I threw out my plot this week. Kept the characters, but tossed the outline & most of the ideas that went with it.
I had thought that when I finally got a beginning that satisfied me, I’d be able to use most of the 30,000 words I’d already written. Or at least a lot of them. Instead, I finally got a beginning that satisfied me and it changed everything. I’m simultaneously really pleased — I’d been wondering whether my imagination had just shriveled up and died and wondering what I was going to do with my life if I no longer had an imagination — and dismayed.
But so it goes. Onward and upward, right?
If you’d rather not be spoiled for a book that’s headed back to the drawing board, stop reading now, but for Tim (and anyone else who wants to see a rough draft of the new beginning) …
The voices were driving him crazy.
Crazier than usual, that was. After ten years of auditory hallucinations, Noah already knew he was insane. Today was worse than usual, but it was the circumstances, not the sounds.
He was sitting on a bench in the hallway of the courthouse, waiting for his turn in front of the grand jury. The investigation was calling in anyone who might know anything about AlecCorp, the military contractor owned by the late Raymond Chesney. Noah knew his testimony would be useless—working for a notorious criminal enterprise would be a black mark on his resume, but he’d only been there for a few months. It hadn’t added more darkness to his soul.
Still, he needed to hold it together. If he got confused, answered the wrong questions, the prosecution might get suspicious. He wanted to put AlecCorp behind him, not get dragged into the depths of an investigation likely to go on for decades.
He let his head rest against the wall behind him and closed his eyes. The courthouse was noisy, sounds echoing off the tiled floors, voices carrying. Could he filter the real world from the one his over-active brain insisted on dumping on him?
The woman speaking Arabic wasn’t real. She never was. He’d been listening to her, the little boy, and Joe since The Worst Day Ever, so they were easy to ignore. The worried woman wasn’t real, either. She hadn’t been around as long as the others, but Noah still recognized her voice. He’d heard it before, so he could disregard it.
But what about the other woman, the one speaking in a husky contralto? Noah cracked open his eyelids, peering through his lashes. The crowd mostly consisted of men in suits — lawyers looking sleek and polished, the ex-military AlecCorp staffers looking stiff and uncomfortable. Just across the hall, though, a redhead held a cell phone to her ear. Noah watched her for a minute, his eyes intent on her lips, matching the movements to the murmured words until she caught his gaze. He dropped his lids hastily. Yeah, she was real.
“So you just follow him around?” That voice was young, too young. It sounded like a teenage boy. And it was close, too, as if the teenager stood directly in front of Noah.
A babble of hallucinated Arabic answered him. Noah couldn’t pick out any words from the flow, but his mouth twitched with reluctant amusement when the boy’s voice replied, “That is so weird.”
That was one word for it. Noah might have chosen another. Nightmarish, maybe?
“You need help,” the teenager continued.
Noah didn’t flinch. He’d had the thought himself too many times. It felt like a slippery slope, though — one that led straight to a future of glazed eyes and slurred voice, drugged out on whatever anti-psychotics the VA was in the mood to experiment with. No, that wasn’t for him. Ignoring the voices worked. Or at least it had until there’d gotten to be so many of them. His lips tightened, a muscle in his jaw jumping as he clenched his teeth around the bitterness that wanted to escape.
“I know someone. She might be able to do something.” The kid sounded thoughtful. “Give me a minute.”
Multiple voices answered at once, in Arabic, English, even the mellifluous mystery language that Noah thought was his subconscious attempting to annoy him by pretending to speak Chinese. Noah hadn’t often heard spoken Chinese, but he’d heard enough of it to know that his hallucination was doing it wrong.
Eyes still closed, he raised one hand and rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease the tension. He should think about something else, anything else. Focusing on the voices never helped, but it was impossible to escape from them.
Noah blinked his eyes open. The redhead stood in front of him, her lips curved up but her eyebrows drawn down as if in doubt. She extended her hand to him, a business card in it.
Shit. She’d seen him looking. He hadn’t been checking her out, at least not the way she probably thought, but how would he say so without being rude?
He took the card, forcing a smile. Noah knew he’d gotten lucky in the genetic lottery and he tried not to be ungrateful. Plenty of guys would be thrilled to get hit on by a hot redhead. “I’m flattered,” he started.
