Readers, the nature of this blog is to improve my drafts of my books and stories, and after a time of rest return to the project with fresh objectivity, to shape the manuscript for publishing. I find it helpful to see chapters formatted and posted…something about reading the work in different sizes and shapes helps clarify what changes are needed. I’ve recently published my Are You stories and novellas, and now it’s time to work over Sequence of Events. Below, are the table of contents and the five opening pages. When I have the book available for sale, I’ll make the announcement!
1928. The American economy appears to be booming. The world itself, following a devastating war, seems ripe with promise…and for the opportunistic, easy pickings. Albeit, there has been steady talk of war, the Great One having left Europe impoverished, with none of her resentments resolved. Behind the scenes, a stockpiling scheme disguised as charity waxes; a man in love, who can’t accept himself victim of blackmailers, has staked his life on one chance. Two couples linked by an inconvenient marriage sort themselves more happily; the ignored aggrieved feel ready for vengeance…and an expert in human behavior (manipulating of) is called upon to catch a crooked office-holder.
Table of Contents
1 A Personal Choice
He had taken everything.
12 Mud in Your Eye
Luberta Bragg was going out as a woman.
24 “You’ll Be Happy to Know This, Sir”
“Freda has gone off gadding.”
“It’s not a question of damned if you do or don’t…”
50 Rite of Spring
Talou had not, after all, tracked his prey…
60 How Is a Windmill Like a Waypost
Bruner walked alongside his father.
78 “Alas, Dear Falada, There Thou Hangest”
The mission house had been founded to shelter war orphans.
91 The Watcher Watched
Nora Huey had gone with Boxer.
106 The Heron’s Foot
“You have no money.”
136 Moving On
Phillip found himself catching up to Stanley.
161 Give a Dog a Bad Name and Hang Him
Not too many people liked hounding an orphanage.
198 Drawn Upon Imagination
As a man abandoned by his wife…
Even the walks had been only a nudge.
A Personal Choice
I loved to choose and see my path; but now―
from the hymn “Lead Kindly Light”
He had taken everything. He had grown sufficiently ruthless that he’d taken other people’s stories as well, stories they’d confided to him, in what amounted to a covenant between a child of his parish, himself…and the ever-present Auditor. The ease with which he’d surrendered to this expedient, when telling lies had become necessary, of rifling this treasure-house of private affairs, proved to Stanley Carpenter the depths of his degradation.
“Carpenter,” he told the porter, who’d collected Stanley’s trunk, his suitcase, and his handbag. “I am only Mr. Carpenter.” The form of address was proper, in any case. Stanley wallowed a bit. He felt that God could not revere him, and if he permitted anyone else to do so, might trip him on the rails.
“Larry,” the porter said. He touched the brim of his cap, adding, “But I understand, some people over here get to be too friendly. No, sir, you let me do that.” He waved away Stanley’s preparatory crouch, from which position he’d meant to assist upending the hand-trolley.
“I see your bags aren’t labeled,” Larry told him. “Do you need help, Mr. Carpenter, finding a hotel? I got a card here…”
“I am visiting my niece. I have written to my niece. And she expects me.”
Larry smiled. His smile began uncertainly, but then, shrugging one shoulder, he said, “Nice when folks visit folks. You come a long way, Mr. Carpenter. Do you need a taxicab?”
“I would consider it helpful, if you would point me to a taxi. Larry…”
He held Larry in suspense, while Larry, with a bag of Stanley’s tucked under each arm, one trailing hand gripping the trolley, waited. The smile faded, and Larry shifted on his feet.
Stanley needed methodical proceedings to keep his nerves quiet. He needed to unfasten his topcoat, one cautious button at a time―or the buttons would twist askew against gloved fingers, and he would struggle, in public, over a simple task. He knew this. He had seen in minor things, as though a guardian angel with a dubious agenda lifted him out of himself, those evidences of slipping that others saw. But they did not see yet that his interior landscape had done more…
It had dislodged and slumped, and knocked away the foundation.
At length, he produced his pocketbook. The first item was the photograph. He’d torn Phillip away from this, on the grounds of not knowing him, and because Phillip and Freda, side by side, would not fit. Of course Stanley, to know her, did not know Freda either. But one could hardly choose…or rather, one’s American relations were it, for choice; and of those here to whom he might go begging, he had Freda. He must pretend that the doorstep of this girl―who was, at any rate, the daughter of the man his sister had married―would be one at which he might legitimately appear.
