First Page

SARAH HOYT posts a mini-clinic on openers.

It stimulated me to take a critical look at the opening of “It’s Dolly’s Birthday.”

THIS IS ACTUALLY about a page-and-a-half, or so.

Drummond was seated at his computer, headphones on, listening to Queen’s first album at high volume. He treated it as white noise to eliminate distractions from the outside world. In that moment he was living in inner world and attempting to describe that world for an imaginary group of readers. The words poured from his mind out through his dancing fingers on the keyboard and onto the computer’s monitor screen. He was writing his report of Dolly’s most recent adventure — her brief sojourn in Michigan.

In the pause between tracks, Drummond thought he heard something. Muffled and distant — almost at the edge of hearing. He stood suddenly, whipping the headset from his ears. The phone on the wall opposite his desk. He picked up the handset.

“Hello?”

“Doctor Drummond,” came a calm voice with a trollish accent. Drummond could hear hushed noises in the background. Chattering machinery. Shuffling papers. Quite voices. Interface beeps and gongs.

“Yes?”

“This is Rei Ling at the TAT watch center.” Drummond drew a mental picture of the young female operator from his mental card file. She was a billilaalu — like most of them, 18 or 19 years old. She’d sent her hair home barely a year ago, and now she was immersed in the Man world. Drummond couldn’t help drawing the comparison with young Mennonites, away from the family farm for the first time, living among the English for a wanderjahr.

It wouldn’t do to react with too much sympathy for what must be a lonely, homesickening, weltschmertz-filled existence. There was a great deal of pride invested in the accomplishment of simply having made the grade in a regiment.

“Yes, Specialist,” he answered. “What can I do for you this morning?”

“Chief… Sir,” she corrected herself — only officers and senior NCOs were permitted the privilege of such familiarity with Drummond.
“Oracle Watch reports a high-probability incident building to a cusp right about now, sir.”

“Very good, Specialist. Notify the alert Action Team and have them…” Then again, why was she calling Drummond at home on his day off? The situation as she’d roughed it out was hardly urgent enough to demand his personal attention. “The officer of the watch…”

“Yes, sir. That’s the point, sir. The officer of the watch is Petra Alexandra. She’s in a chopper enroute.”

“Enroute where, Specialist?” Drummond was beginning to lose patience. He could understand some shyness. The Trolls weren’t as acculturated to assertive behavior as Men were. But their training was meant to obviate any of their diffident shilly-shally.

“To you, sir. The incident is building to take place there. In your house, sir…”

The noise that had driven him under the headphones — Callisto’s amplified guitar emanating from the basement music room — had fallen silent. The whole house was like a giant void in the atmosphere where silence reined supreme. What was it that he had heard? He willed the sound to repeat.

It did. A scream, full-throated and meant to sound an alarm. There was no fear in the note it struck, only rage and frustration. Drummond recognized the voice and grinned with savage pride at his beloved’s courage.

Dolly was both brave and foolhardy at times. She was inordinately proud of her ability to take care of herself. Drummond knew what self-sufficiency meant to her stubborn pride. In her own mind, she saw herself as “The Tough” in the old saw, “When The Going gets tough, The Tough get going.” She would see a scream as an admission of failure and feel ashamed for having uttered it, no matter how justified.

The sound also galvanized him into sudden action by the realization of what might be happening downstairs, and who it was in danger — his inamorata and life-partner.

“Specialist,” he said into the phone with what was left of his adrenaline-free calm draining away. “I have a situation to deal with. We will be back in touch. Get that chopper here. NOW.”

He didn’t even wait for the girl to say, “Yes, Sir!” He threw the handset into the cradle, strode to the door to the upstairs hall and took up the Henry .30/30 lever action rifle that was kept ready and leaning in the corner behind it.

As he exited the bedroom, he nearly stumbled over the discarded tray from Dolly’s breakfast-in-bed where it lay on the hall floor. Sitting on the corner of the tray was the little velvet jewler’s box, with a gold satin ribbon still tied around it. Dolly’d never opened her present. He stooped suddenly to pick it up in passing, then stuck it in the pocket of his jeans.

Then he heard the muffled sounds of blows struck without rhythm, some of them sounding as though they were the impact of flesh on the artificial flagstones of the house’s entry hall, the scuffle of shoeleather on stone and wood flooring, the squeak of bare feet on polish surfaces, the thud of impacts on floors and walls that shook the entire framework of the house.. As he stalked along the passageway, he worked the rifle’s action to feed a round into the chamber. He rounded the corner at the head of the stairs just in time to see Dolly dragged out the front door, kicking and screaming.

If I use this, it would require rewriting the front part of the story to accomodate having this grafted on in place of the above. But I’m inclined to do it anyway, rather than couch this back in mid-story, where it’s been.

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