Friday, November 16, 2007

On Cemetery Hill

You may remember a scene further back where Lillie is called to assess a desecrated grave. This follows a little later:

And met Johnnie Thresher, a CSI in tow, where the winding path met the winding roadway.

Thresher proceeded to give me a comprehensive look-over, the kind that noted the pain beginning behind my left eye, the ache in my left shoulder and the loose hem on my right pant leg.

He also observed I wore gloves, nodded, said "Glad you could make it," and gave me another look that said wait.

He strode past, conferred briefly with Officer Nervous, and went on to hunker down at the foot of the pit. The white letters that spelled police stark and clear on the back of his windbreaker. The CSI put down his case and moved about, shooting pictures.

I found a seat on a crumbling section of retaining wall just outside the tape, brushed off a collection of acorn husks from a squirrel feast, and hunched there like a pale toadstool, hugging myself.

In a few minutes, Johnnie came straight back and straight to the point.

"A relative of yours?"

"I have no idea."

"Your assessment?"

"Digging up a bloody grave's a lot of trouble just for a prank, but if you find a cache of beer bottles nearby, it would reinforce that possibility. On the other hand, that type usually content their tiny minds with spray paint and knocking over a few headstones, and I didn't notice any obvious vandalism of that nature in this section of the cemetery."

The wind brushed my forehead and sighed in agreement.

"Could be an amateur animation gone wrong but I didn't see any spilled blood and there's the stake. The stake's common. Non-ritual. Not a necromancer's likely choice, at all. Ad hoc. Looked like the sticks they sometimes use for real estate signs. From what I could see the skull is gone. As if..."

I wanted to think about that. A stake. A beheading.

I began collecting the white petals that had showered down and stuck to my rain cape from a flowering thorn behind me. One rarely saw them in graveyards now -- too much of a pain in the ass for the caretakers -- but once they had been planted by graves as a protective, a holy ward against the dark.

If there had ever been one so planted next to the tombstone by the grave above, there was no trace of it now. All I had seen as a survival of that form of grave guardian were lily rizomes, a tangled mass of roots flung beyond the pile of dirt.

And lilies were more signature than a defence...

His feet shifted closer. Hard-core boots below black field gear. Very SWAT, and not new. Johnnie Thresher, quite apart from his psi-specialty, might be much more than he seemed.

"The corpse appears to be posed as a deliberate diorama," I said reluctantly. "As a warning -- or a promise."


Robyn said...

Okay, girl, you've done your job. I think most romance readers have to fall for the hero in order to enjoy the book. Just the mention of those boots cemented my crush.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Robyn.
It's hard to choose details that solidify his personality and illustrate her awareness of him as a man, particularly in view of her present circumstances, with her husband recently dead.

Dave F. said...

Neat stuff and rather subtle.

What if Johnnie T says "Looked like the sticks they sometimes use for real estate signs"? And Lillie answers with "From what I could see the skull is gone. As if..."
It's just a thought. It gives the two characters a similarity of thought. It's not an acknowledgement of their growing attraction (I'm guessing again). It's more of a hint. Your writing has all these tiny subtle clues in them. Maybe this is too obvious. I keep wanting to see the passionate, bodice-ripping, hot sweaty love scene between the two. {wink}. Is that too naughty?

And let me ask a second question. Is there a purpose to the white petals and flowers? There doesn't seem to be right now but then, this isn't all of the scene. I'm guessing that there is another revelation about the headless corpse and that whatever those white flowers are might have prevented it from happening. (that sounds so horrifically ghoulish, he said with glee in his eyes).

I wanted to read "I wanted to think about that. A stake. A beheading" as "NOT THINK"... I hate it when I read as carelessly like that. Nice touch.

Bernita said...

"Your writing has all these tiny subtle clues in them"
Thank you,Dave.That's very kind thing to say.
Sorry though, the stake is just a stake, nothing phallic intended. Since he's a professional he's going to listen to what she has to say, rather than interject his own interpretations.
The passionate scenes have to wait a while. Her dead husband was a kinky bastard, which rather puts her off. Further, she just met this guy, and she's not the hot-twat, bed-hopper type.
The thorn petals serve several purposes:local color, historical fact,a suggestion that this particular grave was not hallowed in the usual way, and as a relationship hint.
A little later in this scene he reaches out and picks a petal off her hair. When he reaches out a second time she shies away to avoid the intimacy.