Stanley had, had Larry known it, his earthly fortune from which to select his tip. He had withdrawn his savings at the Post Office. He had converted £2436 to travelers’ cheques, later most of these to American currency. Alien economics had knocked Stanley out of kilter; he felt alive to the vertiginous consequence. Touching his money caused agitated visions of sticking paper and dropped notes. He removed his right glove and tucked it, like a parlor-maid with her dusting cloth, into his right flap-pocket. He extracted, slowly, rubbing the bill between his fingers, one dollar.
“Larry,” he completed his thought, “I would like for you to have this.”
This figment, this imaginary Mrs. Chamberlain had, with her dirty dealings, left Freda Murchison at a disadvantage. She had got back and been arrested, the thought of Phillip causing her hand on the key to lock in place. She found herself turning it in a stealthy, silent way―because he might be there, waiting for her…
She had no idea what Phillip’s telegram had meant.
The bungalow proved dark, and empty as soon it would be, when for non-payment of rent she had been put on the street. Which was overly dramatic. She would ask her stepmother for help, no doubt, grown hardened to it. For Dolores had known it must come to this.
And after returning to Haworth, she would find herself a woman nearing thirty, on the lookout for a means of running from home. Into Colney Hatch, if need be. She’d run before, but at six years younger. While, in less embarrassed circumstances, she had still had some bargaining power. Freda could now foresee a spiraling descent. She dropped her purse and walked into the kitchen to pick up the newspaper, lying where she’d left it on the breakfast table.
And noticed now, reading more carefully through the “Wanted” listings, that many of these offices were located at the same address. Many offered as a telephone number the identical three-digit exchange. Mrs. Chamberlain, whose name had sounded so respectable, and whose advertisement had billed her as a seeker of maids—white, clean, and prompt―was an employment agency’s front woman.
Arriving at the office block where High and 4th Streets intersected, Freda had climbed four half-flights of stairs to knock at number 208B, there to discover an anteroom, with sofa, standing ashtray, and two armchairs. The room smelled different to a city bus, in that it had the building’s emanations of dry rot and mildew admixed with layers gained from churning human traffic—of mothball, tobacco, sweat, scent, and stinking feet. Certainly it was an aromatic room, one made more so by the fact that everyone in it was wet, and every seat was taken.
She had come from the bus stop through a slop of gritty rain. Her head was wrapped in a scarf of cotton batiste, covering her only good hat, which Freda had thought she’d better wear. Brollies on buses were a nuisance, and you didn’t like apologizing for showering a stranger with raindrops or for poking him in the leg. Some took it as an impetus to conversation, and some glared, as though meaning to remember you.
She hesitated just inside the door, looking at misted-over window panes, a sofa (old, with a wood frame and horsehair-stuffed upholstery; blue, but so abraded and oiled, that it was purplish as well, springs sagging badly in the center) where a girl sank wedged between two older, stouter job seekers.
The girl glanced up, taking the measure of Freda. Freda smiled…without, she knew, any warmth, but in hopes of some fellow-feeling from one more or less her age. She allowed her eyes to stray, noticed droplets captured sparkling on the girl’s shabby boucle. Her smile diminished to pursed lips; belatedly, she felt the implications of this face. The girl’s had altered to a narrow hostility.
But the man in the closer of the chairs patted the armrest. “Sit here, doll.” He added, with an angry sort of jauntiness, belied by something beseeching in his eyes, “They ain’t called nobody.”
“I have an appointment with Mrs. Chamberlain.”
Freda had worked, altogether in her life, for about one year…she conceded unworldliness, but counted herself not completely stupid. She was only trying it on, at this point. The girl who’d taken a dislike to her laughed, then dropped her jaw, chomping at her chewing gum with, Freda thought, a will to offend.
The woman hunching nearest the ashtray stubbed out her cigarette and lit the next. The other, whose place by the closed inner door did not necessarily indicate preference in the queue, lifted her head. Her hair was a uniform, and heightened, shade of blonde…it might have been a wig. Her cheeks were rouged and her nose bulbous. Freda wasn’t sure she was over forty.
“Listen to you! Where’d you learn to talk like that?” The woman pushed a palm against the shoulder of the girl.
Freda thought about this loser’s game. She could stay and wait her turn; perch, for that matter, on the armrest and befriend the staring gentleman. A lesson she’d been taught in her stewardessing days… “Anyone might put in the good word, dear. If you want to marry a Duke, be sweet to the bloody valet.”
