A few people expressed interest in reading excerpts from my novels. I thought I would share the opening scene from my work-in-progress, Cobblestone. It’s a time travel mystery set in Bavaria. The protagonist is a forty year old man named Max. He makes his first appearance in Chapter One, but you won’t meet him in this opening scene that hints at what is to come. I hope you like it. Beware, this is unedited and will likely change some.
MAY 28, 2009—
The copper tea kettle’s whistle turned shrill from neglect, and steam hissed from its gooseneck spout. Lotte gave her hostess a sideways glance.
“Mein Gott!” Margrit said, finally noticing the noise. “I forgot about the kettle. I’ll get our tea.” Margrit made a feeble attempt to get up, then landed back on the seat of her wooden chair with a heavy thud, causing strands of her flyaway gray hair to come loose from her bun and flop over her eyes. She blew at her hair and when that didn’t help, she pulled it aside with her hand.
Lotte shook her head in disgust and said, “Nein. I’ll get it. You rest.”
Margrit nodded and closed her eyes.
Three oil lanterns provided enough light for Lotte to maneuver around Margrit’s kitchen without any problems, but she grumbled under her breath all the same. She removed two porcelain teacups from the pale blue cupboards near the stove, and shook her head again. The dishes as well as the house had been in Margrit’s husband’s family for generations. Some pieces of the dish set were destroyed during bombing raids in World War II more than sixty years ago. What was left of the set was covered with cracks and crazing. Karl, having been devoted to Margrit whether or not she deserved it, had bought new dishes—beautiful fine china that Lotte would have been grateful to get—but not Margrit. Margrit had refused to use the new set of dishes, the same way she’d refused then and now to use electricity. Bah. Would she give the set away to her only friend? Of course not. She’d packed it away in a crate in the cellar where it would remain until she died.
Lotte filled the cups with boiling water and tea bags. Opening the antique ice box, which wasn’t all that cold, she took out a jug of fresh cow’s milk from Margrit’s own cows and poured some into both cups. “You really must paint these cupboards,” Lotte said. “Soon there won’t be any paint left on them. They look dreadful.” She didn’t mention that slivers of lead-paint dropping into her food or drink, or that eating and drinking from these dishes made with lead, could be deadly.
“I don’t have money for paint. I’m not rich like you. Besides, I’m getting old and tired and no one other than you and I see it, anyway. Why do you care? You only come around once in a fortnight, if that much.”
They sat in silence for several minutes. Lotte stared at the lantern on the countertop beside the stove, then let her gaze lower to the pile of small logs on the floor. Spiders crawled around on them. A worm wiggled out from between two logs. She shuddered, turned her head, and looked up. Tarnished copper pots and pans hung from a shelf attached to the wall. Margrit never bothered to clean or polish them, yet she wondered why Lotte brought food she’d prepared at her own house when she came for dinners. Tonight, she’d brought her specialty, a beef rouladen stuffed with a mixture of smoked pork belly, chopped onion, and chopped cucumber.
Between bites of food, Lotte asked, “How did you get those bruises?”
Margrit looked at her right arm. “It’s nothing. I fell down.”
“Again? On the stairs? How many times have you done that this month?”
“That’s not good, not good at all. Why not sleep downstairs? You could make a bed on the settee.”
Margrit didn’t answer. Lotte clenched her jaw, wondering how she would ever broach the subject she’d come here to talk about. She ate a bite of food and then said, as casually as she could, “Did you ever find the addresses you were looking for? The ones for your grandchildren. The last time I was here you mentioned you wanted to write to them.”
“Ja. I found some of Monika’s old letters. She wrote her children’s addresses in one of them.”
“That was lucky for you, though you do realize those are probably outdated. It’s been twenty years.”
Margrit scrunched her eyes, as if thinking, but then waved her hand dismissively. “People don’t move around much.”
“Maybe not here in Germany, but I’ve heard people do move around in the U.S.” Margrit didn’t respond. “So, you’re still planning to write to them and tell what we did to Karl and Monika?”
“Ja. I can’t go to my grave without confessing my sins to someone. I’m not going to last much longer. I can feel it in my bones.”
Lotte didn’t doubt that. Her long-time friend’s hair was completely gray and thinning. She looked at least ten years older than Lotte, although they were the same age.
“Don’t do it, Margrit. I’ll still be here. I’ll have to pay the consequences. And . . . well, think about the dangers if people found out about . . . .”
“It’s my decision. I already wrote the letters. I’ll take them to town tomorrow and put them in the post.”
“Of course you’re assuming your grandchildren know German and can read your old-style German handwriting.”
“Oh, dear. I didn’t think . . . oh wait, I remember Monika used to talk of scholars who could decipher ancient tablets and such. Surely the children can take the letters to someone to translate, if they can’t read them.”
Children? Heavens, Margrit’s grandchildren must be pushing forty. Lotte shook her head. “All right, I suppose you’re right. But you only go into town on Wednesdays. That’s four days from now. You can give the letters to me and I’ll see them safely to the post office. It’ll save you the extra trip.”
Margrit squinted at her. “You would throw the letters away. I’m old, but I’m not stupid.”
Lotte clenched her jaw it was giving her a headache. The stubborn old hag. Why can’t she leave it alone? Her heart started racing. She took a deep breath and held it, then she blew it out and closed her eyes for a few seconds. That’s better. No need to panic. Those grandchildren of hers won’t bother coming here. They showed us years ago that they aren’t interested in family. She opened her eyes and sat up straight. “You couldn’t even get up to pour water into teacups just now. How are you going to walk into town tomorrow? Give me the letters.”
Margrit crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head.