Monday, January 3, 2011

Working Title: The Hermit King

I've been having a very hard time wrapping my mind around this novel I'm supposed to be writing, but I think I finally have the beginnings of a main plot.

This is very, very much a first draft of the characters and outline. Any/all/none of this might end up as the bones of the book.

Lemme know what you think:

Working Title: The Hermit King

Main characters:
The Dealer
The Woman
The Cop

It's a story about property, ultimately. A formerly successful drug Dealer amassed a lot of money. He spent some on a large tract of desert property, property he dreamed was far enough from everything that he could build a private shangri-la. He only got far enough to construct a single building, a large garage with an apartment on the second floor. It was a logical choice – the building was to be used as a staging area for other extensive construction including a palatial house, completely isolated and off the grid. He intended an elaborate fence, security measures, perhaps an airstrip. But none of that was ever built because the IRS and the DEA descended on him and took everything and sent him to prison.

Many years have passed. The government sold the property to a realty company that broke it into smaller parcels. The one containing the garage building was sold to a middle-aged Woman who wanted to be left alone. The rest remains untenanted and unimportant.

The building is unusual and a topic of local conversation. It's large, elaborate by local standards, but from the front all you can see is three big garage doors, the middle one enormous. Only from the sides and rear can you see windows that hint at the existence of a large second-story apartment, bigger than most local houses. The building has infrastructure; a well and cistern and solar panels. It's well-built and self-sufficient. The locals call it the “Garage Mahal.” Except for the circumstances in which it was taken from its builder, the Woman could never have afforded it.

The building has a secret only the Dealer knows – a horde of gold bars was hidden under it, buried beneath the concrete floor of the big garage. It was an emergency stash, an ultimate backup plan. There is no trap door, no secret tunnel. There is no way to accidentally stumble across the gold – he believes – because no trace was left of its existence. The only way to get it is to jackhammer the floor above it. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the Dealer never dreamed that he would so suddenly cease to own the building and land. Maybe he had other, more conventionally-hidden caches, but the feds have found all those. Only one bit of hidden treasure is left now. Only the Dealer knows it exists, but he can't get to it.

Years have passed. The Dealer, now impoverished and forgotten, has been released from prison. The Woman has lived in the Garage Mahal for several years. She is a hermit, she has no friends, desires none. She has escaped the bitter disappointments of life into solitude. She has an ironic job in a nearby small town, working a counter in some government bureau. Maybe she works at the DMV. She sees a hundred people or more every day, deals with their problems, but never really has anything to do with any of them. She needs the money, she has excised that part of every day out of her mental life. In her “real” life, she raises tropical fish. Much of the first floor has been devoted to this. It takes a great deal of water, and when the casing of the original well broke down she had another well of greater capacity sunk. She has also added large and elaborate circulation and filtering equipment. Some of this required that parts of the original floor be jackhammered up so new plumbing could be installed. Did she find the gold? Some question where the money for all this came from.

She is aware that there are people all around her, but she wants nothing to do with any of them. Many of them are fairly conventional people, retirees or others who for their own reasons have built desert houses – a virtual neighborhood has grown up around her, unwanted, too crowded for her but sparse by most standards. But there's another group, older than the conventionals, older than her. Hermits, shadowy people who live a marginal and precarious life. She has nothing to do with most of these, either. Like the conventionals, they leave her alone. But one of them has come into her life, whether either of them wanted it or not.

Shadow is a long-time hermit in her vicinity. He knows about her, because he knows about everything in his territory and this is very much HIS territory. Shadow, rather paradoxically, is the Hermit King and to an extent he keeps the others in line. He is injured in a mishap and she find him attempting to crawl home to heal or die. Vestigial impulses compel her to assist him, and it is as if she pulled the proverbial thorn from the lion's paw. The lion does not thank you for doing this, because he is now under obligation and he does not wish to be obligated. But he accepts that he is, in a sense, trapped. Shadow avoids the Woman in the future, but believes he will have to pay the debt at some point.

