They say the only difference between good writing and bad writing is proper editing, but if you ask any successful novel writer, he or she will tell you that they have at least one “trunk novel” (an unsuccessful manuscript tucked away in a trunk) that never saw the light of day.
I thought it would be fun to post the first chapter of my next novel - The Charity Chip - as it was first written over five years ago, and then post the first chapter as it will appear (plus a few more copy edits) when it is published in June.
I apologize for the length of this blog.
The Original Chapter One
Julio was hungry, but it wasn’t the first time. He zipped up his thin jacket as the cool layer of sea fog settled over the night. Traffic on Avenida La Marina passed by paying little notice to him or his hunger. He had learned to beg on the streets of Lima for what he needed and, when begging didn’t work, stealing usually did.
He pulled the hood of his jacket over his head and moved away from the busy street toward a less travelled side street in search of an easy mark. He had worked this area several times before because the lighting was poor and it was near a market. Sticking to the shadows he began moving slowly waiting for an unsuspecting woman walking home from the market with his dinner.
As he paused in the shadow of an alcove, he saw his mark – a woman with a small mesh bag of food. She was older than him and slightly larger, but he was confident that he could outrun her. She seemed to be focused ahead and didn’t appear to see him as he waited for her to pass. He waited patiently and then sprang from his shadowy hiding place. He moved quickly grabbing the bag from her hands and sprinting away as she shouted, “Ladron! Thief!”
From the sound of her shouting, Julio could tell that she wasn’t pursuing. Dinner was served. Just then a large black human blur jumped out of the shadows on his left and tackled him. Before he could recover from the impact, Julio was on his stomach, hands bound behind his back and a large policia sitting on top of him.
“What have we here? Un ladroncito? A little thief? You have learned the art of stealing at a very young age amigo,” said the cop.
“I was just trying to get something to eat. Let me go!” begged Julio.
“Ah, you are hungry, No? I will take to a place where you can eat three times a day, but the view is not so good. Vámonos ladroncito, let’s go,” said the officer.
The policeman lifted Julio up off the ground with one hand and placed him on his feet. The woman whose food he had stolen had gathered up the scattered food and stood looking at Julio with a look of disgust. “You should be ashamed!” Her look of scorn was new to him. He had always escaped with his dinner.
“Please Señor, I promise not to steal again! Please let me go!” Julio’s begging did little to dissuade the officer.
“You don’t understand ladroncito, I know you have been stealing on this street for quite some time. We got complaints from women walking home from the market and I began reviewing the security videos. I saw you steal several times in the same way you did tonight, but this time I caught you in the act. I am sure the Judge will find the videos enlightening.”
Julio began to cry, not from pain, remorse, or grief, but in hopes that his tears would soften the heart of the officer, but it did little good. The officer pulled him along towards his car. He was going to jail.
As the officer shoved him into the back seat of the vehicle Julio began to worry. His brother Raul would be waiting for him to come home with food. He could see his mother’s dying face pleading for him to care for his younger brother. As the gravity of his situation began to set in, Julio felt a strange mix of guilt, anxiety, and panic.
Julio’s heart sank as the officer shoved him into the back seat of his car and closed the door. He looked around in vain for something to cut through the plastic handcuffs. As he looked out through the window again, he noticed the officer talking to someone. He was a large man, much larger than the officer, with short blond hair. The stranger was well dressed and seemed confident, his hands in his overcoat pockets, as he spoke to the officer. He nodded at Julio and the officer glanced over his shoulder.
The officer and the stranger shook hands, but Julio noticed it was not a normal handshake. Something was exchanged discreetly as their hands clasped. The stranger turned his back on the car looking aloof and disinterested. The officer moved hesitatingly toward the vehicle and opened Julio’s door.
“You are lucky tonight little thief. It appears you have a new friend” said the officer.
“He is not my friend.” Julio replied. “I have never seen him before.”
“Ah, but he is your friend tonight, because he has arranged for your freedom.”
The officer pulled Julio from the vehicle and pushed him toward the stranger.
“Suerte – good luck!” he said as he drove away.
The stranger turned and looked down at Julio with a confident smile.
“Buenas Noches” he said with a heavy accent.
