Friday, April 14, 2017

The Revised First Chapter of Sea-drift

As promised, here's the revised first chapter of Sea-drift. In case you missed it, here's the unedited version that I wrote about ten years ago.

Maisie dropped her pencil when the Thor-look-a-like entered the shop. It rolled across the floor and bumped against a Victorian curio cabinet. Maisie scrambled after it, trying to collect her scattered thoughts while the man chose a table beside wrought iron shelves overflowing with an eclectic collection of china pieces, antique books, etchings, and prints.
He didn’t belong in the fussy shop. He looked like a misplaced Viking surrounded by Rocco and Baroque decorative art. Thor had a friend, also attractive in a swarthy-pirate-like way. But his beauty didn’t make Maisie rethink her life plans.
Brushing off her skirt, Maisie put on her may-I-help-you smile and approached their table. “Did you guys see the marquee with today’s special?”
While she took their order, for the first time, she was grateful for writer’s block. She would much rather be in the company of handsome men than sitting in a library trying to finish her thesis. And why write a book about Laguna’s history when she could write breakfast food? Who needed a book contract in Laguna, home to perpetual sunshine?
Maisie dished the men’s orders and inhaled the heady scents of fresh baked bread, cheese, and coffee. After adding a couple of extra strawberries to their plates she willed herself not to stare and backed away.
“I don’t know, Maisie.” Mrs. Henderson, one of the store’s most valued customers called for Maisie’s attention. Tapping her size six shoe, she held up a swatch of blue and white tulle and cocked her head. “It’s just such an important decision…” her voice trailed away and her eyes flicked toward the pastry counter.
“Maybe an éclair would make the decision easier,” Maisie said, wiping her hands on her apron.
“Oh, I really couldn’t. Ralph, my trainer, he’s a calorie cop.” Mrs. Henderson began to twist the tulle in her ring-laden fingers, giggling. “But the cream in an éclair is low carb.”
While Mrs. Henderson tangled with decisions, Maisie watched the men lounging between a display of antique hat pins and a Victorian gilded mirror. If she stood just so, she could see the one who reminded her of Thor reflection in the mirror. He seemed to fill the room. In reality, he held a fork, but in her mind he held the magic hammer, Mjolnir, capable of throwing lightning bolts to her heart. His companion, the pirate, held a napkin. Maisie shifted from one foot to the next, wearing a pleasant face that hopefully didn’t reveal Norse deity worshipping thoughts.
While Maisie waited for Mrs. Henderson’s choice, she wondered if the woman had felt the same rush of pleasure for her husband. Maisie had never met Mr. Henderson, but she’d heard from Mim that he’d recently died, suddenly, tragically. And yet days later, here was Mrs. Henderson debating over pottery.
Maisie raised her eyebrows, smiled and tried not to look at Mrs. Henderson’s neck, one of the few physical evidences of the widow’s age. Mrs. Henderson had a forty-year-old face, high, pointy teenage breasts and a geriatric neck. Maisie allowed herself another sneak peek at Thor’s biceps, swallowed and said, “Actually, I just made the éclairs this morning. They’re mostly eggs and protein rich.”
Mrs. Henderson’s glance flitted between an early Staffordshire, a Majolica teapot, and the alluring éclair. Maisie looked out the window at the marine layer billowing off Laguna’s shore. Even though the traditional school year had started a few weeks ago, as the sun rose the sidewalks and beach would fill with tourists in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts. Maisie’s gazed returned to Thor’s thick, tanned forearms and Rolex watch. No ring. The pirate looked as if his shoulders and chest were about to burst his polo shirt.
Maisie turned her attention to Mrs. Henderson and noticed the woman’s tired eyes, the soft sagging skin beneath her chin. Maisie wanted to offer sympathy for Mrs. Henderson’s loss, but she didn’t know how, so instead she said, “Maybe just a nice tea or a glass of juice?”
Mrs. Henderson sniffed. “When does Mim get back? She’s always very good with these decisions.”
Considering her aunt’s swollen face and swatches of bandages, Maisie gave the rehearsed response. “About a month, I think.” A month of pain sacrificed to vanity.
Mrs. Henderson threw up her hands. “Oh what the hay! You’ve convinced me! I’ll get the Staffordshire and an éclair!”
Maisie took a step backward. “Hmm, great. I’ll wrap up the teapot, it’s a lovely piece.”
Mrs. Henderson, content with her purchase, said, “I remember when Mim brought it home from the Lake District.”
Maisie stopped listening; she remembered Mim finding the piece on E-bay. She carefully removed the pot from its place among the Bardollos and McCoys and slipped into the back room. “It’ll take me just a sec to wrap this up,” she called over her shoulder.
She passed Whistler, a stringy Jack Russell terrier sitting on his bed near the doorway. He let out a small grunt and rutted around for his ball. Maisie had let him into the shop because she’d felt both guilty and sorry for him. Uncle Les had tired of him and had put him in his kennel in the alley where he’d spent the morning crying. He’d stopped barking, but he didn’t seem any less crotchety on his bed. He licked his wounded paw and worried the bandage around his foreleg. He reminded Maisie of the rattlesnake adage, the smaller the snake the meaner the bite.
