Sunday, August 19, 2007
Trial Run of the WIP first chapter
Okay, I'm feeling brave. Here's the first scene of the WIP, THE FACE. Feel free to leave comments below. (One thing I'm wondering about is this: it's a book about women and relationships, really, but there is a lot of technology--think ALIAS. It needs to feel like both, but I know this scene is heavy on tech and light on relationships. But--does it raise questions in your mind?)
The image on my monitor is grainy, but I’m seeing exactly what our officer is seeing: a wet and shiny London street. A stationery shop. A store window.
“Spock, are you reading me?” Hightower asks.
“Copy that, you’re five by five,” I assure him.
Hightower pans the rendezvous point from left to right. The surveillance camera, hidden in the frame of his eyeglasses, performs remarkably well, given the cloudy conditions. “No sign of ‘im yet.”
I lean toward the microphone at my workstation. “Hold that position, Hightower.”
Our officer remains motionless as Dr. Mewton leans toward the monitor, her hand pressing against my shoulder. She points to a small box hanging from a streetlamp. “What do you make of that, Sarah?”
I click on the object and magnify the image. “Looks like a traffic cam.”
“Any way to be sure it’s legit?”
From his workstation, Judson lifts his head. “The address?”
“New Bond Street,” I tell him. “The closest intersection is with Conduit.”
The text-to-speech engine of Judson’s computer begins to repeat the address as his keyboard rattles. “Sorry,” he says, slipping his headphones onto his ears. A moment later he pulls the headset free. “That traffic cam is confirmed. One of several in the Mayfair district.”
The image on my monitor bobbles as Hightower sneezes.
“Bless you,” a baritone voice replies in my headset.
Mewton glances at me. “You heard that?”
I nod as Hightower turns. A small man stands behind him on the sidewalk, his face round and wet beneath a bald scalp.
“Our contact doesn’t look like much of a threat,” Dr. Mewton says. “That man looks about as dangerous as a bookkeeper.”
Judson grins, but I don’t understand why he finds her comment funny.
“Refresh my memory--” I glance at Dr. Mewton over my shoulder--“but wasn’t it a bookkeeper who brought down Al Capone?”
“You’ve been watching The Untouchables,” Judson says, his grin spreading. “Costner was great in that one.”
Dr. Mewton doesn’t answer, but crosses her arms and focuses on the monitor, reminding us that we are working. I turn back to my computer and snap a photo of the man, then pull it out of the frame and activate the facial recognition program. Hundreds of faces flash in the margin of my monitor as the computer searches for a match.
“Excuse me,” the contact says, blinking beneath wire rimmed glasses, “but does the bus to St. Paul’s stop here?”
“You want the number eleven,” Hightower replies, giving his half of the verbal recognition exchange. He gestures over his shoulder. “Would you rather wait out of the rain?”
“Cómo no, a good idea.”
Dr. Mewton and I watch in silence as Hightower turns toward the stationery shop. The scene on the monitor blurs as he surveils the street in a quick glance, then his hand appears in the lower portion of the frame. “There,” he says, pointing to a door beneath an awning.
The facial recognition program beeps, presenting us with a name and photograph. Our officer’s contact, known to Hightower as “Santiago,” is Pedro Sandoval, a Spanish national.
Dr. Mewton reads the information to Judson, who enters it into his computer database. A moment later he informs us that
Pedro Sandoval is a clerk in the accounting office of Saluda Industries.
“Well, what do you know.” Dr. Mewton exhales in a rush. “The man is a bookkeeper.”
“Now all we need is Eliot Ness to put these murdering thugs away.” Judson lifts his head. “Are they going into a building?”
“Yes.” Dr. Mewton answers for me. “Looks like a passageway.”
None of us speaks as Hightower opens the unmarked door and steps inside. The area beyond is dark, so we see nothing but shadows until the camera adjusts.
Beside me, Dr. Mewton shifts her weight. “Sarah?”
“I noticed that,” I say, jotting a note. “The aperture adjustment is too slow.”
“Look,” our bookkeeper says, more confident now that he’s off the street, “I know what is happening at Saluda. I can get you names, dates, cargo container numbers, whatever you want, but you must make it worth my while. I am not risking my life for nothing.”
Hightower holds up a reassuring hand. “Haven’t I promised we’d take care of you?”
The smaller man snorts. “I would rather take care of myself. And that is what I will do as soon as payment is made.”
“And you provide the information we need.”
“Claro, of course.”
The image on the monitor rises and falls as Hightower nods. “You’ll contact me in the usual way?”
“Give me a week or two.” The small man takes a deep breath and buttons the top button on his overcoat. “Shall you leave first?”
“You go. I’ll wait and then exit through the stationery shop.”
The small man bobs his head again, then opens the door and steps into a rectangle of light. Hightower turns, revealing a shadowed hallway and another door in the distance, then he focuses on a plastered wall. “Did you get that?”
Dr. Mewton taps the microphone near her chin. “We did. Your contact is Pedro Sandoval, a clerk in the accounting office. He ought to be able to get whatever we need.”
“Good. Don’t want to be wasting time with a custodian.” The scene on the monitor tumbles and goes dark as Hightower removes his glasses. Our connection is not broken, however, because his voice continues to buzz in my headset. “Hey, Spock.”
I stiffen as he calls my code name. “Yes?”
“The Candyman there with you?”
I glance at Judson, whose sightless eyes are fixed on some vacant point between my desk and the wall. “He’s about five feet away.”
“Tell him the Yankees stink. And I’ll tell him so in person the next time I’m due for a tummy tuck.”
“I heard that,” Judson growls into his mic. “And you’d better hope I’m not the angel on your shoulder the next time you have a hot date.”
Hightower laughs. “Later, kids. It’s been fun.”
When he breaks the connection I shiver, as always, in the unsettling rush of dead silence.