But first: I'm really excited with the progress I'm making on the new book. I've written about 21,000 words already. But I think you should know, it's not the book I originally set out to write.
Originally, I was going to include a flashback scene in the sequel to The Catch. The flashback scene would have taken place during a period of time after Julia and William's breakup (1995 – 2001).
That flashback scene took on a life of its own, and is now becoming its own novel. And that is what I've been working on.
The working title is The Compass And The Mermaid. If you've read The Catch, perhaps you can guess the meaning behind the title?
The Compass And The Mermaid is from William's perspective. It chronicles his downward spiral after his breakup from Julia, his redemption in Alaska, and two very important friendships he forms during each of those time periods. These events will come to bear on the events of the sequel.
The material in TCATM is a bit heavier, obviously. Also, unlike chatty Julia, William is "a man of few words," so I needed to get into his head a lot more.
I'm having an absolute blast writing from a man's perspective. And if my writing workshop instructor is to be believed, I'm pretty good at it!
Now, for a sneak peak at The Compass And The Mermaid:
William followed Mike out to the bright yellow 1968 Camaro that Mike had restored himself. As he somehow folded his legs into the front passenger seat, William asked, “Where are we going?”
William tried not to look as alarmed as he felt. “At this time of night?”
Mike patted him on the knee. “Don’t worry your pretty little head, Sis.”
“Should we take my bike, instead?”
“Are you kidding me? Look dude, I know Julia’s not here and everything, but I’m not sitting behind you on that thing and wrapping my beautiful long legs around you.”
It was insensitive at best; below the belt at worst. Either way, it silenced William for the time being. And though Mike had never had the best judgment, William was desperate. So as Mike’s stereo blasted The Dead Kennedys out the windows, and his Camaro blasted testosterone down Guerrero to 19th Street, William tried to shrink himself as far down in his seat as he could. Which, for him, was an exercise in futility.
Mike rolled his window all the way down and shouted at a cluster of young guys in front of the El Salvadoreño Market. “¡Yo cago en la leche de tu puta madre!”
He blasted the engine, cackling with glee, and William said, “What the hell are you doing?!”
“Would you fucking chill already? It’s just a little harmless fun!”
“Asshole, I work in a kitchen, and I know exactly what you just said. Don't try to pull that ‘harmless fun’ shit on me.”
Not far enough from the Salvadorans he had taunted, Mike turned down a side street, and his car screeched to a halt in front of a faded turquoise house with peeling vermilion trim and bars on the windows. Mike flashed another one of his stupid grins and, whistling, led William up the steps to the front door.
Mike knocked, and at that moment, the Salvadorans rounded the corner at the end of the street. Mike noticed them, too, but didn’t appear the slightest bit concerned. As William watched, they stopped dead in their tracks.
The door swung open then. William recognized the incisive hazel eyes of the woman on the other side, but for a few seconds, it wouldn’t quite register.
She looked just as dumbfounded to see him. “William? Is that really you?”
He turned to Mike, jerked his thumb at her. “Her?”
Mike grinned, and held up his fist. “What up, Haze?”
“You’re not black, Mike.” Haze stepped aside and waved them in. William glanced apprehensively down the block again.
But the Salvadorans had disappeared.
“See?” Mike elbowed William as he made his way into the foyer. “I told you we were cool.”
William still searched the length of the street. A moment ago, it looked like they were toast. It wouldn't have been the first time he had helped his brother out of a scrape, but not since Mike had started the lithium. William’s ninja skills were a bit rusty these days, but apparently his hypervigilance was not.
“What the hell are you looking for? They're gone, bro!” Mike scoffed and looked toward Haze, as if to say, “Can you believe this fool?”
But Haze did not look at William as if she thought he were a fool. Her restrained gaze put him at ease, and he crossed the threshold into her foyer.
“Mike,” William began carefully. “Let me just make sure we’re all on the same page here. We’re not here for tattoos, right?”
“Dude, are we at the studio?”
“Nowadays I only do this for a select few,” Haze explained, closing and locking the door behind them. “Jimmy and Mike have been loyal customers for years.”
“Of both enterprises, apparently,” William observed.
“Jimmy and I have single-handedly kept her in business all these years,” Mike quipped.
“In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a one-month wait list at the studio,” she retorted.
Fantastical creatures stampeded down her arms from somewhere beneath the short sleeves of her black peasant top. The décolletage above its neckline hinted at more.
She had never once removed her eyes from William.
“Mike didn’t tell you it was me?” William ventured.
“No, he did. You just look different.”
He felt the familiar heat rising to his face. Every instinct in his body commanded him to look away, but he forced himself to hold her gaze.
She blinked first.
“Make yourselves comfortable,” she offered, gesturing toward the couch. She settled herself on the adjacent chair, at right angles to them. Her eyes swept beyond Mike’s grinning leer in favor of William again.
“Haze,” he said. “And all this time I thought it was because of your eyes. Or because you were in Hayes Valley.”
She returned his smile, circumspect. “After they tore the freeway down, the yuppies moved in. That’s why I’m in the Mission now.”
Her voice still bore traces of her Russian origins. A silver barbell septum piercing adorned her nose. She had deliberately streaked her long, shaggy dark hair and bangs with gray. She reached up with slender fingers to tuck a lock behind her ear, showcasing a scaffold piercing with an arrow-shaped earring.
