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The First Five Pages

February 11, 2011

So now that I’ve got a half-assed query, next I need to look over the beginning of the story.  Some agents actually want you to send that with the Email.  Others probably don’t give a shit.  As long as you don’t make it an attachment, I can’t see any harm in it.

Anyway, to cut down on words and to speed things up a tad, I hacked off the first two scenes of Chapter 1 so that now we start with our hero arriving at her new dream job–which soon becomes a nightmare.  What do you think?  More importantly, do you see any dumbass errors that I might have missed?

(BTW there is a brief prologue, but I’m not sure if I’ll keep it or not.  It’s nothing essential, just gives some idea of what happens to the Egyptian exhibit referenced in the scene.)


Chapter 1

As she mounted the steps to her dream job, Dr. Emma Earl’s main concern was not tripping over her own feet.  She kept her eyes down on her size-15 flats, making sure she didn’t get them tangled and wind up falling on her face.  The last thing she wanted was for her new coworkers to think she was that stupid and clumsy.

She made it to the top unscathed and recognized the man waiting for her as the same Dr. Ian MacGregor who had conducted her second interview.  If she hadn’t recognized his face, then his Scottish accent would certainly have jarred her memory.  “Ah, good morning, Dr. Earl.  Here early on your first day even.”

Emma needed a moment to remember that she was Dr. Earl now, the title sounding so strange from someone else’s mouth.  “Yes,” she managed to get out.  As she felt her face turning red-hot, she summoned the courage to add, “Am I too early?”

“Not at all, lass.  I like employees who are punctual.”

“Oh.  That’s good.”

“Now, why don’t we go inside and I’ll show you around?”

“Shouldn’t Dr. Brighton—”

“He won’t mind.  Trust me.”  Since Dr. MacGregor was the head of the geology department, Emma had no choice but to take his word for it.

She hadn’t visited the museum in four years, but it looked relatively unchanged.  They walked around the ticket line, into the Great Hall.  At one end of this hall was the longest-running exhibit of the Plaine Museum, the skeleton of a mastodon named Alex for Dr. Alexander Plaine, the museum’s founder who had discovered the mastodon in Ohio and brought it back to his native Rampart City.  At his own expense he built the museum around this so that the city might have an institution dedicated to knowledge and learning to rival Paris, London, or any other major European city at the time.

Emma knew this story by heart—she had read Dr. Plaine’s biography when she was three—but didn’t mind hearing it again from Dr. MacGregor.  They paused in front of Alex while Dr. MacGregor told the story in his charming Scottish brogue.  He finished by saying, “No one expects you to be a tour guide, but it’s always good if you can point visitors to the right place.”

“Yes, sir.  I’ve been coming here since I was a toddler.”

“Ah, so you’ve probably memorized every inch of the place then, have you?”

“Not quite, sir.”

“No need for that ‘sir’ stuff like we’re in the military.”

“Sorry, Dr. MacGregor.”

“You can just call me Ian, lass.  You mind if I call you Emma?”

“Yes—I don’t mind.”

“Excellent.”  He indicated the sets of double doors behind her that for the moment were closed.  “Those are our temporary exhibits.  Right now we’re winding down the ‘Wonderful World of Ants’ one.  The kiddies really seem to like that.  We’ve also got the ‘American Pirates’ one going on.  That’s a pretty popular one, might keep it for a while longer if we can.”

“What about that one over there,” she said, pointing to the left.

“Oh, that.  Bloody mess is what that is.  Supposed to be something called ‘Egypt’s First King’ about this Karlak II bloke.  Except over on the trip here, the freighter carrying most of the artifacts sank.”

“The captain scuttled the ship, didn’t he?” Emma said.  “I remember reading about that in the newspaper.”

“Quite right, lass.  They say he went nuts and destroyed the boilers.  No one is quite sure why.  We’ve been trying to sort things out with the Egyptian government.  As you might imagine, they’re a bit annoyed that some of their relics are sitting at the bottom of the ocean.”

“That’s awful,” Emma said.

“Yes.”  Ian shook his head and then smiled.  “But that’s for the lawyers and Anthropology to figure out.  None of our concern.”

He led her over to the staff elevator behind Alex.  She resisted the urge to wave goodbye to the mastodon as she had done when she was a little girl; back then Alex had been her closest friend other than Becky Beech, his constant presence so reassuring, especially in those dark times after her parents had died, when the rest of the world had seemed to be in flux.  That the mastodon was still here after everything that had changed in her life made her smile as she had back then.

The staff elevator wasn’t much different than the regular patron elevator, except that it had more buttons.  These went from the fourth floor executive offices all the way down to something labeled as the “Sub-Subbasement.”  Ian hit the button for the third floor for the department offices.

The corridor was a dingy white, some of the lights flickering overhead.  The tiles were scuffed and in some places chipped from repeated use and abuse.  She wondered when the department offices had last undergone a renovation; probably long before she was born.  Still, this didn’t dampen her enthusiasm as she followed Ian down the corridor, past frosted glass doors with labels like, “Metallurgy Division” and “Gemstone Division.”

They finally stopped at the door marked “Meteor Division,” Ian opening the door for her.  The state of the office prompted Emma to gasp, though she managed to stifle most of it.  Piles of books and journals took up the worktables and the desk in the room was nearly invisible from the amount of folders and loose papers burying it.

“I’m afraid your predecessor wasn’t the neatest sort,” Ian said, which Emma took as quite an understatement.

A door to the left opened and out of it stumbled an old man with wild white hair, at least a three-day growth of stubble, and the bulbous red nose of an alcoholic.  If these signs weren’t enough to indicate the man had a drinking problem, the smell of his breath was almost enough to make Emma gag.

“What’s going on here?” the man said.  “Who the hell is this?”

“Hello, Walter,” Ian said.  “This is Dr. Emma Earl.  She’s your new researcher.  We discussed this on Friday.”

The man’s watery gray eyes narrowed at Emma, who took an involuntary step back.  “This girl is the one you’ve hired?  Has she even finished high school yet?”

Dr. Earl has a PhD in Geology from Berkeley.  She’s more than qualified for the position,” Ian said.  The iciness of his voice prompted Emma to take another step back into the doorway.  “The director and I think she will be a welcome addition to our team.”

“Is that what we’ve come down to now?  Hiring pubescent girls and calling them doctors?”  The man shook his head.  “Good thing I’m almost to retirement.”

With that, the man turned and slammed the door to his office.  Emma stood in the doorway, barely holding back tears.  Ever since she’d enrolled at Northwestern at age fourteen, she’d been the butt of jokes for being a kid.  She had hoped things might be different here, but clearly that wasn’t the case.

Ian put a hand on her shoulder.  “I’m sorry about Dr. Brighton.  He used to be quite the scholar back in the day.”

“Yes.  I’ve read some of his papers,” she said, her voice quivering slightly.  “They were very good.”

“He hasn’t been the same since his wife died.  Won’t be much longer now until we have to put him out to pasture.”  Ian smiled gamely at her.  “He shouldn’t give you too much of a problem, though, so long as you don’t bother him.  If it gets to be too much, you just come and see me.  My office is right at the end of the hall.”

“Thank you, s—Ian.”

“You’re welcome, lass.  And good luck.”

He left her standing among the ruins of the office.  With a sigh, she began cleaning up the place, wondering if her dream job was becoming a nightmare.


Thanks for your support.


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