A dream, she thought and shook off the memory. Had anyone seen her? The memory seemed so real. She wondered about Mrs. Bolling, if she was still in the hospital. What had happened to the gunmen? Another head shake. She needed to pee, but she had no idea where the latrines were.

She looked around for Charlie, but he had worked his way over toward the treeline in the other direction. She decided she couldn’t wait any longer. She’d go check for herself. Taking her scythe with her, she made her way around the side of the building. Nothing but the back of the hospital with the remains of some old concrete steps. She picked her way through bits of broken glass, beer cans, fast food wrappers. She smelled urine and other more pungent odors and guessed that everyone else just did their business wherever they wanted to. Ugh! She hated peeing while standing up. If she hurried, maybe no one would come around the corner and see her.

She found a spot in the corner behind the old steps and decided that was her best chance for privacy. As she zipped up her pants and fastened her belt, she heard a rustle from somewhere under the building.

Snake!

Without turning to look, she stood up to run but lost her balance and fell back against the side of the building. She threw her hands behind her to push herself off the wall and stuck her hand into a sticky spider web. Her feet skidded in the loose gravel and slid out from under her. She landed in a heap banging her head against the unforgiving steps. Where was the snake? She scrambled to her feet, crouched down keeping away from the spider shaken from its web. She turned to retrieve her hat from where it had fallen under the building and looked directly into a pair of eyes not two feet from her face.

Bridie froze. Her heart hammered in her chest. She held her breath, unable to move or even blink. Across from her, the eyes blinked slowly. It was a turtle, a giant turtle under the building. The turtle blinked again and retracted its head slightly and backed away into the darkness.

Bridie’s heart rate slowed. She gasped. Just a turtle. No, wait. It couldn’t be a turtle. They lived in water. This must be one of those desert tortoises Sergeant Simpson mentioned last night. Don’t touch ‘em, he said. Well, she hadn’t touched it. She shook her head, then remembered the snake. She glanced under the building and didn’t see anything else except an old blanket, an empty water jug and more trash. The rustling sound she’d heard must have been the tortoise. See? No snake. She tried to convince herself as she wiped the sticky web from her fingers.

She pushed up, brushed most of dirt off her uniform and attempted to reassemble her dignity. She looked around to see if anyone had seen her fall, and was relieved to see that no one was in sight. Bridie picked up her scythe and picked her way through the grass back to the work area as though nothing had happened. A few dirty smears on the knees of her trousers were the only signs of her fall.

Back at work with shaking hands, she continued to hack, tangling grass with her blade, clearing it, and then tangling it again. The running dialogue in her head continued. No snake. There was no snake. It was just a tortoise. Tortoises don’t bite. You’re fine. Just hang on until the bus comes.

The soldiers near her renewed their efforts at their tasks. She looked up to find the cause and saw the dust cloud signaling the arrival of another vehicle. Maybe it’s the bus, she thought.

“Ain’t lunch time yet,” she heard someone declare. “Can’t be the bus.”

She saw the jeep swing around the bend and slow down near the edge of the field where the detail worked. Everyone stopped and watched as the jeep skidded to a halt and the driver’s door open. A pair of spit-shined jump boots emerged, followed by bloused fatigue trousers, and the webbed utility belt signifying a member of the training cadre. Murmurs broke out amongst the soldiers. Bridie squinted in the sun to see the cause of the disruption.
“Private Traynor!”

Bridie recoiled and considered dropping into the grass to hide. Sergeant Simpson. She looked for somewhere to run, but it was futile. Nowhere to hide, either.

“Traynor,” he repeated. “Get your ass over here!”

She turned and made her way down the hill toward him with her scythe.

“Leave it,” he barked. “Get in.” He swung himself into the driver’s seat and started the engine.

Bridie dropped the tool at the base of a tree and climbed into the passenger seat, fumbling her seat belt. He gunned the engine, spitting gravel in all directions and spun back toward the road. He worked his way through the gears and drove back toward the main post area.

“Colonel wants to see you, most ricky tick,” he said. “Like I got nothing better to do than chauffeur you around.”