She said, “How is your albatross?”
“I followed orders, and kept it out of the sun.”
Her features remained Russian-stoic. “Are you ever going to let it out of its cage?”
“Right! What the hell is that about, anyway?” Mike chimed in good-naturedly. “And by the way, I’m still pissed you didn’t let me ink you, Will. I mean, I drew the fucking thing.”
Haze had a pair of grooves between her full, dark brows, grooves etched prematurely by deep concentration. The grooves deepened slightly at Mike’s interjection.
“Don’t say ink,” she rebuked. “It’s disrespectful.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Tattoo is an ancient art form. In some cultures, it’s a spiritual practice.”
Mike held his hands up in mock surrender. “Hey, whatever you say, boss.”
Shrugging off his insincerity, she turned back to William. “When are you going to let me put that crab on you?”
“Yes. We talked about this. You’re a Cancer, and a crab fisherman. What could be more perfect?”
He smiled again. “I’ve never really paid much attention to astrology.”
“You’re a quintessential Cancer.”
He considered a moment. “I’ve been thinking about a mermaid.”
She tipped her head quizzically. “A mermaid?”
“Dude,” Mike groaned.
William ignored him. “Can you do it?”
“Of course,” she said. “Where would you want it?”
He shrugged. “I’m not sure yet.”
“Any other pointers? What do you want it to look like?”
“Black and gray.”
“And topless,” exhorted Mike. “Come to think of it, this is not such a bad idea, after all.”
Haze ignored him, as William had earlier. “Maybe have her sitting, like she’s on the rocks?
Turned away, looking out to sea, so all you see is her lovely slender back. And maybe just a hint of side boob?”
William laughed a bit. She came to sit beside him, and took up his left arm. Touched her fingertips to the inside of his forearm.
“I’ve been doing some reading lately about chakras. They say the left arm is the receiving arm. And the inside of the arm is controlled by the heart chakra. Seems like a good spot to put your mermaid.”
Her shrewdness left him speechless. The corners of her mouth turned up in a self-satisfied sort of way. She lowered his arm and returned to her own chair.
Abruptly, she said, “Don’t you get couch-lock from that shit?”
“I mean, that strain is all well and good for Mike – no offense, Mike – but I thought you’d like something a little less mind-numbing.”
Sheepish, William replied, “Honestly, right now, I just want something to wind down with.”
Haze shrugged. “What do you say here in America? ‘The customer is always right.’” She rose again from her chair and ascended the staircase, leaving them alone in the living room.
Bemused, William looked to Mike, who nodded reassuringly. Sure enough, a minute later, the stairs creaked again beneath her footsteps.
She had already measured it out – only a half-eighth, by the looks of it – and held the baggie out to him.
“Actually, I was hoping for –” He stopped because Mike kicked him. Hard.
“Right on, Haze,” blurted Mike. “We’ll bounce now. Great seeing you.”
But Haze peered at William, rather earnestly, he thought. “Try it out first. You can always come back for more.”
William knew then that she hadn't given him what he asked for. He was a bit annoyed, but he was also utterly inexperienced at buying weed from a dealer. What little weed he had smoked in the past, he had always just bought off of Mike. So he said okay, and handed over his cash.
Without further ceremony, he and Mike rose from the couch and allowed Haze to see them out. Once she had closed and locked the door behind them, William suddenly remembered the Salvadorans with a surge of adrenaline. His head whipped left and right, scanning the length of the street.
No sign of them anywhere.
He eyeballed the Camaro. The doors remained un-keyed, the tires un-slashed. It occurred to him to check under the chassis, in case they had planted a car bomb.
As soon as they were back in the car, Mike seized his arm. “Holy shit, dude, you have got it going on!”
William raised an eyebrow at him. “What are you talking about?”
“Do you have any idea how many years both me and Jimmy have been trying to bang her? We thought she was a dyke, ‘cause, you know – Russian chick, living in the Mission, working as a tattoo artist. But I have never seen her look at a guy the way she looked at you just now.”
William waved his hand dismissively.
“Hey idiot. You know how she only gave you a half-eighth?”
“Yeah; what was that about? I'll go through that by tomorrow night. If it's any good, which – who knows, since it's not what I asked for.”
“Dude. I can guarantee you it'll be the best bud you’ve ever smoked. That's why she gave it to you, and only a half-eighth – so you'd come back. As soon as possible.”
William knew he was right, and finally acknowledged it to himself.
Mike perpetrated his cretinous laugh, like a jackhammer. “Aren't you a sweet, innocent little thing. You’ve got to play that up for us, man. Score us some free weed.”
“That strikes me as monumentally stupid.”
“Free weed. Strikes you as stupid.”
“Somehow, a female Russian tattoo artist has access to the best weed in the city. Salvadoran gangbangers run away when they see us on her doorstep, even after you insulted their mothers. Does none of that strike you as odd?”
Mike clapped his hand on William’s shoulder and shook him a bit. “Relax, bro! You think too much.”
“Somebody has to,” William retorted, shrugging him off. But he was already thinking about those animal tattoos on Haze’s arms, and the ones halfway concealed below the neckline of her shirt. Sort of tribal, but more delicate. He wouldn't mind getting a closer look at those.
-------------- Copyright 2016, Jenna Miles / Hibernia Press
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!