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So here’s the first 1,400 or so words from a novel I started

March 19, 2012

So, I won’t lie. I didn’t write this bit of a novel during the past week. I did, however, begin looking at it to edit with a thought to finishing it. It’s pretty long, of course; but I’m interested in some thoughts on it. With a little work, would you be drawn in and want to read the whole thing?

I first met Bunco Kelley on a rainy afternoon in the waning days of February, 1892. It had, until then, been a long and perilously cold winter; but it had also been, for me, the sweetest of seasons. For in January, Miss Anna Fitzgerald, my one true love, had finally accepted a proposal to be my wife. We were to be married in the coming spring, and it was truly to have been a fine affair. The wedding and accompanied festivities were, in fact, the reason for my initial business with Mr. Kelley, who among his other interests, ran an inn and saloon in a lovely corner Portland, Oregon.

Our meeting that evening was in regards to the supply of liquors and other spirits which he, though his contacts in the shipping industry, was to provide at a discount to us on the evening of our nuptials, provided that we produce a requisite number of guests to lodge upstairs in his establishment after the occasion was concluded. He and I were to decide that very night what the number should be; and I was excited to get on with the business, as it meant that I would then have been one step closer to making Miss Fitzgerald my wife – a dream of mine from the day I first saw her.

Upon my arrival at Mr. Kelley’s establishment (at precisely four o’clock as had been requested of me), I was asked to an office on the second floor. Mr. Kelley, I was told, was attending to another matter; but I was assured that he would be with me shortly. The office to which I was directed was quite large, and it contained many unique pieces from what seemed the far corners of the globe.

On one wall was a large painting of great, breaking, white-capped wave. In the background stood a far away, snow-covered peak. It was a sight to behold, and while I could not discern its origin, there appeared to be script of an Oriental persuasion in the upper left corner. Next to this picture stood a large, wooden, cigar-store Indian. It’s hand was extended out in a manner that suggested it was waiting to be handed something, though I must admit that I cannot imagine what.

On the opposite wall of the room hung an ornate ship’s helm. It looked too large to be handled by a mortal helmsman – it stretched from floor to ceiling – and I thus assumed it to be simply a decorative piece. Had I known then what I know at the time of this story’s telling, I likely would have fled the room at the sight of that beastly gadget; but in the moment I simply admired the art of the thing and thought little more about it.

All about the rest of the room were scattered other strange artifacts, some of which I recognized, others that I didn’t. The center of the office was taken up by a large desk, piled high with papers and books. Mr. Kelley had a reputation for being a learned man despite his lower-class background, and my last thought before I heard raised but muffled voices and saw the office door swing wide open was that such a reputation must have been well deserved.

Joseph “Bunco” Kelley entered the room in a flurry of movement. He seemed not to notice my presence at first, focusing more on the man who came in behind him.

“Lawrence,” said Kelley, “I’ve told you twice already that you’ll only get as many men as I can muster, and today I can muster no more.”

“But I told you I needed ten, Kelley; and you’ve got me only eight.”

“Well eight will have to do, there is simply no one else.”

“I expect two more by sun-up tomorrow, Kelley. Or you can forget about your contracted rates.”

With that the man stormed out and left me standing alone, somewhat wide-eyed, staring at Bunco Kelley with my hat in my hands.

“My apologies, young man,” said Kelley before I was able to properly introduce myself. “Mr. Sullivan there has little understanding of the unique difficulties laid currently before me in regards to my ability to fulfill his current business needs.”

“No need for apologies, Mr…”

“Nonsense,” said Kelley. “You were asked to be here at four o’clock and you were; and I intended to meet you promptly at that time. Unfortunately, Mr. Sullivan appeared unannounced demanding the kinds of things that he demands and, well, I was delayed.”

“Well, I thank you, sir. It really is quite…”

“Larry Sullivan has been a thorn in my side for many years,” he said. “Always making demands, never listening to reason. He needs men? What men? That’s what I asked him.”

