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Silver Bullet

Melissa and I have just finished Silver Bullet, the third book in the Order of the Air, sequel to Lost Things and Steel Blues. Steel Blues will be out in a matter of weeks now, while Silver Bullet will be out sometime in the fall.

In celebration of finishing, I thought I'd share with you guys part of the first chapter. (Tiny spoilers for Steel Blues.) It's November 11, 1932 -- Armistice Day, fourteen years after World War I ended. It's also a few days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to his first term as president. He'll be sworn in months from the moment Lewis and Mitch inhabit, Friday night on the cusp of change. The Great Depression is at its height. Two months from now Hitler will come to power in Germany. In March Roosevelt will be sworn in. They have no idea what's to come, as of course the reader does. But this Friday night Lewis and Mitch and Henry are thinking about the past as much as the future, about the war behind them rather than wars ahead, not knowing that the future is about to demand their attention....

"What is that?" Lewis muttered disbelievingly under his breath. It was a three story building built like a ziggurat, with each square story smaller than the one beneath it, the top one finished in a peaked roof. Each tier used the roof of the one below as balcony space, giving it the air of a castle meant to be defended against siege, and the doors were twelve feet tall and bronze. Around them were massive blocks and crenellations done in blue and white tile with gold rosettes showing an eight pointed star, while above it a row of bronze shields were surmounted by the five pointed star within a circle of the American Legion. "Don't you think it's a bit much?"

"It looks like the Ishtar Gate," Mitch said. Lewis looked at him sideways and he shrugged. "Babylon. Jerry went on and on about it for a while. Same blue and white tiles, same rosettes."

Henry finished paying the cabbie and joined them, a jovial smile on his face. "Well, boys? How do you like our Legion post? We built it three years ago, and we're still doing some work inside. Not that the grill isn't up and running! And I've got to say our cook is a pretty talented guy."

"It's real nice," Mitch said. Lewis nodded.

Henry clapped Lewis on the shoulder. "Can't tell Alma I'm not treating you right! Got to show you all the amenities of our little burg."

"You've been very kind," Lewis said awkwardly.

It was true, Mitch thought, that Henry had certainly been pulling out all the stops this week. And he was paying through the nose to boot. It made sense to a certain extent -- Henry was paying Gilchrist Aviation nicely to have Mitch and Lewis spend a week in LA test piloting the improvements to the next generation of Terriers. It made sense to spend the money not only for the guys who had won the Great Passenger Derby, but also Mitch had to admit that there probably weren't many pilots in the country who'd spent as much time in the cockpit of a Terrier as he had, or who knew her quirks and whims half as well. He'd put them up in a top hotel, wined them and dined them and made sure they didn't lack for a thing. It was starting to make Mitch suspicious. Henry never gave something for nothing, and while he knew he was worth every penny paid for his time in the air, this was going over the top.

About as over the top as the Hollywood American Legion post. At home they had an old converted barn.

Still, this was Friday night, the last night of the second week in November, and tomorrow they'd be flying home.

"Come on in, boys," Henry said, leading them up the steps. There was a fellow at the door, a big burly guy who'd no doubt served himself and did double duty as doorman and bouncer, but he knew Henry.

"Good evening, Mr. Kershaw," he said.

"Evening, Mac," Henry said. "This is Major Sorley and Captain Segura. They're both from a post in Colorado. They're my guests tonight."

"Gentlemen," the doorman said, opening the big bronze portals like something out of the Old Testament.

Inside, things were just as over the top -- the antechamber was domed with stained glass windows, an abrupt change from Ishtar Gate to Alhambra in a way that would be guaranteed to make Jerry's head hurt.

"The grill's down in the basement," Henry said. He winked. "Full service."

Which meant it was as much bar as restaurant, which suited Mitch just fine at this point in the week. He reckoned the Legion wasn't much worried about a vice raid. There was enough money in this post to pay some serious kickbacks.

The grill was domed too, but paneled in dark walnut the effect was still surreal -- combination gentleman's club and Moroccan palace, with white coated waiters and art deco light fixtures, an adjacent billiards room and a giant falcon headed statue of Horus that clashed wildly with the full Edwardian dinner service. Lewis blinked, and Mitch leaned over. "Now we know where Henry gets his design ideas," Mitch whispered. The décor on Henry's airship had been Mission meets Mars, with chrome and cowhide.

Lewis tried not to laugh, but he did at least crack a smile and relax a little bit. This was not at all Lewis' scene.

The waiter presented each of them with a menu printed on heavy vellum as they settled into their seats, no prices listed of course, and Mitch twitched an eyebrow. Surely they had some members who'd care what dinner cost? Not many vets could do this sort of thing, especially the way the economy was now, and vets were unemployed at rates far higher than the general population. But maybe they didn't. Maybe somewhere else in LA were the posts for regular guys.