Julio simply looked at the ground. Sensing an opportunity, he quickly bolted to make his escape, but with his hands still bound in the plastic handcuffs, it was a futile effort. Within a few steps the stranger had overtaken him and grabbed him by the jacket, bringing him to a sudden stop.
“Let me go!” shouted Julio.
“Relax! I am not going to hurt you.” He said. “I want to help you.”
“Why would you want to help me?” said Julio. He had lived long enough to know that nothing was free. Everything had a price.
“Where are your parents?” asked the stranger.
“Dead,” answered Julio curtly.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters? Do you have any living family?”
Julio paused for a moment looking at the ground and shuffling his feet. He replied smoothly letting the lie pass easily over his lips, “No”.
The stranger paused as if thinking to himself or perhaps searching in his mind for the right words in Spanish since it was obviously not his native tongue.
“Are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat?” asked the stranger.
Julio was uncomfortable with the stranger, but hunger had just driven him to steal. Now the hunger pains overpowered his fear of the foreign man. “Yes,” he replied.
“My car is parked nearby. If I cut the handcuffs off, will you promise to go with me to get something to eat?” The stranger asked with that confident smile across his face.
Julio paused again considering the possibilities. What did the stranger want? Why was he offering to help? Julio looked the mysterious man in the face searching for clues. His face was difficult to read. He had a calm, confident demeanor and a smile that almost made him look smug. His blue eyes were piercing and seemed to be looking straight in to the soul.
“I promise.” Said Julio.
Hunger had won.The stranger pulled out a knife and with one swift motion cut the plastic handcuffs from Julio’s wrists. Putting the knife away, he extended his large hand to Julio and said, “My name is Isak Blixt.”
The current version -
Chapter One – El Ladroncito (The Little Thief)
Isak: I need another boy
Ugarteche: So soon?
Isak: The program is expanding
Ugarteche: Most boys will be watching the soccer game tonight
Isak: The desperate ones will be on the streets. Desperate children make the best candidates
Julio was hungry, but it wasn’t the first time. The bustling traffic on Avenida Iquitos ignored him, and his empty stomach. He stuffed his charred juggling batons and the plastic bottle of diesel fuel into his tattered backpack and pulled the coins from his pocket – seven soles, not even enough for a piece of bread at one of the few stores that still accepted hard currency. He slipped on his backpack and pulled the hood of his jacket over his head to protect against the layer of sea fog settling over Lima. Mamá had died four years ago today.
He hopped on his skateboard and kicked his way towards Plaza Manco Capac determined to find something to eat. He considered the Chinese restaurant, but remembered how the owner had chased him out with a meat cleaver the last time he snuck in, and skated on. When he passed Roky’s, the smell of fat chickens sizzling over an open flame made his stomach growl, but the security guard at the door waved him on with a nightstick. It was Saturday night, and he knew their dumpster would have decent scraps, but he was craving fresh food. He kicked his skateboard across the plaza and stopped in front of the supermarket.
Mamá taught him not to steal. At least a thousand times she said, “It is better to suffer hunger than the shame of dishonesty.” But she hadn’t lived to see the advent of digital money. How can I survive as a street performer if no one carries cash anymore? Seven soles won’t even buy enough bread for me, let alone my difficult twin brother. Tonight, I would rather suffer the shame of dishonesty than hunger. Dishonesty won’t kill me.
He use his hood to shield his face from the various security cameras in the plaza and skated across the uneven sidewalk trying to look inconspicuous among the steady stream of shoppers rushing home to their families with bags full of fresh food. He scanned the crowd and picked his mark – an older lady with hunched shoulders clutching a small bag of groceries in her left hand.
A knot formed in his stomach and he pulled the pendant of Saint Michael from under his shirt. “Saint Michael,” he whispered, “guardian of souls, vanquisher of rebel spirits, pray for us.” He kissed the medallion and slipped it beneath his shirt. He fixed his eyes on the bag of food and picked up speed for the snatch. Crouching low on the board he grabbed the bag from her unsuspecting hands as he zoomed past.
The old woman cried out, “Ladrón!”
Julio kicked again and accelerated away. He cut hard to the right and dodged a woman with a stroller. A girl with headphones over her ears walked right in front of him and he had to push off of her to keep from running her over. A gray-haired security guard in a dirty brown uniform appeared out of nowhere and grabbed at him, but Julio ducked and then jumped the curb into the street to get away. He darted into oncoming traffic and came so close to a mototaxi that he brushed the arm of the driver. He spun to the left and found space in between the lines of rushing traffic and skated away with his bounty.
