I said I would post the following day and didn't. My bad. Below is the first four chapters of Twist.
I have a laundry list of excuses but the short and sweet of it is the longer I wait to make this book available to the public the more I edit myself into oblivion. I rewrote the entire book, again. I changed my first person tense, again. The intended result is to make my voice more active. I describe my writing style as impressionistic. The readers experience events at the same time as the protagonist blow by blow.
“What?” my companion stares into my eyes. He adjusts the cufflinks of his blue-grey suit. His own eyes hold the look of confused innocence.
“What do you mean what?” I yell inside the airport. The man in the blue-grey suite lowers the palm of his hand. The universal sign language for ‘keep it down’.
“We’re ditching our luggage? I packed nice stuff. I packed for this trip carefully. And now you’re sending me out into Paris with no clothes?”
“All can be replaced Becca.” My companion is growing inpatient. He flew in from San Francisco with me on a fake passport. He had to lie about his fake identity when we exited the plane. In Paris his alias appears to be ‘wanted’.
“You want me to go shopping in a country where I don’t speak the language by myself while you make all the plans and control all the details.”
“Je parle parfaitment. I’ll take you shopping. Right now you need to calm down. We have to keep moving before security catches up with us. We have no choice but to leave the luggage. I’m glad I didn’t tell you while waiting in line through customs. You’re creating a scene.”
I look into his eyes. His eyes are like stain glass windows. So many different colors pick up the light that shines behind them. I try not to think about all the women he’s taken shopping in Paris.
The cab ride is surreal. I gaze out the car window sleepily. I’ve seen Paris in movies and snap shots. The city of love is breath taking. I feel I’ve entered into a Francois Truffaut film. Tired, I rub my eyes. It’s three in the morning in California. Here in Paris it’s almost noon. Nervous, I was unable to sleep on the plane.
“Hotel Esprit Saint Germaine, s’il vous plait,” my companion directs the cab driver.
The entire time I’ve known my companion he has been mysterious and less than forthcoming. I only get half-truths. And here I am, in a foreign country totally dependent on Mr. Duplicity. Every time my life seems to get easier a monkey wrench gets thrown in. At the moment my monkey wrench wears a Versace suit, Cartier watch, and a tan from sunning in the South of France.
I try to think back to when my life was simpler. Back to when I didn’t know a thing about international art and artifact smuggling. Back to when the farthest east I’d ever been from California was Texas.
We pass by a building I recognize from one of the books I had researched. My companion points at it, then winks at me knowingly. I begin to conjure images, ghostly memories of what I know to have taken place there. I and only a handful of others know what actually happened.
My mind wanders inside the gothic walls, engulfed in the events that had occurred centuries ago.
The Queen of France lies wasting on her deathbed. Paris is held by enemies of the crown. The King has gone rogue and defied all her council. There will be a take over. Her most trusted companion in the room is her alchemist’s apprentice. He stands next to the priest by her side. After the priest finishes a brief prayer he turns to wait in the hall. The Queen gestures for the young man to come to her wheezing and coughing side.
“It’s over there.” She points across the room at a large armoire. “You will know it when you see it. You have the instructions for it’s destruction?”
The young man nods. The alchemist had handed him a written ceremony before sending him to her. The alchemist could not come himself because the priest would have refused the queen her last rites.
Wheezing harder with her hand to her chest the queen strains and struggles to communicate. The young man leans closer to her highness.
“You must destroy it immediately. My enemies know of it and desperately desire it,” she sputters.
The young man nods. The queen, content her wishes will be followed, chokes out her last breath. The priest rejoins them and gives the Queen the last rights she so desperately desired.
Once this is finished the priest hurriedly exits as the young apprentice observes in horror as the queen is lifted off the bed with her sheets and tossed irreverently to the floor with a loud thump. The men in the room proceed to drag the queen’s remains down the corridor.
The take over has begun. Only the apprentice knows the purported divinatory and sovereign power the enchanted object bequeaths. After some rummaging he locates it. Thoughts of his family flood his brain. His wife is pregnant with their fourth child. His mentor may well be in line for execution. The enemy is now his employer. His future unsure, the young apprentice makes a decision to commit a crime countless of men have done before him, and countless will do after him. Break his oath for profit. The young apprentice has no idea of the implication this act will have for centuries to come.
Waking from my daydream I rub my eyes. Now fully present with being in the cab with my companion I feel exhausted. I allow myself to lay my head on his shoulder as the black cab drifts along the streets of Paris towards our hotel.
“I won’t think more on the subject until I get some rest.” I mumble.
“What was that?” asks my companion.
I simply shake my head and fall asleep against his shoulder.
Four months earlier…
I spin the dial on my combination lock as retro beats blare haunted promises of burning buildings from my headphones. I swing open my locker and sift through gummed-up half empty paint tubes and stacks of sketch paper. The paintbrush I want has been shoved towards the bottom.
The narrow halls provide little room for the three-part art installation two students drag down the slanted path. A young woman and two men hurry toward me with a giant pinwheel and two large canvases. I scoot out of the way and wait for them to walk by before I turn back to my open locker.