She has to think about it - no insta answers for everything - to determine if the anomalies are genuine and to relate the scene to a pattern. Sort of the behavioral science approach.

raine said...

Oh yeah--more Lillie!!
This IS very subtle, and builds the tension nicely.
And I fell for Johnnie at first sight--er, read, lol.

A little later in this scene he reaches out and picks a petal off her hair.

That, m'dear, is lovely. A gesture to make one hold one's breath...

Bernita said...

Thank you, Raine.
I hope the petal bit hints he's attracted.

Julie said...


I was surprised how tricky this was to read as a Brit, because of the different nuances in how we use words...the image conjured up with the pant(s)was definitely not what you intended! It somewhat hampered the suspension of disbelief. Otherwise I agree with dave, as far as I am familiar with the genre ...neat stuff and rather subtle.

Everything you say makes me stop in my tracks and think.

Vesper said...

I love it, Bernita. I agree with all the praise above. It's not easy to go slowly and maintain the (sexual) tension between your heroes - especially when you have already fallen for Johnnie (am I right? :-) ) - but it looks like you're doing it very well. Looking forward to reading more... :-)

Bernita said...

Eeep! Julie.
We don't usually call them trousers or trews here.

"Everything you say makes me stop in my tracks and think."
That is probably NOT good.

Bernita said...

Vesper, thank you.
The main plot is the paranormal mystery, so far. The romance is a sub-plot.
Lillie is attracted, but is puzzled by it, a little frightened by it, and doesn't like it much.Her emotions are fairly compex.

Jaye Wells said...

Again you've whetted my appetite for more. As other had said, the subtly here is impressive.

Dave F. said...

I didn't see the stake as phallic. I just wanted to give him a line of dialog there. {silly me, I should have said just that}.

"He picks a white petal from her hair." That's a really excellent tie in to the plot.

Julie said...

...Two nations divided by a common language!!

SzélsőFa said...

I liked the flowers and your explanation about them. Very clever, indeed. I like subtle hints like this.
Right at the moment, without your hints, I thought they were just nicel decorative elements, but I like when everything serves a purpose.
I'm sorry to go this long, but you really don't say trousers?
Here we are taught 'pants' and 'trousers' are interchangeable. Language use is amazing.

Bernita said...

Then my hints are working, sort of. Thank you, Jaye.

Thank you, Dave. The thing is, as a ( presimeably) skilled interrogator, he's like to listen and let her talk, with minimal prompts.

More like three nations, Julie!

Szelsofa, you may go on as "long" as you wish here.

Trousers and slacks are also interchangeable here with pants, though trousers and slacks are words seen increasingly as old-fashioned.
Pants are just as often described by style or material, such as jeans or chinos.

Bernita said...

And thank you, Szelsofa.

Bernita said...

My keyboard!
(Time to stick on more adhesive letters.
That should be presumably" and "likely."
Sorry, Dave.

Scott from Oregon said...

"He strode past, conferred briefly with Officer Nervous, and went on to hunker down at the foot of the pit. The white letters that spelled police stark and clear on the back of his windbreaker."

This was the only glitch I had reading this marvelously concocted piece. I would comma after "pit" and continue the sentence.

For some reason "...that spelled POLICE stark and clear..." confusd me because the thought was so abrupt and on its own.

Otherwise, cool beans! You slayed me.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Scott. I think you're right.
Stopped me too when I was reading it later. Not the best place for a sentence fragment. Think though, the sentence needs a suitable verb rather than tacking it on to the previous sentence.

Gabriele C. said...

Lovely snippet.

Lol, I didn't even notice it was a fragment; I mentally added 'were'.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Gabriele.
It was a deliberate fragment, as mine always are, but I don't think it worked at that particular place.

Ello said...

I really love Lillie and Johnny! I have such a tingle of anticipation when you set them together in a scene. They have such a connection and rightness of belonging to one another and my frustration that they don't act on it!

I need more.

Jeff said...

"I found a seat on a crumbling section of retaining wall just outside the tape, brushed off a collection of acorn husks from a squirrel feast, and hunched there like a pale toadstool, hugging myself."

This is an excellent example of good descriptive writing. Both scene and mood are set all in one sentence. Very nice, Bernita.

