Friday, August 29, 2014

First Shot (44)

7 of May 1775

My Dearest Wife Charlotte,

I know you must hate me more than anything on Earth, more than plague or pestilence or even the King and all his men. And I would not, nay I could not begin to bring myself to blame you, for I know what I have done has left a scar on your heart you will carry with you unto the grave, which, with the Gentle Lord's blessing, will be many score years away.
I write this in the lodging of a new acquaintance in a place in Connecticut it would be less than prudent for me to identify. I have joined a Provisional Regiment here that needs the services of an industrious and clever smith. My rifled musket has won the admiration of the men in this company, and our Battalion Commander has said he will arrange for a nearby forge to prepare one dozen barrels with my specifications to be fitted to new Charleville muskets for a Brigade shooting competition.
Under different circumstances, my dear beloved Charlotte, you would, I am most certain, be proud that you did take Willie Isaac Hosner as your loving wedded husband.
I can not say when this letter will be delivered to you, if circumstances should ever allow that it shall, and so I am writing it more to myself, to that part of me--my wounded heart--where you now live and where I will hold you dear so long as this heart shall beat and the smallest breath of my life remains to be extinguished.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Unbearable Lightness of Prunes (a review)

Always hesitant to engage heavy dialect in writing, a reluctance I developed in childhood reading Tom Sawyer, I took the plunge with The Unbearable Lightness of Prunes on the recommendation of a friend. She's not only still a friend, but a more trusted friend than ever before. This long story, which Ms. Langstaff has said she plans to include in a book about the protagonist, a tormented, mischievous boy named Jerrold, quickly smacked down my dialectal squeamishness and seduced me into a world of linguistically quirky humor I eventually came to savor thanks to a late-blooming appreciation for that same Mark Twain who'd stymied me in my tenderer years.

I need not say one whit about the prunes and their weight, or lack thereof, as suggested by the title of this delightful plum of a story. If you have ever eaten a prune, or even seen a bag of them dried like gargantuan raisins, or smelled them stewing in water in a pot on the stove, you will most assuredly feel an instant rapport with poor Jerrold whilst thanking your lucky stars to be a mere voyeur as the lad suffers with surrogate angst for your own private indolence and dietary trespasses.

The story is rich in and of itself, and the language beyond the dialogue brings depths of brilliance and humor of a sort I haven't seen since those miracle days discovering the voice bewitching me with the likes of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County was the same one that frightened me as a lad about the same age as Jerrold in this splendid, uproariously entertaining tale about prunes, potato guns, horrible adults and the kind of crazy aunt we all would love to have in our family tree.



Monday, August 25, 2014

First Shot (43)

Blow arrived home just as Barbara Bassett, his secretary, was leaving for the day. He saw her behind the wheel of her Mazda after he'd parked beside it on the pad outside his office. She rolled her window down, and he walked over to say hello. Slow morning, she said, which gave her time to catch up on her filing.
Lt. Callahan called around ten, wondering where you were. He said your truck was over at the Salzwedels but you weren't anywhere around. Said he tried calling you but your phone was out of service. You OK?”
Everything's fine, Barb. I was with a client. Probly in a hole for the phone.”
She studied him a moment, and he knew he'd hurt her by not saying who the client was. It wasn't that he didn't trust her, just didn't want to take the time to explain. He was anxious to look at the documents. She smiled tightly. “Those holes are a pain. You have a good day, Joe.” She said, and drove off.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

First Shot (42)

“Right Here. This is where the shot was fired.” They had come to a place sealed with yellow police tape, about six hundred yards from the designated parking area. They'd reached this spot having walked along a narrow hiking trail in the north end of Leicester County's Algonquin Park. The tape stretched around the nearest trees—a sweet gum, a live oak and two scrub pines—blocking the easiest access from the path through underbrush to a less dense space that overlooked a broad cleared area. “And out there?” He raised an arm and aimed his index finger, “There's your battlefield.”
Blow moved to get a better view. Part of a field was visible through the dense growth to the space beyond. A carpet lined with rough streaks of green and gold in the midday sunlight. It felt unfamiliar from where he stood, missing the colorful Colonial uniforms and the rattle and smoke of muskets, but he knew the geography was right.
“How far?”
“A good three hundred yards to the edge, another hundred to where Gunther was hit. Still an easy shot with a modern rifle.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

First Shot (41)

Sarah fought through ragged surges of emotion as she explained why she blamed herself for her grandfather's death. Periodically she dabbed her tears away with a sheet of toilet paper she tore from a roll in one of the desk drawers. The old wooden office desk seemed to impart some of its authority to her. Instead of a youngster playing in daddy's office she'd become a young adult engaging a burden beyond her scant years.
“It was that damn Yankee piece of trash.” She said this in low, quiet voice, as if to herself, but she looked from one of her guests to the other as she spoke.
Blow wondered if he should point out he was born and raised in Leicester but he remembered Salzwedel was from Maryland. The two men shot quick glances at each other, which Sarah apparently noticed. She gave them a weak smile and rotated her head gently a couple of times.
“That old gun, the musket. That's what Gramps always called it. A damn Yankee piece of trash. He really hated Yankees. I mean he really really hated them.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

