Saturday, August 25, 2007

Twenty Seven

Will, Diana and Coyote sat on stiff leather sofas in the living room of Alexander's safe house.

Bowls of dried fruit, pepitas and honeyed pecans had been set out, but they only picked at the food, more interested in the cocktails after the bloody slaughter that morning. They had lost a horse, Coyote had taken a bullet to the shoulder, and Dale from Lone Star had been badly wounded. But Strecker, his guards and his affiliates were dead, as were the men who had been left in town to plant explosives at the hotel.

At the sound of footsteps, they got to their feet. The new commander walked in flanked by guards, and Diana was surprised at his youth. Not yet forty and with a boy’s easy movements and sudden smile, Alexander hardly seemed old enough to lead a sniper unit, let alone be in command of the entire region.

He came over with a friendly, confident air, looking for all the world like an ordinary soldier they might go on a reconnaissance mission with. He dispensed with military protocol and approached Diana first. “So you’re the talented and impulsive Bella Diana,” he said, shaking her hand.

“Nice to meet you, although I don’t know where you got ‘Bella’…”

“You’re not familiar with the song? You’re Unitas’ first celebrity.”

Diana drew back, startled. “I was aware of a song some guy was singing in Ferrous Springs. . .”

“It’s become popular. I think Sputnik knows all the different versions that are out there. I can have him write them down for you, if you’re curious. No? Well, there will be a new version after this morning. Excellent work.”

He shook Coyote's hand next. "I understand you're the one who hears voices and blows up trains."

"I swear I'm not as crazy as I sound."

He turned to Will last. The two powerful men sized each other up, and each seemed satisfied with what he saw. Alexander started to shake Will's hand, then thought better of it and clapped him in a friendly embrace. "William Channing. I'm glad to finally meet you."

Diana sat uneasily while the men exchanged pleasantries. A movement at the corner of her vision caught her attention. Through the window she thought she saw someone emerge from a door on the other side of the courtyard.

She resisted the urge to stare and instead forced herself to pay attention to Will and Alexander’s conversation.

"I hear you recently married la Bella Diana."

"Yes, Diana is my wife."

"But what they say about us in the Ferrous Springs song isn’t true," Diana interrupted.

“That's okay. We want to capitalize on it, regardless. Unitas needs heroes who can excite the public imagination, and even though the story isn’t strictly factual, it fits the bill.”

“I don’t want to be a hero, or anything else.”

Will covered her hand with his. “If it’s for the cause and will win us supporters—

“Why would such horrible lies gain us supporters?”

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” came a voice from the hall doorway.

Diana looked up to see Robert watching her with a cool look she couldn’t interpret. She made to stand, but sank back onto the sofa at a wave of his hand.

“Don’t get up on my account. You've had quite a morning.”

“Which is the real reason you’re here,” Alexander added. He sat in a leather chair and a boy brought him a drink. "Your work today was impressive."

"Just another sniper mission," Coyote said.

"It was a little more than that. Not only did you eliminate a man who was widely regarded as a menace, but by engaging the assistance of Lone Star, you've taken us an important step closer to a meaningful alliance with them." He looked at Will. "Harley says the plan you carried out today was yours."

"Much of it was," Will said. "But having backup on the cemetery road was Harley's idea, so if anyone deserves credit, it’s my unit commander."

"If you’re to be a successful commander in your own right, you have to be willing to listen to advice. You did just that, and deserve credit for it."

While Will and Alexander discussed the events of the morning, Diana sipped her drink and tried to ignore the sense that Robert was watching her. It wasn't anything she could prove. Every time she looked at him his attention seemed to be elsewhere, but then she would turn back to the conversation or look at Coyote, who was pretending not to be bored, and she once again felt like she was being scrutinized.

"I didn't realize Hispanos Unidos had become so supportive of inter-group collaboration," Will was saying. "Now if we can prevent México Lindo from interfering. . ."

"Yes," Alexander said. "We're closer than we had any reason to believe last year."

Diana darted another glance at Robert. This time she caught him staring and he looked away.

"Have we tried bypassing the México Lindo radicals and offering an alliance directly to Sonora?" Will asked.

"Lone Star tried it. They made a collective offer to Coahuila, Chihuahua and Sonora. It didn't pan out."

"Maybe we can make a treaty with Sonora on its own."

Alexander looked at Robert. "What do you think? I know it's been discussed before. Would it be a good use of our time to bypass México Lindo and offer a treaty directly to the Mexican government? It would take away some of México Lindo’s momentum, and it would force them to either support peaceful unification or prove themselves common troublemakers."

Robert hadn't been paying attention and tried to pick up the thread of the conversation. "Mexico is breaking up, no matter what the México Lindo faction would like us to believe," he said. "But of course no Mexican state would accept an offer to join Texas. They think Texas should return to them, not the other way around."

"Forget Texas for a minute. What if the offer came from us?"

"Maybe. We'd want to change the name of our proposed nation, but—"

"What were you going to call it?" Coyote asked, suddenly all attention.

"The United States of the Southwest."

Coyote sank back against the cushions, disappointed. "Boring."

"Have you got a better idea?" Alexander asked.

"Don't you dare say Atzlán," Robert added.

"How about the Grand United Republic of Western Nations?"

"That's a lot of words. Can't even get a good acronym out of that."

"How about the Federation of the West?" Diana said. "Federacion del Oeste."

"It's inoffensive," Alexander agreed.

"But it’s premature,” Will said. "Isn't peace more important than a name?"

"Of course," Alexander said. "But it's never too early to dream."

"Well, I hope the conference tomorrow will be more than just dreams," Diana said. "It seems like in San Eusebio, all they did was talk."

"And shoot people." Robert looked at her frankly and their eyes met in shared remembrance. "It will be different this time. The drought is worse and ordinary citizens are beginning to lose patience. They want peace so they can rebuild, and many of them no longer care who brings it to them."

"We won't decide everything tomorrow," Alexander said, "But breakthroughs often happen when you least expect it."

"How soon do you think we'll have peace?" Diana asked.

Alexander gave a noncommittal shrug. "Nothing is ever certain, Bella Diana. But we could have a general cease-fire as soon as next year. I'll be surprised if we're still at war three years from now."

“We’re really that close?”

“Possibly. Of course, in war anything can happen.”


Alice Audrey said...

So that's where the title comes from.

For the last few scenes I've been kind of scrambling, feeling like I missed something. Now I feel like it's coming together.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Yes, this story rambles and I've never had a clear sense of the best way to tighten it up. That's why I never even considered pitching it to agents or putting out there as a self-published novel.

It neatly closes the gap, though, between two stronger works. Tin Soldier was initially written to be pitched to agents, and has a nice tight story arc.

Diana's Diary is a fun picaresque blog that I wrote on the fly. I never intended it for publication, although I've made an older version of it available in print.

Although Diana's Diary can feel at times like just a string of events, it's all unified by the fact that she is on a journey and is determined to reach her destination or die trying.

Bella Diana feels to me like several stories, although if you stand far enough back from it you can see a sort of unifying pattern. It has some spots of good writing and interesting psychology, though. The chapter after this one is one of my favorites in both those respects.

Alice Audrey said...

I don't think you need to tighten it here. I think you need to expand a bit, go into a little more detail, and make sure your transitions are solid.