Today’s selection comes from the first novel I ever completed in first draft. Actually a version of this was posted on my NaNoWriMo site the year I completed it as my project. It’s been tweaked since then. Now it needs revamping and editing, that’s where I lost it. I got lost in the redoing process. I will say I learned a lot from this novel. First that I overwrite, I write leaner now. Second, I can do a long project. Third, I can write to a plot plan (I hate the world outline it gives me 7th grade heebies). The novel’s working title is Solar Ice and is a thriller involving energy research and corporate intrigue. This is the intro scene so I’ll just let it speak for itself. These are two primary characters in the novel. Enjoy. Let me know if this is a book you’d want to read.
The camera emitted an electronic simulation of a shutter opening and shutting. Click. There. He’d gotten one of the sea looking pinkish from the sun slowing beginning it’s month long setting process. He turned trying to find another pretty shot or at least an impressive one. The place had spectacular views but also really ugly ones. He watched a grimy overland transport trundle now filled with heating oil over black and grey snow. Scowling he turned again scanning around a landscape that was too familiar. In a week he’d never lay eyes on this place again, at least in person.
Dr. Clifford Landance didn’t really have an eye for this type of beauty shot unless it hit him in the face, like the pink sea. To him beauty was seen in crystalline structures naturally formed like great skyscrapers or wild Ferris wheels. These types of micro-vistas struck him as real beauty. He loved rocks and the minerals that made them. He just didn’t love where they came from. He was a lab geologist not field one. Landance was okay with that. He liked labs. He liked comfort. He liked looking through microscopes. That’s why everyone was shocked when announced he’s taken a job in Antarctica. He took the particular job because he knew it’d be in a heated lab next to an all season port. It wasn’t like those poor suckers inland. He wouldn’t be collecting samples just processing and shipping them, all lab work. What he hadn’t counted on was that the field intrude into his every day life. He’d expected to work in a warm snug lab, eat in a warm snug cafeteria, and sleep in a warm snug bed. Doing all with rarely a need to put on the arctic gear required to come here. He was wrong; to do those basic things of work, eat, and sleep it involved dealing with the weather– daylight all the time, temperatures colder than his freezer ever got back home, everything that was outside freezing in a glaze of ice the payback for an always open sea port. He’d also not counted on doing jobs that weren’t just geology lab work– like cleaning toilets in the community bathroom, hauling cans to the kitchen, having to be on one of the emergency teams. Nope he’d thought he’d come down here tuck into a building, do lab work, and then leave in six months. He’d been wrong and by the time he knew it, it was too late to back out. He could have if he’d really pressed it but he hadn’t wanted see and hear what his friends and family would say.
So, it hadn’t turned out like he thought it would when signing up, but he’d finished it. He couldn’t deny it was exciting to be in on ground level of such a discovery even in this wretched place. All be told, he was glad to be leaving the icebox. He winced while facing into the wind and scanning for one or two more shots. Turning his back to the wind that had picked up he laughed that he had to freeze in subzero temperatures just to be cool. Landance watched the cloud of steam rise from his mouth and freeze ino fog in the air. God, he hated this place. Squinting his eyes to warm and wet them he looked around for another pretty shot that he’d use on his webpage.
This was his adventure, his story to tell the rest of his life. Really how many people can say they lived in Antarctica for a year? Not many and he was sure it would impress the chicks back in Philadelphia. He knew he needed all the help in that area that he could get. Somehow the doctor title lost its luster when chicks found it was a doctorate in geology. Plastic surgeons were appealing not just for money but for free boob jobs, a rock doc was at best the right husband to pick out pretty rocks for doorstops. It didn’t help that he still lived at home, well not really but in the apartment building his family owned. Also against him was his still fighting what his mother called ‘baby fat’ at the age for forty-two. He thought that maybe tales from the ends of the earth with romantic pictures of the sunsets might get him to first base now and again or at least make him sound more appealing.
He sized up the harbor in the LED screen of the camera and zoomed in a bit to cut out the rusty container ship. Fumbling with the small knobs, he cursed. It wasn’t easy to pushing the tiny button when wearing three pairs of gloves. Finally, click, it’d worked. He’d learned to set the little silver camera to audible so he could be sure he’d made the picture he thought he made. The first attempt at photography when he’d gotten to McMurdo turned out to be a wash. The fat fingers from winter gear hadn’t pressed a thing on the camera – the soft give had been insulation layers compacting. Everything down here, everything – every aspect of life was harder even down to snapping a damn picture.