The backroom could have been on a different planet from the front showroom which had been decorated by Uncle Les, an artist with fussy flair. The backroom of the shop was all Aunt Mim. Antiques, what-nots and whatevers had been piled into towers that blocked the meager light streaming from high, dusty windows. The kitchen grill, sink and cutting board were usually overrun with Mim’s latest acquisitions. Only the stove-oven combo remained safe from clutter. Chairs, tables, and a grandfather clock hung from the pipes that crisscrossed the ceiling. Whenever Maisie had to spend any time in the backroom, she tried not to think about earthquakes.
Maisie twirled the pot in bubble wrap, sealed it with a Mim’s Mercantile sticker and placed it in one of the signature pink paisley bags. She emerged from the dark, dusty back into the bright, sunny store while the Thor and the pirate fumbled in their pockets and counted change. Whistler, who seemed to sneak out of nowhere, snagged what remained of the croissant and bolted out the door.
“What the--” the pirate began.
Thor burst into a laugh.
Maisie groaned.
Thor took note of her distress. “I’ll get him.”
The pirate stopped laughing. “No, I’ll get him.”
“Please, don’t bother-” Maisie began, watching Whistler streak down the sidewalk, his bandage waving in the air like a flag of victory.
Thor and the Pirate looked at each other momentarily and then as if telepathing a silent go, they bolted. For a moment they wrestled in the doorway, then Pirate gave Thor a good-natured shove back into the store and tore up the sidewalk. Thor overtook him by the intersection.
Maisie thought about joining them, hustling Mrs. Henderson out the door, closing the shop, and chasing Thor, Pirate and Whistler, but a man dressed in a dark blazer, sturdy brown shoes and sunglasses stood in front of the gaping front door, watching the men and dog weave up the sidewalk. After some hesitation, he entered the shop, making two customers Maisie would need to shoo. He fiddled with the rim of his glasses but left them on to shield his eyes.
Mrs. Henderson nodded her head at a dog’s toy in the corner. Maisie gave the man another look before trying to nonchalantly kick a squeaky mouse behind the counter. Sighing, she knew that chasing Whistler would only encourage him. Left alone, the dog would come home when he was hungry, and he was always hungry, but if someone gave chase, he could be gone all the day. He wouldn’t completely disappear, but he’d toy his followers, tease them with near captures and taunt them with close encounters.
Mrs. Henderson cleared her throat. She stood, drumming her long French manicured nails on the glass of the pastry counter. She dipped her head again at the man standing in front of the hatpin collection with an unreadable expression on his face.
He didn’t seem the hatpin sort; in fact, Maisie wouldn’t have marked him as a collector. He was too large and masculine for Mim’s shop, like a Scottish highlander crashing a lady’s tea. Maisie followed Mrs. Henderson’s pointed gaze toward the man’s waistband and saw a leather holster and a flash of metal. Her heart quickened and she relabeled the Scottish highlander into a highwayman.
Mrs. Henderson cleared her throat again and raised her eyebrows at Whistler’s abandoned rawhide bone lying beneath the bistro table.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Henderson,” Maisie said, hurrying to get the éclair while using her foot to scoot the dog chew behind a potted fichus. She opened the pastry case and pulled out a brownie. Fumbling with a Mim’s Mercantile bag, she licked her fingers and tried to open the bag. She could feel the man watching while she gave Mrs. Henderson an apologetic smile and shook the bag open.
“I wanted an éclair,” Mrs. Henderson said. She cast the man another glance, but he kept his sunglasses trained on Maisie. Mrs. Henderson turned her back to him. “FBI,” she mouthed.
Whistler hardly seemed worth an undercover agent, but Maisie’s cheeks flushed. She’d been irresponsible and thoughtless to allow the dog in the shop. Flustered, she set the brownie aside and fought the urge to lick the brownie’s frosting off her fingers. She’d forgotten the plastic gloves, a testament to her nervousness; finger licking and food serving shouldn’t be standard café practice. Under the shelter of the counter she slipped the plastic gloves over messy fingers and pulled an éclair out of the case. She took a deep breath or two trying to relax. Was this really easier than her job at LA Literary? She’d left the magazine to devote her time to writing, not sell pastries and chasing dogs. Maisie glanced up, the man had turned toward a pair of Uncle Les’s photographs of Avalon bay.
“You shouldn’t have invited Monster to the store,” Mrs. Henderson whispered.
Maisie nodded. She considered defending herself, but knew Mrs. Henderson was right. Even though the Jack Russell whined and cried when left alone, he should have stayed with Mim where he could chew and destroy, but not threaten the shop.
Maisie looked out the window and watched the dog and men dance down the sidewalk, dodging tourists, bumping into a man on rollerblades, interrupting a skateboarder. Whistler’s tail darted across the street, causing a BMW to brake quickly and skitter toward a parked van. A Hyundai bleeped as Thor and Pirate lunged for the dog. Safely out of traffic, Whistler’s white rump disappeared into a hedge. Thor leaped over the plant while the Pirate crouched on the sidewalk.
Then Thor took off his shirt.
Mrs. Henderson cleared her throat again. “I said,” Mrs. Henderson raised her voice an octave, “that I’d like another éclair.”
Maisie reluctantly took her gaze off Thor’s muscular back. “Really?”
Mrs. Henderson twisted her lips into a sheepish, unnatural grin and gave the armed man a lowered eyelid appraising. “If you’re going to go to hell, you might as well go in a limo.”

Or in a back of a dog catcher van, Maisie thought. “Thank you, Mrs. Henderson, I hope we’ll see you again soon,” she said, wondering how to rescue Whistler while a man with a concealed weapon considered a 1910 edition of Huckleberry Finn.

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