Bridie stiffened, but said nothing. The Colonel? Which Colonel? She didn’t know anything about officers, except that they were to be avoided at all costs. Sergeant Simpson didn’t elaborate, so she just sat quietly. At least she was off the line. For a while anyway.

January 2, 2008

CASUAL DUTY – Chapter Five – My Bonnie

Filed under: Dickens Challenge — cindylv @ 1:01 am

Chapter 5
Twin Lakes, WI, March 1981
Scottie’s Pub (Upstairs)

I hope I still remember the combination. Bridie climbed the stairs to the apartment she shared with her father above the pub, clutching the $100 bill. It’s almost 1:30. He should be downstairs with the cash drawer by now. She paused at the top of the stairs when she saw his bedroom door was open. “Dad?”
No response. She pushed his door open and saw the unmade bed. A sour smell of stale liquor, sweat, and cigarette smoke made her nose wrinkle. She set down a cup of coffee on the nightstand. Pushing aside a small mountain of dirty clothes with her foot, she stepped over a pair of shoes, and made her way to closet where the safe was mounted on the wall.
“Oh bring back, bring back, bring back my bonnie to me.” The sound of her father’s voice trickled down the hallway.
Well, at least he’s awake. Bridie slid the closet door open and took a step inside, reaching up for the combination dial. Her foot bumped against something, and before she could bend down to see what she’d hit, she heard the sound of glass tinkling and a bottle rolling on the closet floor. She dropped to the floor to catch it and knocked two more into each other, setting off a chain reaction of bottles crashing and rolling across the room, under the bed and out into the living room. Empty bottles?
“Bridie?” The door at the bottom of the stairs slammed and Bridie heard the heavy tread of Maisie coming up the stairs. “I’m coming up now, alrighty hon?” Maisie came twice a week to clean the pub. Once a month, she cleaned the upstairs apartment. She bustled in carrying a load of clean sheets.
“John’s saying he’s had six already today. Can you believe that? It’s only the start of March and six launches in a morning. Summer’s gonna be a good one. Busy.”
Bridie knelt frozen on the floor surrounded by the spread of dusty liquor bottles looking for a place to hide. Maisie dumped the sheets on the end of the dresser, fumbled for a corner of the bedcovers and yanked them to the floor. She stripped off the sheets and added them to the pile. “John says that the fishing derby for the airline people, you know, Braniff? John says…”
“…The winds have blown over the ocean. The winds have blown over the sea…”
“Oh jus’ listen to himself, will ya hon? He must be feeling good today, singing.” Maisie dumped the pillows from their cases and tossed them back on the bed.
Bridie stood up, holding an empty vodka bottle in her hand as Maisie scooped up the dirty linens and breezed past her out to the living room.

“…he says that they might have almost 150 this year. After the derby, we’re gonna go see my sister, the one who lives in Michigan…”
The bathroom door opened and Bridie stared as her father stumbled along the hallway heading toward them, wearing only a pair of dingy jockey shorts with an overstretched elastic waistband.
“Oh bring back, bring back, bring back my bonnie to me…” he sang to himself as he made his way down the hall. At the top of the stairs, he ran out of hallway. He stopped, lurched across to the opposite wall and shuffled around the corner, banking off the edge of the china hutch, and staggered across to his bedroom door, collapsing onto the bare mattress.
“.., she’s the one with the two sets of twins. Anyways, we’ll be driving this time, instead of flying. Oh, and John says with the fishing so good this spring, we’ll like to have to hire a boy. Maybe the Rszonka boy. You know him, hon? The one that runs around with the waitress, Wendy?”
…seventeen, eighteen…Bridie needed to breathe, but couldn’t force herself to move.
“What you doing with that money, hon? You need some change? John’s got change in the Bait Shop.” Maisie squeezed Bridie’s hand as she slipped the bill into her apron pocket. “Be right back. John’s got change. You’ll see.” She scooped up the pile of linen and bounded down the steps, slamming the door behind her. nineteen…twenty…click…flip. “…bring back my Mommie to me.”

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