My supply locker at UCLA was more organized than the one I have now at the Institute. I regard the Still Life teacher’s assistant as she waters the ivy plant wrapped around the doorframe of her classroom. Her bright purple fishnets daisy-chain around her legs. I love the art scene in L.A., but San Francisco has a unique flavor I’ve definitely acquired a taste for.
When I married Steven and moved up to San Francisco I applied to art schools around the Bay Area and to my delight was accepted to my first choice, the San Francisco Art Institute! Locals and tourists in the know make the climb up Russian Hill to visit one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
The school’s rich history can be found literally written on its walls. In 1930 Diego Rivera painted murals on the Chestnut Street campus. Plaques and etchings cover its grounds in memorial to how after World War II the Art Institute had become the hub of Abstract Expressionism. The collective work of distinguished painters, photographers and cinematographers made the Art Institute what it is today. Tourists augment the student population to take advantage of the city views of the bridge and the bay along with the Diego Rivera Gallery.
I dig further in my locker then stop. I make out a voice over synthesized bells, harps, and organs from my headphones. I pull my head out of my locker and take a deep breath to get my itchy nerves to calm.
“Excuse me.” shouts a curvy raven-haired woman. Her barley there t-shirt shows off a generous number of tattoos. “Can you move?” It’s Lucy from my Still Life class. She raises a heavily penciled-in eyebrow. It almost touches her short cropped Betty Page bangs.
I recognize part of the art installation she carries. It’s from the courtyard. Now that I realize it is Lucy’s I don’t like it as much.
“That looks heavy. Need a hand?” I ask.
“No thanks. I wouldn’t want to interrupt your music.” Lucy says with a hint of disdain. She eyes my blonde hair and understated outfit, a white tank top and jeans.
I could tell she was thinking about me in my car. Trendy non-remarkable music plays in my car on the only thing that works, FM radio. My car stereo is the least of my problems. The City’s famous hills and pothole ridden streets is brutal on my bucket BMW and the clutch feels like it could drop at any moment. I’ve had the car since high school. Leave it to my parents to find me a car I can’t afford to fix.
My concerns are basic. How am I to afford rent in one of the most expensive cities in the country now that I no longer have alimony? My parents can’t keep up with their own money problems and our relationship is tenuous at best.
My thoughts drift from my car back to my locker where I continue to try and locate my brush. Lucy, the hipster with tattoos of wolves across her chest, doesn’t consider my taste highbrow enough for the Art Institute. Lucy is openly bedding a prolific artist and popular instructor at the Institute, our sculpture instructor James Shaft. It’s common knowledge and the man hasn’t been fired. Lucy is now impossibly cool and demands others to acknowledge it.
.Holier-than-thou attitudes and inflated egos find refuge at the San Francisco Art Institute. The small Russian Hill campus is full of tucked away areas housing secrets. The center walkways are open corridors. Most of the school is open allowing the panoramic views to be accompanied by fresh bay air.
The Art Institute embodies the city’s uniqueness. The nineteen-twenties building bursts with art installations, paintings and sculpture and makes it impossible not to feel inspired. Because of its amazing view of the city, the roof is where we hold ceremonial assemblies and hang out between classes.
My classroom is empty. There is a note on the door. We are all to meet at the art gallery near our 800 Chestnut Street campus.
“I knew you’d forget to go down to the gallery, so I waited for you here.” Josh says as he walks toward me down the hall. Josh is a handsome half-Asian half-Caucasian young man with a talent for disturbing the quiet around him.
Josh follows me around like an undisciplined puppy. As much as his sardonic sense of humor entertains me it infuriates others. If nothing else, keeping him out of trouble ensures that I’m never bored.
Josh is the popular San Francisco tagger “Up”. He spray-paints “Up” with an arrow next to pretty much everything. The bar named Stand has a hell of a time painting over his Up tag every week, as does the store Grow. But Josh is most famous for his tag at the worst intersection in the Mission. The four stop signs that consistently hold up nearly forty cars at any given time each read Stopped Up. They’ve been replaced so many times that the City finally got tired of it and let them be. The locals find it a clever reference to the City’s constipation as every year the affliction intensifies.
“Thursdays are spoken word night at Gilligan’s. I saw the line up and it’s a few SFAI students, two that we know. It should be horrible. You interested?”
Gilligan’s bookstore is a favorite hangout of mine that I introduced to Josh. It’s the first place Josh looks for me when he can’t find me. I want to go tonight but lately Josh and I spend almost too much time together. His draw to me as a friend can get possessive so I try to create healthy boundaries.
“I can’t. I have an early day tomorrow.”
“Really? It starts at eight. We can hang out just a couple hours for a change of scenery.”
I eye his face to make sure he doesn’t look too eager.
“Okay,” I say as I pull my hair around my shoulder to get it out of my face.
Josh nudges me in the other shoulder. After I catch him look down my backside I roll my eyes with a reproachful frown. Josh is quick to flash a fraternal smile. He has yet to learn the ancient ninja art of woman watching. We shouldn’t be able to catch you doing it.