And what’s with the kilt?
My manuscript of WHERE YOU WILL DIE is now in the hands of a very accomplished and insightful editor, giving it that final polish to make it ready for publication. The story really came together over the winter, and I’ve begun the final steps to getting it into the world.
So I thought I might share a little about the main character, Alan Wright. Rather than tell you about him (what they call an “information dump”), I thought I’d post some extracts from the book itself. Hope you enjoy.
If you’ve read my first post about the book (Sneak Peek — Opening of WHERE YOU WILL DIE), you know that the murder victim is a successful, elderly antique dealer named Ruth MacKenzie. You know she’s lying on the floor of the mezzanine office in her shop, Ruth’s Reveries, in a pool of her own blood. Then:
At quarter-past nine o’clock, a large, black Ford Crown Victoria pulled to the curb at Ruth’s Reveries. Travis Page, owner of the Eden Ridge Cab and Limousine Service, parked and accepted payment from his fare. A tall and imposing man in a black canvas kilt, boots and a cleric’s collar opened the car door and stepped into the sunshine. He waved to the cabbie, slipped his cell phone into a cargo pocket and hurried to the door. Travis watched some nearby pedestrians stare at the unfamiliar sight and chuckled as he pulled away. A newcomer to Eden Ridge, after two years Alan Wright was still turning the heads of longtime locals, for his size and odd dress as much as his bright, friendly face and purposeful stride.
Alan pulled the door to Ruth’s Reveries with too much muscle, sending it flying open and banging the string of bells against the tempered glass, announcing his entrance with an explosion of metallic jangles. He stopped and eyed The Boy Trap as he called out to his friend.
“Ruth! Hey Ruth! Sorry I’m late but I forgot to… Ruth?”
He glanced over the tops of the high shelves and listened for her voice. After a moment of silence, he took the steps to the mezzanine two-by-two, thinking he might find her from the vantage point he jokingly called “The Crow’s Nest”.
“Hey Ruth? I know you said come at nine, but really it’s not…”
Alan’s lungs suddenly lacked the air needed to speak his next word. His bearded grin slowly melted into an open-mouthed frown. Breath came shallow and halting as tears welled in his eyes.
He wiped his cheeks and glanced around the room, reading a story of struggle. Chessmen of ivory and ebony were knocked from her desk and now lay about her like defeated guards. A vintage brass fireplace tool set was toppled, the stand, tongs, broom, and shovel in a heap like a game of pick-up sticks. The poker was missing. Against the back wall, the door of a large antique Eagle safe stood open, keys still in the lock. A steel shelf divided the space in two sections, both empty.
Staring again, Alan’s heart rejected the truth, that the ashen, rigid face before him was the death mask of his lively, pink-cheeked friend. For a brief second his body screamed to act, but the urge to save her flickered and faded. He knew a dead woman when he saw one.
He’d seen another not many years before.
So, there he is, our big, clumsy, sentimental protagonist in a modern kilt and a cleric’s collar, finding his new best friend dead in the first chapter.
Why the kilt and the collar? The kilt because it’s comfortable. The collar because, as we turn the page into Chapter 2:
Ruth MacKenzie was very much alive the night before. She sat in the first pew of the chapel that formed the heart of Alan Wright’s spiritual center, beaming as he spoke to a double dozen Eden Ridge folk, semi-regulars to his Wednesday night meetings. A year since he built and opened The House of the Universal Message was not enough to convince more locals to attend, despite Ruth’s fervent cheerleading.
She and the others listened as he read to them, dressed in his formal tartan kilt and sporran, a cleric’s collar at his throat and a green satin stole adorned with gold lotus flower embroidery over his shoulders:
“‘And this also, though the word lie heavy upon your hearts: The murdered is not unaccountable for his own murder, and the robbed is not blameless in being robbed. The righteous is not innocent of the deeds of the wicked, and the white-handed is not clean in the doings of the felon.’”
Alan glanced up from the book, noted that most faces still showed interest, and read on.
“‘You cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked; for they stand together before the face of the sun even as the black thread and the white are woven together. And when the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also.’”