A fourth character is “the Cop.” He sees himself as a solid, protective figure, and does not perceive than any but the drug dealer hate and fear him. On those occasions when he perceives hostility, he reacts with either perplexity or suspicion. If the person is clearly free of serious law-breaking (nobody is ever completely innocent), they must simply not understand that he is helping them. If they are not, they must be hiding criminal activity. He does not understand – nor really care – that it is this power to intrude and possibly hurt them that causes the people around him to shun him. This is never more true than when he sees a clear danger and feels obligated – eagerly so, in the case of the woman – to protect them from it.

The Cop is aging and frustrated. He has lived his life in small towns, has never been accepted by any of the hundred large police precincts he applied to, and is now at the end of a very undistinguished career. He has never had a great adventure, never been in a shoot-out, never really saved a “sheep” from a “wolf.” He is honest, free from graft, and by any conventional standard is actually a good cop. He's not a bad man at all, and mustn't be made to look ridiculous or like a villain. He accepts the perks and privileges he receives as no more than his due, a hero's due – he never questions them. He gravitates to those who see him as a protector, and is hurt by those who shun him. If they are shadowy characters, as Shadow certainly is, he assumes they must be up to no good. A couple of automobile accidents, none job-related, have chronically damaged his back and he has recently been let go from what will clearly be his last position in law enforcement.

The Dealer is a conflicted and ambiguous character at first. He has returned to retrieve his cache of gold, but learns the house is in the possession of this hermit woman who rarely leaves it except to go to work. He hates the Woman because she possesses what he sees as his property, but has no real desire to harm her or anyone else at first. Because of the way the gold is hidden a simple burglary won't help him. He has a strong if rather twisted sense of right and wrong – the money is his legitimate property, he made it honestly if illegally, and he simply wants it back. When that desire is thwarted, he becomes dangerous. But he's not a mustache-twirling villain.

Each of these characters is developed with vignettes intercut through the narrative, apparently unrelated to the plot. It isn't always clear which of the characters a particular vignette refers to, since there isn't always a lot of difference between the main characters. They are all damaged souls, deeply flawed. They have all endured much the same trials and come to the same place, but by often wildly different routes.

There is a number of minor characters – these are mostly subordinate associates of Shadow, who is – again, paradoxically – the most social person in the story. I only know three of these so far, from earlier Shadow stories: Dave Fortier, his oldest friend and mentor. Fortier is the only man Shadow respects, but he is an ineffectual character who virtually commits suicide. “Denny” is a drug-addled burnout who spends his days poaching and sleeping. “Chuck Bishop” is a semi-hermit who is good at getting other people to do work for him. I haven't decided how or even whether Coyote will have much of a part in any of this. Coyote is mostly deus ex machina – I can't see him having a part in any of the action.

The Dealer conceives a rather weak plan. He disguises himself as a harmless political crank, with signs on his dilapidated motor home. He immediately arouses the suspicion of the Cop, who sees him spending too much time around the woman's property which abuts his own. Upon investigation, the Cop discovers that he knows the Dealer – the bust that destroyed the Dealer was one of the high points in his career even though he was only peripherally involved, and he is secretly delighted that the “perp” has returned to the scene of the crime. This delight must be implicit, never conscious on the Cop's part that he may at last achieve his fantasy of being the overt, stereotypical Hero. The Strong Man, the Sheepdog he never really was but always imagined himself to be.

The Dealer never noticed the Cop's existence when he was arrested, because the Cop was barely involved. The Cop confronts him when he catches him trespassing on the woman's property, which he has kept under surveillance after he recognized the Dealer, and at first the Dealer doesn't understand why the Cop is even interested. When the Cop makes it clear that he knows who the Dealer is and that he was involved in the Dealer's arrest, the Dealer recognizes a deadly enemy. The Cop does not at first recognize the danger he has put himself in.

Having already made the mistake of arousing the Cop's suspicion, the Dealer becomes more aggressive. He breaks into the Garage Mahal and finds to his horror that the floor has not been left undisturbed. He becomes frantic. In a fit of rage he damages some of the Woman's equipment, and now the break-in can't be hidden. Unable to do anything constructive, he retreats. His return to the hidden motor home is seen by Shadow, who has (like the Cop) been observing this “nosy stranger” for quite some time. Unlike the Cop, though he is hostile to the stranger he hasn't confronted him or made his own presence known in any way. But now the stranger has broken into the house of the Woman, to whom Shadow owes a debt. Shadow feels the reckoning of that debt looming. He has no affection for the Woman, but now his hostility toward the stranger becomes stronger both because the stranger has broken into a private home – something Shadow regards as forbidden – and because he must now do something to pay his debt.

