As a writer edits his novel-in-progress, he invariably leaves chunks of feeble prose on the cutting-room floor. More often than not, the discarded material ends up where it belongs, and what remains is improved by its absence. Sometimes the cuts are painless, and sometimes they hurt a little. “Murder your darlings,” wrote the Edwardian author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, and for generations, novelists have reluctantly followed his advice in pursuit of a tighter, leaner manuscript.
When editing Hush Money (Minotaur), my 2012 debut legal mystery, I was compelled to lop a limb or two that still, a full year later, tingle with phantom sensation. Below is a scene that never made it to the final, published novel, but that was fun to write, and therefore, painful to excise. While the prose may have died in utero, I did salvage the character name Jordan Mardian, and it will appear – in a very different context – in Green-Eyed Lady, the next installment in the Jack MacTaggart mystery series, which will be in bookstores in June of 2013.
So without further ado, here is an (unedited) outtake from Hush Money:
* * *
The Canyondale Golf Club is in west Pasadena, tucked into the sylvan folds of the San Rafael hills. Although I knew its general location and its storied reputation as Pasadena’s most exclusive private club, I’d never actually been there. Nor, for that matter, to any golf club, my only concept of which came from watching Caddyshack re-runs on late-night television.
It was a dazzling afternoon, all blue skies and bright sun, and a gentle breeze carried the faintest whiff of burning chaparral from somewhere out toward Malibu. I kept to the surface streets, with a watchful eye on my rear-view mirror.
At Arroyo Boulevard I headed south and descended into the bowl of Brookside Park, into the swarm of rollerbladers and cyclists and baby-carriage joggers who congregated there on weekends like so many Lycra-clad honeybees. Then, as the Rose Bowl loomed into view, I climbed back out onto Linda Vista and continued south, past the stately homes that grew larger and the shaded lawns that grew wider, until the roadway curved westward again at the precipice of the 134 Freeway.
From here you could see down-valley, over the Arroyo Seco and the delicate spider arch of the Colorado Street bridge. This postcard view, afforded only to the red-roofed mansions that dotted the surrounding hillsides, was the birthright of old-money Pasadena. It was here that Linda Vista died into San Rafael Boulevard, and a quick jog away from the freeway led me through a corridor of tall pines and sycamores to the entrance gates of the Canyondale Golf and Country Club.
I slowed to signal my turn when, with a throaty growl, a late-model Aston Martin rounded the curve of San Rafael as though on rails, its tires chirping, and swooped ahead of me into the shaded driveway. I turned and followed in its vapor trail.
The drive was narrow and lined with boxwood hedges, affording fleeting snapshots of a tree-lined fairway, achingly green, dotted with bunkers as bright and white as powdered sugar. After a graceful curve, the driveway straightened to a guard shack, where a portly man in uniform waved to the Aston as it roared past without slowing. Then his head swiveled toward the Wrangler, which he intercepted with an upraised hand.
“Good afternoon!” I called to him with manly good cheer.
He tilted his cap, hands on hips, exposing a broad and sweaty forehead.
“Yes, sir. What can I do for you?”
“I’m here for the Canyondalia. Guest of Jared Henley.”
He nodded. “Your name, sir?”
“Parker. Tom Parker.”
“Wait here, please,” he said, retreating to his booth.
I watched him pick up the phone and speak into the receiver. Then he gathered up a clipboard and walked to the front of the Jeep to copy the license, taking note of the broken headlight. When he returned to the window he squatted on his heels and pointed with the end of his pen past the clubhouse, to a gap between the pillared portico and the arc of cars fanned out before it.
“If you head straight through and down the hill, there should be some parking available there. Check in at the clubhouse up here. There’s a shuttle running today every five minutes or so.”
I put the Wrangler in gear.
“Am I too late for brunch?”
“No sir,” he said, rising to his full height, “they’re serving upstairs until three, and the men’s grill is open all day.”
