I didn’t think I was going to make many edits to Bonewhite, the third course of my occult mystery, but as I got into it, I realized how dismally it progresses. The mystery itself is fine — rather clever actually — but how the story brings you there is woefully inadequate. So I’m performing surgery on this one as well.
Interestingly, I read through the fourth course, A Symphony in Green, for the second time in as many weeks, and other than correcting a small error, I still don’t want to make any changes. That’s a helluva story, and if I had to describe in one sentence what I was doing to the others, it would be “Trying to bring them closer to that standard.”
Which is why I keep saying this book, when it’s all done, is really going to be something special. Magic. Because there’s magic in the making. And I don’t just mean it’s a book about magic. (It IS an occult mystery after all.) I mean the magic is baked right in.
Last week, for example, I was wrestling with the character development in Bonewhite, which is a little lacking. Development is change over time. But in a novella, you don’t have lots of time, so you have to rely on reminisces or flashbacks — which, if done well, remains transparent to the reader.
I didn’t just want to have her say “I used to be a real” so-and-so, which is weak writing. Powerful stories show rather than tell, as we all know. And since the narrator is an ex-cop, it seemed clear that an episode from her time on the force would do the trick — a mistake perhaps, or some other thing that she doesn’t want to repeat.
But for the life of me I couldn’t think of anything.
So I turned to my miscellany shelf, which is right here next to my desk, and I pulled out Taschen’s “The Book of Symbols” and opened to a random page:
I read the commentary. Primarily a symbol of renewal and innocence. But that didn’t trigger anything, so I closed the book and opened to another random page:
That’s interesting, certainly, but not very helpful. So I flipped randomly to a third page:
Again, I read the commentary, which ends with:
“At the magical level, the idea of the tooth as treasure is still carried in the fantasy of the tooth fairy, who repays, in coin, each baby tooth as it falls out and is offered as a marking of passage.”
I thought of the existing scene, near the climax of the story, where Harriet defers vengeance in order to save a teenage girl with Down’s Syndrome. (As an aside, that scene inside the club Omin — the world’s worst game of Russian roulette — originated in 2012 as part of the scrapped manuscript of a book that later turned into THE MINUS FACTION. But it never really fit.) That scene, I realized, was basically what this new scene had to “plug” into.
I had drawn three symbols — The Lamb, Menstruation, Teeth — and this is the rough cut what spontaneously emerged:
I wanna tell you something.
Little story, I guess.
Back when I was just a patrolman—and yeah, I fuckin’ know I use the masculine, okay? Not everything has to be a god-damned political statement. You know know what the fuck I mean.
I stopped this guy in a blue Chevelle. Sweet car. He’d kept it up. Must had spent a lot of time on it. ’Bout the same age as me at the time. Mid-20s maybe. He was driving a little erratically and I flagged him down. Had another guy with him and a girl in the back. Make-up. Real thin. Big hair.
I approached the vehicle cautiously. I checked his license and insurance. I ran his tag. Everything checked out. He didn’t appear any more stiff than most folks when they get pulled over. He answered my questions straight up. Even called me ma’am. I let him and his friends go with a warning. I got the impression they were having fun. Goofing off a little too much, maybe. I’d done my bit for highway safety. Big fuckin’ deal.
I go to walk back to my squad car and I heard the Chevelle’s engine start and I lifted my head to the little back window because I got the sense the girl was looking at me, watching me leave, and so I was just gonna nod, but I remember thinking everyone always said I looked like such a bitch all the time. So I made it a point to smile. Like, “have a nice day.”
Car pulled away as she smiled back. It’s automatic, right? Whether you mean to or not, someone smiles at you and unless you’re just right pissed off, you smile out of habit or just to be polite or whatever.
I walked back to my car and I sat down and strapped in and reported the stop to central and started filling out the last of the paperwork and I saw her smile in my head.
Teeth a little uneven. But not everyone can afford braces, ya know.
Then I realize, they weren’t just a little uneven. She was missing a tooth. And I don’t mean it got knocked out whatever. Like it was a baby tooth.
She had a lot of make-up. And I guess maybe I didn’t look that hard. Some girls are real good at that shit. And I was busy watching the two guys in the front. You’re never sure on a stop like that when someone is gonna pull a gun or whatever. She was all the way in the back. Skinny thing. Not a threat. That’s all I remember thinking. Not a threat.
But afterward I’m sitting in my car wondering how old she was.
And I’m picturing her face. And that reflexive flash of a smile. Like a kid. And I’m thinking she can’t be older than twelve.
Now, she coulda been the guy’s sister. Or niece. Or cousin. Or the babysitter. Or whatever. I don’t know.
But I shoulda asked. I shoulda looked at his reaction. I shoulda glanced at the friend. If I wasn’t sure about their response, I shoulda politely asked a couple follow-ups while I pretended to write the ticket.
Coulda shoulda woulda.
It’s shit like that that teaches you how to be a cop. A real one.
But that day I was more worried about my own safety than the girl in the back of the Chevelle.
Not a threat.
I had run the guy’s plates. I had his address. It was right there on my paperwork. So I cruised by his house that night after my shift. I saw the Chevelle in the driveway. I sat there across the street for a while. I thought about going to knock on the door. But I didn’t see anything. I was off the clock. I had no reason to be there. He hadn’t done anything but goof around a little behind the wheel. I’d given him a warning and let him go. I had no probable cause that a crime had been committed.
After awhile, I left. Wasn’t much choice.
Years go by. I made detective. I never thought about that day again. So many worse things happened since, I had no reason.
Until I ran into him.
At Mikey’s shelter.
One day, I walked in to meet my brother for lunch, and there he is. He was a little older. But it was him. No question. Only now he’s homeless. Turns out he’d had a hard stretch at Attica. Prison is hard on pedos. It’s probably the only time the sheer brutality of the place finds a positive outlet.
I flipped. Caused a scene. I didn’t want Mike to have anything to do with the guy. I wanted him to kick the guy out. It’s one of the few times he and I had a real serious argument. Like where I wasn’t sure we’d ever come back from it with everything in one piece. But he was adamant. Like, he had ahold of me and was pushing me out. Kept asking me to leave. And he meant it. He said it in a way that I wasn’t sure he ever wanted me to go back there. When we saw each other a few days later—
It was tough.
Mike said the guy served a year. That he claimed he never touched the girl—a different one, by the way. Not the one in the Chevelle. He claimed it was all the friend. And the D.A. couldn’t prove otherwise. Not from the physical evidence. Not from the girl’s statement. Not from her parents or anyone else involved. The friend got fifteen long. This dude got three years for felony child endangerment and was out after fourteen months.
And in those fourteen months, he was raped.
I don’t know if he deserved that.
I don’t know if anyone deserves that.
All I know is, I shouldn’t have been so worried that day.
I shouldn’t have been afraid.