The Cop has previously warned the Woman of the Dealer's interest. Now when the Woman discovers the break-in, she has no one but the Cop to turn to. She goes to him and begs for protection. The Cop responds conventionally at first, going to his former co-workers and telling them the Dealer has returned and has become a danger. They dismiss his warnings – there is no evidence the guy in the motor home is anything but a harmless crank, of which they have no shortage. People who build houses in the middle of nowhere shouldn't be surprised when those houses get broken into. There's nothing they can, or are willing to, do.

The Cop takes matters into his own hands. The dealer's movements have become predictable, he always hides his motor home in the same place and approaches the Woman's house by the same few paths. The Cop ambushes the Dealer and tries to arrest him. There is a struggle, and the Cop is killed.

One of Shadow's “underlings” sees all this, and reports it to Shadow. Shadow feels no sympathy for the Cop, who has always treated Shadow with suspicion and always posed a threat. But he knows the Dealer is a danger to the Woman, and now that blood has been spilled the danger will be much greater. For the first time he sets out to thwart the Dealer.

Now desperate, the Dealer breaks into the Woman's house while she is home, confronts her, and demands his money. She claims total ignorance, and he beats her. Shadow breaks in and attacks the Dealer. They are both wounded, and the Dealer escapes.

The Woman tends Shadow's wounds. She admits/doesn't admit (can't decide!) that she knows all about the gold. Shadow knows the Dealer is after something specific, which either the Woman knows all about or that is hidden somewhere in the house. This touches Shadow in one of the few places he always felt secure – he knows theft is wrong. But who is stealing from whom here? He doesn't see a thing wrong with drug dealing as such, which would mean the money belongs to the Dealer and the Woman should give it up. But the Woman has owned the house and everything in it for years. The Dealer knew the job was dangerous when he took it, and the Woman isn't responsible for any of his troubles – which would mean the money belongs to the Woman and the Dealer should get lost.

This isn't a judgment Shadow is qualified to make. He wants to drop the whole thing and wishes very much that he didn't owe a debt to the Woman, but he does and that's that. Anyway, the Dealer shouldn't be hurting people. Shadow declares war on the Dealer. Oddly enough, he's actually in a position to do this.

The Dealer is running out of time. He's committed a murder, and the locals won't pretend not to notice it. He has confronted the Woman, and been repelled by yet another third party. Either the money is still under the floor or the Woman has it. He needs to make a full assault and end the matter quickly. Now he goes full evil. Armed with firearms and a rented jackhammer, he will retrieve his money one way or another.

Shadow anticipates this, and the war is on. He calls in every favor, and there are a lot. Entering the Garage Mahal violently with the motor home, the Dealer finds himself up against a ragged, poorly-armed but numerous army. Violently bad things ensue.


desert fox said...

Sounds like a pot-boiler. A real action novel.

I must say I will miss Coyote if he/it doesn't interact with Shadow. Still, the author makes choices and maybe this has to be one of them.

I'll be the one at the front of the line to buy this when you publish.


Kevin Wilmeth said...

Initial impression: me likey. I'll stew on it for a while and may return here with further thoughts.

Suffice it to say that it sounds like a story worth reading.

Anonymous said...

"Now when the Woman discovers the break-in, she has no one but the Cop to turn to. She goes to him and begs for protection."

Hmmm, is this consistent with her solitary and antisocial lifestyle/personality?

Sounds like a good story in the making. I can't wait to read more of it.

MamaLiberty said...

The problem with reading other people's writing is that it distracts me from my own!! LOL

I like the story, Joel. The characters sound like real people - always a big plus for me.

Good way to introduce a dichotomy most of us would not think of as well.

CorbinKale said...

The storyline sounds fascinating!

I agree with desert fox. Coyote HAS to be in the story, if only briefly. Maybe use him to indicate the right choice for Shadow to make, regarding the theft dilemma?

wrm said...

Stop shoveling shit and start writing :-) It's not like I don't have all your books already.