Novel Excerpt out of my work-in-progress, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” For a previous excerpt, go here.
“You must have done something supernatural to be here, Wanderer. None of Ella Bandita’s conquests have ever been redeemed.”
Adrianna moved fast, reaching down to take the Wanderer’s hand in hers before he could react.
“Did you get your heart back as well?”
Adrianna paused as she pressed her fingers into the side of his wrist.
“Well, well. I feel a pulse.”
“As I said,” the Wanderer murmured. “I was lucky.”
“That was more than luck,” she retorted. “She must be dead for you to get that crystal stargaze, and get your heart back. How did you kill her?”
“You can hardly expect a confession,” I interrupted. “We would hang.”
“For destroying a monster? I don’t think so, Shepherd. You and the Wanderer are our most cherished heroes. Legends will be told about you long after you are gone.”
Adrianna glanced to Celia who stood two paces behind the Wanderer, and then to Astrid who must have stood about the same distance from me. She nodded appreciatively to both of them.
“Well done tonight, girls. You may go and finish supper in the Joy Parlor.”
Astrid touched my shoulder with a soft hand.
“It really was an honor to meet you, Shepherd. I enjoyed our talk.”
I nodded, surprised that my feeling towards Astrid was one of neutral benevolence.
Celia threw her arms around the Wanderer’s neck and kissed his cheek.
“Thank you for leaving your fortune to the orphans,” she said. “It means more to me than I can ever tell you.”
“Okay,” the Wanderer said. “But it was nothing, really.”
He was obviously confused, not having heard that the woman he had made love to twice had grown up in the orphanage. Once the young courtesans followed a steward and maid back into the Casa, the Wanderer focused on Adrianna and whistled appreciatively.
“Your girls are good,” he said.
“Of course, they are. I trained them. So tell me how you got your heart back, Wanderer.”
“Let’s just say I had exquisite timing.”
“I’m sure it’s quite a story.”
“I would love to hear it.”
The Wanderer smiled at Adrianna and shook his head. Reaching for the leftover wild duck croquettes, he ate what was left, his deep black eyes peering steadily at his wily hostess.
Adrianna smiled and backed off. She took her seat in the chair Astrid had left vacant. Nodding to her servants, the stewards brought us each the fourth course, steaming bowls of pureed chestnut soup, while the maids poured red wine in ample goblets, and handed them to all three of us. Adrianna leaned back and took a sip.
“I must say, Wanderer, the years you lived as a Wolf have served you beautifully. I’ve always found rugged men most attractive. We don’t get much chance of meeting those in our civilized Capital City.”
“You flatter me, Madame.”
Adrianna smiled graciously.
“I told the Shepherd, and now I’ll tell you to call me Adrianna.”
“Your praise is generous, Adrianna. But I’ve never been one to be swayed by compliments.”
They smiled at each other in understanding. But Adrianna was far from done. She turned back to me and peered at me intently, her lovely golden eyes sparkling in the light.
“One thing I’ll say for my nemesis, Shepherd, she certainly had exquisite taste.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You are the man who loved Ella Bandita. The only man whose heart she didn’t steal.”
An acquaintance of mine from Portland shared an article her husband wrote about finding one’s voice as a writer. Since he’s published and I’m not, and he is a very nice man, I read it and a line in there reminded me of the most extremely short-lived job I ever held in my illustrious career of job-collecting.
Since this was commission-based, I made no money at this. Promotions in Motion was the worst of the worst sales jobs. We went door to door at various businesses, ignoring “no soliciting” signs to interrupt people at their work to sell them something they don’t need. The vast majority of the time, we were told no anyway. Fortunately, most people were pleasant about it but it was still embarrassing.
I don’t even remember what we were selling, but I vaguely recall a promotion for an obscure comedy club. I trained for two days and decided to bail. My first trainer had been a stripper before this job. She was pretty cool and I had fun while I trained with her. The next trainer was nice enough, but he had a lot to say about our POC supervisor who was making it “in a white man’s world.” He spent the entire drive back to the office trying to convince me to stick it out with a psychological head-trip of “It’s not easy being a leader.” But I’d already figured out that such a job would have been a daily exercise of humiliation where my dignity chipped away to nothing. Later, I met somebody who worked for them for about a year. He said he “made money,” but he also said he worked well beyond the 9-5 time slot, and often went to homes and businesses until 9 at night to make about $1500 a month. (This was in the 90’s btw.)
They didn’t tell me that when they were selling this job to me.
So how does this have anything to do with the title of the blog or the article my friend’s husband, Johnny Shaw, wrote about finding your writer’s voice? Patience, please, because I’m getting there.
On my first day of training, the former stripper told us about their morning meetings where they get pumped up with a Rhinos vs. Cows cheer. We were the “Rhinos,” of course, and everybody else working a regular job with guaranteed pay and some benefits were the “Cows.”
“Rhinos fuck shit up,” she said. “Cows just graze.”
On my second day of training, I got to experience this for myself. All the door-to-door sales associates were there and the POC supervisor who was making it “in a white man’s world” started the cheer.
“WHO ARE WE?” he roared.
Everybody made the “hang loose” sign - aka “shaka” in Hawaii - with one hand. Then they defiled this expression of mellowness and peace by putting thumb to nose so their fist and pinky finger made a facsimile of a rhino horn.
“WE’RE THE RHINOS!!” they called back.
“WHAT DO WE DO?”
“FUCK THE COWS!!”
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!”
“FUCK THE COWS!!”
“SAY IT AGAIN!!”
“FUCK THE COWS!!!”
“GREAT! NOW GET OUT THERE AND MAKE SOME MONEY!!”
Yeah. It would have been the wiser choice to bail right then and there, but I’m a firm believer in stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to find inspiration. This was one of those moments. Experiencing the sheer lunacy of people was priceless.
Johnny Shaw’s article made a reference to fucking a cow too, but that was for the sake of artistic merit. If you would like to know how his article triggered this memory when I was young and clueless, check it out here. I don’t know if this experience helped me find my writer’s voice, but perhaps Johnny’s professor would have been gratified to know that such a story was out there.