Losing was not Lucas Archer's strong suit. Twenty years of political throat-cutting and pawn-moving had not prepared him for the young Vietnamese girl writhing and moaning in the passenger seat of his rented Crown Vic as he sped through the badly-lit, gritty streets of Seattle’s industrial SoDo district. The girl didn’t know a lick of his language, and Archer didn’t know a syllable of hers, but he didn’t need to. It didn’t take much to understand the universal language of agony and bleeding, and there were a lot of both. Blood soaked the girl's crotch, and a pool of it gleamed on the floorboard as the car passed beneath the street’s yellowish arc-sodium lamps. Its meaty, coppery smell filled the Crown Vic's interior made Archer’s stomach roil. He had rolled the windows up tight in order to contain the girl's screams, but those had since tapered off to exhausted moans and he felt safe enough to crack the window to let in some fresh air. A fine mist of the drizzle falling outside blew in and hit his cheek. Archer found it refreshing. She slumped over in her seat. Her arms, which had once clasped tight around her belly, lay limp and pale like the tentacles of a dead squid. She was silent for the first time since he’d loaded her into the car, but she looked feverish and pallid as she hitched shallow nips of air. Her belly was still distended by the pregnancy that now no more than a bloody remnant in a garbage bag somewhere in the city's dank back alleys. Archer hadn’t been there for the abortion; up until the girl's parents threw her in his arms twenty minutes ago, he didn’t even know she had existed. Don Bojarski had rattled off the girl's address in a panic over the phone and told him to hustle his ass over with no delay. She lived in a cramped apartment with a family of at least eight over one of those roach-infested noodle houses that make you question the existence of the health department and the INS. When Archer reached the door at the end of the building's badly-lit hallway, he could hear her screams amid the chaotic garble of their strange language. He knocked and the door flung open. A short man in dingy cook's whites and skin the color of ear wax stood before him. He could have been anywhere from forty to sixty years old; Archer always found it difficult to tell with Asians. A cloying combination of incense, curry, and Jasmine rice wafted out, and he made a conscious effort to not wrinkle his nose in distaste. The man yelled over his shoulder in the strange, rapid-fire cadence of his native tongue. He grabbbed the crying, bleeding girl by the arms and shoved her out. The door slammed shut with a loud clap and they stood alone in the cold hallway. She clung to him as a drunk would to a streetlamp to keep from collapsing into the gutter. Archer stiffened at the sudden physical contact. She was also cold, clammy, and she smelled like a backed-up toilet. Bojarski had tried to prepare him, but he was nonetheless bewildered. Bewilderment was also not Lucas Archer's strong suit. “We got some trouble,” Bo had said in his signature deep southern drawl about an hour or so before this grisly errand. He was a longtime player of the game and had about a decade’s worth of seniority on Archer. He didn’t have the “evil virtuoso” reputation that the younger man had—almost nobody could make that claim to fame—but he was about as decent a man as you'd find in behind-the-scenes politics and Archer respected him. “You are about to become numero cuatro in our little inner-circle of souls. That makes it you, me, the boss man, and the doctor,” Bo said. He handed Archer one of his business cards with an address scrawled on the back. “I need you to go there, pick up a young lady, and bring her back here.” Archer twirled the card around in his fingers, his stomach tightening. “Who is she and what does she want?” His experience with "circle of trust" jobs told him that what he was about to hear wasn’t good news, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Of course, there is never a good time for bad news in a Presidential campaign. At least when it was about one of your own. Bo's considerable belly heaved with a massive sigh and he plopped down in the sofa next to Archer. He looked as if he hadn't slept since since the Reagan era. “Look, son, you’ve been in the business long enough to know the gist, so let’s skip the bullshit. There’s a girl, she’s in some trouble, and we got a doctor who's gonna take care of things for her. I need you to bring her in because to tell the truth, I don’t got the stomach for it. There is only one other person here that can be trusted to help us with this mess, and that’s you.” The heavy set of the other man’s face was grave enough to fill in any blanks about what sort of trouble their candidate was in. “Is she very far along?” Archer asked. Bojarski shook his head. “She’s not along at all. At least not anymore. That was taken care of this afternoon. There’ve been some complications, though. The bun was a little more baked than they thought it was, if you get my drift, so things got a lot more risky. We got a call from her father twenty minutes ago and she’s pretty sick.” He paused for a moment, almost as if he was unsure whether he should say more, but went on almost as if he were speaking to himself. “I’ve been able to sweep some of the boss man’s past indiscretions under the rug, but not this one. Not on my own. Frankly, I’m all kinds of sick over it. He’s a good man, but this. I can’t defend this.” Archer stood up, and rubbed the remainder of the sleep from his eyes. He wasn’t quite sure he was ready to believe he was awake yet. It was four