Sunday, July 26, 2009

Memories of Shenzi

Vicki here today, taking over from Fiona and Molly. My dear dog Shenzi, who I've had for 13 years, died last week. My friend Carolyn house sat for me in the spring when I was on book tour and visiting Nelson, and Carolyn writes about Shenzi at her blog.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Day in the Life...

Fiona MacGillivrary here today to kick off this new blog that Vicki had provided for us. So kind of her, I'm sure. Here is the original opening to the first book in the Klondike Series, Gold Digger. It was considered too much, too soon, for the beginning of a book and so was relegated to the bottom drawer. Do you think it would have worked?

Blood is so difficult to wash out of good clothing.

Two men came tumbling out of the gambling room in a flying mass of fists and feet, unwashed clothes, manure-encrusted boots, mining dust, Front Street mud, and months of pent-up disappointment. I had barely enough time to dance backwards and thus avoid getting a splatter of blood across the bosom of my green satin gown. I fell backwards into someone, tall and hard muscled, and I felt his strong arms wrap themselves around me and rough hands taking advantage of the opportunity to caress my shoulders. “I’ll have you for that, you lying son-of-a-bitch,” the larger of the fighters shouted, spitting out a tooth along with a mouthful of blood and spit, as he struggled to be the first one back on his feet. A flock of gamblers, still clutching chips or cards in scared hands with nails cracked and stained black with dust and mud, spilled out of the back rooms, eager to follow the action. But, of course, not everyone deserted the game - the croupier’s voice could still be heard calmly saying, “place your bets, gentlemen.” The man whose tooth was now lying in a slimy puddle in the middle of the floor lunged towards the man who’d, presumably, delivered the blow that had split his lip open. The punch landed and the smaller man staggered backwards, falling into the crowd of drinkers gathered crowded around the bar. Old Barney’s stool swayed dangerously, but he merely clenched his glass tighter and took another swallow. Chloe screamed in mock terror and pretended to faint dead away in a flutter of cheap fabric and many-times-mended stockings. Unfortunately for Chloe no one reacted fast enough and she hit the floor with a distinct thud followed by an indignant shriek. Her skirt flew up, high above her ankles, and at the sight of all that exposed leg, men at last rushed to offer her assistance. Irene stood safely back from the melee, watching it all with a smile of mild amusement on her face. A young fellow, dressed as if he were going shooting for grouse in Scotland, extended his arm. She sized him up in an instant, accepted the offer with a gracious nod, and allowed him to escort her to safety. “One hundred dollars on the big guy,” came a shout from the back of the room. A chorus of voices took him up on it. The smaller man shook his head and threw himself back into the fight. He landed a powerful right hook that belittled his scrawny frame. The larger man flew backwards, crashing into a circle of drinkers, clutching their beverages while watching the fight. A glass crashed to the floor. “Why you…” the glass’s owner shouted, raising his fist to send the other man back the way he’d come. “Stay out of it Williams,” one of his group yelled, grabbing at him. His blood up, Williams drove his meaty fist straight into his friend’s stomach. The friend - former friend? - blanched and vomited. “Hey, that was a dirty trick.” A third man hit Williams solidly in the jaw. The violin player, who had been halfway across the room when the fight broke out, clung to the walls, clutching the delicate instrument to his chest as if it were a new-born baby. Without looking over my shoulder to see who was holding me, hands now moving away from my shoulders and inching towards my breasts, I drove my elbow backwards into his midsection, raked the heel of my boot down his leg and planted it firmly into his instep. With a soft grunt the arms released me. “Ray,” I bellowed, wading into the altercation, “where are you?” Sam Collins dashed out of the gambling room and reached the secondary fight, now threatening to spawn a tertiary engagement. “Take it outside boys.” Sam pushed the antagonists apart. For a moment it looked as if Williams was going to take a swipe at Sam, but at the sight of a man almost old enough to be his grandfather, Williams folded. At last I could see Ray. He had pulled a no-nonsense baton out from beneath the long counter of the bar and was advancing on the men who had started the whole thing. “That won’t be necessary, Walker.” Two Mounties, radiating authority in their scarlet tunics, broad-brimmed hats, and polished black boots walked into the bar. “We’ll take care of it.” The patrons parted politely to allow the law passage. A forest of arms lifted Chloe to her feet. Betsy stopped screaming and fluttered her eyelashes at the younger policeman, but he ignored her. The man who was taking bets on the outcome of the fight moaned in disappointment. The sighs of frustration of the two original antagonists sounded like air escaping from a rip in an over-inflated ball. Each Mountie grabbed a fighter by the back of his collar and propelled him towards the door. “It’s a blue card for you two,” the older officer said, “and make no mistake.”

The moment the doors shut behind them, the room returned to normal. The gamblers went back to their games; the drinkers surged towards the bar for another round; the dancers and the musicians, including a pouting Betsy and a weeping violinist, departed to get ready for the night’s show. Barney, not much caring if anyone was listening or not, droned on about the old days. Sam politely asked the man with vomit all down his shirt to go home and change before having another drink, and Ray replaced the baton behind the bar with scarcely a blink. Helen poked her nose out of the back room and groaned at sight of the mess she’d have to clean up. I touched my hair, making sure that every strand was tucked neatly in place, checked that my best-quality fake pearls were still draped around my neck, and straightened the skirt of the green satin gown. I waved to Ray and indicated that I would take a breath of air for a few moments.

I watched the crowds flowing up and down and across Front Street. What had I gotten myself into, was my first thought. A great deal of money, was my second.

Owning a dance hall in Dawson, Yukon Territory, in the summer of 1898 certainly beat dangling from a rope tossed out of the second-story bedroom of a Belgravia townhouse on a rainy February night, dressed in men’s clothes all in black, with a pocket full of rings and necklaces and a sack of the family’s good silver tossed across my back, trying not to breathe too loudly while a constable, tardy on his rounds for one cursed night, stood below, sneaking a quick smoke.

I laughed deeply, winked at a shiny faced cheechako passing by, and returned to the lights of the Savoy with a flick of my skirt.