Scene-Of-The-Month: April 2009

The votes are in and the readers’ choice for a “scene of the month” is A Flock of Crows is Called a Murder, which squeaked in ahead of Dragon Stones by one vote.  Pulling down a copy of Crows off the shelf and flipping through it to a random page, I now present not one scene, but two, back-to-back; because that’s how we roll around here.

Together, these two scenes form the pivotal section of Crows that could be described as “the part where everything starts going straight to hell”.

A Flock of Crows Is Called A Murder

The opening of the plaza had drawn a fair number of people; not the sort of throng you would get in a more densely populated area, but certainly not bad, considering the location. There were even a couple of small yachts tied up at the promenade, though Nelson suspected they had been hired by Quentin to make it look as if Canal Plaza really was going to draw in recreational boaters.

As far as speeches went, the ones today weren’t that bad, meaning that they were all fairly brief. Simon Jones went first and gave a short spiel about how good this would be for the economy, how many people it employed-he said a hundred, even though it was only ninety at the moment-and then introduced Quentin, whose statement was even shorter. He thanked the locals for their support and steered well clear of anything that might dredge up memories about his misadventures back in March. Then, with much pomp and circumstance, Kevin Kowalski cut the ribbon, and the throng moved in like ants invading a picnic. Nelson fought his way out of the advancing column, hopping up to sit on the pebbly edge of one of the flower beds, and watched them spread out. Down on the promenade, the band began to play. He didn’t recognize the tune, but it had a nice summery air to it.

He watched Simon and Quentin and Kevin engage in a round of handshaking and backslapping. They were mouthing congratulations, though of course he couldn’t hear any of them over the babble of the crowd and the honking of some obnoxious brass instrument, which seemed to be positioned directly below him even though it was really way down next to the canal. Funny acoustics.

God, it was hot. He ought to hook up with an outfit that made enclosed malls, he thought. Get to sit in air-conditioned comfort instead of right out underneath the sun. He squinted up at it through his thick blue sunglasses, and thought: Go away.

Something on the roof moved quickly, catching his attention. He thought it was a person-it had looked like a person, anyway, someone dressed all in black-going from one of the crests to another; just a flash though the gap between them. A photographer maybe? Somebody from the local paper trying to get a shot from a different angle? A ninja coming to kill Quentin? He squinted at the facade, but the person didn’t reappear.

“Mr. Nelson, isn’t it?” a voice right next to him said. He looked, and the voice belonged to the cop whose son couldn’t possibly have stolen Quentin’s laptop. Then he recalled that this was actually a former cop; he remembered Quentin telling him, with badly-concealed satisfaction, that the man had quit the force not long after their departure from Selden Falls. Just a step ahead of getting fired, Quentin had said.

“Nelson’s my first name.” Why these clowns could never remember that was beyond him. “Nelson DeGrace.”

The cop-ex-cop-offered a hand, which Nelson shook. His grip was hot and flabby. “Nice layout you got here,” he said. “I pass it every day on my way to my other job.”

Nelson, wondering where this conversation was going, said: “Oh?”

“Yep, I sell cars now. At the Wilson Chevy, up the road.” He trailed off, gaze straying over the shoppers milling around, then up to Quentin and Simon and Kevin on their little platform. The three of them were joking around like old friends at a college reunion.

“Was there something you wanted?” Nelson asked.

“Well, ah, no,” Jasper said. He shifted around in what Nelson took to be discomfort; then he realized that the big man was actually attempting to show off his uniform. A patch over the left breast pocket said, in tiny gold letters, PLAZA SECURITY. And on the pocket itself was Quentin’s logo, the Q with a globe inside it.

Nelson said: “You work for us?”

Jasper beamed. “Yep. Part-time security, that’s me.”

Nelson said: “How the hell did that happen?”

The beam crumpled and collapsed. “Well, you know, I needed more money coming in … selling cars don’t pay as well as you might think.”

Especially when you’re a local celebrity for making a fool of yourself on television, Nelson thought, remembering the man’s appearance on the news with his wife and son.