First Shot (40)

Sarah's rapid recovery from the outburst of remorse over her grandfather's death struck Blow as in keeping with the natural kaleidoscope of adolescent emotions. Her blurted confession that she was responsible, though, seemed extreme. She'd stopped sobbing, was wiping the tears from her eyes with her fingers. Blow decided to risk a question.
Sarah, what makes you think you were responsible?” He'd kept his voice calm, but knew, regretfully, as the words were leaving his mouth their tone was patronizing. He started an amendment, “I mean--”
It's not what I THINK. It's what HAPPENED!” She shouted this, her voice sharp as a trumpet's blast.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First Shot (39)

Marveling to himself at the defining power of a name, Blow knew his predisposition, buttressed by the student's cropped hair and slump-shouldered shamble from the house to a proximity of several feet, had held him captive to the illusion the person standing in front of him was male, right up to the instant Salzwedel introduced “him” as Sarah.
The snap, setting things right while concurrently freeing a subliminal wisp of androgyny Blow had picked up from the youthful figure as it approached, brought Sarah Kellam into focus with a cerebral equivalent to the movie effect of one face fading in from another to compress time or shift identity. Until he knew her name, the square-faced, freckled, ruddy cheeked youth with the helmet of auburn curls looked to be perfect for a Norman Rockwell model. The boy would be wearing a frayed straw hat, chewing on a long-stemmed blade of grass and sitting barefoot on the bank of a pond, fishing pole anchored beside him.
Now, the gender question essentially settled, he found himself staring at a living likeness of someone he knew only from her many published photos. Sarah Kellam was a dead ringer for Amelia Earhart.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

First Shot (38)

In the mirror, Blow saw a woman approach the house from the opposite direction. She wore jeans and a heavy shirt, but no coat, and was carrying what appeared to be a covered dish. He wondered if maybe she was a neighbor. Evidently someone had seen her through a window, as the door opened before she'd reached the porch. Blow saw hands reach out and take the covered dish. The woman followed them into the house.
Blow rested his head against the cushioned support atop his seat and tried to prepare himself for the emotional discomfort of joining a group of people mourning the loss of their patriarch and longtime friend. The prospect gave him a peculiarly self-conscious sense, being both an outsider and a lawyer. He cringed inwardly anticipating the ambulance-chasing—even worse in this case, hearse-chasing—perception his uninvited appearance likely would make.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

First Shot (37)

They met at the Salzwedels' house, still under sheriff's surveillance. Blow assumed the figure in the passenger seat of the white, unmarked sedan parked across from the house was a deputy. Yellow tape still created an official barrier between the two columns atop the steps to the screened porch. Salzwedel was waiting in an unfamiliar car, a blue Honda.
Brother-in-law's,” he said. “We're trading for the time being. Getting a little spooked, as you can imagine.”
He'd answered Blow's text within seconds: My place asap Blow dropped a ten on the table and hurried out after grabbing a piece of toast to munch on the way to his truck. The rain had stopped during the night, but every dip and low spot in the asphalt around Marie's had become a pool. It was cold, too, but at least the wind was gone.
Playing hooky today?”
Called in sick. It's the truth, too, Joe. I knew what you wanted soon as I got your text.”
Blow fastened his seat belt in the Honda.
The obit, huh?”
Salzwedel made a face and rotated his head a couple of times. “Couldn't believe it. Yeah I'm sick.”
So you've known all along.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

First Shot (36)

Blow considered skipping breakfast at Marie's this morning. He'd overslept an hour and was having trouble shaking off the vague confusion his myriad dreams had left just beneath the surface. Not narrative dreams by any stretch. Snippets of scenes, disjointed in continuity except for an underlying ambience.
There was a repetition of certain aspects. He was always approaching the apex of some success—finding the right person, the right thing to say, the right room, right building, street, book, tool, whatever it seemed to be that would cap a particular situation. Sometimes they would seem to segue into each other, back and forth despite there being no apparent connection. Yet always this sense of everything as part of something bigger, if not in common purpose then emotionally.
The incongruous jumble managed to cling by at least a tentacle through several awakenings, including once when he got up to pee. Now that he was up for the day, the notion to skip Marie's lasted about as long as one of his fractured dream segments. He wasn't hungry but he needed coffee and he wanted to see what the newspapers said about Himmler's murder.