He turned looking toward the Admiral Byrd Memorial as he wiggled his face to break it free from the frozen moisture on his knit ski mask. He always tried not to think what that moisture was but with this perpetual head cold he’d had for the last four months didn’t make it easy. His upper lip was chapped like a toddler’s got when they had snotty noses. Others put Vaseline on their upper lip to keep that down. Being fat Landance didn’t want walk around looking like he’d just pulled his head out of a bag of greasy pork rinds. So instead he’d opted to look like a large snotty nose daycare reject. He frowned snapping the picture that silhouetted the flags against the white of mountain. That was enough. He would work with these and they’d do just fine. He wanted to go in, get out of the wind and ice sting. Besides Pickney had sent another shipment of the ore and he had work to do.
Landance tucked his camera in his parka’s front pocket and started the trudge back to the lab trailer. The snow crunched as he walked then squeaked a bit if he turned his foot on it. He stomped up the wooden stairs to the trailer door; everyone did it in an attempt to knock off some the snow that packed in the folds of the coats, snow pants, and boot tread before going inside. He opened the door and stepped into the doffing room. Looking into the mirror there his round cheeks were rosy and looked cheery but they stung like hell from the bitter artic winds. Snow clung all over him where the winds had blasted it onto the fabric. Landance hung up his outer gear now getting wet with snow as it melted in the bit of heat in the room. He undid his snow bibs and let them fall to his waist as he sat to remove his boots, grabbing his well worn chef clogs to put on before putting his foot down on the wet floor. Another little lesson he’d learned for comfort’s sake, nothing itched like wet wool socks. He stood pulling off his snow bibs then hanging them up next to his parka. At last he finally opened the door to the real heat and tromped into the triple wide trailer that was the geology department of the largest Antarctic station.
He paused to sniff the air, it smelled like pizzeria. He wished he hadn’t eaten that greasy fish sandwich and fries in the mess hall. He’d get some later. Right now he was heading to lab to pull an all-nighter for one of his last nights on this station. He’d made a promise to a lovely lady that actually noticed him long before she had ever asked him to do something.
“Hey! Landance why don’t you join us and watch the game?” One of the newbies just starting their year in this frozen hell called from the break room. “We’re trying out that new pizza oven before it goes over to SPES.” He came to the door holding a greasy looking pizza slice that would do a New York pizzeria proud. “Ezio’s making them like he used to back his dad’s place in Brooklyn.” The delicious smell wafted up making Cliff struggle with saying no..
Cliff smiled and rubbed his polar fleese covered belly. It was bright royal blue and round as a basketball. “As much as I love pizza I can’t. I’ve got to those samples ready to go out on that flight tomorrow. I promised Natalie I’d see they were done right.” He smiled at the piece. It looked so good that he could taste the cheese and garlicky tomato sauce. When Steve turned to take it away, Cliff gave in to temptation. “Maybe just one, while I work, to keep my energy up.” He took the paper plate in a wicker holder. Stepping into the room he piled on three large, fold them to eat them, Brooklyn style slices on top of the one just proffered.
As he was stopping to grab a soda by the door, the lean tri-athlete looking newcomer hefted a bottle of beer. “Maybe you can come in and take a break and see some of the game. Man can’t live by rocks and pizza alone ya know.”
Landance nodded noncommittally as he left for his beloved lab. It was jocks like that he avoided at all costs. “Yeah, I know.” He also noted that no one had offered to help him package up the samples so that he could get back for more than cold pizza, flat beer, and the end of the game.
Once in the lab he was at home. Once his teammates got that the lab was his forte, things had gone well. They braved the cold. He did the lab work that had the world of geology buzzing. He put on his lab coat then noting it was a bit tight through the shoulders took it off and put on Peterson’s because it was a size larger and more comfortable. Peterson had left six months ago. Ladance had been meaning to put his name tag on the lab coat but never got around to it. Oh, well it didn’t matter now with just days until he was on the sunny beach of Buenos Aires. Once dressed to work, he cranked some 80’s metal on the speakers of the lab and set about packaging the samples.
The large cylinder ore sample had been sent to McMurdo Station from the South Pole Exploratory Station or SPES for short. In this lab it was Ladance’s job to divvy it up into many small samples and send them out all over the world to various other research labs. Really, it was a job an intern would do but with the arrangement of him staying in the lab and the interns in the field gaining experience, it fell to him. Also he’d promised Natalie that he’d see they were done right which meant he’d do them himself. This was the best, alone in the lab with his rocks and rock music.