Henry waited until they'd ordered (porterhouse steak with mushroom demi glacé, which looked good to Mitch) and opened a good bottle of burgundy before he got down to brass tacks. "It's been great having you guys here. Really great."

"The new Terrier is pretty sweet," Lewis said. "And a radio on board. That's good."

"State of the art," Henry said. "Radios are going to be standard equipment on planes pretty soon, just as standard as the magnetic compass." He looked at Mitch. "And easy to retrofit to an older model."

"Good thing to think about," Mitch said, taking a sip of his wine. Expensive, but Alma could probably work out a deal. "I can see how it would be useful."

"Very useful," Henry said. "And above and beyond what you've seen, I've got some other ideas coming down the pike that I think you'll find interesting."

"Like what?" Mitch sat up straighter. Any improvement to the Terrier was interesting.

Henry grinned, lifting his glass. "Well, to begin with…" The smile abruptly faded from his face. "Crap," he said, looking over Mitch's shoulder at a man approaching their table.

He wore a black pinstriped suit, neatly tailored to his small and slender form, short and dynamic, with dark hair and matching mustache and Van Dyke beard. There was something arresting about him, some charisma that made eyes turn to him. "Henry!" he said cheerfully. "It's great to see you!"

"Great to see you too," Henry said, getting to his feet and shaking hands. "How's it going, Bill?"

"Good, good." The small man gave everyone at the table a warm smile. "Who are your friends?"

"This is Mitchell Sorley with Gilchrist Aviation. Lewis Segura with the same," Henry said. "They're doing some test flying for me. Boys, this is Bill Pelley. He's a scriptwriter. You probably know him from some Lon Chaney movies -- he does a lot of horror for Lon."

Pelley looked from one of them to the other, focusing that direct gaze on Mitch, and wrung Henry's hand again. "Oh, that's probably not what you know me from," he said. "You've probably heard of my writings on near-death experiences, Seven Minutes in Eternity? It's the story of the seven minutes I spent clinically dead and the profound changes those seven minutes made in my life."

"I imagine it would," Lewis said.

Pelley didn't look away from Mitch. "A very profound spiritual experience," he said. "Transformative." He glanced around the dining room. "It made me realize that this was nothing but worldly dross. Heaven is where our rewards will be, and riches and success are of little value in the world beyond. What matters is the transformation of our hearts and of the transformation of the world in the image of heaven."

"Very true," Mitch said with a glance at Henry. Surely this was Lodge business, not something to be talked about loudly in the middle of a very public place?

"I realized that it was time to leave Hollywood and its fakery," Pelley said. "I bought a house in Asheville, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where people are dedicated to a purer, simpler life. As you know of course, Major Sorley, being from North Carolina yourself."

Mitch started. "You seem to know a lot about me, Mr. Pelley." He looked at Henry.

"You're well known," Pelley said. "Winner of the Great Passenger Derby, Great War Ace…. You're a distinguished soldier, Major Sorley."

"I'm a pilot," Mitch said.

The waiter stopped on the other side of Henry's chair, swaying on his feet as if reluctant to break in. "Mr. Kershaw?" he said. "There is a phone call for you, sir. Your wife."

Henry got up. "Excuse me just a moment, boys." He didn't seem at all sorry to go.

Pelley smiled. "You don't have an ounce of pride. That's a sure sign of an advanced soul."

Lewis shifted uncomfortably. "Should we be talking about this here?"

"There's nothing to be ashamed of." Pelley didn't look at Lewis. "Are you ashamed of serving God?"

Lewis' mouth opened and shut.

"I've been looking forward to meeting you, Major Sorley," Pelley said. "I have heard a lot about you. Through the Legion and other places. A true, native born hero."

"If you'll excuse me." Lewis got up. "Restroom." His ears were flaming.

Mitch took a deep breath. "I'm not a hero, Mr. Pelley. And I don't see how I'm of interest to a scriptwriter."

Pelley smiled again. "I'm not interested in a script, though no doubt your biography would make an excellent movie! Heroics in the air! The very next Wings! There's a big market for that. But I've given up scriptwriting in favor of books these days. There are more important things than movies." He looked at Mitch thoughtfully. "The fate of our nation, for example. Major Sorley, you've got to admit that we stand at a fateful crossroad."

"We do. The election this week…." Mitch had mailed his ballot absentee a month ago, no question about his vote. Anybody But Hoover was a popular candidate this year, and Roosevelt was the only one with a chance of winning. He'd done so in a landslide.

Pelley nodded. "Yes, indeed. A terrible choice, and no way for the American people to win. A choice between an idiot failure and a communist is no choice at all."

"We'll see how it all works out," Mitch said noncommittally.

