first 2500+ words of novel. interested in feedback. worth developing further?
|If Michigan is the back of a left hand on the map, with Saginaw Bay falling between the thumb and the forefinger, Leelanau Peninsula is the slightly splayed pinky unassumingly dipping into Lake Michigan. Lake Leelanau cuts through the heart of the peninsula. Water is all around, as well as through.
This morning Gray Stinson is in Leland aka Fishtown, on the northwest side of the county, where Lake Leelanau runs into Lake Michigan. It is more of a tee shirt and fudge town than a real fishing village anymore. Locals grumble that the government puts too many limits and regulations on their catch, and that the Indians have treaties that let them overfish their Great Lake. It may be so; Gray has never really been sure. Selling tee shirts and fudge to tourists may just be a less dangerous and more profitable way to make a living.
Walking Van’s beach on the shores of Lake Michigan with his khakis rolled up to high on his ankles, Gray holds his boat shoes in his left hand, a Macanudo cigar in the right. The water rolls in and wets his feet. It would be claptrap to call the water brisk or refreshing, or anything but what it is—cold. The water never gets warm here, not even in July. This fact is a nonstarter for a certain breed of tourist. But walking the beach this cloudy May morning, wearing a light cashmere sweater, the only sensation Gray experiences, and in fact the only thing one could sense, when the water touches the skin is jolting cold. As Gray knew it would be. What compels us to do that which we know will cause discomfort and pain—pick at a scab, bite one’s lip, start a fight with a bigger stronger adversary, fall in love?
Gray is a lawyer. He graduated from Law school in Lansing and passed the bar in 1999. He worked at a medium sized firm in a Detroit suburb for a couple of years, and came up north eight years ago and hung out his shingle because, in no particular order: it didn’t look like he was going to make partner, he broke up with a girl, and he inherited a Boston Whaler, fishing gear, and $10,000 from an uncle who’d worked for Ford Motors.
So this early spring Monday morning Gray walks the shores of the familiar lake, weighing whether to go fishing or into the office. Of course, he knows what he should do. And he knows what he wants to do. The checking account is low, so he takes a puff off the cigar, and drags himself back up to his small office space in town on South Main Street. On the way he stops at Carlson’s to get some smoked whitefish and at The Early Bird for some carry out coffee. Minutes later he is sitting at his desk as his laptop fires up, unwrapping the brown butcher paper encasing the smoky salty fish like a present. The pungent smell of the smoked fish and the lovely bitter coffee aroma fills the office—deliciously so to Gray’s senses.
Gray hears the door open and the chime ding as his paralegal Mindy arrives.
“Damn it stinks in here,” she says as she drops a pile of files on his desk for his review and signature.
“Good morning how was your weekend?” Gray responds.
“That one on top is a motion in the Rackers case we need to file by Wednesday.”
“Want some smoked fish?”
“And I was in Suttons Bay this weekend and I saw Ms. Alcott at Bahle's—she really needs you to call her today.”
Gray nods and smiles and says, “I love our chitchat.”
Mindy is already settling in behind her metal desk at hear adjoining office. All the clichés about Monday’s ring true this morning Gray thinks. He reconsiders ditching the office to go fishing one more time, but instead turns his attention to the files Mindy has dropped on his desk.
The phone rings; Mindy gets it, “Gray Stinson Law office,” she answers, and after a couple of seconds, “one moment please let me see if he’s in.”
“It’s a Mr. Craig, says he has a contract matter he’d like to ask you about,” Mindy tells Gray. They have no need for an intercom—the entire space is less than eight hundred square feet.
“That’s rather vague,” Gray responds. Mindy shrugs, which Gray knows means, “that’s what he said—take it or I’ll put him to voicemail I don’t give a rats ass and I’ve got crap to do.”
“Put him through.”
“Yes sir, I was wondering if we could set up an appointment.”
“And you are?”
“Sorry. My name is Art.”
“Okay Art, and what is it that you’d like to discuss?”
“If not too much trouble, I’d rather discuss face to face. I’ll pay you for time.” Gray really wished he had a clue.
“Okay Art, I do require a signed representation agreement and a $1000 retainer at the outset. If this is doable, you can schedule an appointment with Mindy.”
“Done. Very well then—do you think you may have any time this afternoon?”
“Check with Mindy she handles the schedule.”
Gray puts Art on hold and says to Mindy, “Tell this guy I’m booked up this afternoon, but I can get him in tomorrow morning.”
