The writing on MAN UP now at an end, I’m able to turn my flying fingers to the task of typing away at two new novels.
The first, NICHOLAS DODGE (a working title at this point), begins with a chase through the streets of Stockholm, then shifts to the mountainous West Kootenay region of British Columbia. On the surface, it’s tale of greed and ambition, a classic paradise-pavers vs. a colourful cast of local characters sort of story, a clash of big city developers with mega dreams, pitted against locals who would just as soon not see a gigantic, Swiss-style ski resort plopped down on a glacier smack-dab in the heart of one of North America’s last, pristine alpine wilderness areas.
At a deeper level the novel is about priorities, personal and collective; it’s about lust and longing, it’s about the one thing we all have in common — the desire to be happy.
If pressed to name an influence or two for this work, I suppose I would trot out fellow Pacific Northwesterners Tom Robbins and Ken Kesey. Large literary shoes to fill, but what the hell, ‘eh?
I don’t know about you, but I love seeing snippets of authors’ works in progress, small tastes of the feast to come. So in that spirit, here’s how NICHOLAS DODGE begins….
EXCERPT FROM NICHOLAS DODGE
Nicholas Dodge ran for his life.
The streets of Stockholm streamed past as he sprinted, buffeted by a strong, icy easterly blowing in from the Baltic. He fought to keep his bare feet in contact with the slippery, snow- covered sidewalk as he windmilled around a corner, flailing from Tyska Brinken onto Skomakargatan, heading towards Stortorget, Storkyrkan, and the Royal Palace.
Dodge knew if he could make it to a guardhouse outside the palace, his diplomatic passport would see him safely inside – it was his only hope, the Gamla stan underground station was too far, there were no taxis about at this time of night here in the narrow cobbled streets of the Old Town, and in his half-clothed state a deadly combination of exhaustion and early hypothermia would prove his undoing, sooner rather than later.
He pounded past the Nobel Museum where Skomakargatan became Trångsund as the tower and massive copper roof of Storkyrka rose to his right. Only a couple of blocks to go.
The Finn flew ever faster in pursuit of the fleeing foreigner, his feet hardly touching the polar pavement. Unlike his quarry he was warmly clad, in black greatcoat and watchcap, lightweight woolen pants, fur-lined leather gloves, and winter boots with soft rubber sticky soles. In his left hand he carried a razor-sharp Iisakki hunting knife, featuring a six-inch carbon steel blade, stacked leather handle, aluminum finger guard and pommel, with a lightness that belied his purpose. He had gutted many deer and fish with this knife. Now he would gut a Canadian.
Her name was Louhi, a queen of Pohjola, a shape-shifting witch from the pages of the Kalevala. She was tall and lithe and wavered slightly before the window, like a young, healthy birch swaying gently in the breeze on the shore of a lost pond in a dark, forgotten Nordic forest. Her eyes were deep green, her long, thick, gently curling hair a rich auburn. The green eyes glowed intensely as she moved, naked, to the apartment window, her lips, small breasts and flattened, slender-fingered hands pressed against the chilled pane. She stared unseeing over the narrow, centuries-old streets that stretched out below as she entered the spell trance. Her breath, which smelled faintly of dill and cardamom, fogged the glass as she silently mouthed the Old Words. Her lover would live; her husband would die.
Gasping, Dodge flung himself around the corner, turning right onto Källargränd, then immediately cutting across the street, heading for the left turn that would take him onto Högvaktsterrassen and the palace. He could barely feel his feet – good news, less pain, bad news, less balance. His bare legs felt leaden and near-numb. There had been no time for pants when the husband had returned home unexpectedly early. It was strictly a spring-out-of-bed, grab-your-shirt-and-jacket, open-the-window and jump-onto-the-roof sort of escape. One did not stop to reason with an enraged Finn. Especially a Finn carrying a large hunting knife.
Arms pumping, legs beginning to fail, Dodge crossed to the right side of Högvaktsterrassen, heading for the light above the nearest guard box. As a half-naked, foam- flecked American rapidly approached, the alarmed young guard, a draftee from Eskilstuna, raised his Ak 5D assault rifle, and shouted, Halt! Stanna där! Halt! Stop there!
Several things happened almost simultaneously.
Dodge slipped on a patch of ice and sprawled headlong towards the frightened soldier, screaming as he felt himself falling, “skjut inte, jag är diplomat! – don’t shoot, I’m a diplomat!” The last thing he remembered thinking before all lights were extinguished was a simple entreaty to Odin, Thor, or any of the other northern gods who might be bemusedly watching this farce play itself out: let me survive this and I will leave Europe forever, I swear by all that’s holy.
The soldier, a 20-year-old who had never fired his automatic weapon outside a firing range, a rifle customized for use in rugged Swedish conditions by the good people of Fabrique Nationale, hesitated, unsure what to do.
A nanosecond later, a viciously sharp Finnish hunting knife with a six-inch blade missed the back of the falling Dodge’s neck by less than an inch, instead striking the wood of the ceremonial guard box with a thud as it brushed the left side of the startled soldier’s helmet.
The soldier’s finger didn’t wait for a signal from his brain. Displaying tremendous initiative and an admirable lack of hesitation, it reflexively squeezed off a long burst from the Ak 5D that quickly and efficiently ended the current life of one Aarto Roitu.
Roitu’s widow, Louhi, smiled as she slowly moved her face back from the damp windowpane. She breathed gently on the glass, creating a small circle of condensation. Languorously, she drew a heart in the centre of the circle with the middle finger of her right hand, then watched with amusement as its lines began to immediately dribble, then disappear. “Adjö Nicholas,” she whispered into the black January night. “Vi ses igen nångång, det kan du lita på.” We’ll meet again someday, that you can reply on.