The ore was grey and wet looking, like graphite but was much harder. He was using a small straight blade electric saw to carve off the samples. Working away and singing to himself he jumped when the music turned up louder. “Hey turn that down!” he turned to see two figures dressed in all black with ski masks on. He was confused. “What kind of joke is this?” He was pissed that they were wasting his time.
The figures didn’t speak. The smaller one shoved him aside and started raking the precious samples into a black bag. “Wait you can’t do that!” Landance was screaming over the music. The second figure grabbed his arm twisting it behind him painfully. “HELP! Someone help me!” He screamed into the thumping beat. There was a sharp pain in his neck as he struggled against the burning, like a bad shot from the doctor. “No wait, stop!” He tried to struggle more but the man let him go and he fell to the floor.
Clifford Ladance lay on the lab floor looking at the two masked faces astounded that he couldn’t get up. The burning in his neck increased and his head felt swimmy. He tried to speak but a large hot ball of cotton had clogged his throat. He flailed on the floor his mind reeling trying to understand what was happening. As the grim figures watched, he struggled for his breath. The one that had been collecting samples had stopped resting on his arm on the counter still holding the bag. Cliff now in full panic realizing he could not call out for help any more. His failing ceased as his muscles stopped doing his bidding. Then it felt like a steel band was tightening against his chest. He wanted to scream but couldn’t. Waves of panic consumed him until all he could hear was his heart pounding in his ears. The blaring rock music drowned out by his struggle for life. The pain pressed hard against his chest. It felt as if his heart was about to rupture. That was the last thing he’d think. The as the death throe hit his body arched back and jerked forward in small seizures. In moments, he lay dead still in his warm comfortable lab, wearing his warm comfortable polar fleece, his blank eyes looking up with a perpetual pained look in his round red face.
The two black clad figures looked at each other and then went about collecting the ore. The music thumped as the smaller one carefully opened the containers with logged numbers and dumped them into the bag. The larger one stepped over Landance’s still warm body to pick up the main core sample tucking it under their arm took the filled bag from the other turned and left the room. The other intruder rolled Landance onto his stomach. The started putting the sample containers in order of log number on the bench.
The large intruder returned with another bag and looked down at the body. “What did you do that for?” It was a deep voice with a curt tone.
“I couldn’t stand looking at his red face. He looked terrible.” It was a woman’s voice replying. Her voice was tight giving it high strained pitch. She was panting.
“Yeah well it was quick and that’s what we need to be.” They didn’t speak any more but took out another core sample of ore and staged the samples being careful to spill some later logged ones around the body. Looking over their handy work the woman turned to the man who nodded and they both left the scene of their crime with music still blaring the greatest hits of 1988.
“Hey Cliff! Why don’t you knock off for a bit and come down to have some more hot pizza and see the last of the game?” The happy intern came into the lab carrying more pizza. “Man you are rockin’ out aren’t ya!” Turning he saw the body in the floor. “Holy shit!” Dropping the pizza he pulled the emergency notification chain. Sirens went off inside and outside the trailer. Red lights flashed in the lab as he knelt by the body.
The cell phone rang from somewhere among the beer cans, newspapers, and cigarette butts on the bedside table. The strains of Mony, Mony shattered the peaceful monotony of the hum the air conditioner had established. Chauncy Murphy groaned from the rumpled bed. The shrill electronic music of the ring got louder. He shoved a pillow in a graying pillowcase over his head. It continued to blare without mercy for his having stayed out too late last night. He gave up and threw the pillow off the bed. It struck the old metal blinds rattling them on its way to the floor. Chance scrambled through the mess on the table to stop damn ring that was cutting through his head. He shoved half the mess into the floor on his first attempt. He moved his tongue about his mouth trying to get rid of the cotton mouth and grimaced at the aftertaste of stale beer. He head throbbed as he hung over the bed to thrashing his hand about in the mess finding the Bluetooth ear piece he pushed it into his ear and hit the button. “Chance here.” The blaring music stopped blaring from the pile in the floor. Relieved he flopped back in the bed and threw his arm over his face to shield his eyes from the sunlight now streaming in from the displaced blinds.
“Hey buddy, you still looking for something that’ll earn that paycheck?” The voice was the chipper New England clip of Joshua VanDenEynden. “Or did I wake you because you’re working the night shift nowadays?” Eynden smiled at the speaker phone on his desk, in some ways he was envious of his wandering friend. He signed the letters put in front of him closed the file and waved out Eunice his faithful administrative assistant. She nodded knowingly and slipped from the large office closing the door behind her.
