31 August 2005

1. August 7: 114 miles west of Big Moon.


Early Dodd walked out of Memphis International and lit a cigarette. He dropped his brown leather satchel at his boots and stood at the curb near the Northwest kiosk. It was only five past eight and already the steel and concrete were full of the sun. Air shimmered above idling taxis and SUVs. Early’s eyes followed a girl in a red tube top and jeans. She was wheeling a black nylon suitcase. She wore flip-flops and a silver ring in the pale flesh of her navel, a stud in her nose. He watched her disappear into the tinted terminal glass and when the automatic doors slid shut behind her, he dropped his cigarette on the walk and ground it beneath the toe of his boot.

Across the street, a black Mustang convertible parallel parked between a stretch limo and a mini-van. The driver sat behind the wheel, one arm thrown across the beige leather seats: big build, tattoos on his biceps, black spiked hair. Young. The kid. He raised his hand, cocked an index-finger pistol, and shot Early a lopsided grin.

Early picked up his bag and crossed the street.

You’ll know him when you see him, the kid said. He wore a black cotton T-shirt, untucked, jeans and Birkenstocks. There was gold on his fingers and his left wrist. That’s what Uncle Jack said. You’ll know him when you see him.

Early tossed his bag in the backseat.

They left the airport, the FedEx planes roaring overhead. White clouds moved in the sky. Further south, the horizon was dark.

The kid said: I like your hat, man. Better hold onto it or it’ll blow right off. I drive fast.

Early took his hat by the brim.

They blasted along the freeway and shot off at the 78 exit. They passed a garage, a pawn shop, Jack Pyrtle’s Chicken. Four cracked lanes, big rigs and fumes. Whores trolled the sidewalks in skirts and tops bright as lures, angling for truckers at red lights. They waved at traffic.

The Americana Club stood on the corner of 78 and Winchester, a huge red white and blue cube with a garish marquee and smoky glass. The kid parked in back, next to a red Cadillac De Ville. He led Early through the rear into a dim, cool corridor that branched off into various rooms, most of them shut. Every dozen paces hung a sixty-watt bulb in a glass fixture. Early carried his bag at his side. The air smelled close, musty: sweat, dust, perfume. The walls were wood paneling and the floor blue shag. Somewhere up ahead, country music drifted: “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away,” the Kendalls.

At the end of the hall a woman shoved through a curtain of silver beads. She wore a purple thong and an orange wig and nothing else. She brushed past them and disappeared into one of the rooms.

The kid led Early to a door marked Manager. He knocked twice, waited for the gruff Come that followed from inside, and entered. Early went after him, and the kid closed the door behind him.

The room was brightly lit, fluorescents. A box fan hammered away from a murky window and a fat man in a brown blazer was bent over a metal desk, scribbling into a ledger. A cup of coffee steamed at his hand. Receipts were scattered across the desk, along with donut crumbs and an empty Howard’s Donut box. The fat man stopped writing. He put his pen in a plastic cup shaped like a boot and leaned back in his chair. It creaked with his weight. He had small, black eyes and a ridiculous toupee. A black boar’s head hung on the wall above him, cobwebs in its snout. You’re Dodd, he said, and gestured at a metal folding chair opposite his desk.

Early nodded but did not sit.

The kid sat on a stool in the corner by the door, thick arms crossed at his chest. He watched the left side of Early’s face.

You’re Mr. Kitchens, Early said.

I am Kitchens.

Where’s the girl?

The fat man pointed at a scarred cherry sideboard to his left. Drink?

No, sir. Is the girl here?

The fat man chuckled. Jack said you weren’t one for pleasantries. Said don’t be put off by it. He folded his hands across his stomach. No, the girl’s not here.

Early waited.

The fat man pointed at the kid. Luke here can take you to her. Today’s her day off. On Lucy’s day off, she stays home and watches TV.

I’ll need some things when I get back, Early said, and unzipped his bag. Here’s a list.

The fat man took the twice-folded paper and read it. He grunted. You don’t want much, do you.

You’ll be reimbursed.

Now or later?

Early said, very deliberately: Mr. Grisby assured me of your cooperation, Mr. Kitchens.

The fat man waved his hand, re-folded the paper and passed it to the kid. Luke, take this out to Mackie. Tell him get on it, have it all here by three o’clock. Everything.

Noon, Early said. I’ve got a schedule.

The fan in the window hummed, the only sound for a space of time.

Then the fat man shrugged. Okay, sure. Noon.

Lotta stuff here, Luke said.

Just tell him get it done or I’ll pitch his lazy ass in the goddamn river.

Luke laughed, left the office.

Mind if I smoke? Early said, already reaching.

Kitchens shook his head. There were beads of sweat on his scalp.

Early tapped one out. That your pig?

The fat man turned in his chair and looked up at the head on the wall. You mean did I kill it? Hell no. Bought it from a guy in a junkshop in Nashville.

