Monday, August 12, 2013

"It is not large, but it is comfortable": an excerpt from "The Hanging Man"

“How friendly, how friendly,” Dominic said. “I believe I will show Mademoiselle Quince to my office, if you can bear the parting, Madame.”

“Go, Dominic. I will repress my sorrow, I assure you.” Constance turned away to stare at a calendar hung on the wall opposite the loveseat. The calendar was over a year out of date.

“Come with me.” Dominic led Patience past Constance and Henri, through a set of swinging doors into a narrow, dark hallway that ran the length of the house. The sound of a clarinet, playing broken scales and then snatches of an angular tango, echoed behind a closed door somewhere. Hammering and sawing could be heard, distant shouting of obscene French words, water running briefly in the kitchen down the hallway to Patience’s left, and then for a moment the whole house fell silent and the coarse blowing of the wind slipped along the roof, rasping overhead, and then the noises of the house resumed, the clarinet playing a drunken march, slipping from key to key.

“My office is this way,” Dominic said. “It is not large, but it is comfortable.” He pushed open a door at the end of the hallway and waved Patience in ahead of him. She slipped into the room and stood beside the door, her back to the wall and her purse held ready in both hands. It was quite dark in the office.

“A moment, Detective.” Dominic crossed the room in the dark, stumbling noisily against furniture as he made his way to light a green-shaded banker’s lamp which sat atop his desk, which was an enormous walnut piece that filled half of the office. Dominic squeezed around the desk to a large oak swivel chair with heavy arms. He waved toward an overstuffed chair opposite the desk.

“Make yourself comfortable, Mademoiselle.”

Patience sat in the offered chair, sinking into the cushions. She leaned forward from its embrace, her back straight, and crossed her right leg over her left. After a moment while Dominic arranged two stemmed glasses and a bottle of wine on his desk, Patience removed her fedora and placed it on the corner of Dominic’s desk, beside the banker’s lamp.

Behind Dominic, the wall was lined with tall wooden cabinets, cardboard labels pasted to the many drawers. Atop the cabinets were many layers of papers, receipts, handbills and invoices piled in overlapping heaps. A smaller heap of papers rose up on the right-hand side of Dominic’s desk. All around Patience, behind her chair and pushed against the walls, were cardboard boxes, full of even more papers and assorted forms. On the walls Patience saw, as her eyes adjusted to the encircling shadows, large posters in rich colors advertising Parisian circuses: the Cirque d’Hiver, the Cirque Medrano, the Nouveau Cirque which had gone out of business a decade ago, the Cirque Métropole and behind Dominic, high over his head, hung a green and gray horse and rider under the banner of the Hippodrome de la Place Clichy, which place had not existed since Patience was a very young girl, but about which she had once heard a spectacular story from Inspector Moran, a story involving a sword-swallower, a trio of clowns, a dealer in stolen firearms and the locked office of a pawn shop.

“I apologize for the clutter,” Dominic said, pulling the cork from the bottle of wine. “You have no idea what an administrative nightmare it is to manage a traveling show.”

“That is true,” Patience said. She lit a cigarette.

“It will only become worse, Mademoiselle. I am increasingly ensnared by the American government. The licenses, the vehicle fees, the tax upon ticket sales, the permitting to use vacant lots, the cost of permits for a parade on the day of the show, the bad weather, the poor stands and twelve million unemployed men who cannot afford to entertain their children—it is all conspiring to murder me, Detective. And it will only grow less manageable in the coming years when I will be required to collect and remit the new Social Security tax atop the wages I pay. The wages are already too high, and now there is a call for unions, and a minimum wage for showmen. What am I to do? I am a generous employer. Here you are.”

From Chapter Three of The Hanging Man, a work in progress. The usual caveats about this being a first draft, etc.

4 comments:

  1. ...distant shouting of obscene French words...

    Oh yes, this is going to be a very wonderful book.

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  2. I think the word "French" should be cut there. All of the speech in this scene is between native French speakers, so "French" is assumed, right?

    I don't know about wonderful, but I'm having a good time.

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  3. I want to hear that story about the sword swallower! This great, Scott. :)

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  4. I'm not sure you get that particular story in this one. There are a lot of stories from Patience's past, though. You learn what Ali was doing before he met Patience, too.

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