Her eyebrows arched. “You are?”
He paused. What, did she have self-esteem issues? She wasn’t really his type – maybe in her mid-thirties, with the pale, almost translucent skin of a natural redhead, minimal make-up and hair drawn back – but the scooped neck of the t-shirt she wore under a suit jacket offered an enticing glimpse of cleavage. She was attractive enough, just not for him. “Of course.”
“Don’t be.” Her smile warmed and she held up her phone. “I’m just following orders.”
His eyes narrowed. “Whose orders are those?” He’d walked away from AlecCorp with no regrets. Taking the job with them had felt like a mistake from the very beginning. He needed to get away from the war, away from the past. But jobs for vets with no experience outside a combat zone weren’t easy to come by and AlecCorp had seemed better than nothing. He didn’t want to get pulled back in, though. He was done with military work.
“That’s a long story.”
“I’ve got plenty of time.” He glanced down at the card, frowning.
General Directions, Inc.
He flipped it over. No name, no scrawled phone number or message. So maybe she wasn’t trying to pick him up.
The door to the grand jury room had opened and the last witness was leaving. A woman in the open doorway called out, “Sylvie Blair?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t,” she said as a suit approached her. “I’m up, I’m afraid.”
The suit was expensive. Well-fit. Probably Italian, Noah thought. It looked like something his brother would wear. The guy in it looked like someone his brother would know – also expensive, with the gloss of success over an easy confidence. With tanned skin and dark hair, he could be Italian, too, but something about him said Eastern European heritage, maybe Russian, to Noah. Or Irish, Noah thought, when clear blue eyes took him in with a quick, incisive glance.
“Ready?” the suit asked, touching the back of the redhead’s upper arm with a gentle brush of his fingertips.
The two of them exchanged a long glance, before her lips crooked. “As I ever will be, I suppose.” The intimacy was unmistakable. If the suit was her lawyer, he wasn’t charging by the hour.
“Remember what we talked about with Jeremy. You’ll be fine,” he said.
She nodded, before shooting a last glance at Noah. She gave a flick of her finger in the direction of the card he still held. “You’ll need that,” she said. “Tell Akira that Dillon sent you.”
Akira? Dillon? Noah had no idea who the redhead was talking about, but she was already moving away, the suit walking next to her. And his voices were chattering again, all speaking over one another. Noah couldn’t catch the words, except for Joe saying something like, “How did you do that?”
“Fraternizing with the enemy?” The question sounded disgruntled.
Noah almost ignored it before realizing that it came from the man sitting on the bench next to him. “What?”
The guy nodded toward the doorway. “That’s her. The one who killed Chesney.”
Noah glanced back but it was too late. The redhead had disappeared into the grand jury room. His brows rose. She hadn’t looked tough enough to be a killer. Looks could be misleading, though.
“Lost us all our jobs and put us here,” the guy continued.
“Pretty sure that was our boss working for the drug cartels,” Noah replied. He kept his voice mild. Some of his former co-workers struck him as unreasonably bitter given the circumstances. It wasn’t like they were all innocents. Some of them must have known what was going on.
“Allegedly,” grunted his neighbor.
Noah didn’t answer. The redhead must have confused him with someone else, he thought. He looked at the card again. General Directions. So many rumors had been flying around in the wake of AlecCorp’s implosion. What had he heard about General Directions? But the rumor, whatever it was, wouldn’t come back to him.
It didn’t matter. Whatever the redhead wanted, Noah was done with AlecCorp. All he needed was to get through this day and he’d be moving on. He didn’t know to what, he didn’t know to where, but he didn’t care. Anywhere but here worked for him.
“You should rip that up. Throw it away,” his neighbor said.
Instead, Noah slipped it into his pocket. He wouldn’t call, but he didn’t take orders from ex-AlecCorp employees.
Unedited, obviously, but — compared to how much I have hated every previous beginning — I’m feeling pretty okay with this. Noah feels right to me and the ghost mob comes across as it should, I hope. In other words, not an overwhelming list of characters for a reader to remember but a sense of Noah as a man surrounded by sounds he doesn’t understand. I hope I can hang on to being satisfied with it long enough to move on!