Monday, February 20, 2012
Fiesta of Smoke: Introducing Javier
Today’s post is an excerpt from my novel in progress, Fiesta of Smoke. This snippet introduces the second of three protagonists, Javier, one of Calypso’s two love interests. The manuscript for Fiesta of Smoke now numbers close to 800 pages and I find I’m excited by my vision for the closing chapters. So, back to writing. I hope you enjoy today’s excerpt!
For those who might have missed them, a synopsis of Fiesta of Smoke can be found on the January 5, 2012 post, the Prologue, on January 8, and an introduction to the protagonist, Calypso, on February 3.
. . . .
Northern California: 1995
Deep oak woods are wrapped in thick moss and rich in the umber scent of rotting leaves. An incandescent evening sky, apricot and electric blue, is snagged in a net of bare, black branches as Javier tramps, weighted by heavy clothes and muddy boots, his nose red and numb, his hands numb, too.
Winter is in the land but some hint of spring is rising early, in his heart. Fragile hopes flitter up, glimmering in the wintry dusk, like sparks of summer beckoning on grim, settling air. His chest is tight: too cold for deep breathing this evening, and yet he’s warmed down deep by some rising sense of transformation, rooted like wildflowers already stirring beneath the snow, kicking at their seed hulls for liberation.
Winter is not death, as so many poets would have it. No. Not death, but the tremblings of resurrection -- the spirits of new life, wavering vaporously in the deep woods and the smell of snow.
Liberation! Javier is plotting revolution as he trudges through the crusted patches of snow: imagining the hungry fed, the homeless roofed-over, children reading and laughing -- as the west gleams like the Second Coming or the end of the world and ravens wing by, black silhouettes on the fiery sky, croaking.
OOSA. USA. America. So damn cold! Where is the sun of Chiapas and Yucatan, that friendly orb that makes the humidity rise and vines bloom? Here in the north the sun burns through the black oak woods like the eye of God, vermilion and gold, imperious, not caring if it warms. And it has a message, as if it were written on a card and dangled on the thin, cold thread of the wind: It has to be done. It cannot be avoided. There is no turning back.
The sun is sinking fast, now, its curved bottom edge slicing into the far indigo hills like a scimitar into flesh. The light is both more brilliant and more somber. The woods seem to hunker like a vast animal already camouflaged in night -- not menacing but mysterious, all to themselves, not knowable by any other, as is the way of all wild things.
Javier is divided between this awareness and other visions: Paris all aflame; London hanging the Lord Mayor; mobs in the streets of Santiago; American guerrillas lurking in the woods, awaiting the Red Coats.
Others had done it. Revolution. And now, Mexico. Again.
All the land reforms of the past revolution were ineffective now. Mexico City, the most populous, diseased, polluted place on the planet, has people packed like stockyard animals into dismal slums. Bad water, little food, violence, drugs, despair and death -- not the birthright Villa, Zapata and Cardenas envisioned back then when the land was divided and the great estancias broken up into ejidos -- livable, farmable plots for the common man.
The sun cuts deeper into the mountains’ flesh as his boot heels strike the frozen crust of snow with the report of small arms fire. In the woods, something big moves quickly and silently. A gato montes? A deer? His stomach feels empty and light, hungry -- but also as if it would never accept food again.
This is the day, or never. This is the time and the appointed place, although it has always seemed to him a thing of the future. Now, the future has arrived and with it, the realization that his life is no longer an endless stream of days. From now on he must live each day, each hour, each breath, as if it were his last. From this day, all assurances of a long existence are erased from his Book of Life. He will be like that nameless creature that moved in the shadows just now: both hunter and hunted.
There is no use trying to disguise his arrival at the meeting place -- the crunching of icy snow can be heard in the next county. Nevertheless, the two men standing by the white Mercedes look unpleasantly surprised by Javier’s sudden emergence from the shadowed woods. They jerk around to face his approach on their right flank, one -- the goon, Javier knows instantly -- with his hand inside the lapels of his nipped-in suit coat. Both are wearing well-tailored jackets much too light for the frigid conditions.
Javier notes with sardonic pleasure that the main man is mincing in thin Italian slip-ons, in the icy slush stirred up by his own tires; and with displeasure the last remnant of their conversation, just before they’d discovered him: “Asshole’s instructions were lousy. Good thing we got GPS.”
The last molten edge of the sun’s disk sinks down into the horizon spreading a blood bath of red light across the frozen snow as Javier crunches across the intervening space, his hands up in an attitude of surrender.
He nods curtly to the lead man, ignoring the goon. “Thank you for coming. You used GPS?”
“You sure as hell picked a spot! Without GPS a fuckin’ Indian couldn’t locate this place.” The man’s eyes slip involuntarily down to his ruined shoes, then sullenly up: “Whatcha got?”
“We were prepared to spend three million, as I tol’ you. But now, the deal’s off.”
“Off! What the fuck? You bring me all the way out here to this God-forsaken place, to tell me the deal’s off? You ever heard of a telephone?”
The goon is edging to Javier’s left. To compensate, Javier takes a step back, keeping them both in clear view. “I tol’ you -- no cell phones, no GPS, no nothing that could track us here.”
“Christ, man! Once we left the county oil, God alone could find us. You some kinda nut?”
“Just very careful, mister. I have my reasons.”
“Well, I don’t personally give a fuck about your reasons. We gotta deal in progress, here. I already ordered up what you asked for -- the assault rifles, the hand-held missile launchers, the . . .”
“Too bad.” It comes out softly, the flick of his tongue turning it into too bat. “I tol’ you what to do, an’ you blew it.”
His trap has worked perfectly: if they used GPS they’d find this spot, at the coordinates he’d given them. But he’d warned them not to use it and had given them specific instructions to a rendezvous across the ridge, at a point where he could have seen them, from here. They weren’t afraid to be tracked -- probably because they were the trackers.
“Our business is finished.”
The goon goes for his gun. In a flash, Javier’s leg comes up, his steel-toed boot connecting with the goon’s wrist. The gun spins through the lowering light, hits the solid snow and skids away, end for end.
“This meeting is over. You better go.”
The two men pass a look. They’ve made their separate assessments and arrived at the same conclusion. They turn and climb into their vehicle without a word. When they depart the goon guns it, sending up a geyser of slush -- but Javier has already moved back toward the trees, out of range. As they roar away, slithering in the icy ruts, he makes note of the rental car fleet number decaled in the rear window.
Fishing a cell phone from his pocket, he punches in the familiar number and waits.
“Okay. Listen. These guys are dirty. Hack into Delta Auto Rentals, see who’s got number 732. They’ll be returning it tonight or early tomorrow morning. I want you there.” He listens a moment.
“Sí. Sí. Yes. Both of them. . . And Pedro -- be very careful. I need you not to destroy anything of theirs -- briefcases, cell phones, lap tops. I want to know who they’re working for. I think one of them was wearing a wire. See what you can find.” A listening silence, again.
“Okay. Okay. This is it, then. Here we go.”
Javier punches off, meditatively gazing into the orange and golden magma of the western sky, then slips the phone into his coat pocket.
So it begins.
He turns back into the woods, which now lie submerged in blue black shadows. As he does, the rising night wind shakes the tree tops, rattling them, waving the black spears of their upper branches like the alarmed guard hairs of a huge, mysterious beast, against a darkening sky.
So it begins.
He plunges into the pool of shadow.
. . . .