“What are you doing this afternoon?” Mindy asks.
Gray just stares. Mindy shrugs again and picks up the phone.
Around 5:30 Gray leaves the office and walks to The Bluebird and grabs a seat at the bar. Cari, who is tending bar, acknowledges him with a smile as he walks in. She has his Bell’s Two Hearted Ale poured before he sits down.
“What you having tonight?” Cari asks.
“Smelt I think.”
Gray nods to Zach Wachowski who is shooting some pool. Zach is the beneficiary of a sizeable trust fund and lives in a cottage on lower Lake Leelanau. He is not an asshole as the trust fund recipient stereotype goes. He is immature, an unobtrusive drunk, and a benevolent womanizer. But he is not cocky, truly reckless, or obnoxious. He is well aware of his good fortunate, and while not guilty about or ashamed of enjoying it, he holds no illusion of being better than anybody—just luckier.
“How’s business?” Cari asks as she pours Gray another ale from the tap.
Cari Hough is native, a graduate of Suttons Bay High just five years ago. She went to Central Michigan University on a volleyball scholarship, but washed out. She blamed a bad knee. Now she is back here tending bar at The Bird without out much direction or ambition. But she is gorgeous--tall athletic youthful: blonde hair, green eyes mild freckles--and friendly. She’ll be just fine.
“Business is kinda slow, how about you?” Gray replies.
She folds her lean arms in front of her and takes a moment to look around the bar which is getting more crowded by the moment as more folks got off work, “Not slow,” she says with a smile, “and the Fudgies aren’t even here yet.”
Fudgies is local derisive slang for the summer tourists—whom tend to buy copious amounts of fudge at Doug Murdicks.
The food arrives. Rafer Smalls sits down next to Gray and pats him on the back. Rafer grew up in Ohio and spent summers as a kid in Fishtown. He always wanted to bring his kids up, but his wife always wanted to go to Hilton Head. Rafer got divorced a few years back. His wife got the house and the kids. Rafer came up here the week after the divorce was finalized and stayed; he runs a little tourist crap shop out of an old fishing shack right by the harbor in the summer. In the winter—when the tourist are gone and the snow is feet deep-- he just mostly drinks, which isn’t uncommon around here. Gray buys Rafer a Labatt’s and they have an hour or so of forgettable but pleasant chat about the Detroit Tigers game on the TV above the bar, Cari’s ass when she walks to the other part of the bar, and fishing.
Gray gets up to leave around eight, after a basket of smelt and three pints of Kalamazoo’s finest, and checks his Blackberry. The red light is blinking—he has three missed calls and two new phone messages, and a new email which he checks first. It’s from Mindy: “CALL ME AT HOME ASAP!!!”
“That can’t be good,” Gray thinks. He is glad to be a little drunk.
Standing out front of The Bluebird he dials his paralegal’s cell.
“You rang?” Gray says in smart-alecky fashion.
“Did you get my message?” Mindy responds incredulously.
“Haven’t checked my messages, got your email to call, what’s up?”
Mindy is quiet for a moment, then she says flatly, “Gray there was a shooting.”
“No. No accident. Gray, Billie Clark’s dead. Shot in the head—the back of the head.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I know. I know. Her neighbor found her this evening when she dropped by with a six pack—they were going to watch the Tigers game.”
After a silent pause, “They want Alex to go identify the body and he called me. He wants me to go with him. And I guess, well I guess I want you to go with me?” Gray could tell over the phone that Mindy was biting her bottom lip kicking at invisible pebbles on her kitchen floor.
“I’ll pick you up in ten minutes.”
It was her. Alex nods then covers his mouth and turns away when they unzip the body bag. Gray puts his hand on Alex’s shoulder. Mindy waits in the lobby.
Ten minutes later they are all standing outside, shivering a little. Not knowing what to do, Gray reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a Macanudo and offers it to Alex.
“What the hell?—nobody had a fucking baby. You don’t give those out for violent deaths.”
“Right,” Gray says embarrassed and goes to put it back in his pocket.
“No, no—I’ll take it,” Alex says.
“Don’t smoke those cancer logs around me—I need to get home and try to get some sleep,” Mindy chimes in.
They all load into Gray’s ’94 Jeep Cherokee. Gray drives to Mindi’s condo first. As Mindy gets out of the car she turns back and says, “Don’t forget you have a meeting in the morning.”