You don’t ever clean it?

I don't ever think about it. Kitchens pushed a green glass ashtray across the desk. What about you? You a hunter, Dodd? The fat man laughed. Animals, I mean.

I fish.

Now there’s something I never figured. Man goes out to the middle of a lake, sits in the burning sun all day, watches a little Styrofoam cork bob in the water. May catch something, may not.

That’s a point of view.

My daddy fished. When I was boy. He’d take me with him and I’d sit in back of the boat and read funny books.

Early blew smoke. How’d that work out for you?

Kitchens laughed. Bout same as everything else. First time daddy hit me upside the head with a boat paddle. Second time he didn’t.

The door opened. Luke said, All set, boss.

Right. Kitchens stood. Luke, take Mr. Dodd here to see a lady. Have him back by noon. He’s got a schedule.

Early stubbed his cigarette in the ashtray.

The kid followed him out.


Gang:

This is a re-worked opening section for my novel. I'm gonna deliver it section by section. Each section deals with a particular character or characters and their approach to the town of Big Moon, Mississippi. How they get there, who they are, etc. That's part one, any way. Early's a private detective on the trail of some dope stolen by a fellow named Elmo Carter. He's a bit more than a private detective, as we'll see. Anyway, suggestions for each scene is what I'm looking for. How to make it better, tighter, more interesting, intriguing, etc. Character details, anything. Fire away.

Andy

9 Comments:

Blogger The Damned said...

My first impression (I'll comment again after I read it a time or two more) is that this moves along very well, lingering on description just long enough to set the scenes and show us what the characters and environments look/smell/sound/feel like. I have only a few questions and praises. After two readings, the writing seems controlled and polished. (I'll read it again, though, to try to figure out what's being set up, etc.)

Is Early being described in paragraph 4? Change Birkenstocks to boots, or does Birk make boots?

What kind of hat does Early wear?

"Whores trolled the sidewalks in skirts and tops bright as lures, angling for truckers at red lights."--the precision of this metaphor is exquisite (and I don't use that word lightly, or ever).

4:10 PM  
Blogger The Damned said...

That was Adam's comment, by the way, if it matters.

Adam

4:11 PM  
Blogger Jean Louis said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Jean Louis said...

Early wears a cowboy hat, but I never want to say "cowboy" hat. Know any names for that beaten-up, Scott Glenn/Sam Shepherd kind of cowboy hat?

Also, the sandals are on the kid, Luke, not Early. That was unclear, I guess.

10:45 PM  
Blogger The Damned said...

Stetson has some interestingly named hats: The Royal Flush, The Arrow, Diamond Jim, The Shoshone. I like The Mitchum. (mikethehatter.com)

7:27 AM  
Blogger The Damned said...

Andy
below i've put in some comments about specific lines...i think this might help you "tighten" the chapter:
"the steel and concrete were full of the sun": cut the second 'the'

"You’ll know him when you see him, the kid said. He wore a black cotton T-shirt, untucked, jeans and Birkenstocks. There was gold on his fingers and his left wrist. That’s what Uncle Jack said. You’ll know him when you see him": I’m a bit confused here…who is “the kid”? and what did he say? Is what he said different than what Uncle Jack said?

"The kid said: I like your hat, man": you could have the kid say what type of hat it is so the narrator doesn’t have to, then you've avoided the whole cowboy hat naming issue

"various rooms": maybe I’m nit-picking, but do we need ‘various’?

"Mr. Grisby assured me of your cooperation, Mr. Kitchens": I know Early is a brass-tacks guy, but to me this is stiff, and not quite believable

okay, since first impressions are everything, let me say that i'm not too concerned about what the fat man or the kid look like (they're described well), but i don't think i've got a good enough picture of Early...boots, hat, smoker...but physically? is there a moment, maybe in the glass of the door in the airport, where he could see himself and give us one line about that? i don't want much because i agree with adam that this seems polished and controlled with just the right amount of description elsewhere

i'm a bit confused about geographically where we are...is 78 taking them north to the northeast corner of mississippi? i thought 78 went south? and what river is the fat man talking about, tombigbee? again, i'm picking because this is polished and jsut want to know where we are in the state

i will read the piece again monday and see if i can't think of anything else to say

7:34 AM  
Blogger The Damned said...

andy
i've read the piece today too and honestly can't see Early...i'm not trying to be picky, and i hate to harp on something like this, but if he's a main player, one line of physical decription needs to go in there

i'm looking forward to the next part...is this the same character that was riding with a kid in an earlier draft?

1:48 PM  
Blogger The Damned said...

Yes and no. The two guys in the car are Early and Luke, only both are in a different line of work.

You've got good points all, particularly with regard to Early. I like this guy, and I want to fill him in with a bare minimum of detail, so I'll think on the best way to do it.

Thanks for everything.

Andy

3:10 PM  
Blogger shawningals3215 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:35 AM  

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