Welcome to Fantasy Island! If Fantasy Island were an exclusive sneak preview of the next "Holmes on the Range" novel hidden in the darkest depths of my website, that is. (I couldn't write the words "Welcome to..." without going all Saturday-night-on-ABC-circa-1979 on you. Just picture me with a white tuxedo and skin as smooth and tanned as rich Corinthian leather.)
Maybe I should start again.
Welcome to an exclusive sneak preview of the next "Holmes on the Range" novel hidden in the darkest depths of my website!
Doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? But it's accurate enough, so let's move on.
I'm 10,000 words into The Double-A Western Detective Agency, the novel that picks up where World's Greatest Sleuth! left off all those years ago. So far I'm pretty happy with it, though I'm having my usual 10,000-words-into-it jitters. The main jitter, as always: Why isn't this going faster?!? And a secondary jitter: Is the Prelude boring?
It's the "Prelude" -- the teaser chapter I start every "Holmes on the Range" book with -- that I've pasted in below. This one sets the tone well, I think. I'm trying to make The D-A WDA more classically Western-y than WGS!, and that comes across. (I like to switch up the vibe a bit from book to book, y'know.) But it might not be as eccentric or grabby as past Preludes.
What do you think? Do I need to up the eccentricity? Double down on the grab? Or does this pull you in and make you want to read more -- what the Preludes are all about? Let me know!
Or don't. I'll figure it out...and in eight months or so, you'll be reading the rest of the book!
Or, Up the Creek
“You know when it ain't a good idea to play both sides off against the middle?” I asked my brother.
“Shhh,” he said.
“When you’re in the middle,” I went on anyway, “and both sides have guns.”
“Shhh,” Old Red said.
He stood in his stirrups and craned his scrawny neck for a peek back at the trail that wound around the bottom of the canyon. We’d steered our horses off it and stopped behind a huge rock -- a boulder the size of a coal car that had no doubt tumbled down into the arroyo around the time Moses was in swaddling clothes -- five minutes before. In all that time, there’d been no sound but the whispering of the wind along the canyon walls and the low gurgle of the muddy trickle the locals called Eagle Creek.
Five minutes of silence is a lifetime for me, especially when I’ve got something on my mind. And I most definitely did -- though my brother had been known to say I had nothing on my mind but my hat. So I spoke up again.
“Anybody back there?”
“Shhh,” Old Red said.
But he’d answered my question all the same. I am the world’s leading authority on my brother’s shushes, having experienced them daily -- sometimes even hourly and on the minute -- for years. This one was type 1-B. Non-urgent, annoyed but not yet infuriated.
Old Red had got the itch that someone was behind us, but there was no one to be seen.
Which is why I went on talking. Low, of course, so as not to get the dreaded type 3-C (which is accompanied by a swat from Old Red’s white Stetson).
“If there is someone aimin’ to back-shoot us, it wouldn’t be a surprise with the way you been pokin’ a stick in the hornet’s nest from the first ‘How do?’ here.”
It was a type 2-A. I was still safe from my brother’s hat. So on I went.
“I mean, this here’s a range war we’ve ridden into, Brother, and there’s a reason they ain’t called ‘range picnics.’ That body we was lookin’ at this morning is proof of that. That wasn’t no slice of pie and glass of lemonade.”
“I’m just sayin’ there’s gonna be a lot more shootin’ around here soon, from a lot of guns, and it’s just the two of us to be sendin’ any lead the other direction. Maybe we oughta -- ”
Type 4-A. Urgent -- because our lives might depend on it.
The creek didn’t, of course, nor did the cool January wind. So that was all I heard for the next long, quiet moment. Then a new sound joined them. The unhurried clop-clop-clop of a horse ambling up the trail.
Old Red was still peeping out over that big rock, so I figured he couldn’t begrudge me a quick look, as well.
I pushed myself up, the stirrup leather creaking, to see who was coming.
I spotted him just as he rode into sight around the bend of the canyon. He was a hundred yards off, yet he made an impression: a big black man, overdressed for the mild New Mexico winter in a shaggy fur coat and beaver hat, on a roan pony. The butt of a carbine poked from its scabbard on the horse’s left flank.
I ducked back down lest I make an impression on him. Old Red did likewise.
“Recognize him?” I whispered.
Type 2-C. Translation: Shut up. I’m thinking.
Impatient to be moving again, my mare shook her head and snorted.
I stroked her neck and gave her a 1-A.
Old Red shushed my shushing with another 4-A, then moved a hand toward his holstered Colt.
“What are you aimin’ to do?” I whispered.
That got me shushed yet again. Funny thing, though: I didn’t recognize the type...and my brother’s lips hadn’t moved.
The “Shhh” had come from behind us.
I started to turn around and look.
This time I got an actual word in response.
“No,” a man said.
So I froze. As did Old Red. And it was back to silence but for the sighing of the wind and the burbling of the water and the clop-clop-clop of the slowly approaching horse.
And the cocking of the man’s revolver.
To be continued....