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This is from my novel-in-progress. I've tried writing this frame story about...six times now. Anyhow, this is the version that appears to be working the best, knock on wood. Tell me what you think:

There’s a certain kind of story that always begins in a bookshop. Be forewarned: this isn’t that kind of story. This isn’t even that kind of bookshop. But this is where our story starts—part of it, anyway.



Miriam Kingsley met Drew Makepeace at the end of what seemed to be an exceptionally long September. In Washington, DC, tourists typically magically evaporate on September first: all the schoolchildren disappear from the Zoo, the families with good intentions leave the dinosaurs at the Smithsonian alone in peace, and the natives can have their city back. But something that year was different, whether it was global warming, a stumbling economy, or only no one wanting to give up on vacation quite yet, the City was still too full, too loud, too blustering, and everyone was off somewhere, now, today, and very importantly.

It was particularly infuriating, especially when you yourself had no place to be. Mir had had a job, had lost it, and was on the hunt for something, anything, that would get her through the day without wanting to kill someone in exchange for—ideally—even slightly above minimum wage.

“I know a guy who knows a guy,” Clint had said back in July, when Mir was bemoaning her current unemployment, especially as it pertained to members of government who had more zeroes in their paychecks than she was ever likely to receive. They had been making dinner, or rather, Clint had been drinking beer prior to doing the cooking while Mir and Nat chopped vegetables and then the meat for the stir-fry. Clint was indisputably the best cook in the household and had a dark blue President-in-Chef apron that confirmed as much.

“Try saying that again in a way that doesn’t sound like a drug deal.” Nat had rolled her eyes at her boyfriend while Mir scraped leavings from the chopping board into the trashcan. “Please.”

Nat had been Mir’s college roommate for three years back when they were at the University of Georgia together. She’d been a firestarter even then, a petite woman with shorn purple hair who glares could reduce men to ashes. They’d met Clint sophomore year, and they’d been a friendly threesome ever since. Mir had moved in to their apartment while looking for a place to live when she herself moved to DC two years after they had, had moved out again when she got her own place, and then moved in again six years later when the data company she worked for decided they didn’t like Mir’s numbers anymore.

“I’m just saying, there may be a job that I could pull strings for, or, like, something. My recommendation has to count for something,” Clint said. Nat and Clint themselves both worked for TLAs—Three Letter Agencies—that yet remained unidentifiable. Based on commute times, Mir would have guessed they were CIA, but a satellite office of the FBI or DOD was also possible, and either way, Mir wasn’t prepared to exchange certain knowledge for the loss of a roof quite yet, and most especially since said roof was in the middle of Cleveland Park. Mir was more than willing to let the mystery, such as it was, go. (Clint once claimed to have found a bug in their den once but Mir wasn’t sure if it was true, and was less sure if she wanted to know.)

“Would she want a job you found for her?” Nat wanted to know. She grinned at Mir, winking as she loaded the knives and cutting board into the dishwasher, and then loosed her hair from its tie since the washing was done for the moment. It fell to her shoulders, a respectable chestnut, and Mir envied more than ever her friends’ complete adulthood: jobs, a comfortable home, the ability to lend friends help if they needed it. Currently the best aid Mir could render was some assistance with taxes and with food preparation—preferably in that order, as far as all parties were concerned.

“I’m just saying,” Clint repeated. “It’s something, y’know?” He took a last swallow of his beer and set the empty bottle aside to cook. Oil sizzled in the pan, making a sound like hard rain as he added first meat and then peppers and onions.

“D’you know what it is?” Mir had wanted to know; something to do with inventory and research apparently. It had been a while with her Master’s, but even so, research and job were the magic words. Whatever series of phone calls that needed to be made were made, Clint insisting it was no trouble, Mir insisting she would provide babysitting for Nat’s yet unconceived children, Nat saying that wasn’t necessary while simultaneously holding Mir to her word (surely this was a CIA skill?), and thus: Drew Makepeace, and “coffee.”

