So, recently I dusted off a Work-in-Progress that I abandoned in 2014 and am focusing my limited writing time on fleshing it out. So far this process has involved a lot of chopping and revision. I suppose you could even call it a total rewrite, except for the introduction which has only been moderately edited from its original iteration. It’s a quirky little story having nothing to do with cops and mobsters. I apologize if that makes the Downey fans a little bummed, but it will contain my other favorite topics: family, loyalty, mystery and intrigue.
Here is the introduction to “Win” in its current form (subject to further editing, of course):
Mayor Winfield bought two coffees every morning, even on holidays, because even on holidays and Sundays, someone in Smokey Hill sold coffee. It was universally agreed upon that God was more than fine with this exception to the rest-in-commerce rule, as coffee and donuts were the social glue of churches and police stations everywhere. Mayor Winfield—or Win as he was called—had developed this daily coffee-buying habit partly because he was too lazy to make coffee and felt uncomfortable asking his secretary to do it no matter how much she insisted she didn’t mind, and partly because he went out of his way to support all the local businesses on a regular basis. He patronized all thirty-eight of them, every day, except on Sunday in which it was only twenty stops. Some folk called him odd — ‘not quite right in the head’ — and others cynically insisted he was just throwing his money around, but as long as his mother still believed in him, Win didn’t care. And regardless of their opinions regarding his sanity or lack thereof, the townspeople kept electing him. Of course, running unopposed always helped.
The town of Smokey Hill had seven thousand one hundred and forty-two souls, but the combined income of the first five thousand barely reached the sum total of the taxes he paid on the Winfield family fortune. Ever since the large manufacturing company that had employed more than half the town pulled up roots and left, Smokey Hill was flat broke. The city budget ran regularly in the red, and most remaining citizens were spending only enough money to get by. Nearly half of the under-forty demographic had moved away to find better employment and better funded schools.
So to Win’s way of thinking if he didn’t regularly buy overpriced, slightly burnt coffee from Gladys Johnson’s gas station, or excessively bright paintings from Luke Turner’s gallery, or really horrible decorations from Mabel Smith’s curio shop, then the town might just tip on its already precarious lean towards tits up. It had nothing to do with politicking or flaunting his wealth, and everything to do with Win not wanting the legacy of being the last mayor of Smokey Hill.
On this particular Tuesday, Win had just bought his usual two-coffees-to-go and a homemade scone that looked like it might actually be edible when he heard the atypical sound of door chimes signal the arrival of another customer. Curious, he stopped pretending to listen to Doris insist he do something about the bland meals at Trembling Palms and turned to see who might have joined the usual crowd, all of whom were seated in the same spots in the Git-N-Sip Gas Stop that they had occupied for the last twenty years.
A woman greeted him with a question disguised as a shout, “Mayor Winfield!”
She wore a business suit that almost looked like a school uniform; slate grey, unbroken by feminine embellishment and complete with grey pencil skirt and Mary Jane shoes. Even her eyes were grey. Despite her drab get-up, she appeared to be young and healthy, possibly in her mid-thirties, slightly younger than his forty. As to anything else about her, Win couldn’t say. There was nothing else remarkable to say about her that wasn’t overwhelmed by her rapid gait and fearsome countenance.
“Yes?” he replied with a cautious and welcoming smile. Strangers were rarer than virginity in this town. Especially strangers with all of their teeth. He didn’t want to scare a potential new citizen away, no matter how much she currently scared him.
“Or do you go by Dr. Winfield?” the woman amended as she moved forward with a brisk assurance that bordered on menacing. “Your secretary said you’d give me a tour of Smokey Hill. I sent you a letter to expect my arrival? As you may have surmised, I am Arnica Dawson from Documents Analysis,” she specified, raising her hand to give him a firm shake. “Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Win,” he replied. She’d sent him a letter? When?
Her features remained blank except for a slight contraction of her eyebrows. He felt an inexplicable, yet compulsive need to fill the silent void.
“I mean, people call me Win, not Mayor or Dr. Winfield or anything,” he laughed a bit then leaned forward in a conspiratorial manner, still clasping her hand. “Between you and me, the Mayor bit is just an honorific title; I mostly just cut ribbons and give pretty women tours.”
He flashed a grin, but she simply blinked once and let go of his hand. He attempted to mimic her professional, humorless demeanor.
“So… Documents Analysis… is that a company name or division of an agency? And you are responsible for…?” Win pried.
“Analyzing documents. Do they call you Win because of your competitive nature or your last name?” she asked, finally releasing a twitchy, brief smile that was somehow both playful and cynical. Like there was an insult buried beneath a joke, but both were the inside sort.
