Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday Scribblings #188: Interview

[Yet another excerpt from my novel Scarred Angels:]

The Kingdom was an exclusive cul de sac within the already exclusive neighborhood of Olmos Park. Olmos Park was the site of San Antonio’s royalty. Not the minor dukes and duchesses who played at Battle of Flowers coronations. No, the residents of Olmos Park didn’t have time for such nonsense. Back in the 1920’s, though, a handful of the Overlords began to feel the call for a retreat even more exclusive. Hence, the Kingdom. A private road, walled off from public intrusion, with a round the clock sentry posted at a high wrought iron gate. Charlotte Hunter was as close to the spawn of God as was possible in our fair city.

We opted for Frank’s unmarked cop car and tooled on over to the Land of Oz. I was expecting Beefeaters at the front gate, but the sentry was a nice enough guy in khakis. He’d been SAPD for about ten years before landing his current job, so he was cordial when Frank rolled down his window.

“You guys here for a party, right?” he said, and winked. I guess you could be as friendly as you wanted if you’re on the other side of a 20 foot iron gate.

“Right,” said Frank. “I’ve got a date with Mrs. Hunter and this here’s my chaperone.”

“Mrs. Hunter, eh? Quite a knockout for a woman pushing sixty. I’ll tell her you called. Who should I say - ”

“How about calling her now? My tuxedo’s wrinkling, as you can see,” said Frank.

Seeing that humor wasn’t going to get rid of us, the sentry turned surly. “Couple of shitheads like you? I don’t think so.”

“Mr. Mitchell,” said a voice over the gate intercom.

“Yes, Mrs. Hunter,” said the stricken man.

“Please allow Mr. Bollinger and his chauffeur in the front gate. Then, if you would, please call Mr. Gleason and ask that your replacement be sent over as soon as possible. You’re fired.”

Dumbstruck, Mitchell let us in the gate and directed us down a lane through an enormous jungle. We wandered for about a quarter of a mile before the road brought us to an enormous stone palace.

“Which way to Kansas, Dorothy?” said Frank.

“Beats me, Mr. Wizard,” I replied, before noticing the advance of two men in black suits to open both our doors. We were frisked efficiently and led in the front door of the mansion where a dignified old Englishman led us into a room the size of my entire apartment building.

“Mrs. Hunter will join you shortly, gentlemen. May I offer you tea in the meantime?”

“By all means, Chauncy,” I said, momentarily adrift from the purpose of my visit.

“Nigel, sir,” said the old man.


“My name, sir. Nigel.”

“Oh. Well then, by all means, Nigel. Lord González, would you, too, care for tea?”

Frank was about to answer when the voice we’d heard on the intercom sounded behind us.

“Mr. Bollinger, kindly refrain from teasing Nigel. You and Mr. González have a seat.” She may have lived in the Kingdom, but the voice was pure East Texas.

Frank, sympathetic to the fate of extended family, opened with, “Kind of hard on Mr. Mitchell don’t you think, Mrs. Hunter?”

“Oh, calm down, Mr. González, I was only having a little fun with him. Now that he knows I monitor all conversations at the gate, he’ll be on his best behavior. The nerve of him with his ‘pushing sixty.’”

“Really, Mrs. Hunter,” I said. “I was going to say - ”

“There’s no pushing about it. I am sixty.”

The woman sitting across from us had short white hair, dark brown eyes, skin that was tanned, but by no means burnt to a crisp. Very smooth skin on her face, virtually no make-up, and a few wrinkles at the corners of her eyes that she seemed perfectly content to advertise. She was dressed quite casually in a pair of green linen slacks and a white blouse. Her feet were bare. She looked nothing like her daughter, and though her manner was still arresting, it lacked Charlotte’s predatory air.

She caught me staring at her. “November 17, 1908, Mr. Bollinger. Do the math for yourself,” she said.

I stumbled through the math in my head, smiled at her, and then awkwardly shifted gears. “Mrs. Hunter - ”

“Jessica,” she said. “Jessica will do just fine.”

I lacked Agnes’ ability to keep things formal. “Jessica, then. How is it that you know me?”

“You mean with your new bruises, Mr. Bollinger, or do you mean in general?”

“In general.”

“Let’s just say I’ve seen you around. I make it my business to know people.”

“Seen me?”

“I wouldn’t scandalize yourself any more than you’ve already been, Mr. Bollinger. Let’s just leave it at that.” Her gaze was forthright and steady.

“Mrs. Hunter – Jessica – I’m afraid Frank and I came here laboring under quite a misconception. We were led to believe that you were - ”

“Morally worthless, Mr. Bollinger? Yes, yes, I’m quite familiar with John Bastrop’s opinions of me. He is a tiresome little man, most unhappy since his fall from grace.”

I was inclined, by virtue of her own opinions, to feel that we were in the same camp. “You seem to know much more than I’ve given you credit for. I presume that you have a good idea of why we’re here?”

“That, I must say, Mr. Bollinger, is a small mystery to me, and the reason I played my little joke on Mr. Mitchell. I must confess that you piqued my curiosity.”

I realized that I was about to play the trump card I’d kept from Frank and everyone else. The surprise was I had no resistance whatsoever. Why had I been unable to tell this woman’s daughter?

“Perhaps I can be discreet, Jessica. Let’s just say that I know that John Bastrop was not always tiresome to you.”

She smiled, didn’t blink an eye. Frank, on the other hand, was coughing. Nigel stepped forward with a glass of water.