Pelley grinned. "A good soldier -- nonpartisan to the core! We need men like you in the Legion."

"I'm a member at home in Colorado," Mitch said, feeling that the American Legion was somewhat safer ground than God or spiritual transformation. "It's a good post."

"Not the American Legion," Pelley said. "But that great company that it echoes. I know a man I want to fight beside when I see him."

"Fight for what?" Mitch asked.

"For America. For our way of life. There's trouble coming, Major Sorley. Everyone is going to have to decide which side they're on." He glanced toward the dining room doors. "Even that Pachuco friend of yours."

"Lewis Segura is a good guy."

Pelley shrugged. "For a Mexican, maybe so. But when there aren't enough jobs to go around, why should they come in here and take our jobs?"

"Lewis was born in the United States and he fought on the Western Front," Mitch said. "That makes him American as far as I'm concerned."

Pelley fixed him with that disconcerting gaze, a little smile playing at the corners of his mouth in his Van Dyke beard. "And here I thought you were a patriot. I thought they taught better in North Carolina."

Mitch leaned back in his chair, a lazy grin spreading across his face. "My ancestors came to this country two hundred years ago because they were religious dissenters thrown out of every decent country in Europe. Well, except for the ones who were transported because they were rebels, traitors and outlaws. I reckon I ain't got a leg to stand on as far as who's worthy to get in, and in my part of the state they valued hospitality and charity to those in need. Those are my American values, Mr. Pelley. I don't know what they taught where you grew up. Somewhere in New England, I'd guess from your accent."

The little smile vanished. "There are two Americas," Pelley said. "And right now they exist at the same time, at war with each other. But one or the other is going to win, Major Sorley." He glanced up at the enormous, tacky statues. "Hollywood. Or Asheville. New York or Colorado Springs. Which is the real America? Which one is the future? Which one is going to be ground down into the dust until its culture and way of life become extinct? You'd better decide which one you belong to. You can't keep two dogs from a fight when they both want to tangle."

"I don't reckon that has to be," Mitch said.

Pelley laughed. "Don't you? The whole world is squaring off, left against right, communists against socialists, Zionists against atheists. You think you're not going to have to choose? Men against women, white men against brown…."

Mitch put his wine glass down on the table. "I think we can help each other."

"You believe that Progressive twaddle about the white man's burden?" Pelley snorted.

"I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people," Mitch quoted. "Whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes." His accent was always stronger when he was angry, though his tone didn't change. "Those are my oaths, Mr. Pelley. And I stand by them. Now good day to you, sir."

Pelley took a step back. "I expect you'll regret that," he said mildly.

"Then I will," Mitch said. He could see Henry approaching across the dining room. "Henry, I hope everything's ok at home?"

"Fine," Henry said shortly, sitting down as Pelley beat a hasty retreat. "Just fine. Now Mitch, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about."

"Hopefully not the same thing as your friend Pelley," Mitch said sharply.

"He's not my friend," Henry said, frowning.

"Isn't he in your Lodge?"

"Not my Lodge," Henry said. "He has his own group, working from teachings of the Ascended Masters. He keeps trying to get me to introduce him to people. Frankly he's been a pain in the ass since that near-death experience he had a few years ago. He's decided Jesus told him that he had to keep Stalin from taking over the world."

"I'm not big on the guy either," Mitch said.

"Yes, but you don't believe Jesus told you to fight him," Henry pointed out.

"Jesus and I don't chat that much." Mitch grinned. "I think I'm too far down the chain of command. 'Jesus, buddy….' I think you ought to at least call an angel 'sir', much less the boss himself."

"You can call him Emmanuel or Adonai all you want," Henry snapped. "That's the way your Lodge does it."

"As long as you call him for dinner."

Henry burst out laughing. "Don't let Jerry Ballard hear you say that!"

"Well, you know Jerry," Mitch said. "Why use one word when twenty will do?"

"Ah, Jerry's a good guy," Henry said. "You know I like him."

"I do," Mitch said.

"But there was something I wanted to talk to you about, Mitch." Henry's face sobered. "Let me start by saying I'd offer the same thing to Lewis but I know he'd never take it, and I understand that. He's Alma's husband, and of course she comes first with him. That's as it ought to be."

"You're asking me to marry you?" Mitch quipped.

Henry snorted. "No, you scrub! I'm offering you a job. I'd like you to come work for me as my number one test pilot. You'd be the top of the totem pole, my go-to guy on the new generation of Terriers and everything else coming along. You'd have significant supervisory leeway. You could do things your way, have the first dibs on every hot new plane. And I'm offering you eight thousand dollars a year."