Down in the lower lot, the Aston had backed into its space and now faced uphill, poised for a fast getaway. Its boot, as they say across the Pond, was open and obscured Agent 007 as he fetched out his mashies and niblicks. I pulled headfirst into the adjacent space, taking care with my open door. The last thing I needed now was a karate chop to the side of the neck.
The Aston’s trunk and the Wrangler’s door closed simultaneously, and I found myself face-to-face with a coltish blonde, all legs and arms, who made Lacey Underall look like Lassie the Wonder Dog. Her hair was long and her skirt short, and her eyes were a perfect match for the car, British Racing Green.
“Moneypenny, I presume?”
Her frosted lips twisted into a sideways smile, adding dimples to the plus-side of the scorecard.
“Let me guess,” she said. “You’ve wanted one ever since you were a little boy.”
“I suppose I have. And the car too.”
Her laugh was melodic. I put her at around twenty-five, but possibly younger. Her face was tan and she wore little or no makeup, and no jewelry on either hand. She was tall and lean with shoulders like an athlete, the kind they used to raise in test tubes behind the Iron Curtain.
“Can I give you a hand?”
“I think I can manage,” she replied, hooking an arm through the strap of her bag and hoisting it easily onto a shoulder. “But thanks all the same.”
We started off together, up the long hill toward the clubhouse. I noticed she wasn’t waiting for the shuttle.
“I’m Jordan,” she said, proffering a hand. “Jordan Mardian. I haven’t seen you here before.”
“Jack MacTaggart.” Her grip was firm, her hand a full shade lighter than the rest of her arm, which I believe made her a southpaw.
“Golfer’s tan,” she explained, noticing that I’d noticed. “I try to play every day. It’s my only healthy vice. What about you, Jack? Do you golf?”
“I tried it once. Couldn’t seem to get the ball past that windmill thingy.”
She laughed again. “The windmill can be a bitch. We don’t have one here at Canyondale, thank God.”
Her stride was long and fast and by the time we’d crested the hill, one of us was breathing through his mouth.
“Isn’t there some kind of tournament going on today?”
She nodded, shifting the clubs easily from one shoulder to the other. “The Canyondalia. Big tradition. Lots of betting and cigars. You can practically smell the testosterone from out here.” She checked the clock mounted above the bag-drop. “The last group ought to be going off right about now.”
We entered the shade of the portico together and a uniformed attendant held the door, tipping his cap to Jordan and greeting her by name. The clubhouse lobby was all wood paneling and carpets, and a man behind a desk rose to greet us. He wore a sport coat and tie, and his fresh-scrubbed appearance reminded me of a television sportscaster manning the in-studio console.
“Good afternoon, Miss Mardian. And Mr. Parker? Can I ask you to sign in, please?”
I stepped to the counter and signed somebody’s name into the guest register.
“Any idea where I might find Jared Henley in the next ten minutes or so?”
The man slipped on reading glasses to consult a pairing sheet.
“His group teed off at one o’clock. They ought to be approaching, oh, the fourth tee by now. If you head down those stairs,” he said, pointing toward a wall of glass framing an open stairwell, “I’m sure one of the course marshals can direct you.”
Jordan spoke up from behind me.
“Don’t worry, George. I’ll see to it that Mr. Parker finds whatever it is he’s looking for.”
“You didn’t have to do this!” I called to her over the rush of pine-scented air.
Jordan Mardian drove a golf cart the way she drove her Aston, like she was outrunning an avalanche. We went airborne more than once as she zoomed over the undulating grounds, and only a strategically-wedged topsider staved off ejection into the fescue.
“Won’t you miss your starting time?”
“This promises to be so much more interesting.”
“What does, exactly?”
“I don’t know, exactly. But I have a sense for these things, Mr. Parker.”
“MacTaggart,” I corrected. “Or just Jack.”
She gave me a skeptical look.