The security guard still hurried along the sidewalk trying to follow him. Julio skidded the tail of his board and reversed directions. He used the cover of a passing bus with a larger-than-life picture of the popular newswoman, Sofía Encuentro, plastered on the side, and hitched a ride from the tailgate of a passing delivery truck. He used the momentum from the truck as it took a left turn at the intersection and propelled himself down the street towards an alleyway. He looked over his shoulder. The security guard was talking on his radio, but he was falling behind.
If I can make it to the alley, I’ll be clear. He swerved in front of a careening bus to make the alley. The driver blared his horn, but Julio ignored him, and coasted down the alley into the dark.
The sounds of the busy street began to fade behind him and the few pedestrians and drunks in the alley ignored him. He looked back one more time, but the security guard had given up. He grinned, pulled out the pendant, and kissed it. He stopped to catch his breath and peeked into the bag. The snatch had garnered him an uncooked half chicken, a bag of rice, some tomatoes, and a fresh loaf of bread. He held open the bag and took in the smell of fresh bread. If Doctor Barilla isn’t passed out drunk in the kitchen, I can make a good dinner for me and Raúl.
He thought of Mamá, and guilt gnawed at his hungry stomach. He tucked the bag under his arm, and skated towards the other end of the alley and home.
He never saw the wire stretched across the end of the alley, but he felt it. It hit him just below the knees and sent him flying off his board headfirst. He tried to break the fall with his free hand, but it was useless. His head bounced off the sidewalk and he rolled over onto his back as the streetlights did circles above his head and his skateboard rolled into the street. He was still seeing double when a policía straddled him and bound his hands in plastic restraints.
Once he restrained Julio, the policeman stood and straightened his shirt. “What have we here? Un ladroncito? A little thief?”
Julio shook his head and tried to make the world stop spinning. “Why did you stop me? I was going home to cook dinner for my brother.”
The policeman picked up the bag and opened it. “Mmm… nothing like the smell of fresh bread.” He broke off a piece of bread, shoved it into his mouth, and chewed with his mouth open. “Still warm too. How did you pay for your groceries?”
Julio sat up and shook his head to clear it. “I had money.”
The policeman shoved the loaf back into the bag and pulled a small scanner from his belt. “Let’s see.” He waved the scanner over Julio. “No implanted chip, and the last registered transaction on your free chip was over a month ago. Are you sure you paid for the food?”
“I paid cash.”
The policeman held up the bag and looked at the logo. He shook his head. “This market does not accept cash. I’ll bet you took this food from some little old lady near the plaza.” He pulled the receipt from the bag and held it up to the light. “Maybe we should find Señora Flores and she could tell us all about it. Of course we could just watch the security video from the plaza.” He held up his phone for Julio to see. There on the screen was the video of Julio grabbing the bag from the woman and darting into traffic to avoid the security guard. His face wasn’t visible, but the clothes matched.
“Is it a crime to be hungry?”
“Ah, you are hungry?” The officer removed the wire from the mouth of the alley. “I know a place where they will feed you every day.” He grabbed Julio and pulled him to his feet. “Come on ladroncito. Let’s go solve your hunger problem.”
Julio searched for any signs of compassion in the officer’s face, but his face was angular and gaunt with a thick black mustache and a large scar that started near his left eyebrow and disappeared into course black hair. It was not a face that offered hope, but he attempted at begging anyway. “Please, Señor, I promise not to steal again. Please let me go!”
“You should not make promises that you cannot keep. You have no chip. You have no money. You will steal again.” The officer grabbed Julio’s bound hands and dragged him over to the waiting black squad car parked halfway on the sidewalk. He shoved Julio face down into the back seat. “Don’t get my seat dirty.” He slammed the door shut.
Julio struggled into the sitting position and began to look around for something to cut the plastic restraints. The only thing sharp in the back seat of the squad car was the smell of stale puke and alcohol. He tried to slip off his backpack, but his hands were bound so tight that it was impossible. He looked along the wire mesh that separated and protected the front seat, but it offered nothing. At last he gave up, and sat there feeling the blood pulse against the restraints on his wrists.
