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Excerpt from Cassia
“Those two will go blind for cash bribes,” he explained with a subtle nod of his head to the two armed men standing at the door. “I’ll settle for dinner with you.”
Her wary glance held him at a small distance. She paused, then simply asked, “How much is the bribe?”
He named a figure that would have had her laughing if she were watching the situation on television. Surely, she thought, the execs carried sufficient cash to cover the bribes. Or maybe not; they seemed to believe in the ultimate efficacy of credit cards. Even prostitutes accepted credit cards. In any case, she didn’t have the money.
“Dinner? You’ll require nothing more?”
“I demand nothing more.”
“But you’ll ask,” she shot back with disgust.
He grinned at her and said, “A man cannot help himself. I give you my word that I shall do nothing you do not want.”
She harrumphed and thought it over, then asked, “When?”
She shrugged and glanced pointedly at his elegantly proportioned hand still lightly grasping her arm. He released her and immediately felt bereft of the softness of her flesh.
“I’ll be back in a moment,” she said and walked back to her group of impatient businessmen.
Vladislav appreciated the view of her swaying backside as she walked. He could have listened to the debate between the woman and her clients, but chose not to. Like any predator, he could easily filter out those sounds that did not interest him. What did interest him was that he could not read her mind. His delicate probe slid off surprisingly strong, smooth mental shields. It was a rare person who had such a strong mental defense.
The businessmen grudgingly dug into their pockets and withdrew cash from their wallets even as the woman extracted all the cash from her own purse. There was some additional, loud debate about reimbursement that he could not help overhearing. And then he heard her clearly, “Frank, you’ll have to run the awards banquet this evening. You have the script and you can confer with my assistant, Amelia, to keep the ceremony and the hotel staff running on schedule.”
An older man upon whose meaty shoulders sat secular power and authority nodded and shrugged and answered in a gravelly voice, “It can’t be that hard.”
The woman’s shoulders stiffened at the casual insult, but she only muttered a stony thank-you and returned to Vladislav with a fistful of cash. She counted it out carefully and handed it to him. The total was several hundred dollars short.
“That’s all we have in cash,” she explained. “Unless there’s an ATM near here, I’ve no way of acquiring any extra money right now.”
Vladislav shrugged, a ripple of muscle that could have meant anything. He counted the cash and divided it evenly. “I’ll persuade them to accept it,” he said.
“Thank you,” Cassia replied politely and watched pensively as he took her group’s accumulated cash to the two paramilitary men guarding the door.
“I’ll meet you in the lobby. What time?”
“Seven o’clock,” he said decisively. “Do you have an evening gown with you?”
“Yes,” she bit through gritted teeth.
She nodded curtly. He held out his hand as though to shake it. Without thought she clasped it. He drew her hand upward and opened her palm to his mouth. There was a sharp sting, then a sizzle that shot up her arm and down her spine and radiated through her body, then the soothing swipe of his tongue. Cassia gasped and pulled, but her hand was surely caught in his. He swiped her palm again with his tongue and kissed it. The moment his grip eased she snatched her hand back.
“Dinner. Nothing more. I’m buying,” she snapped angrily and mentally vowed to charge an outrageously expensive dinner to the corporate credit card. She hadn’t eaten since a quick banana snatched in early morning of the previous day. She was absolutely ravenous.
“Don’t be late,” he replied and turned to the other two mercenaries who watched with interest.
I recently received some comments that build upon the last few years of writing blogs and, thus, am forced to ponder them, especially since the comments come from different sources. The gist of them is that the conclusions to my articles are weak.
The latest comment came accompanied by the client stating that the ending to the article I wrote left him wanting to read more. Well, I thought, isn't that the goal of a good storyteller? To leave the reader wanting more?
As a fiction writer--a storyteller--I want my readers to understand that the story has ended, but not be so satiated by the story that they feel no need or desire to read more of my work. That's the appeal of series: to keep readers hooked by an engaging, continuing plot and characters they like. That's the premise of the cliffhanger, to leave readers panting for more so that they'll automatically buy the next installment in order to see what happens next in the story, to get those dangling questions answered, to finally reach the end of the story.
As a reader, I prefer a conclusion that leaves me both satisfied and hungry for more. As a writer, I tend to compose short, pithy, pointed endings to articles, short stories, and books.
The traditional structure of a book sets up the plot and develops the characters for the first half, accelerates to rising action, hits the climax at around three-quarters of the way through the book, and then gracefully descends into the denouement that leads to a relaxing, replete conclusion. How utterly boring.
Interesting characters evolve and grow and change throughout the story--just like people do. I'm not the same person I was a year ago, a decade ago, or even half a century ago. Why should my characters remain static?
Also, today's readers haven't the taste for spending half a book on exposition and description: they want to get to the action. That preference favors taut writing and tight storytelling. Look at two extremes: Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway. They both tell intriguing stories, but which would you rather read?
So, I accept that I need to spend more time and effort building the conclusions to the articles I write. But not too much. I really don't want the reader to dawdle through a soft, wishy-washy conclusion that can be stated with succinct, concise statements. Word count takes a distant second place to reader engagement.
This week's writing prompt is "favorite social media platforms."
OK, let's be brutally honest: I'm a hermit and limit my social media presence because I don't particularly like social media. I acknowledge its increased importance and the necessity of it in marketing; but, that doesn't mean I have to like it, especially when all too often it feels as though a double standard is applied and never in my favor.
I become flustered when I put out a statement of the sort other people (like my oldest brother) post and catch lots of flak for it. I hate when people argue against something I, for whatever reasons, cannot find the words to defend.
One of those issues concerned the U.S. ban on horse slaughter. I support horse slaughter in the U.S. where we can control it and enforce humane practices. Someone else bemoaned that such beautiful animals were being killed and that someone ought to take care of them. It just wasn't right to kill them.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love animals, horses being chief among them. But I also recognize they're livestock, not companion animals that occupy the sofa beside me while I read or watch TV. This particular person viewed horses as akin to unicorns, practically magical and sparkly and all things wonderful.
My more pragmatic attitude did not stem her protest. I brought out the statistics: 96,000 unwanted horses every year were sent to slaughter. That's a lot of horses. Where would they all go?
Well, someone had to take them in, she insisted.
"Who?" I asked. "Put your money where your mouth is. I did."
Indeed I did. I adopted a horse, not just any horse, but a foundered horse that cost me a lot of money to care for. We had to euthanize him less than two years later. Euthanasia and hauling away of the carcass for proper disposal cost nearly $1,000--and that was 10 years ago.
The bleeding heart complained she couldn't afford a horse, didn't live on a farm like rich folks like me.
"So, board it. There are plenty of boarding stables around here."
She didn't like that suggestion either, because saving those unwanted horses was someone else's responsibility and expense.
Yeah, my overall experience with social media has been mixed and it tends toward the less pleasant. It's also a good way to waste time. But it's also a way to keep in touch with extended family. It's the lazy man's method for keeping in touch, for connecting with people without spending a lot of time on maintaining relationships.
That said, social media is useful. I won't deny that. Neither will I profess to any sort of proficiency in using it.
That's one of the upsides to being a diehard introvert as well as a "crotchety old woman." Imagine what freedom from social conventions and expectations I'll have when I'm 80.