Sam said...

A warning or a promise?
Very intriguing!
And nice work on creating atmosphere - very nice!

Bernita said...

They just met twenty-four hours ago!
But I'm awfully glad if I've managed to suggest a mutual attraction.
Of course, the genre itself enables that.

Thank you, Jeff.

Thank you, Sam.
The scene relies on the cemetery setting to support the atmosphere,and I hope that's not seen as a cheap "trick."
It is a paranormal and she does deal with the dead after all.

Billy said...

Flawless prose, Bernita. I can only imagine what the whole piece must be like. This excerpt is wonderfully enticing. Much is described, much implied. ~Billy

Bernita said...

Kind of you, Billy. Thank you.

Julie said...

Bernita, if you are passing have a look at 'Dark Gold'in my second blog, the Journey. It might amuse you.

My mother was a Canadian National, Toronto born - so reading your posts is a fascinating insight for me into her mileau.

With thanks...

Bernita said...

Very amusing anecdote, Julie. Thank you.

Not sure I'm a reliable source for your mother's milieu. Things change, even in Canada.

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie said...

Bernita, thankyou; can appreciate that there is rapid change, especially in the cosmopolitan areas.

The Anti-Wife said...

It makes me want to read more.

Bernita said...

Always encouraging to hear, AW. Thank you.

Charles Gramlich said...

The scene does good work both in advancing the plot, setting up little mysteries, (the beheading), and in character development. Plus the prose is nicely visual.

Bernita said...

"prose is nicely visual."
Thank you, Charles. Glad to hear that since I worried that I had been way too lean in description.

writtenwyrdd said...

As usual, very nice. The thorn bush was a nice aside, and I liked the details you give us. The reluctant admission at the end would make a nice chapter break, too.

I have one question about police procedures, however. I do not say you are wrong, just that in my limited law enforcement experience (crime scene experience nil), the cops sometimes do their own thing with the scene (photos, prints, bullet trajectory, etc.) before any technicians are allowed to gather evidence. I know US federal agents were at least trained to do so, once upon a time, because that is how they were trained in the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

writtenwyrdd said...

And I concur, this is very nicely visual!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Written.
I hoped I had avoided the question of any specific order of operations.
Just when any physical collection of evidence is done is not particularly relevant to her role.
Her job is to look - to observe and assess certain intangibles before the scene is much disturbed.
And I wanted to avoid any explanation as to why psi cases might vary mundane procedural rules, which themselves may vary depending on jurisdiction, available man-power, all those things.
But perhaps I've been to vague and loosey-goosey and need to think about that and provide a little more explanation just the same.

spyscribbler said...

You know, I'm getting really addicted to Lillie St. Claire! I love the way you pace this scene.

Holly Kennedy said...

Very nice.
As always, Bernita.

Loved, loved, loved this:
A little later in this scene he reaches out and picks a petal off her hair.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Natasha. I think my pacing is probably more good luck than deliberate control.

Thank you, Holly.
Makes me very happy.

Lana said...

Hi, Bernita! Just wanted to stop by & check things out. Very nice--I love the paintings you've shared here.
I don't think I realized you're from Ontario. I lived in the Niagara Region for about 17 years & in Toronto for 1 (that was more than enough of that for me.) Whereabouts are you? Perhaps on my next trip up we can "do coffee."

Bernita said...

Nice to see you, Lana!
I live in the Thousand Islands now, but we spent years in To.
A daughter lives there and I visit about once a year.
If we could ever co-ordinate, that would be so nice!

M.E Ellis said...

The wind brushed my forehead and sighed in agreement.

Ah, heavenly wording.


Kelly Mahoney said...

Sounds cool.

Shesawriter said...


You have a gift for dialogue, lady. It reads very well. Although I don't remember reading the other installment, I was still able to fall right into the scene. Good job.

Bernita said...

Hee, Michelle!

Thank you,Kelly.

So pleased, Tanya. Thank you.

writtenwyrdd said...

Maybe just a tiny bit of what's going on at the scene in specific, so we are anchored enough?

I really love the idea of his reachign for a petal; it does communicate yearning.

Bernita said...

I hope I've done that in the sequence (not posted) between these two snippits, Written.

Am delighted that the body language of the petal bit conveys significance.