“Neither. It’s short for my first name. Winchester.”
“Winchester,” she replied in a hollow, faintly curious manner.
“Yes. My full name is Winchester Wellington Winfield.”
“Wow, that’s a mouthful!” Arnica laughed and relaxed amusement swam over her aloof features before receding like sunshine between rain clouds, serving only to highlight the gloomy grey when it returned.
He felt stunned and slightly baffled. She reminded him of a tuning fork; silver utilitarian form hiding waves of potential energy. Why was this woman attempting to mask all that enthusiasm and vitality behind an appearance that screamed ‘ignore me’? Not that he required people to dress like their personality, but incongruity had never sat well with him. He was hoping she’d turn out to be Wonder Woman or an international superspy to provide a reasonable explanation for it. As it was, he felt a compulsive urge to keep agitating the surface to prove he hadn’t imagined the sound.
“It’s a family name,” he offered with a sheepish grimace, hoping it came off as charming and not disingenuous, seeing as how he was the one who had offered his full name up needlessly. The irony was he went to great lengths to never use his entire given name, and never his title or doctorate degree. Nothing said pretentious douche-nozzle like having three last names and a few commas.
“Or several,” she bantered dryly, fully back to her professionally bland manner. “But how do you know your parents didn’t choose Win from your last name?”
“I’ve a brother named Stillwater and a sister named Hennessey, both with the Winfield name, and both older than me. No one called either of them ‘Win’. They got ‘Still’ and ‘Henny’ for nicknames.”
This time she worried her lip a bit before replying. Her eyes danced in their sockets as they traced his features, but not in amusement, perhaps trying to decide if he was serious.
“Wow,” she settled on saying again.
He grinned and shrugged.
“So only you were blessed with the gift of alliteration and the nickname ‘Win’?” she continued.
He wondered when they had ventured from introductory polite talk to interrogation, and how she had managed to place him on the defensive when she was the stranger to town.
“Mother did try calling me Triple instead of Win when I was young, ostensibly in homage to my three ‘W’s, but father put his foot down. ‘He’s a boy, not a horse, darling’,” Win paused for another wry, hopefully charming grin. “I suppose I should be grateful I got Win.”
“Well,” Arnica replied ponderously, gifting him with a slight tilt of humor to her lips. “At least you weren’t named after an herb.”
“True,” he stopped another grin. He was startled to recall he hadn’t ever smiled this much in such a short period of time without courting some sort of fiduciary victory for his town, and never when he didn’t have the upper hand, or was at least armed with information against his opponent. And never, ever with a complete stranger. Maybe there was some truth to the idea that names had power, because usually Win needed some sort of conquest-at-hand in order to feel like smiling. He’d have to chalk it up to the incongruity conundrum, otherwise here he was engaged in plain-old humor-based teeth baring with a complete stranger. And worse, offering up loads of personal information without knowing anything more than her name.
“You could always go by your middle name…” he suggested, hoping she would deem him merely being polite and not in fact fishing for more information.
“So could you,” she parried without answering.
Hmmn, he mentally catalogued.
“I’m,” he drawled out the ‘I’ for effect then rushed the rest out, “going to have to say Winchester edges Wellington out by a thin margin.”
She laughed again, as brief as before. With an equally fleeting glance around at the tomb-silent occupants of the shop, she offered, “And I will say that being named after the firearm that won the west is a ‘thin margin’ more interesting than an herb no one’s heard of.”
“Not to quibble, but Winchester is my mother’s maiden name which just happens to also be the name of an ammunitions and firearms company. And arnica… used for bruises and minor aches and pains. Bright yellow flower—almost looks like a daisy, except yellow.”
She blinked, face betraying surprise at his knowledge.
He handed her his spare coffee before she could return her features to cold steel. “Are we going to stand here and argue semantics all day, or would you still like a tour of Smokey Hill, Ms. Dawson? Or is it Mrs.?”
She smiled faintly and let her movement toward the shop door be her only answer. As a politician—true, a reluctant one—Win was used to non-answers and deflections from council members and law enforcement. But he wasn’t used to intelligent enigmas coming into his town so brashly inquisitive, and yet so unwilling to reciprocate with information.
As he left the store, Win didn’t need to look at the occupants of the room to know they were practically ready to pass out from such a gold mine of town gossip. Offered up right there in front of God and everyone at the Git-N-Sip, no prying necessary. He had no doubt by end-of-business the tale would involve him looking like a wide-eyed ingenue baring his neck to a vampire in grey polyester.
All the best stories had a kernel of truth.
—© 2017 by Genevieve Dewey, All Rights Reserved.