“Oh, Mac save your discretion. Let me assure you, John Bastrop has always been a loathsome creature to me. But are you saying that he is the father of my daughter? Well, in that you are correct. My unwillingness to continue a relationship with him beyond her birth contributes largely to his opinions of my moral worthlessness. But, tell me, how is it you came to this precious piece of information?”

“I was told by the good father himself. Or I guess I should say I was shown.”

“Shown, Mac?”

“That’ll take some explaining. Your former lover - ”

“Oh, please, Mac. Spare me such colloquialisms.”

“Want it blunt then, Jessica? John Bastrop is screwing his own daughter. Up until now, that she was his daughter was just a hunch, something I thought I saw in the pictures.”


“Of them, well, of them...together.” How was I supposed to put it?

“Oh my.”

“You’re shocked?”

“Well, in a way, yes.” She smiled brightly. “I guess the little bastard’s finally learned to use a tripod and timer.”

My head was swooning. Frank cut in. “Mrs. Hunter, are you aware that John Bastrop and your daughter are engaged in the production of child pornography and appear to be in league with some individual connected with the Vatican itself?”

This is when Jessica Hunter’s manner got downright steely. “No, I was not,” she said.

Frank continued. “They’ve been gathering children from St. Ann and photographing them. We came across a series of magazines apparently produced by them in conjunction with their Vatican contact.”

“Might it be possible, Mr. González, for me to see one of these magazines?”

“I’m afraid not, Mrs. Hunter. They’re no longer in our hands.”

“Ah,” she said, smiling knowingly. “Captain Harry Carson still up to his scut work. Another loathsome creature.”

I was getting used to the strange atmosphere of the conversation and poked my nose back in. “We’ve been stymied every which way in trying to push this case along. We were grasping at straws when we came over here, but I just wondered if there was some way you might be of assistance.”

“I might at that, Mac,” she said. She was still smiling, but her eyes were fixed. “Tell me. Who is the Vatican contact?”

“We just know him as Byron,” said Frank.

The next smile was grim. “Little Byron Pettigrew,” she said. “I might have known.” She stood abruptly. “Thank you, gentlemen. I’ll see what I can do. Nigel, if you’d be so kind as to show these gentlemen out when they’ve had their tea.” She turned and padded softly out of the room.

“Strange bird,” said Frank as we drove through the Kingdom’s gates and past the chastened Mitchell. Given Mrs. Hunter’s surveillance of the front gate, we’d kept our comments to ourselves while wolfing down finger sandwiches in her hangar-sized parlor. It would have been nothing for her to keep an eye on us in her own house. While dropping breadcrumbs on her carpets I kept up my teasing of Nigel, half-expecting her voice to come booming out of a speaker over his head.

“No shit,” I said. We were driving by the houses of lesser royalty outside the Kingdom. “She’s got a strange set of values. Noticeably concerned about the kids in the magazines, but nothing but wisecracks about the good father humping his daughter.”

“I don’t know,” said Frank.

“What? You heard her crack about the tripod.”

“Oh, I got that. I just don’t think she was all that hot and bothered about the kids. She seemed more interested in the magazines themselves.”


“I don’t know,” said Frank, more to himself than to me. He was driving now with that abstracted look cops get when they’re thinking behind the wheel. It was not a look I relished; I’d kept us out of half a dozen accidents during our drive across the city.

Make that seven. “Frank,” I said firmly, breaking his trance. “Stop sign.” We skidded to a halt just as a furniture truck roared through the intersection. I could see why cops had partners. “You were saying?”

“I don’t know,” he repeated, glazing over again. “I was just thinking about something Sarge said to me when I first came on: ‘We haven’t the foggiest idea what’s goin’ on out there, not even vice. There’s stuff still being invented.’”

“You think maybe Jessica Hunter’s got a patent or two of her own?”

“I wouldn’t put it past her.”



Anonymous Teresa said...

More wow! And you post it on a Sunday!!! Very, very good, Murat.

And the way you post, just these tantalizing scenes here and there. One would think that you are going to be self-publishing the opus and are trying to build up your customer base :)

4:02 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: Crime and smut (and smutty crime) know no timetable. Have to admit, though, that Ms Jessica was a hoot to write.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Dee Martin said...

the pristine upper class neighborhood with the nasty undercover. evil dressed up in pretty clothing and hiding behind stained glass...great stuff

10:38 PM  
Blogger anno said...

Jessica Hunter is an amazing character, and I just love this scene. Must be a defect in my character, though, but I couldn't help thinking of her as an older, more venomous Jessica Rabbit (Jessica Rabbit crossed with Kaa?). And Frank? Definitely Bob Hoskins.

Still hope to see the cover art for Scarred Angels someday... maybe on a face-out display at my favorite bookstore?

4:09 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Dee: With good old Nigel lurking...

5:51 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: I like the cover art musing - and the location.

I can't remember who I've cast in the past for Jessica. Frank was always Latino; the picture of the big hulking lead guitarist in Los Lobos was always in my head for Frank, but I can definitely see where you're going with Hoskins - I'd cast Ned Beatty as Sarge (Frank's mentor), but that role would fit Hoskins like a glove.

5:56 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...

So when does the book come out in book stores? I just emceed and translated a terrific book launch for the dissident Chinese poets. I will offer my services free of charge for emceeing the Scarred Angels book launch. Everyone loved the poetry translations!! I put your name on the program as Poetic Editor!

11:14 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: Thank you very much for the poetry nod. Congrats on the launch: rest assured, you're definitely the emcee for TesserineFest.

8:05 PM  

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