Chance sat and fumbled for a cigarette from his night stand drawer. “What time is it?” He croaked. Then yawning with the cigarette precariously perched on his lip while he attempted to strike his lighter.
“In your time zone it’s two in the afternoon.” Eynden pushed the speaker button and got up to go look out over the San Diego skyline.
“Take me off that damn speaker!” Chance tossed his lighter down on the end table after lighting his cigarette. He closed his eyes to enjoy inhaling his first morning nicotine dose. “It makes you sound like you are calling me from the john.” He leaned over, putting his head in his hand and resting the elbow on his knee— thus pushing the Bluetooth deeper into his left ear in the process. With his other hand he tapped the ashes from the cigarette into the ashtray now upside down on the floor.
“Maybe I am.” Eynden smiled broadly enjoying waking up his gruff friend. It was always good when he could get one up on Chance.
“Then if I hear ya takin’ a piss I’m hangin’ up.” Taking another deep drag on his cig he felt the throbbing in his head easing. “Yeah, I could use something more stimulating to earn the money yer throwing my way. Ya got something up my alley?”
“Let’s just say I’ve got some things that concern me, and I thought you’d be the man to help me with them.” Eynden walked to the front wall of his office and looked at a photo of five men in flack jackets smiling for the camera and holding up an impressive arsenal. The blond kid was him a few decades ago in his freer days. The shorter more muscular man in the picture, the one who scowled more than smiled, was Chance in his more structured days. The five men had a bond that only those who’ve put their lives in their team members’ hands can have. That team was more his family than any blood relatives. Eynden turned away from the picture of the young soldiers to face a large black art deco executive office. He felt older than his forty-two years.
Chance looked at the ceiling stretching as he took another pull on the cigarette. “So, who ya need intimidated or paid off? Ya know yer a bachelor. It’s okay ta play the field unless it’s with kids or puppies.”
“Cute, really cute.” Yeah, Chance was a son of a bitch, no doubt about it. Even so he was the toughest, most honorable SOB that Enyden had ever known. Chance would destroy anything to do the right thing, and that included himself. Those who didn’t know him saw a troubled grouchy bastard. Those few who knew the man, knew he was just disappointed. Disappointed that he and the world couldn’t live up to his high ideals, and pissed off that he couldn’t let those ideals go. Chance was one who got to the bottom of things and set them right at any cost. That’s what ruined his military career, and to be frank, his whole life.
“I’m calling to see if you were available to go covert for a couple of years. Well semi-covert, pre-texting is what they are calling it in the courts nowadays.” He wandered back to the window, playing CEO again as he took in the view and looked down the polished gleaming black exterior of the Eynden Industries Worldwide Headquarters.
Chance scowled and rotated his bare hairy feet and stretched his back again. “Yeah, I could do that. It’s not like I got any long term plans.” He looked at pictures in worn frames on the bedside table. The older one was of him with a stunning redhead in a wedding gown. The other was a more recent one of a young woman resembling the redhead waving the rolled diploma to the camera with a smile that was like her mother’s. “I’d just need ta contact Betts regularly. She’s in college now ya know.”
“No, I didn’t.” He responded flatly, feeling his bachelorhood acutely, his lack of children deeply. “I think that’d be doable with this.” He walked to his desk, picked up his Blackberry and punched the tiny keys. “I don’t want to go into specifics on the phone, but you’d be in touch and could operate under your own name, which ever one of them you are using right now.” He could almost hear Chance getting in focus for an assignment that he could get his teeth into.
“Very funny.” Chance shoved the rest of the empty beer cans from the end table and dug in the drawer for a pen to write on the newspaper section. “Just what is it your company does?”
“You don’t know and you’ve worked for me for how long?” Eynden sat behind his desk while shaking his head at his friend’s lack of knowledge of the political world of big business.
“That’s the key, my friend, I work for you, not that company your pa left ya to run.” Chance smoothed out the newspaper and was ready to take some notes on what this new covert thing was, at least notes on what bit Eynden would tell him over the phone.
“We are…” hearing Chance snort in amusement, Eynden stopped.
“Hollywood are you using that as a royal we? As in—” His voice went nasally “We are not amused?” He laughed disgustedly and took a deep drag on the cigarette.