“And besides, you know, I had law enforcement experience,” Jasper said, looking worried. “I just wanted to let you know I’m on your side now.”

“Well, just lie low until Quentin’s gone, okay? I don’t think he’d react to this with my equanimity.”

“Beg pardon?”

“He’d pop a gasket,” Nelson said.

“Oh, uh, sure. Okay.” Jasper Senior scratched his head. “I just wanted to say, you know, if there’s anything I can do for you, just let me know.”

Nelson nodded, then said: “Actually, there is something you can do for me.”

“What?”

“I think I saw somebody on the roof. Can you go check it out?”

—————————————

Somebody on the roof. Jasper Shoemaker Senior wondered if Nelson knew that to get onto the roof you had to climb up a spindly little ladder and then push your way through a stupidly narrow trapdoor. Jasper stood at the base of said ladder and scowled at the underside of said hatch, fifteen feet above, and thought: Of course Nelson knew. He seemed like the type who knew everything. The long-haired rat-bastard was having some fun with him, that was all.

Somebody on the roof. Like shit.

Jasper started to climb. His belly scraped against the rungs as he ascended. He remembered during the interview, they’d tentatively raised the question of his ability to run and climb and engage in strenuous physical activity, and he’d raised the question of weight discrimination, and the issue had never resurfaced. He hadn’t expected to be asked to climb around like a monkey on his first day, for God’s sake. He was going to start going to the gym when he got the time, but no, he couldn’t even get a chance to do that before they started making all kinds of demands on him.

He reached the underside of the hatch and clung there like a barnacle. After resting for a few seconds, he swung the lever around to unlock the door, pushed the hatch open, and proceeded the rest of the way up the ladder onto the hot, pebbly roof. It felt like it was about a million degrees up there, the sun beating straight down on the black tar and the crushed stone until they overflowed with heat and radiated it back. He was getting cooked from two sides as he stood there and looked around for Nelson’s intruder.

He moved away from the hatch, toward the front of the building, where the facades formed an uneven waist-high wall. The band was playing something that sounded Mexican, even though they were a bunch of pale Caucasians in cheap red suits. He stopped and leaned against the facade, nearly burning his elbows and forearms; he stood back with a yelp and didn’t touch the blazing hot concrete again. He backed up a pace and looked out over the terrace. People were moving along it in both directions, pointing, eating, shopping. The smell of hot dogs made his stomach rumble eagerly; there was a vendor down on the promenade handing them out in paper boats for free, and the vapors from his grill were drifting Jasper’s way. He hoped the guy didn’t run out before he made it down there. The canal was a mass of reflected sun, broken up by a smattering of canoes paddling up and down.

He saw, just for a second, a flicker of green light from beneath the clock tower. Like the other embellishments to the plaza, the tower was a bare network of metal struts and beams at its bottom; it was only solid from the point where it became visible above the facade. Jasper wandered that way, squinting in the light; the sun was right in his face, and he couldn’t see a thing underneath the spire. Grumbling, he headed toward it, just so he could say he had.

He stopped right next to the tower. The cavity underneath it was empty, but someone might have climbed the narrow ladder to get at the workings of the clock. He wasn’t about to do that himself-he didn’t even know if he would fit up there-but he figured he could take a look inside, at least. He bent over and forced himself through the gap in the supports. There was a heavy-duty light switch against the wall of the facade; he fumbled for it with his left hand as he turned his face toward the stifling blackness above.

And saw two greenish disks looking down at him. Eyes, big as oranges, reflecting what little light made it into the upper reaches of the tower.

Jasper forgot all about the light switch. He started to squeal, tried to fling himself backwards, through the supports; but before he could shove himself between them, a chunk of the darkness dropped onto him. Stiff feathers scraped his face and cheeks; talons the size of arrowheads dug into his chest, right through his ribs.

The squeal died in his throat as air farted out of his punctured lungs.

Down below, the band started a crescendo.

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