He closed the thin book and laid it aside on the podium, faced his small congregation and said, “That was from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. What thoughts does that reading bring to mind, in the context of tonight’s topic, Forgiveness and Grievance?”
“Sounds like a load of BS to me” grumbled Burt Farnham.
“Burt!” Ruth swiveled to meet his eye. “Don’t be such a grouchy, old coot!”
“Well? He asked!”
“Go on, Burt” Alan said. “Why is it BS?”
“The murdered and the murderer are both guilty? The robber and the robbed? Pfft! I’ve been comin’ to this church for a couple a months, and I’ve heard some pretty crazy stuff from you, but this? C’mon.”
“This isn’t a church, Burt, and what I call services are just meetings, sometimes celebrations. But I don’t think…”
“Don’t quibble. I’m too old to split hairs. You’re standing in front of us, at a pulpit…”
“Hush! We’re listenin’ to sermons and you’re wearing a collar. If that don’t make this place a church and you a preacher and what we’re doing a service, then I don’t know what. But now you’re tellin’ us there ain’t no right and wrong?”
“He’s not saying that” Ruth said, scowling. “Gibran means right and wrong go together like yin and yang, dark and light. You can’t have one without the other. Right, Alan?”
Alan nodded. “You’re on the right track.”
“That’s not what he said!” Burt growled, jabbing a finger at Alan. “He said the criminal and the victim are both guilty! How’s that again? And don’t give us a bunch of hippie nonsense about it.”
Okay, so Alan Wright is a minister, of sorts. But what sort of minister? He gave a quick answer to Daniel Newland, the lawyer defending a man accused of Ruth’s murder. Alan and Newland are waiting in a jail visitation room for Jason Clay, a homeless man arrested when he sold some items that were taken from Ruth’s safe the night she was killed. To pass the time, Newland tries to find out what this big guy in a kilt is all about:
The door to the bare room slowly closed and clicked shut as Hendrix walked past the large, steel-wired window. Newland tossed a file folder of notes and pictures on the table. He and Alan sat in metal folding chairs. The men were silent, Newland thrumming his fingers on the table. Alan straightened his kilt and folded his hands in his lap, fighting to steady his racing heart and shallow breathing.
“So” Newland said, “You a Scot? Wright sounds English to me.”
“No, mostly Irish. My great granddad came over from County Galway.”
“A kilt and a collar.” Newland chuckled, eyeing Alan up and down. “Quite the combination. Bet you’re popular with the ladies.”
“If I am, they don’t show it, so I don’t know it.”
Newland’s grin reddened his already ruddy cheeks. “Now I know I like you. You’re a good liar.”
“We’re all liars” Alan said, returning the smile, “but most of us don’t accept the idea. We always blame the other guy. That’s where the trouble comes in.”
“Good point. I agree.” Newland rubbed his stubbled chin. “I’m told you have your own religion.”
“No, but I have a message.”
“In a nutshell, we come from the world, not into it. We are expressions of the world the way leaves are expressions of a tree. We belong in the universe as much as a star or a starfish. We’re all the same, we’re all connected, and the only divisions between ourselves and others, ourselves and the world, ourselves and God, are the fictions we create in our minds.”
“That’s quite a nutshell.” Newland said.
“It’s not my message. It’s the perennial philosophy, the core of every mystical and religious tradition. I’m just trying to pass it on.”
“It sounds very, I dunno, New Age-y. But you used the word God.”
“God is a word we use to fit infinity into our brains.”
The attorney nodded. “Well, sir”, I like your message. Do you hold services?”
“Meetings. Wednesday nights at six. We have a potluck after, so bring something and you’ll be fed well.”
Newland patted his well-rounded belly and said, “I may be a convert already.”
“Tomorrow night will be a memorial for Ruth. I hope you can come.”
“I hope I can too.” The attorney nodded and drummed his fingers on the table, then said, “Why Wednesdays?”
Alan threw a sly grin. “Nobody else claims it for their holy day.”
Keep an eye out for future excerpts, including an introduction to the five senior women who act as Alan’s Baker Street Irregulars, known as The Little Red Hens.
Thanks for reading!