As previously mentioned, to make Julius and Livia into a novella, I’ve decided to bind in a second thread. This is a story I started to write while I was staying with the daughter in Brooklyn this fall and it will make the second thread. The two threads will come together at the end.
So…Julius in St Jude’s will probably be chapter 1 and this chapter will probably be 2. There might be a short chapter after this that explains more of what the PoV character is attempting, then the novella would alternate between the two threads until they join.
Other stuff… Not had a good week for progress on the main writing projects. (But I said before, the chapters I put up here are just ‘playing’ at weekends with different ideas and techniques).
For a heart-pounding minute… the street is empty in the numinous sunlight. Bright, blank advertising boards above the sidewalk numb the brain. The street signs twist and lie. The shops are silent; they leak their pungent breath over the street, over her.
She leans against a wall and pretends to be reading a message on her cell.
Important message. On the cell.
Her eyes are squeezed shut so tightly it makes her dizzy.
It—whatever it was—passes.
The sounds of cars and people and life seep back in.
Her sight is blurry with tears when she opens her eyes again.
What’s going on?
In a panic she can’t remember anything. Not even her name. Then there’s a vague sensation of talking to someone. Yes! There was a man, Barlett, speaking. It’s dangerous, he said.
Your funeral. He said that, too.
“You all right?”
A guy on the street. Talking to her.
“Get away from me,” she says. The words slur. Her mouth feels lopsided and she starts to walk away hurriedly. It takes effort.
Left foot. Right foot.
Gotta keep going. Important.
The man who spoke says something else. Probably as rude as she was to him. She ignores it.
It’s dangerous. It’s even dangerous for people to be seen with you.
Barlett had told her that, but she doesn’t know why.
Her cell is vibrating. There’s something showing on the glossy screen.
She keeps walking, but she looks at the cell.
Important. Something very important she must do.
There’s an animation on the screen. A rabbit in a waistcoat, with an old-fashioned pocket watch is gesturing at her.
Time to go down the rabbit hole.
Follow. Hurry. Tick tock.
Her fingers seem to remember, and she swipes a code in that sets it going.
The screen fades to black and she falls into a slideshow.
I am not mad.
I need to reboot.
My name is Elodie Villiers.
I am not mad. I need to trust me.
It feels like rocks colliding in her head. Things fall back into place, and it is a dark place.
I am 28.
That is too young to die.
Although she remembers the slide that will come up next, she lets it come anyway.
I have just suffered a blank.
I just need to reboot.
She stops the slideshow, and resets the timer in case it happens again—the blank as she calls it.
The episodes are getting more frequent now.
Or maybe it’s triggered by where she is. It’s her childhood home. Brooklyn. But the streets of this Brooklyn are like old friends who’ve grown strange while she’s been away. They look narrower. More people and yet less lively. Less real.
She looks around and seems to see new and old Brooklyn superimposed, like one of those trick photoshop images. Disorienting.
She stops looking. It’s what set the last blank off.
A block west.
Her head hurts, but she’s sure she remembered that right. She has to get there on time. Barlett won’t hang around, and he’d said something on the phone about this being the last meeting.
Either he has the information she needs.
Or her life is over.
She hurries, but stops herself from running. Running will attract attention. That’s dangerous. Not just because Barlett said so, but because she knows.
She knows things she shouldn’t.
She’s dangerous for them, and that means they’re dangerous for her. They protect their secrets with an absolute, fatal ferocity. How else could they have survived, especially here, in such a crowded area. Over 2.5 million people in under 100 square miles of city.
And that’s just Brooklyn.
All of those millions of people…none of them see it. She hadn’t, until she’d gone looking with electronic eyes and desperation. Now she knows, and she knows where they are, in general terms.
When the internet couldn’t make the last resolution, she resorted to old-fashioned methods. Most of the PIs she talked to wouldn’t touch it. Barlett said he was the best. He didn’t ask too many questions and she could afford his fees—just.
Somewhere here. This intersection.
Barlett set up a meeting style. She’s never to go to his office, after the first meeting. She’s never to approach him. Just be where I say and wait, he’d said.
He’s ultra-cautious. And now he’s running scared.
Either he’s got what she needs, or he’s pulling out and she’s dead.
Or he’s set her up.
Imagining her head in a telescopic sight makes the skin on the back of her neck crawl, even though a bullet in the head won’t make much difference now.
He’s not here.
Just as panic starts, and she’s about to look around wildly, she hears a hiss from behind.
She can hear a walking stick tapping, so she slows a little, catches a glimpse of him in a shop window.
Barlett looks different every time she sees him. Not huge things. No wigs or cross-dressing. Simple little things. Today, he’s limping and walking with a stick and a fedora tilted over his eyes. Scarf muffler, gloves, old coat buttoned against the cold. He looks like he’s eighty years old. He’s maybe thirty-five.
“Jesus,” he mutters as if talking to himself. He’s close enough she can hear him, far enough away it doesn’t look as if they’re together. “This is it. We’re even, and I’m done.”
“What happened?” Her voice betrays her anxiety.
They walk on for several paces before he answers. He keeps his voice at the level of traffic noises. “I got too close. They’re good. They made me. Barely got away.”
The tap of the stick is like a metronome. It seems to cut through the sounds of the road—the big engines, the fat tires running over badly fitted manholes, people yelling, horns blaring.
“I give you what I got, and I’m gone. Today. Got my bug-out money. Got a place way down south, on the coast,” he says, and there’s a humorless bark of a laugh. “Reckon I’m taking up fishing.”
“What have you got?” she says.
She doesn’t try to change his mind. Actually, him staying on would achieve nothing. It’s too late. Either he’s got what she needs, or she’s dead.
“Not a lot. They like a couple of restaurants,” he says. “There’s also a club, and a church that seem to be something to them. Haven’t found where they live and I’m not going to try.”
A church? She’s surprised.
Old habits die hard. She’d visited one when she’d got back to New York, on the basis of some old memory about the patron saint of lost causes. But her cause was too lost, or maybe God was busy watching the sparrows fall or something. It just made her angry and she left before the priest noticed her and started asking awkward questions.
But what would they want with a church?
There’s a squeal of tires and a driver hammers on his horn.
Cars stop and there’s shouting and cursing. People slow and get in her way, rubber-necking the street theater.
She’s twenty yards down the road before she realizes she can’t hear the tap of the walking stick.
She turns, even though Barlett has always told her not to.
Like Orpheus in the underworld, he’d said. Never look back at me, or you’ll lose it all.
There’s a walking stick. Pale, with a pistol grip. It’s fallen into the road, next to the edge of the sidewalk.
There’s no sign of Barlett.