Monday, August 11, 2014

First Shot (35)

Nuts.” This was the extent of Lt. Carl Callahan's reaction to the line of stalled traffic ahead of his SUV at the foot of the Peter Q. Dummond Memorial Bridge. The word was spoken dispassionately, and might have sounded to someone not paying attention as a half-hearted growl. Blow was paying attention, straining to in fact over the pounding rain and intermittent rumbling growls in the clouds overhead.
Their destination was The Smokehouse, a York County diner Callahan said he liked because it reminded him of the Edward Hopper painting and served “damn good barbecue, first-rate coffee and not bad pie”. It also had booths that offered a modicum of privacy, where he and Blow stood less chance of being recognized than if they'd stayed in Leicester County.
My office is bugged,” he'd said, persuading Blow to leave the comfort of his home and slog through bitter cold stormy nastiness to the SUV in his driveway. Callahan had been parked down the street, waiting for Salzwedel to leave before before he called. The cop's implication Blow's house might also be bugged failed to produce what normally would have been amusement at its irony. Blow was already adrift in a swirl of questions and contradictions.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

First Shot (34)

Newt Gunther's apparent friendliness struck a discord with Salzwedel almost immediately. The principal had been aloof despite their reenactment interest. Not much different from his attitude toward all of the teachers, except the attractive females.
He was so obvious at school and at school functions it was a common joke,” Salzwedel told Blow in the library room next to Blow's home office. “And at reenactment activities? Where you would think we could at least pretend we were on equal ground? No way. With Newt it was as if we really were in the military, with him as an officer and me a lowly private.
Until this one day during a break at Leigh's. He sort of sidled over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. I thought at first it might be someone else. But, no, it was Newt. Big grin on his face and a How ya doin, Andy. Phony as hell. Soon as we got past the small talk, which was quick, he asked me if I knew one of my students had a crush on me. That's when the alarm bells really went off. I had no idea what he meant, but I felt the danger. Circled the wagons, so to speak.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

First Shot (33)

Andrew Salzwedel was sitting behind the wheel of his van, parked on the pad outside Blow's office, when he got home.
Brother-in-law had to work late, so our dinner out's been postponed. Cheryl made me some soup.” Salzwedel's explanation sounded real to Blow, but something was disturbing the teacher's composure. Or maybe, Blow considered, he was just watching his client more closely than before. Salzwedel turned down an offer of beer, after hesitating, but accepted water. They'd settled in the library, next to his office. Salzwedel had brought a laptop, which now sat on the table between them. It remained in its canvas case.
After minimal small talk, Salzwedel cut to the chase. “You said the word mystery, and something happened. It was like you flipped a switch. It was the perfect word to describe what I've been wrestling with for nearly a month now.”

Monday, August 4, 2014

First Shot (32)

Yup, I wouldn't say we have any irony deficiency here, Mr. Stone.” Andrew Salzwedel cocked one corner of his compressed lips and grunted a suppressed laugh, acknowledging both his lame pun and the situation it addressed. “We had a meeting and decided it would be appropriate despite the circumstances of his death. It's what we've always done for our members' funerals. It seemed somehow we'd be admitting we did something wrong if we made an exception for Newt.
And me? I volunteered just so nobody would get the idea I harbored a grudge against him, which I don't, of course. We had our differences, but...” He shrugged, turned his hands up helplessly.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

First Shot (31)

Blow caught up with Andrew Salzwedel at Leigh's Stables, where some reenactors were rehearsing to field an honor guard at Newt Gunther's funeral. Many times Blow had driven past the white rail fence stretching at least a quarter mile along the highway, but this was only the second time he'd entered the gate.
He was in high school the first time. The occasion, a homecoming hayride party during which he'd been smitten by Buddy Leigh's oldest daughter. Her name was Joy, and joy was the word that best described the mood he remembered from that chill night nestled with a couple dozen classmates among the mounds of clean straw in Buddy's horse-drawn wagon. His infatuation went largely unrequited after that heady adventure, however, as Joy's primary romantic interest then involved one of the football players. She and Blow drifted apart, leaving the hayride as merely a pleasant memory, for Blow anyway, and lost track of each other after high school. Blow thought of her now as his truck rolled down the gravel drive to the farm buildings.

Friday, August 1, 2014

First Shot (30)

When the push and tug of circumstances appeared to be scattering beyond Blow's unschooled managing skills, he'd come to know that his best friends at these moments were a ballpoint pen and a canary yellow legal pad. He was with them at his desk. To the pad's left, within reach, were his cold coffee cup with the tip of a copper wire from the drowned audio transmitter visible above the rim, and, next to the cup, the GPS tracker in the paper bag he'd just now brought in from where he found it at his front door.
Avoiding any variations of the word prioritize, which sounded annoyingly bureaucratic to his ear, he regarded the list he was making as a means of determining urgency and importance. He'd learned somewhere along the line he was a visual learner. Forcing himself to write things down helped him think. He listed items as he thought of them, then ranked them with numbers, often finding they'd sorted themselves in the order with which they came to mind.