Kelley was speaking quickly, and I thought it best not to interrupt any further. Especially since I then found it difficult to know whether he was speaking to me any longer or actually to the wooden Indian standing stoically against the wall that he had now walked in front of.

“He should know as well as anyone that there’s not many good men left here in the city right now. It’s been such a terrible winter, after all. And who sets sail this time of year anyway?”

I stood silently, waiting for him to finish and watching as he paced back to his desk and began to sort through the endless stacks of paper laid atop it. He was a short man; and both fair of feature and very well dressed. But there was no sense that, should the need arise, he would be wary of soiling his clothes or his features to obtain what he needed or wanted at a given moment.

“But enough of that talk,” Kelley said.

He looked up at me. “Let’s you and I discus the business we have together.”

“Of course, Mr. Kelley,” I said. “I’d be happy to do so.”

“Now, if I recall I’ve been told that you have plans to marry this coming spring. Correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you’re interested in using my establishment for some of the festivities?”

“If you would have us, sir,” I said.

“And we need to set aside a number of rooms here so that your guests will have a warm bed to lay down in afterwards?”

“That’s exactly it, sir.” I said. “You see I have no family here in Portland, but what family remain in California have made it clear that they want to be here for the occasion of my marriage.”

“No family here, you say?”

“No, sir. I’ve come to the city only recently.”

“I see,” said Kelley. “And what of your lovely bride’s kin?”

“I’m sorry to say that they would have little need for lodging, Mr. Kelley.”


“No, sir. You see, Miss Fiztgerald’s family is not entirely satisfied with the arrangement as yet. We both do hope that they’ll come around in the end; but currently, well, they have no plans to attend.”

Kelley sat down at his desk and reached into a drawer. He pulled out a pair of spectacles and placed them on his round nose. He was silent for a moment, lost in thoughtful gaze. Then he looked up at me and smiled.

“I’ll tell you what, young man,” said Kelley. “If you can fill, let’s say, four of my rooms for me for at least one night prior to the affair and two nights after, I can give you the fairest price you’ll find anywhere in the city on your, eh, refreshments.”

“Why thank you, Mr. Kelley,” I said, somewhat surprised at the small number of rooms he requested filled. “That is most gracious of you.”

“Go on down to the front bar and wait for me to send you a contract, lad. In fact, have a round on the house while you wait.”

“Oh, no, sir. I couldn’t accept.” I said.

“I insist,” said Kelley. “Call it a gift for your engagement. Just make sure you let Paul down there at the bar know that I sent you. Tell him, ‘Bunco has offered me a special.’ Use those words exactly, so he knows you’re not just looking for a handout.”

Not wanting to offend, and risk any aspect of what I considered to be a tremendously successful meeting, I accepted. I extended my hand, and Kelley took it in his with a wide grin.

“The papers will be down shortly, son,” he said.

And with that I turned and walked to the door – noticing on the way that the cigar-store Indian, for all his apparent rigidity, was, in fact, actually winking.

I’ve got plenty more where this came from, so maybe I’ll put up another piece if you think it’s worth it. Thanks!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2012 10:55 pm

    The first paragraph drew me in and held my interest. That’s good. However, as I continued to read there seemed to be an ample amount of telling. I’ll admit, I have yet to figure out how to balance the show and tell biz; there appears to be a fine line. The dialogue is fine in some areas; in other areas, such as “Lawrence…,” said Kelly to “I expect two more by sun up tomorrow, Kelly…” it appears to be too much back and forth without any gestures and/or movement, just open dialogue as two people would converse on the street. I don’t know… Of course, I’m no expert. These are simply things I noticed as a humble reader. Kudos on writing a novel. It takes a lot of dedication and discipline. So, hats off to you:-)


    • March 19, 2012 11:18 pm

      Thanks for the feedback! As with any first draft there are certainly issues to be ironed out, but I’m glad you enjoyed it!


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