The day was still too warm by half, but all the same a welcome break from the stultifying heat of earlier. It was a lazy afternoon, meant for lolling in the last vestiges of sunshine before hurricane season brought heavy mid-Atlantic rains. Most people were out walking their dogs, the old saw about a dog being the only friend you could ever have in the City being clearly taken as Gospel by two-thirds of the population. Ordinarily, Mir would have been sitting with Nat and Clint in the middle of Dupont Circle, people-and-dog-watching, but instead, she was standing outside a coffee-shop nearby instead, for a job interview, or the preliminary to a job interview, or maybe-possibly something that could perhaps-if-you-were-lucky lead employment. (Those had been virtually Clint’s words. This was probably evidence that he worked with the FBI, if you were keeping track, which Mir most certainly was not.)

Mir peered inside the window, looking for someone who would look like they were readying for an informal interview. He was an antiquarian bookdealer, this much she knew; she couldn’t help but look for someone wearing tweed, who was probably British—possibly even the image of a youngish Anthony Hopkins. She herself had opted to go for cute-and-casual, capri pants and a peasant top borrowed from Nat, and a lucky pound in her pocket. The coin, given to her by a fond professor while still an undergraduate, had accompanied her to the GRE, all subsequent job interviews, and one rather disastrous date. Come to think of it, she was starting to question its actual usefulness as a luck piece…

“Miriam?”

She turned around, facing a man who was maybe a few years older than her. He was rather unremarkable at first glance: taller than Mir, but not particularly tall; dark hair cut short, but growing out to a length that suggested the presence of curls if it were not shorn back again; the pale skin of someone who didn’t get outside all that much. He wore sunglasses that hid much of his expression, except for the lips that had thinned, and Mir figured she should probably say something, like, anytime now.

“No. Yes. Mir is what I am called,” Mir said with her characteristic lack of grace, and stuck out her hand like an idiot. “Hi!”

“Drew Makepeace. Call me Drew.” Drew took her hand and they shook briefly. His grip was light, his palm dry. He wore dark cargo pants and a blue button shirt, untucked. He wasn’t British, either, and Mir wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed. “Nice to meet you.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you.” This was a lie, but it sounded like something people who didn’t totally blow their maybe-interviews said. “Thanks for meeting with me.”

“No problem. Let’s go inside, if you don’t mind.” They did, and it turned out this was a higher-end coffee shop than Mir had imagined. The walls of the interior were painted to resemble windows looking on a European village, and a host appeared immediately to seat them at one of the dozen small bistro tables that filled the space. They were so small that Mir had to shift her knees so that they didn’t brush with Drew’s; to fit in she had to perch and then lean in a bit.
Drew had to do the same thing, grimacing.

For a horrifying moment she wondered if this was a date ambush instead, but she reminded herself that no one could be that cruel, definitely not Clint and especially not Nat. When they had settled themselves and a waiter came to bring them glasses of water and menus, Mir felt a bit more optimistic—if only because they had four pages of coffee drinks.

“Holy cow, this place is awesome! Sorry, never been here before,” she explained when Drew raised a single eyebrow at her in the way that some people could do and that Mir had never mastered. “Also, I really like coffee.”

“I heard about that.” Drew pulled out an eyeglasses case, exchanging the sunglasses for regular lenses. His eyes were a dark brown, she saw now, with large irises that, taken with his long limbs, lent him a cat-like look. He was also older than he had appeared at first; not all that much, but enough that crow’s feet had made their mark. He smiled at her, and it was a nice smile, encouraging, and honestly, Mir hadn’t seen anyone look at her that way who wasn’t Nat or Clint in so long that she felt the urge to laugh in relief—and urged herself to repress it.

“Oh really?” she asked instead. “That’s…terrifying.”

“How so?” Drew raised both eyebrows at her then, crossing his arms to silently communicate Hit me with your worst.

“My body chemistry is easily moved. A little caffeine goes a long way. Fair warning.”

“You could order something that wasn’t caffeinated.” Drew sounded amused. “Just saying.”

“What’s the fun in that?” Mir put the menu down. “Besides, if this is a job interview thing, you need to know all the relevant stuff up front. Coffee is always relevant.”

“Noted.” The waiter came and took their orders; when he’d left again, Drew said, “This is probably a short-term job—two months, maybe four. Your friend—Clint?—told you about what we do?”

“Bookselling, right?” Mir was encouraged when he nodded. “You need help with the accounts?”

“We’re appraising a very large collection right now,” Drew explained. “We sell books, but we do appraisal work too sometimes, when the price is right. That means we go look at collections in people’s homes—or wherever they are—and we look at the books. We make an inventory of what’s there, do some research if we have to. When we deliver the appraisal, our client will decide if he wants us to disperse and sell the books. In the meantime, I have roughly around twenty thousand books to look at and provide basic descriptions for, and I can’t do it on my own. My boss gave me funds to hire an assistant. Hourly wages, no benefits.”

