Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 1d

TOC page here.

Here’s the fourth of four parts of the transition from Act II to Act III:

Her phone buzzing brought her back to reality. She scrambled to find it, but it had got caught in the blankets and stopped vibrating before she could extract it. But it had only been the call to evening prayer. She tossed the phone back onto the bed, then realized what day it was; she tried to catch the phone in midair, but lacking Fiona’s reflexes only succeeded in knocking it to the floor. She leaned off the bed to pick it up, overextended, found it easier just to roll onto the floor after it. Sure enough, the little icon of the moon had a tiny crescent instead of just a dark circle, and the text underneath read Rabi al-Thany, Day 1.

After that, she couldn’t focus on her book any more: she kept activating the phone every few minutes to see if there were any alerts. She was too awake to doze, too worried to read, still kind of hungry. She dressed, got her crime scene kit together, went downstairs. Grace was gone, but Fiona slept on the divan in the library, on her back, arms folded on her chest, the image of an effigy of a medieval knight ruined, or perhaps enhanced, by her Joy Division T-shirt. Diana slipped out the front door, felt for her keys, and only then remembered that her car was back at the precinct. The slice of Fellini’s pizza she had imaged in her head disappeared in a puff of fragrant smoke: too far to walk. There were dozens of restaurants a few blocks away on Peachtree, or Juniper, but they were all yuppie watering holes: small portions, expensive cocktails, people talking loudly about themselves. But if she cared to cross Piedmont Park on a dark, cold evening, there was Mellow Mushroom, not as good as Fellini’s but still dripping with melted cheese.

A few blocks through her neighborhood, then across the park, a slight blond woman with a badge and a gun. Fifteen or even ten years ago, this might have had at least a whiff of danger, but intown Atlanta was so gentrified now that the only people Diana saw were joggers, themselves oblivious to anything beyond their music and their workout.

Mellow Mushroom was warm and very colorful, with its amateur paintings of tripping humanoid fungi on the walls. The perfect place to absorb House of Leaves and a thousand calories. But Diana couldn’t enjoy the pizza nor the book, as she was constantly checking her phone for updates. This city remained stubbornly peaceful.

Piedmont Park was empty on the way back, though surely there were a few homeless shadows camping in the margins. When she returned home, Fiona was gone and Frey the cat was the only one around.

Diana tried every technique she needed to get to sleep: hot bath, vibrator, the four-inch binder for the lieutenant’s exam. But she’d had enough sleep, and she was too keyed up for more, though eventually she dozed off on the couch, after spending a couple of hours down the rabbit hole of TV Tropes. She dreamed of the cartoon characters at Mellow Mushroom, stranded in a hot desert wasteland, then came to, groggy, unsure of anything but that she could hear her phone beeping three times, over and over.

She sat up, dislodged a grumpy cat, fumbled for the phone. “Siddal.”

It was Gloria this time. “Detective Siddal, your partner called. Courtland and Linden. He said to say you were right all along, and that the whole circus is already in town. I hope you can figure out what that means.”

She felt her hands go cold and a sinking feeling in her throat. “Thanks, Gloria: I’ll be right there. Wait; I need a ride. Is there any way–“

“There’s two patrol cars out their in your zone. You need fifteen minutes to get ready, sugar?”

“No, I’m–“ She looked down at herself. “Yes, please.”

And now we’re back in action. One of the things I consider important about writing these novels and stories is to make sure there’s tension between the character’s regular life and their function as a detective. In some novels, it would be all detective action: the first time the phone sounded would be the important one. But that’s not how real life works, and it takes away from depth of character to pretend it is.

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