in the morning, and he couldn’t have choked down the cup of coffee Bo had given him if he tried. While Bo talked, Archer's stomach contracted tighter than the rectum of a new prison inmate. He was deeply disappointed. This bothered him more than anything. Disappointment was also not his strong suit. “One other thing, Archer. The girl and her family don’t speak a damn speck of English, except the father and his isn’t worth a damn either. They’re fresh from outta the Vietnam backcountry. Anyway, they know you’re coming. Hurry back.” Forty-five minutes later, he loaded the screaming, bleeding girl into his rental car and began a barely inconspicuous cruise back to the headquarters where the doctor supposedly waited. By the time he made it back up to Queen Ann, her gasps were several seconds apart. When they stopped at a traffic signal, Archer jiggled her shoulder. “Hey, wake up,” he said, still a little afraid to touch her because she looked so frail. She moaned like a weak kitten, and her eyes remained closed in their deep, ashy sockets. If she were a day over fifteen, Archer would have eaten his Seiko. He began tapping her on the cheek instead, this time more vigorously. “Come on now, wake up. Open your eyes.” No response; the girl was in shock. He looked down at the floorboard and the pool of blood had grown wider. Her legs, which were clad in a pair of dingy khaki Capri pants, were covered in tacky maroon streaks that ran down into her scuffed, off-brand tennis shoes. Her prospects were very dim. Not that they were great to begin with. Judging by the way her father unceremoniously thrust her out the door, he realized she had been disowned and would likely bleed to death in the company of strange men in a foreign land. He found the idea deeply depressing. This was a familiar emotion for Lucas Archer. A block before they reached the headquarters building, the girl’s cold hand weakly clasped Archer’s wrist. He startled a little and looked at her. She shivered, and her eyes were opened in a dazed half-mast. “Tôi không có hiểu,” she whispered slowly through her dried, cracked lips, enough so that Archer could make out the enunciations, but he had no idea what it was she said. She repeated it, and a small tear escaped from the corner of her left eye and ran down her cheek. His heart broke at the sight of her; it was a day for foreign emotions. By the time he pulled into the alley behind the otherwise deserted headquarters building, the young girl was silent. Her hand loosened from his wrist and flopped to the seat. It lay there like a limp, week-old lily. A new smell--the alkaline reek of urine--filled the car; her bladder had let go. He wasn’t a medical expert, but he knew what that meant. He stopped the car at the building’s loading dock. The headlights illuminated the rear end of a black Lincoln Town Car he didn’t recognize, but the M.D. plates were plain enough. After throwing the Crown Vic into park, he began shaking the girl again and yelled directly into her ear. “Hey, wake up! Doctor’s here!” He already knew it was a waste of time. The girl’s head lolled from side to side with his motions, like that of an abused doll, but she didn’t stir. He grabbed her wrist to feel for a pulse and found nothing. The girl wore chipped blue glitter nail polish on her nails with tiny flower decals pressed into the center of each one. It was sort of thing a teenager would wear. Archer felt woozy. Bojarski and a bald man with a tidy salt-and-pepper goatee and a characteristic black medical bag darted from the building’s back door and out into the alley toward Archer’s car. The girl had been leaning against the door, and her upper half fell out when the doctor opened it. He caught her deftly, and gave Archer an accusatory look. “What the fuck happened here?” he asked. “She bled to death in my car because someone butchered her. Your handy work I presume?” Archer fought the urge to punch the doctor’s accusing face into a pulp. “Look at the floorboard if you want proof. I want my car spotless when you’re done, by the way.” He got out and walked toward the building's back door. Bojarski, on the verge of panic, called after him. “You’re just going to leave now? We need your help, Archer!” Archer didn’t look back. “I clean up the P.R., not the dead bodies.” As he entered the building, he heard Bojarski murmuring. “Oh Jesus. Oh dear Jesus Christ.” Archer had a feeling that the girl that died in a puddle of her own blood and piss in the passenger seat of a rented Ford sedan had probably not known who Jesus Christ was. The horn of a distant freight train reminded Archer that a whole other world outside this one was just beginning a whole new day while someone else's had just been cut short. The drizzle receded and the sky brightened with pre-dawn oranges and blues, but Archer’s only desire at that moment was to take a shower, and swallow a valium. He realized, as he let himself into his office, that there was one other thing he needed to do first. He went over to his open laptop and typed into a search engine what he thought he’d heard the girl say before she died. Tôi không có hiểu. He was sure the spelling was wrong, and he didn’t know any of the accents, but he did his best to at least get the phonetics right. After a few minutes of searching and amending his spelling, he came across what he believed was the correct phrase. It made sense. Archer leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. There was gruesome work ahead, and two days before their Party's convention. “I don’t understand,” the girl had whispered. “Neither do I, lady,” he whispered in the dark. “Neither do I.”
