Monday, November 18, 2013

An Ineluctable Modality: Chapter 18

An Ineluctable Modality is a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo's 2013 Challenge where the goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. This year, I wrote a novel-in-blog-posts: you can read the previous chapter, here.

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The local news last night began with a report on the death of Old Nestor – his real name was Simon Cranly though why everybody called him "Nestor" wasn't mentioned – trying not to be as sensationalist as many people were hoping – DEAD BODY FOUND ALONG BALD HEAD COVE (leave that for the paper; helps sell copies) – very quietly focusing on the facts which, so far, were few, and not the ones people wanted yet to know: how did he die and why there?

Old Nestor loved to sit on a bench at the Langley Cove but his body was found miles north which made no sense. How would he have gotten there? The report did nothing but raise more questions. Helps get people to tune in later for updates. Tease.

Sybil had called. I assumed because she'd heard about Nestor – he was a well-known figure about town, probably better known than most of the politicians. I often wondered how he'd do if someone mounted a write-in campaign for him as a selectman.

But she hadn't heard about him, wasn't interested in it, full of her own news: vindication, which hardly seemed logical, considering.

She didn't let me finish telling her about Henry's call, about his seeing Nestor's body washed up below his house, not even (which I only half suspected) a certain ghoulish curiosity about even seeing a dead body that wasn't part of a TV detective show ("tonight, on Bones...").

Would there be forensic evidence to answer the questions we had – some of us had? Natural causes or suicide? Will they find a note? Did anyone know where he lived? He might have been homeless – no, I remember somebody saying he had a room in an old house (apartments, now) not far from the cove.

Neighbors looked in on him, made sure he was okay. When did they notice he was missing? I had last seen him, what... Thursday, I think I'd told Henry. Yes, that sounded right.

"You wouldn't believe who I saw at Chez Tantalus?" (This was one of the more up-scale restaurants near the cliffs and catered primarily to tourists – very few of the locals went there.)

Since I wasn't likely to guess (I figured it would be her ex-boyfriend, but didn't want to spoil her surprise), she would have to tell me, and indeed (two points for me) it was her ex-boyfriend – the latest one.

"But not with his wife," she said as if this would shock me. I would probably get another two points for assuming he already had a new girlfriend.

"He was with a new girlfriend, already – can you imagine that?" She sounded genuinely surprised and thoroughly incensed.

"What were you doing at Chez Tantalus?" I asked, since it didn't seem a likely place for her just to be hanging out. Unless, of course – another two points, no doubt – she was there to meet some single man (married or otherwise) staying at a nearby inn who might be bored and looking for, shall we say, companionship on a boring evening.

When I was a senior in college, two friends of mine and I had gone to a fancy restaurant in the next town over. I have no idea why I'd gone along except it sounded like an adventure and a chance to observe. Antinous, one of the more handsome boys in my class, had devised the plan and took me along with the Lotus-Eater to serve as witness.

The plan, such as it was, was for Antinous to hook up (or whatever slang we used then) with a married woman who'd be staying at the adjacent hotel, a place where business conferences were often held.

He could not resist the siren song of lonely women, away from home, gaggling at the bar. We, for our part, were to act the parts of horny, eligible young men out on the prowl.

The room was smoky, dim and too noisy for my taste but the food wasn't bad and Antinous was buying the beer.

While Antinous had gone to the bar hoping to engage in small talk with a nicely dressed woman sitting off by herself, I sat alone at our table, working on the french fries the Lotus-Eater had abandoned when he made another trip to the men's room.

It occurred to me no contingencies had been made if Antinous should prove successful and the Lotus-Eater and I would be stuck waiting in the car until morning.

A woman – blonde hair worn long with dark brown eyes behind stylish glasses – wandered past me and asked what happened to my friends.

She asked if she could sit down and so I said, "sure." We talked for nearly an hour while Antinous cooled his heels at the bar. I had no idea what happened to the Lotus-Eater.

What did take me by surprise when Sybil brought my attention back to the present was that she had gone there with a man she'd met at work.

"Well, not at work – we'd met in the lounge on the second floor but he works in a different office, up on the fourth floor. He's with Fawkes Insurance. It's all very boring, what he does, even more boring than my job."

They'd met over a week ago but she didn't go out with him until after the big bust with her boyfriend. It amused me to think she wouldn't cheat on a man who was cheating on his wife, that there could be honor among adulterers, but then, presumably, she didn't know he was actually married (if she was that willfully naive).

He was also younger than her by about ten or twelve years (she wasn't sure), depending on whatever age she was using at the time (I wasn't sure, myself). He was tall, built like a swimmer, she purred, had been an athlete in college but was still in great shape (as if that had been eons ago).

The good news was he was single, had not even been married, and had lived with his girlfriend of six years until a couple of months ago. Even better was the fact his apartment was only a couple of miles from hers.

Her most recent ex, however, was there with a woman who was older than she was, whose hair was not nearly as perfect as hers had been that night, and who dressed like a frump, she thought, with make-up that made her look like someone who was 30 but had lived a hard life.

"Perhaps his mother was visiting?" It was intended to make her laugh (another two points for me) but she insisted not the way they were looking at each other.

When she left, she paraded her date past their table, making sure the ex got a good look at her. She didn't bother looking back to see if she made her point.

"But I heard somebody choking on a drink, so I can only imagine..."

Sitting in a restaurant, there I was, talking with a woman who could have been my mother – well, stunning as she was, she was old enough to be my mother, biologically, and that was enough to earn me points where Antinous had failed.

He interrupted our conversation – she loved classical music, her son was a music student (fortunately at a different college) and her favorite composer was Schubert – to announce that it was time to leave.

We said good-bye, she went back to the bar and Antinous said nothing on the drive back to campus. The Lotus-Eater couldn't believe I didn't at least get her phone number (as if I'd call her at home).

When I suggested the next weekend we repeat the experiment, Antinous was oddly silent. If he did try it again, he did not ask me to join them.

This morning, having for once not been bothered by Sybil's conversation, I decided to go into the library after the rain had stopped and the sky cleared, perhaps look for a new book to read (the idea of a book-a-week had begun taking shape). The library was quietly abuzz with rumors about Old Nestor's death.

I also noticed that the librarian's door was closed. When I asked the young woman at the desk if Ms. Diotimopoulos might be available, I was told she hadn't come in today, no further explanation forthcoming. And with that, I left without finding a book that interested me.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * * be continued...

Dick Strawser

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