“All right, just Jack. What did you say is your line of work?”
“I didn’t say. But if you must know, it’s taxidermy. It’s a dying art, you know.”
“Uh-huh. I suppose that would explain the bullet hole in your vehicle. Rather large caliber, by the look of it.”
I turned to study her profile against the emerald blur of the scenery. She had a strong chin and the kind of cheekbones that bespeak either privileged breeding or extraordinary good luck. Her flaxen hair flowed like a battle pennant in the wind.
“And what do you do, Jordan, when you’re not frightening the other golfers?”
“Oh, this and that. Some would tell you that I mostly spend daddy’s money. Daddy, for one. But I prefer to think of myself as an artist.” She swept a hand across the treetops. “Only life is my canvas.”
“That’s funny,” I said. “There’s a guy I know from work, he was a boxer, and the canvas was his life.”
She studied me with her malachite eyes.
“You’re very clever. More so than the average taxidermist, I should think.”
“In the land of the blind,” I told her, “the one-eyed man is king.”
We were out on course now where groups of spectators, mostly white men in Bermuda shorts, watched the action from around the greens. Many held cigars, or cocktails in plastic cups, or sometimes both. Most wore baseball caps or visors, or the odd Panama boater. Tara would be happy to learn that some were wearing plaid.
The pines and the cigars blended nicely with a vaguely coconut scent that seemed to emanate from Jordan Mardian. She was Venus on a clamshell, a sunny day at the beach personified. I’d bet if I put my ear to her chest I could hear the sound of the ocean.
“Not that it’s any of my business, but what’s your interest in Jared Henley?”
She asked this while carving a one-handed arc around a fairway bunker and waving to a group of swains who hailed her by name, cocktails aloft.
“He owes me, that’s all. For a sailfish. I hate to make a scene, but I think he’s been avoiding me.”
“You should count your blessings,” she replied.
We streaked across a fairway and topped a low rise, coasting to a halt in the shade. Directly below us lay a manicured green and tee box, and in one of the green-side bunkers, his Ben Hogan cap just visible above the lip, stood Jared Henley. His shoulders were hunched and his gaze shifted from his feet to the green above, then back again. Three other golfers, joined by two caddies and maybe a half-dozen spectators, stood in quiet anticipation.
“Ten bucks he leaves it in the trap,” whispered Jordan.
Jared’s club head rose, catching a flash of afternoon sun, then accelerated into the pit, sending a fistful of sugar onto the putting surface. But not the ball.
Jordan kicked the brake free and swooped downslope to the edge of the pines, pulling up behind the small gallery.
“You owe me a drink,” she said.
We alighted from the cart and mingled with the others while Jared prepared for another attempt. This time his ball sailed over the lip, hopped once on the green and struck the flag stick with a hollow chink, stopping just inches from the cup. There was a smattering of applause, and when he emerged from the bunker, the largest of the golfers greeted him with a rifle-shot high five.
“Bob Abernathy,” whispered Jordan. “Second biggest asshole in the Club.”
Jared and his partner wore matching outfits – teal blue golf shirts over white plus-four knickers and tall argyle socks, with white driving caps and shoes.
They looked like shoeshine boys from a remake of Guys and Dolls.
We loitered in the background while the foursome putted out. Then, as the spectators drifted toward the adjoining tee, Jared caught sight of my escort and lingered behind.
“Hey, Jordan. Did you catch that sandy?”
“Hello, Jared. I brought a friend of yours.”
Only then did he notice me, standing in the shade with folded arms.
“Mac? What the hell are you doing out here?”
It was more of an accusation than a greeting. I stepped forward and draped an arm around his shoulder, gripping the back of his neck with my hand.
“I thought I’d surprise you, pal. Are you surprised?”
I started walking him toward the tree line, but he stopped after a few steps and tried to wriggle free.
“Let go of me! What do you think you’re doing?”
I kept my hand clamped on his neck.