Eynden felt that pang of guilt about those ideals again and changed his tactic, feeling rightly scolded for his arrogance. “It’s a big research conglomerate, ya know the kind that doesn’t make your every day stuff, but finds ways to make your every day stuff better?” He put down the blackberry and looked at the large plasma tv on the far wall. “I guess I need to buy ad time on ESPN.”
“Some of us everyday folk don’t pay much attention to corporations, much less ones that don’t make the stuff we use. So we don’t know ’em.” He stabbed out the cig butt enjoying his use of the imperial ‘we,’ knowing it wasn’t lost on Eynden. Then turning very serious, he was ready to get a grip on his mission. “So, I’m to work only with you on this?”
Choosing to ignore the needling, Eynden got back to business too. “Yes, when you get out here to California I’ll fill you in on all the details. You’ll get here tomorrow, and we’ll meet after business hours. Just two old buddies having drinks and dinner where we can talk freely. Then from there I’ll send you on to the branch you’ll be working in.” He sat at his desk, doing the small stuff of business as he answered a few questions, ten gave Chance Eunice’s contact information to arrange the flight and California accommodations. It was all at Eynden Industries’ expense of course. He had to admit it brought back old times Chance was always the team leader. He was a bit older, bit wiser, and damn good Navy Seal that no one wanted to let down. It all went back to those damn principles of his. Eynden always felt a bit like a fake next to Chance because he knew he’d never pay the price for those ideals the way Chance would. That’s what made Chance damn good at what he did, and made Eynden a good corporate big wheel. One had uncompromising principles and the other held all things negotiable.
Chance finished his notes. “Okay, so you need some stuff figured out covertly. I’ll be going in as an employee to get the real info on what’s going down. In all of this I’ll be gettin’ a regular paycheck and can keep tabs on Betts. The rest I’ll get in tomorrow in Cali.” Chance was lighting another cigarette and rolling his head to pop his neck, the final part of his waking ritual
“That sums it up. Glad you are available for this. I wouldn’t trust it to anyone else but the old team.” Eynden waved off Eunice who looked in again. He gathered papers for his next meeting that he had reviewed. “Oh, and Chance, you might want to clean up and make a decent impression on your boss.” It was a running joke between them that Eynden, the blonde Hollywood kid, was the boss of the seasoned Master Chief. They both knew when it came down to it in a pinch Eynden would be taking his lead from Chance.
“Ain’t I always clean?” Mocked hurt filled his voice as he looked at his reflection in the grubby dresser mirror and rubbed a few days stubble on his chin. “Hell, I’ve been known to even wear a tie when appropriate.” Chance looked at the framed picture of him and Mary on their wedding day. The smile instantly turned to a scowl, and his jaunty tone dropped out of his last few words. He looked away as he fiddled with the lighter.
“Yeah, I know.” Eynden could feel his friend’s pain even from three thousand miles away. He started to say something about the years since Mary’s death, then thought better of it feeling a bit sad. Chance and Mary deserved better than what life had dealt them.
“Thanks for the job. Now I owe ya for more than one,” Chance said softly. The click of the lighter came through on the line, filling the awkward moment between the men.
“Nah, we aren’t even yet.” Chance glanced up at the photo of the five. “I’m still in deep to you for all the times you saved my ass.” He stared at the photo across the vast office. “Now I gotta go be part of that corporate we shit I do for a living.”
“I didn’t do nuthin’ any of ya guys haven’t done fer me.” He’d been lost when Mary died if it weren’t for his military buddies. “You go make a million and I’ll wake up and pack.” Shoving back all the memories, he stood in his worn jockeys, pushing trash and dirty clothes out of the way with his feet as the ashes fell from the cigarette dangling from his lips.
“We both got tough job ahead of us.” Eynden stood with his folder and tucked the Blackberry into his pocket. “I’ve got to go convince the board of directors to invest in research with no guarantee of return, and you’ve got to find a clean shirt in that dump of yours.”
“I like my odds better.” Hazy gray smoke out streamed from the ash tray adding to the gray light in the room as he snuffed out yet another cigarette. “See ya tomorrow, buddy.”
“Talk to you then.” Enyden clicked off. He paused for a moment to look at the photo again. Hell, Chance had saved them all more than he liked to remember. The least he could do was throw work the guy’s way when he found it. Eunice looked in again with an urgent expression on her face, “Mr. VanDenEynden I’m sorry to…”
“I know Eunice. I’m on my way.” Eynden pushed back the guilt, the memories, the wanting to do something more meaningful than that corporate bullshit, and remembered it’s all negotiable. He and Chance were just living up to the deals they’d made with life.