Gray already had. He thanks Mindy for the reminder. He and Alex drive to Dick’s Pour House. They find Zach at the bar, whom in search of a change of scenery to continue his imbibing has made his way over from The Bird.
When they first sit down, Gray whispers to Zach a summary of what has happened, Alex then says, “I don’t’ want to talk about it.” Gray and Zach happily honor his request.
So they sit side by side by side at the bar, with huge mounted walleye and bucks, and a bear gazing down upon them from behind the back wall. Gray and Alex smoke the cigars, and Zach chain smokes Marlboro Reds--thankfully you can still smoke in bars in Michigan--and take turns buying pitchers of Labatt’s respectively while listening to the juke box and heckling the table shuffleboard players until closing time.
Gray arrives at the office, coffee in hand, hung-over, and the events of the past night seeming like a dream, at 9:15. There is a gentleman sitting in the chair just inside the entrance reading the March issue of Sports Illustrated—his choices were that or one of Mindy’s old Cosmopolitans. The main is probably in his late fifties, fit, tan, white hair. He is dressed casually in jeans and a windbreaker; however, his watch is a Rolex.
“Mr. Stinson?,” the main says rising from his chair and extending a hand.
“Gray this is Art—your 9:00,” Mindy says without looking up from her work.
“Of course, very good, sorry I’m running a bit late this morning,” Gray says. Mindy rolls her eyes.
“Not a problem at all. Thanks for making time this morning,” Art says amiably.
Gray gestures Art toward his office. As he walks by Mindy’s desk she wordlessly hands him a folder—in it is a signed representation agreement and a retainer check for one thousand dollars from an Art Parker. Gray is pleased. Gray closes his office door behind him; he takes a seat behind his desk, Art sits down in one of the two chairs in front of his desk. Gray puts a yellow legal pad in front of him and picks up a pen.
“What’s on your mind Art, Mindy tells me you need some counsel regarding a contract of some sort?”
“This is privileged yes?” Art asks suddenly stone serious.
“Of course, our conversations are protected by the attorney client privilege.”
“Excellent—so anything I tell you, you cannot tell anybody else.”
“Generally. If you tell me you are plotting a crime I cannot keep that a secret and thereby assist you.”
“Okay. I get that. How about if I tell I have already committed a crime—hypothetically?” Art says, and he scrutinized Gray unblinkingly as he awaits Gray’s response.
Gray clears his throat. “That would be protected; however, I cannot assist you in perjuring yourself in court if it came to that.”
Art ponders this for a moment, then suddenly turns jovial again, “Interesting!—just wondering you know?”
Not really Gray thinks. Gray smiles uncomfortably. The image of Billie’s corpse flashes through his head.
“Anyway,” Art continues, changing course, “what I’ve got is this lease here that I was hoping you could review.” With that Gray reaches into his back pocket and pulls out an envelope and unfolds a two page residential lease and plops it on Gray’s desk.
The minivans and SUV’s begin to clog M-22. Some have Ohio plates, others Michigan, some Indiana and Illinois. Summer is creeping in. In particular, a Honda Odyssey with plates from Butler County Ohio (home of the Cincinnati exurbs), and a Midwest Cheer Elite static decal affixed to the back window rolls pasts Gray’s office on this sunny morning.
Gray has his window opened and his feet on his desk. Mindy is out front putting the flag out for Memorial Day.
“Go home Mindy. It’s a holiday.” She ignores him.
The Honda minivan parks across the street and the occupants spill out. Mom is fortyish, with the thin taut body and tan skin of a compulsive runner and yoga and Pilates participant—supplemented by botox and liposuction. She is wearing yoga pants and an expensive white fleece jacket. She wears a Tiffany around her wrist and neck, and has a Coach purse slung lover her shoulder. Dad has a prodigious gut straining against his golf shirt tightly tucked into his khakis with a braided belt. His face is red and fleshy and bulbous—the face of a fifty plus years of eating red meat, drinking Gin, and smoking cigars, and proudly suffering from high blood pressure and cholesterol. Son looks to be a “tween”—shaggy mop of unkept hair, baggy shorts and tee shirt, crocs on his feet, Ipod in his ears, texting on his phone as they cross the street. Daughter is a little older. Old enough for Gray to notice her impurely, young enough that he knows he shouldn’t. She is dressed simply in well fighting jeans and red Miami University tee. As she crosses the street, she deftly puts her long straight black hair up into a ponytail.