This didn’t sound too bad. “How much per hour? And how many hours a week, come to that?”

“Nine flat, and twenty hours a week to start.” Not as much as she’d hoped for, but… “More if you were to accompany me to the client’s home for on-site work. Questions?”

Mir nodded seriously, thinking of something to ask. Can I have it? Please? Probably not the best question. “Would I start immediately if I got the job?”

“Ideally. I need someone now.” Drew frowned. “Would that be a problem?”

“Not at all.” He paused as their waiter came back: Drew had ordered his Turkish, so the waiter carefully set down before him the small copper pot with its long handle in addition to the very small cup and slender spoon, before pouring the first serving for him.

In front of Mir was a proper Italian latte bowl, which was—well, a bowl. Filled with espresso and steamed milk and whipped cream and chocolate chips, it looked and smelled like Heaven. “Is there any coffee actually in that?” Drew asked after the waiter had gone.

“Totally. Somewhere.” Mir raised her cup in a cheerful salute and took a sip. “Did you have questions for me?”

“Only a couple. I saw your resume.” Drew didn’t say anything for a minute as he stirred first one lump, then two, into his coffee. It already looked too thick to drink as far as Mir was concerned, but he seemed pleased. “You were let go.”

“Riffed is the term,” Mir answered, looking away. She concentrated on the painted plaster petals of a flower on the wall behind him instead. “Reduction in force.”

“Bullshit.”

Mir looked him in the eyes, trying to read him and failing. Finally, she shrugged. “Alright, yes. The company I worked for had some data they weren’t supposed to have. I don’t know how, and it doesn’t matter. When federal regulators wanted them to explain the discrepancy, I was supposed to fix it. I failed.” She swallowed another mouthful of sweetened coffee that tasted almost sickening now.

“You didn’t call tell the regulators?” Drew looked stunned when Mir shook her head. “Why not?”

“Contracts, mostly.” She shrugged again. “And because even if I got the best lawyers out there, it would be years of my life and more money than I’m worth to call them on it.”

Drew let out a long, low whistle. “Right then. Next question.” Mir took another fortifying swallow of coffee. “What’s your favorite board game?”

“What?” She couldn’t have heard that right.

“Your favorite board game,” Drew said. “What is it?”

“Um.” Mir thought. “Uh. Pictionary?”

“You’re hired. Congratulations.” Drew looked pleased with himself, and Mir felt relief mixed with profound confusion. “Come to the shop on Tuesday with two forms of ID. I’ll see you then.” He handed her a card and left a twenty on the table. “I look forward to working with you, Miriam.”

“Mir,” she said, but he had already gone.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Add your .02 )
xcziel
Jan. 18th, 2013 07:07 am (UTC)
I like this a lot! With the exception of a couple of typos, I basically forgot this was just a teaser snippet by the third paragraph, and was disappointed there wasn't more. Lots of hints and tangents that could lead to awesomeness (but I'm hoping there's magic - or aliens - or sufficiently advanced science that seems like magic, IDK I'm predictable that way)

Really, a story that starts in a bookstore could go ANYWHERE, so even if it's a relationship novel, or a DaVinci Code-like thriller, you've got a good beginning. Who can't relate to that feeling of just wanting to do something that will pay the bills - and if you're lucky enough to have a semi-mysterious bookshop owner with offers of unspecified "research" dropped in your lap, then all the better!

More More More! (in a cheering kind of way, not a nagging way XDD )
caitri
Jan. 18th, 2013 02:47 pm (UTC)
<3333333333333333333333333

Y'know, I forget there are people on the internet who read stuff and haven't been in classes and so forth to hear me talk about this ad nauseam. <3 So this is the frame device for my novel, the bulk of which is the first hand account of a young woman in the seventeenth century working as a printer. Mir is going to find the book with her journal and some other documents in it, and she and Drew are going to research it. I'm on the fence as to whether I want Mir and Drew to hook up together or not.

I've posted some other bits under f-lock you're welcome to read if you like: here and here.

Thank you for reading and sharing feedback!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <33333333333333
( 2 comments — Add your .02 )

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