“I’m trying not to embarrass you in front of your friends. Now shut up and come over here.”
He yielded a few more steps, then stopped again.
“I’m in the middle of a fucking tournament, you asshole!”
“You’re in the middle of a lot more than that, my friend. And I know all about it.”
“Hey, Jared!” called a voice from the tee box. It was his partner, Abernathy, waving him up.
Jared held up a finger. “One minute! You go ahead!”
I pulled him closer, keeping my voice low.
“I found the file, Jared. I copied the bank statements and the wire transfers, and I’ve talked to Sydney and Barbara. They told me all about it.”
He tried again to pry my hand from his neck, without success.
“Big fucking deal. Let go, godammit!”
He pulled free and staggered backward.
“We can talk about this Monday morning, okay? Now get the fuck out of here before I call somebody!”
“We’ll be busy Monday morning.”
I hit him with a pretty good right. Not the full Monty, but hard enough to drop him to the ground like a sack of grain. After a slow moment he rolled onto his side and sat up, holding his hat in one hand and his jaw in the other.
“You cocksucker!” he hissed.
“That was for lying to me.”
“I didn’t lie to you! You never even asked me about Creole!”
This time he sounded like he might cry.
“Get up, you big baby.”
He rose unsteadily to a crouch and then sprang forward, throwing his weight at my legs. But his shoes slipped on the pine straw and instead of taking me down, he ended up on his knees again with an awkward bear hug on my thighs. I took hold of his hair and lifted him upright, then drove a fist into his stomach. That sent him sprawling onto the ground where he remained, curled and heaving, fighting his lunch to a draw.
“And that’s for Russ.”
“Help!” he called weakly. “Get him away from me!”
He rolled to a sitting position, his head lolling between his knees. Then, with an effort, he staggered to his feet and spat, brushing the dirt from his pants.
“You’re in deep shit now,” he said without conviction.
“I can see that. Where’s Hush Puppy?”
“Hush Puppy. What have you and Huang done with him?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about EVAgen, Jared.”
He looked up at me, hands on his knees, and he spat again.
“You’re crazy, MacTaggart.”
I grabbed him by the collar and backed him into a pine tree, branches snapping, and pinned him against the trunk with both hands. His eyes were wild with rage and fear.
“We can do this the easy way,” I told him, “or we can keep doing it the hard way.”
“Help me!” he called again, and over my shoulder I heard the muffled sound of running feet.
“Hey, you! Let go of him!”
Abernathy was the first to arrive, locking a thick forearm under my chin. He leaned his weight into a series of backward jerks, and on his third attempt I pushed off, driving my head into his chin and pulling Jared with me, launching the three of us onto the ground in a welter of elbows and knees.
I rolled onto my good shoulder and came up in a crouch, but Jared and his partner stayed down. Abernathy had a hand over his face and blood was seeping from between his fingers. We were quickly surrounded by five other men, including one of the caddies who circled, crab-like, wielding a titanium driver.
“What the hell’s going on here?” demanded a late arrival, breathless.
Jared, his shirt torn at the neck, rose to a sitting position and pointed a shaking finger in my direction.
“You’re fired, MacTaggart! You hear me? You’re through! Now get the fuck out of here!”
I heard a whooshing sound then, and a white flash appeared behind me with Jordan Mardian at the wheel.
“You’re through, sport,” I called over my shoulder as Jordan hit the accelerator and we lurched off in a quickening rush of wind and trees, tracking the fairway westward toward the clubhouse.
“What took you so long?” I asked, brushing the pine sap and needles from my forearms. She reached over and straightened my collar, more amused than alarmed at what she’d witnessed.
“I think you’d be wise to give me a rain check on that drink,” she said.
We hurtled down the fairway and over a low rise, and soon the rear of the clubhouse came into view above the treetops.
“I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t get your money,” she said after a while.
“Maybe not. But I got something just as important.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
“I got his attention.”