She would wait half the afternoon; her consolation, the chance to provide a clerk her name and address. Perhaps she would be given a number also, not disclosed in the advertisements. She could call daily, and they would let her know when they had anything.
As she contemplated all this, shy to catch a rival’s eye, the man must have noticed her glance over his shoulder. He didn’t shift his own eyes from his crossword, but said, “Six letters. A sound that lulls or alerts.”
Well, it so happened she’d done the puzzle that morning. She didn’t mind looking bright.
“Oh, let me think. Could it be rattle?”
Stanley wondered if all lives of crime began this way. Mrs. Luchow’s story suited best…but naturally, he’d needed to ask himself if her story suited in every particular. The analytic process had been thus self-prompting. First, he’d reviewed the details, then chosen what he could adapt for his own purposes, discarding what was of no use. Practically of its own accord, the refinement had carried on, and Stanley’s mind had taken on this calculating criminal aspect, evolved from a chain of organic propagation.
Of course, he’d taken passage on the Leviathan. That had been Freda’s ship, so it would be clever to learn along the way―Stanley could not help but allow himself to observe this―some conversation-starting minutiae of the Leviathan’s routines.
And he must use this girl Freda, in the manner of an opportunistic cad, because her city was the one mentioned to Stanley by Robert. His second eldest brother’s relict in Ottawa—though quite possibly she longed for a visit, and would not greet his with a face of dismay—would not do. Captain Desanges had given this city as his place of residence; to Robert, the cheek of his transparency one more of the man’s outrages, and not to be entertained.
But Stanley, who for many days had heard nothing, when for three months previous, Talou had been his dear companion, already had felt sunk by foreboding. As regarded his brother’s allegations…as to the photos Robert had obtained, furnished by Captain Desanges, Stanley simply could not believe the import. Desanges might be every sort of scoundrel, but Stanley had seen none of these proofs with his own eyes.
Crossing the Atlantic, he’d paced the deck alone, hoping his sufferings had not wrought on his face a lowering, repellent, visible madness, that would, as well as to his fellow passengers, be off-putting to his niece. He felt convinced, found it somewhat handicapping to his calling, that he’d not been blessed with an approachable face. During these walks, he gave thought to Desanges―of whose milieu Stanley could form no picture. The name might be false. Or, in America, notorious. Robert would indeed have supposed this to be his game, a ploy for trapping a respectable baronet into a public exchange of letters with a felon.
Stanley was riding now for the second time, hand luggage hugged to his chest, in the rear seat of an American taxicab. Larry, with pity in his eyes, had advised him not to pay the driver until he’d found his niece at home. Stanley had thanked Larry for this, while not disclosing the whole of his plan. With both his finite funds, and his humiliation in mind, he wanted no hotel room, where he could make inquiries only through the switchboard operator or concierge.
“Is there,” he’d asked the first cabbie, “a rail station in the city of New York, one that is rather out of the way?”
Lying that night in his berth, having at some expense departed westwards from Hoboken, New Jersey, he’d winnowed away at the mistakes of Mrs. Luchow’s feeble relation. She had always been, Mrs. Luchow, ostentatious over the quality of her tea things, and her annual basket from Fortnum’s. She’d laughed, not opening her mouth, an arch chuckle swallowed for charity’s sake, as she’d related the bit about the icing sugar candies, flavored with peppermint oil, offered in a cocoa tin.
“However, one accounts the intention as the deed.”
Mrs. Luchow smiled upwards into Stanley’s eyes, saying this as though her words were from the Old Testament, and he must, of course, himself endorse them.
He had worked a refinement therefore on the original, buying for Freda from a platform vendor a little book…which he hoped would seem gauche, while not contemptibly so.
He felt a terrible sympathy for his template’s lonely dodge, her amateurish falsehood.
“Well, Margaret, she said to me, you’d asked me down last year, so I felt sure the invitation had gone astray!”
Stanley had come to the decision that a telegram was the right idea. It would be tardy, and issued from an unlikely office, for he hadn’t thought of it in time. But one could not represent an entire correspondence to have gone missing. Much better if he wired what appeared a follow-up, presumptuous in its wording, yet vague. It was, he encouraged himself, exactly what one would do after disembarking, in any case.
Minus the deceit.
Arrived New York. Expect two to three days. Stanley.
He’d hesitated over the signing of the telegram, but concluded Freda really would not remember his first name, unless Dolores had mentioned him often in her letters, and he found it impossible she should do so. To create uncalled-for mystery would muddy the waters. He must have Freda believe him sane and plausible. He meant for some days to force himself on her hospitality.