Making Things Write
A few people have wondered how my first day of NaNoWriMo went, and I figured I would provide a quick postmortem of my first day to 50K. I admit that I got off to a bit of a rocky start this morning. My intentions to start writing at midnight in order to get into the spirit of things went awry when I discovered that staying up that late on a normal night has become something of a challenge in my new "in bed before eleven on most nights" state of lamerifficness. This was compounded by the Halloween holiday which included trolling the neighborhood for candy with the kids, and then proceeding to have a slight sugar meltdown afterward. The real problem came, however, when I decided to test out the new Bunn coffeemaker and burr grinder my mom and dad got me for my birthday. Talk about a primo brew-making setup, by the way. What I wasn't expecting was that I would drink a full pot of coffee around seven at night and proceed to have a near-hallucinatory jolt of caffeine coursing through my bloodstream. I was so damn jittery that I wore myself out just jittering myself to death, so I got really sleepy and decided to get some shut-eye. Unfortunately, when one tries to sleep with a massive dose of stimulants coursing through them, they don't so much sleep as "attempt to lie still with eyes closed as body thrums like the train rails about ten seconds before the Amtrak comes bearing down." At 3:30am of November 1st, I'd decided I couldn't fake sleep any longer, so I swung my legs out of bed and crept downstairs to heat up a fresh pot of Joe and get started on my book. The opening scene had come to me in a feverish coffee dream and I was feeling pretty gung-ho about the whole thing. I was still a little delirious from the caffeine and the stultifying lack of actual rest. My nerves were frayed like over-stressed nylon rope and I couldn't settle into the groove of a story that I'd planned, researched, and roughly outlined over a month ago. So I was going through the motions of writing prose. My fingers were hitting the keys, but I wasn't actually hearing any of it in my own head as I typically do. The characters weren't talking to me. I was up well before the crack of dawn, but the "zone" was still in bed trying to sleep through the jitters. But I cranked out my roughly-2000 word Prologue and I proceeded to give up for awhile because my brain was about to stage a full-scale revolt. It was like "Okay, lady, we either stop working now, or I go on strike with the involuntary bodily functions like bladder control or maybe even blinking." Fair enough. I should also add that I was absolutely starving, but because I weigh in at Weight Watchers on Saturday mornings, I don't like to have a full meal in my stomach before I go in. So I was sort of starving myself, on top of not sleeping, drinking too much coffee, and doing the writer's equivalent of playing a saxophone with a dried-out, broken reed. However, after my weigh-in (down 2 pounds for the week, WOOT!) and some breakfast, I sat back down in front of the computer around 10:30 am and cranked out another eight hundred words. They were ones I was sort of, but not quite proud of. I still hadn't slept, and the voice of my main character still wasn't actually talking to me. He was just sort of floating there like some inert gas. I cut out the 800 words I'd written and set them aside because I knew it was something I could never be proud of, let alone do anything with, and I settled on the idea of sleep. So I dozed on the couch for a few hours this afternoon in order to get some semblance of rest, and I woke up feeling semi-human again. A few minutes later, I was back in front of the computer and I was punching out the first chapter again. And what do you know, the ideas were a little more fluid. About a page in, I started to settle into the mind of Lucas Archer, the virtuoso political strategist, and hero of my political potboiler, The Kingmaker. I was liking the guy. I was also liking the sitting Commander-in-Chief he helped to get elected. Not because he was a good man, but because he was nuts. By the time I got to a good stopping point, I realized I was having fun, which is what writing typically is for me when I've slept and eaten. I also realized that I needed a full night's rest and that I will never, and I mean NEVER get up that early to write again. This also means that I cannot drink coffee after 6pm if I hope to get any sort of real sleep that night. My best writing tends to come to me in the late morning, around 10 or 11am and it usually will drag on until 10pm if I have the luxury of a story that keeps bearing fruit. My final word count for today: 3259. Not my goal of surpassing 5000, but given the circumstances surrounding the day, I would say that it was a strong enough start. As my regular routine asserts itself and the story advances, I am more than confident that I will not only finish this thing, but likely finish it early if my tendency toward mass output holds water this time. I like the world I'm creating here. I am feeling inclined to stick with it. But why am I talking when I could easily produce an excerpt? For those who are interested, the following is the prologue for The Kingmaker. Enjoy! And keep in mind that I wrote this at 3:30 in the morning on no sleep, so it's by no means polished.