"Eight thousand?" Mitch blinked. That was more than three times what Jerry had made as a high school teacher, as much money as Gilchrist Aviation took in per year all total, and that to pay the salary of four people and Joey Patterson part time, plus all the day to day expenses of keeping the planes in the air.

"Eight thousand," Henry said. "Even in LA that's a lot of money. But you're worth it. Not just for the flying, but for the PR. But I know what you're worth in the air."

"I'd have to live in LA," Mitch said. LA, with its night clubs and speakeasies, its hot jazz and its top of the line machine shops, its beautiful weather all year and girls walking around wearing practically nothing. Movie stars and the Hollywood Hills, Henry's connections and Henry's Lodge and Henry's Legion post.

"Some people like LA," Henry said. "Lots of things going for it. Don't you think it's time to step on up? The number one test pilot for Republic…." He let his voice trail off.

Mitch took a deep breath. "I'll have to think about it, Henry."

"Take your time," Henry said. "No need to make a decision before the first of the year. Just take the holidays to think it over and let me know." He looked around the opulent dining room. "Colorado Springs is a nice little town. But it's a place people come from, not a place they go. This is where it's happening, Mitch."

"I appreciate it, Henry." Mitch picked up his glass again. "I'll think it over. Serious thought."

"Ok." Henry smiled. "That's fair. Now what do you suppose happened to Lewis?"


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 11th, 2013 04:37 pm (UTC)
You're making me really look forward to the next book(s) in this series.

The marked contrast between Henry and the members of Gilchrist Aviation is one of the things I find really interesting in their interactions. Henry carries that attitude of those who don't necessarily have to worry about money/material things and he takes things like the lodge and its ostentatious decor as just part of his world. Then Mitch and Lewis come in and you see it from a completely different viewpoint.

I like the way you weave in the attitudes of the times regarding sex and ethnicity, making it something the characters deal with versus just kind of handwaving it away and making it easy for them to do whatever they might need. It grounds the book for me and makes the times the characters are living in seem more "real", if that makes sense?

(Oh, and somebody get Segura to shave :)).
Feb. 11th, 2013 06:54 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you're looking forward to them!

I'm glad that's interesting -- this kind of money is way over Mitch and Lewis's heads. It's not that Henry's being snobby -- he's genuinely offering them the best he has -- but his best is so over the top to them! The real life issues about sex and ethnicity kind of have to be here. It matters that Lewis is Hispanic, perhaps differently than it does today, but not entirely. I had a good friend who was constantly being driven crazy by questions about "where she was from" when she was born in the US as were her parents and grandparents. People were constantly assuming that she was an immigrant, or possibly an illegal immigrant, because she was Latina. So I think that's where this scene comes from -- unfortunately that hasn't changed. Mitch is reflecting my own irritation!
Feb. 13th, 2013 01:20 pm (UTC)
Will there be any flashback scenes to any of the characters' pasts in upcoming books?
Feb. 13th, 2013 05:47 pm (UTC)
Oh yes! :)

To start with, Gil is remarkably loud for a guy who was dead at the beginning of the first book! We'll see more of Gil/Jerry/Alma in all its permutations. We'll also see some of Lewis's wartime experiences on the Western Front. In Steel Blues the big flashback stuff is Mitch's -- in Lost Things we didn't get into what makes Mitch tick. Something's bothering him, but the reader doesn't know what. That all comes out in Steel Blues. Silver Bullet opens with a flashback to Alma's childhood. And in Wind Raker, which we'll start on later in the spring, we'll get Jerry's childhood.

We made a really conscious decision not to do an infodump in Lost Things, but to let the characters' pasts unfold over the entire series, and I think it's working!
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:25 pm (UTC)

I think the non-infodump worked really well. The characters intrigued me and I wanted to know much more about the things they might reference in passing or think about. Motivations, reasons, decisions, et cetera, all get to make more sense in hindsight versus an infodump that explains everything about the character so you don't (or shouldn't) question their actions. Non-infodumping is much better than "Issues, meet your Characters. Characters, meet your Issues. Everybody ready? Okay, go!"

Waiting for the next book...
Feb. 14th, 2013 02:14 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I find the infodump less interesting. Steel Blues should be out very soon, and I can't wait to hear what you think!

One thing that was interesting about doing this, and I think we learned this from the Legacy series, was that when we wrote the first book we knew where we were going with certain things and could set them up. For example, Mitch's stuff is all there in Lost Things, but it's Steel Blues before we know what it's about. And setting up characters so they don't come out of nowhere -- in Silver Bullet we'll meet Iskinder Yonas Negasi, a member of the Lodge from the war who was mentioned in Lost Things as the other person who witnessed Gil and Alma's wedding besides Mitch. Iskinder gets plot in Silver Bullet and then drives the plot in Oath Bound, but the first reference to him was way back in Lost Things!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )