A note from K. Writerly:
Without Wings, while written in present tense, has a very different narration style from The Last Legend. Here, each of my main characters, Lasca and Chez, speak directly to you, taking very orderly turns (for the most part) as the story progresses. In Chapter 1: The Man outside the Gallery, we meet Lasca. Then, in Chapter 2: The Men in the Forest, we hear from Chez.
Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Man outside the Gallery
I shouldn’t smoke. I know that. But having a show in this town is like showing up to compete in the Miss America Pageant in an old, stretched-out-of-shape bikini that makes your boobs look like sad little pancakes drooping down your chest. Imagine yourself on the stage, bright lights glaring down on you and your flapjacks. I mean, really. Tobacco is bad, yes, but the motto “Just say ‘No!’” just can’t hold up against that kind of misery and mortification.
I shake out a cigarillo from the crumpled pack and light it. My eyes never leave the warm, welcoming light glowing gently through the large picture windows framing the tasteful, impeccably preserved turn-of-the-19th-century, San Francisco gallery entrance. So inviting, so innocuous, so malicious. Yes, it’s best to keep one’s eyes on the lurking predator, isn’t it?
So, I stare at the gallery and try not to think about much of anything and puff away. And then I notice someone else standing nearby, looking just as stressed-out as I’m sure I do.
The man on the sidewalk opposite the gallery entrance manages to distract me from my meditation-in-a-paper-wrapper and I watch, intrigued, as he takes a deep breath; his hands curl into fists; he stares at the gallery door with a look of… pissy determination on his face. I almost ask him what’s brought him here. For an expression like that to be on his face, the story must be worth hearing.
Suddenly – with the look of someone who has just pumped himself up for a couple of rounds with an art critic experiencing espresso-withdrawal – he strides forward and mounts the stairs. (I never thought I’d actually use that turn of phrase in real life, but there’s really no other way to put it.) As he moves more fully into the yellow light, I examine his dark, curling hair – a bit too long for a businessman to get away with, a bit too short for a trendy artist expressing his disdain for conforming to social norms. He doesn’t look like he’s got much money on him, either. Not if his idea of proper attire for an art show opening in this posh neighborhood is a long-sleeve knit shirt, lived-in jeans and worn sneakers. If he actually walks into that gallery, he will instantly become, without a doubt, my new favorite person on the planet.
I gape at him as he scowls at the door and reaches for the handle. I’m blazingly curious; what is he doing at an art show where the prints alone start out at three hundred and fifty bucks apiece?
As he opens the door, shoulders tense, I think about ditching the smoldering and un-smoked excuse and following him back in there… even though I haven’t been summoned yet. What are you doing here? Burns in my throat like a choking breath of smoke inhaled sideways.
He steps inside.
But then, before the door even closes behind him, before I have time to put out the cigarillo and stalk him with my nosy questions, he’s already ducking back outside and is tripping lightly down the stairs. He glances over his shoulder at the warm, welcoming, but totally deceiving light with an expression of apprehension and frustration. His hands fist tighter as he hesitates.
I’m not intrigued anymore. I’m radiating fascination. In gamma waves. If the moneyed patrons inside, elegantly swilling their glasses of red wine, have scared him off, why would he still be standing here, looking determined? I try, but I honestly can’t imagine what it is that he wants to see so badly in there.
~ . ~ . ~
Excerpt from Chapter 2: The Men in the Forest
Arturo “Chez” Sanchez
Have you ever had a perfect day?
You know, when everything just works and you feel totally jazzed about life and living? When everyone you run into is pleasant and helpful? When bad moods and general pissy-ness seem like they’ve retreated to the dark side of the moon? When you can’t imagine each minute being anything besides one-hundred percent exhilarating? When life is, in a word, perfect?
I think what I’m trying to describe is Tao.
So, OK. Ever have one of those days? Yeah. Me neither.
The perfect day. That’s a rather amusing concept. It sounds like something an infuriatingly perky morning person would come up with. It sounds like the sort of new age hippie love crap I always have a good smirk over. It does not sound like the sort of thing a highly trained and exceptionally skilled operative like myself would be wasting a moment of his time considering.
But, in light of the fact that this mildly boring and routine intelligence-gathering assignment has gone from unsettling to absolute shit, I’ve got to wonder. They say the world is composed of equal opposites: good and evil; black and white; love and hate. If that’s true, then for every perfectly shitty day I’ve had, the universe owes me an actual perfect day.
Not that I’m actually holding my breath waiting for payment on that score.
Not that I’ll ever have the chance to know what one of those perfect days is like.
If I manage to survive the next five minutes, it’ll be a genuine miracle.
Insert emphatic expletive here.