The officer opened the front door and tossed the bag of food into the front seat. Instead of getting into the driver’s seat, he leaned against the front of the car and made a phone call. The smell of fresh bread began to mingle with the acrid smell of vomit, and Julio’s stomach growled.
He looked out the window at the passing crowd. Most people hurried by and seemed indifferent to the scene, too busy with their own lives to even care. A woman glared at Julio and shook her head in disgust as she walked by. Julio hung his head. I should have listened to Mamá.
A man in a black coat strolled across the street through the busy traffic and walked into the glaring lights of the squad car. He had cropped blond hair and a fair complexion that made him look like a marble statue. He was carrying Julio’s skateboard. He pointed at Julio with his chin and his clear blue eyes reflected in the headlights like the eyes of an animal on the prowl. The officer looked over his shoulder at Julio and grinned.
They talked for a few moments, and the towering stranger pulled a silver chain with a large cross dangling at the end from his coat pocket. The officer smiled as he took the crucifix and slipped it around his neck. After the exchange, the man turned his back on the car, but still clutched Julio’s skateboard.
The officer shuffled over and opened Julio’s door. “You are lucky tonight ladroncito. It appears you have a new friend.”
“He is not my friend. I have never seen him before.”
“Ah, but he is your friend tonight because he has purchased your freedom.” The officer yanked Julio from the vehicle, pushed him towards the towering man, and slid behind the wheel. “Suerte,” he said with a wave. He forced his car into traffic and drove away.
The stranger turned and looked down at Julio, and then with a foreign accent greeted him. “Buenas noches.”
Julio stared at the ground.
The man held out the skateboard and asked, “Would you like your skateboard back, or should I keep it?”
The stranger put the skateboard on the pavement and pushed it towards Julio with his foot. Sensing a small window of opportunity, Julio kicked the skateboard down the alleyway and ran after it for a rolling getaway. But when he jumped for the moving board, he felt a tug on his jacket and his feet flew up into the air. The man suspended him in the air by his collar with one hand as he thrashed about with his legs, but it was impossible to get free with his hands still bound by the plastic restraints.
“Put me down!” demanded Julio.
The man shrugged and dropped Julio onto the dirty street. He wriggled onto his back and glared at the man. The looming foreigner wore a satisfied smirk and a black earpiece in his right ear.
“Relax, I don’t want to hurt you. I’m trying to help you,” said the man.
“Why would you want to help me?”
“In my country when someone does you a favor, like returning a lost object,” the man nodded at the skateboard a few feet down the alleyway, “it is customary to thank them.”
Julio rolled his eyes. “Gracias.”
“Where are your parents?”
Julio wiggled his fingers and could feel the blood throbbing in his wrists. “Dead.”
“Do you have any brothers or sisters? Any living family?”
Julio looked away. “No.”
The foreigner grabbed Julio under the armpits and raised him up on to his feet. He squatted down and locked eyes with Julio. “What is your name?”
The softness of his voice disarmed Julio. “Julio César Camino de Pachacutec.”
“That is a very long name for a boy on the street. May I call you Julio?”
“How old are you?”
“And still on the streets? You seem small for a fourteen year old.”
“That happens when you don’t get enough to eat.”
“Well, are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat?”
Julio’s stomach growled at the mention of food.
“If I cut the restraints off, will you promise not to run away?”
Julio stared up at the man’s chiseled face. He had lived on the streets long enough to know that nothing was free. Everything had a price. Tonight the price for satisfying his hunger was trusting the blue-eyed stranger long enough to fill his stomach, and hope that whatever he wanted in return would not be too costly.
The stranger pulled a knife from his coat pocket, spun Julio around, and with one swift motion cut the plastic handcuffs from his wrists. Julio rubbed his wrists as the blood began to flow back into his hand.The man closed the knife and slipped it into his coat pocket. He smiled and extended his large white hand. “My name is Isak Blixt.”
Hopefully, you found the second chapter better than the first. BTW the original first chapter was good enough to get me into Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. It is one of the very first things I ever wrote. I have spent a lot time with these characters and these words. It has been fun to see the changes, and I am excited about the novel's release this summer. I hope that you are too.
This entry was posted on Sunday, January 25, 2015 at Sunday, January 25, 2015 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .