People have asked me, "When is the next Drake Alexander adventure coming? What's after Wall of War?"
I wish I could say next week but the reality is that it takes a lot of time to write a story. Full time authors that we all enjoy have a new novel every year it seems. All they have to do is write. But me, well, I write when I have time, two or three mornings a week. That is going to change soon. This month I turn 65 and retirement is supposed to kick in. Careful planning has me sitting to write at least four mornings a week for several hours, which means that instead of two to three years to write a novel, than maybe only one year.
At present, I'm almost finished my work-in-progress that takes my readers back to Scotland in 1911to meet Drake's grandfather, Dominic Alexander. I've shared several excerpt from the new story here on the Scribbler. There is lots of interest in this historical fiction and I'm having terrific fun writing it.
Having said, that, I am also eager to write the next "Drake Alexander Adventure". I have a brief outline that continues from the last chapter of Wall of War. There is no title other that a tentative 'Bordeaux' yet, but I've written the opening chapter and want to share it with you this week.
November 1, 1985
No one leaves their home thinking they might die that day.
Such a macabre thought is the farthest thing from Anne Chouinard’s mind when she enters Rue Ste. Catherine in the shopping district of her home city of Bordeaux shortly before lunch. It’s a Friday and she has the day off. Dressed in jeans and a white cardigan which is left open so the tattooed face from the Rolling Stones 1981 hit album is clearly visible on her red t-shirt. Stopping in front of the nearest storefront, she checks her image in the mirrored window of Bonvivant Vetement, the men’s wear store next to La Croissant where she's meeting her best friend, Mireille Lambert, for a snack before they go to the bank. She left home a little earlier and had all her long hair chopped off against everyone’s proclamation that her thick brown hair is to be envied and shouldn’t be cut. She’s about to make serious changes in her life and a haircut is a good way to start. She hopes Mireille likes it.
Peering closer to the window, she removes a small case from her shoulder bag and touches up the pink lipstick, brushes a stray eyelash from her cheek and enters the café. The popular eatery is ablaze in colors, deep reds adorn the walls that are covered with blow-ups of tantalizing pastries. The air is redolent with the welcoming scent of ground coffee beans and baking pastries. The tables are bright pink and the seats are charcoal colored. Mireille is sitting in a window booth and notices her right away. Pushing aside the morning paper spread out on the table, Mireille waves for Anne to join her and stands to offer her a hug. Anyone regarding the two young ladies would be quick to notice the glee in their eyes upon seeing each other, as well as the contrast in their stature.
Mireille is about six inches taller, dark hair, almost black, that is in a perpetual ponytail, more curvaceous and a no-nonsense, tomboyish allure. Anne on the other hand is tiny, just under five feet with more delicate features and smiling eyes. They are the same age, only two days apart and will be twenty at the end of the month. Anne’s father is the master vintner at the Lambert Estates, one of Bordeaux’s oldest vineyards, started by Mireille’s ancestors over three centuries ago, so they’ve known each other since the could walk and talk, like chicks from the same nest. Sitting down across from each other, Anne is anxious to share her news and waves an open page in front of her. Mireille is staring at her friend’s new haircut.
“Wow Anne, you look so pretty in that new style, I love it.”
“Thank you Mireille I was a little nervous about cutting it but I like it too, but guess what? I received my acceptance letter to the University of Lyon. I can’t wait to start. All I need is an approval for my student loan and I can start in January. I’m so excited.”
“That’s wonderful news Anne. Let me see the letter.”
Anne passes the page to Mireille who reads it carefully. While she is concentrating on the text, Anne orders coffee and cheese croissants and ham for both. Mireille glances at her friend as she reads and can see the change in Anne’s manner, more confidence. She knows how much Anne wants to be a teacher like her older sister. Laying the letter on the table, she starts in on her meal and they chat between bites.
“So you are moving to Lyon then I expect?”
“Well of course silly, how else would I be able to go to school there, it’s over 400 kilometers from here.”
It was a moot question and they giggle at that.
“I know, I just meant that you are going away and I’m staying here. I just can’t decide what I want to do. I promised father I’d help in the vineyard for one more season. I know he’d like me to take over some of the management because neither of my brothers are interested and there is only Gabriella and she’s still too young.”
Anne can see the concern in Mireille’s eyes, how it shadows her brows. Growing up, Mireille had always been glued to her uncle, her mother’s brother, when he would visit the family home. Thomas Marchand is an operator in the GIGN, France’s elite law enforcement antiterrorism unit which is part of the French Armed Forces. Mireille was a reporter for the school paper in high school and one winter she interviewed her uncle after he had been personally involved in a hostage takedown in 1981 at the Orly airport. He had even posed for her in full field dress and it was all she talked about for months. She always wanted to be like him. Her parents want her in the business. Anne tries to console her troubled friend.
“You have to walk your own path Mireille. If being a police officer is where your heart is then I’m sure your parents will understand. You know you could apply and see what happens and then make your decision.”
Anne’s see the mischievous grin that is so like Mireille when she is hatching some wild idea and knows the answer already.
“You already did, didn’t you?”
Mireille is smiling and nodding.
“Yes, I too received word only last week that I was accepted into the academy but I haven’t acknowledged it yet or told my parents. I know my mother will hate it and worry, my father will be disappointed. Oh I don’t know Anne, I hate hurting their feelings but sometimes I feel this is what I should be doing.”
“Like I said Mireille, it’s your life.”
Mireille only nods at that, heavy in thought as she finishes her croissant. The girls complete their meal and coffee in solitude, both with deep thoughts of their future. Anne changes the subject.
“Let’s go then Mireille. I need to stop at the bank to fill out the loan application and then we can go see a movie later if you like. Out of Africa is playing and I can watch you drool over Robert Redford.”
The quip lightens the mood and the pair head off. Heading west, they have to don sunglasses because the sky is clear. They comment on Mireille’s new denim skirt and how chic it is with the red belt that matches the red stripes on her sweater with the boxy shoulders that are in style these days. The bank is at the very end of Rue Ste. Catherine where the pedestrian street ends and normal traffic prevails. When they are almost to the building on the corner, they can hear a siren in the distance, faintly wailing as it grows steadier, almost as if it’s heading their way. They speculate on what is going on.
When they move around a barrier that separates the side walk from a section that is being repaired to the corner, Mireille stumbles on a piece of broken concrete and loses a shoe. One of the construction workers comes to her aid and retrieves the shoe to offer it back to her. Anne doesn’t notice and is turning the corner where the main door to the bank is located. The door has a mirrored finish so that only the people inside can see out. Seconds after she enters the building, a gun blast shatters the air while the bullet shatters the door. The exploding glass showers passersby with sharp splinters and shards cutting exposed skin and tearing at their clothing. Screams and shouts fill the air as people scramble for cover.
Mireille and the two construction workers fall to the ground. Mireille lies behind a sawhorse with a yield sign propped against it. A car is speeding towards them. Without thinking she rises and runs to see what is happening with her friend but is knocked aside by four men rushing from the smashed entrance. They are all wearing ski masks and the only feature visible is the eyes. A lone policeman crouches behind a vehicle with pistol drawn, shouting for the assailants to stand down. The first man has Anne in an arm lock pulling her along using her as a shield. He has a gun pointed at her head yelling at her to be quiet. The second man has a large duffle bag and a gun. The last two stop where Mireille has fallen and the shorter one points his gun at her. Trembling with fear, she pleads for her life. The two men stare down at her while the second pair enters the car that has screeched to a stop.
The eyes glaring at Mireille from the masks are identical, the same pale blue, the same meanness, the same story. It only lasts for several seconds but the identifying images are seared into Mireille’s mind and she will never forget them. The taller of the two shouts at the other one.
“Leave her. Enough killing. Get in the car.”
The sirens are louder, almost upon them when the getaway car spins around 180 degrees and tears away leaving blue smoke from the back wheels in its haste to leave. The police officer steps into the street firing his gun at the fleeing car to no avail. Another gun shot and Anne is thrown from the car. She tumbles to the pavement and rolls out of the way from the momentum. It takes Mireille a few seconds to overcome her fear when she hears Anne calling her name.
“Mireille, Mireille, help me, help…”
Rushing to her fallen friend, she gasps at the bloody mess on the bottom of the t-shirt, kneels to hold her friend in her arms. Tears streak from her eyes as she tries to focus on Anne’s face. Anne is panting and her face is knotted in agony. Mireille tries to offer words of encouragement and is disturbed by the approach of several police cars that come to a halt only a few feet from her. The furor of voices, sirens, policeman shouting, it all disappears and all she can hear is her own heartbeat when she looks at Anne. For a few seconds, a look of serenity smooths the features on Anne Chouinard’s face and she breathes her last breath, dying in her best friend’s arms.
The Monteux brother’s will kill more people on their bank robbing spree that fall. One of their compatriots will die from a policeman’s bullet. The second one will be imprisoned when captured in Belgium two years later but the brothers will go free, their whereabouts unknown.
It takes along time to write a story but it doesn't end there, revising, rewriting, the editor, the book cover, etc. Right now I'm having trouble with the title for my work-in-progress. I've been calling it The Alexanders - The First Decade. Not sure if that fits but the novel takes place over a decade in Dominic Alexander's life, the ups and downs of separation from family, loss of loved ones, a new beginning in a new country, finding love and success. My plan is to write the long story in stretches of ten years per novel, thus, the term Decades. It's been called ambitious. But the point is - it's fun. No matter what happens.
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