“Swamis,” Portia Backstory

My novel, “Swamis,” would be complete and possibly readable by now if I wasn’t so (I have to say) involved in the backstory for each of the main characters (and, I guess, if there weren’t so damn many of them). I wouldn’t have been so involved in the details if it wasn’t so important to me to know and show how distinctive each character is. And realistic, authentic.

It hasn’t aided my task that character development and the crashing of characters against each other is so much fun for me. Writer fun, not like reader fun.

A reader wants FOCUS. I am trying. My third page one rewrite has narrowed the timeline, tightened the storyline, dropped out a few characters.

Here is an exchange that won’t be in the novel. I have already eliminated this scene at the San Diego Sheriff’s Office Vista Substation:

We’d been in the office too long. We were all a bit more… relaxed.

Dickson closed the door with a kick of the knee when he reentered the office with two more cups of coffee. He handed one to Jumper, said he put a little coffee in with the sugar. Wendall took the other cup, said Frederick Thompson had not been drunk or under the influence of drugs as far as the medical examiners could tell. “Just crazy.”

“Helicopter pilot,” Jumper said, as if this explained something.  It seemed to. Maybe not enough. “He flew evac in Korea, got out, surfed, went back in for Vietnam. Gunships. Different thing. Fucked him up.” Jumper paused. “So, yeah; crazy.” 

Wendall lit up another cigarette.  “And… all of this… craziness, Langdon is claiming, and he has the ear of the politicians, is because of the Sheriff’s Office laissez-faire” (he pronounced it la-zy-fair) “policy toward pot growers and dealers in our county.”

“Miss Ransom and the ‘Free Press’ assholes got that part right,” Dickson said. “La-zy-fair for sure.”

Wendall leaned over the desk as far as he could. “It wasn’t your father, Jody; Gunny thought he had it under control. It’s just… grown… too fast, too many new, um, participants. We knew about Chulo; that he was collecting money from the hippie dealers. Chulo and…?”

Jumper and I both said “Portia” at the same time.

Oceanside 1974. The proximity to Camp Pendleton
and a steady stream of vulnerable Marines had made the downtown a pretty tough place in the Vietnam era. I worked at Buddy’s Sign Service in this area June, 1969 to September, 1971. Yeah, too much exposition.

“Oh yeah,” Wendall said, “Portia. She’s actually Patricia Sue Langley. Patty Langley, runaway from, um, Many Wives, Utah; busted for petty theft…ha ha… back in ’65.  No, um, end of ’64.  She was a minor, so… So… and… oh, then she got… sexual. Oceanside. Marines, mostly; easy pickin’s.”

Dickson interjected. “Not our, as you know, jurisdiction.”

“Oh, but then Patty got herself down to Leucadia…” Wendall said, “across 101 and down from where you live now, Jody; one of those motels.”

Dickson pointed toward Jumper. “Second one past your place.”

“When I was a kid,” Jumper said, “Chulo and I’d go around, pick up coke bottles at the Log Cabin Inn, other motels; turn them in for the, the deposit. Good money for a kid.”

I felt compelled to join in. I spoke quickly to make up for the obvious lack of interest by the others. “A neighbor kid, Roger; he and I went to this ball game down by Live Oak Park. Fallbrook. Roger’s brother was playing. We picked up bottles; took them to the guy at the little… the stand. The guy said they were his bottles, wouldn’t give us the deposit money.”

“You tell him who your dad was?”

“No.” I looked at Wendall, Dickson, Jumper. They were waiting. “Roger did.”

Wendall cleared his throat. Loudly. “So. Jody’s dad… Gunny… Joe; he always liked to point out how most all the motels were on the south-bound side; like that showed nobody’s coming up from San Diego looking for a place; it’s all from the north.  L.A.”

“Anyway,” Dickson said, “guess she… Patty, um, slash Portia, got tired of… servicing… Jarheads; fresh-outa-boot-camp Ji-rines; they’d probably want to go two or three times.” He did a subtle hip thrust motion, adding, “First time ought to be free. Ha! Probably wouldn’t even make it out of his skivvies.”

Wendall took over. “It was my call. Disturbance. The proprietor actually called it in; but Gunny and…” Wendall pointed over his shoulder. “Gunny and Big Imagination here show up. I’m standing outside a room with some fat business type from Covina… West Covina. So… fat. He claimed he hadn’t gotten his money’s worth.”

It was a brief pause, but Dickson took the story. “So, Joe goes, ‘money’s worth of what?’ The guy… hey; it’s your story, Wendall. Did you take a bribe on that one?”

“Well.” Wendall looked around to make sure everyone was watching. “Sort of. Gunny, he goes up to the guy, looks down at his…you know, package. The guy was in… he’d put on his business jacket. Seersucker; some sort of sales guy green. Sears or Pennys; one of those. No shirt, and, you know, tidy whities; size, um, enormous. For his butt. No big bulge; not that I would notice. Black socks, the kind you hold up with garters. Garters. This Chipper, Mortenson, shows up and the… West Covina guy is acting like we’re supposed to be… like we’re on his side. Mortenson, you remember him, huh; tough bastard, loved to pull over kids.”

“And beaners,” Dickson said, looking directly at Jumper before giving Wendall a sweeping ‘take-it-away’ gesture.

Wendall was leaning forward, both elbows on my dad’s old desk. “So, Gunny, he’s got Mr. West Covina’s wallet in his hand and, I guess, repeats, ‘Money’s worth of what, Mr. um, Redwick?’ Red… wick.” 

We all may have chuckled. Wendall continued. 

“So, Patty’s standing there, wrapped up in a blanket. Not because it’s cold… and the motel owner, older woman who thought she’d be renting places for artists; like, you know, like Leucadia’s Newport Beach or something; she’s got an arm around Patty, and Patty’s got a bottle of orange soda up against one eye, and Gunny’s just waiting for Humpty Redwick to answer. And I say, ‘Maybe he was getting some, um, advice on, um, clothing choices.’ Morty… Mortenson, this cracks him up. But Gunny’s all business; serious. I mean, Morty’s seen some shit. He’s a vet, too. Korea, at least. Army. Chosin Reservoir. Bad shit. And he’d been cruising up and down 101, ‘Slaughter Alley’ for years. He was still, those days, still on a motorcycle. So, yeah; blood… tough guy, and he’s just… laughing.”

Wendall put a cigarette in his mouth, pulled out his Sheriff’s Office Zippo from his shirt pocket, snapped the lighter open with a jerk of the wrist, hit the wheel with a snap of the finger. More theatrics. “So, now Morty sees your dad’s serious. I mean, Morty was big, but Gunny was looking… you know how he could… that look; fierce, fierce-like; and Gunny he… he opens up Redwick’s wallet, then holds every photo of the guy’s wife and kids up to his face; whole, you know, string of them; and then shows them to me. And the owner. And Patty. Gunny takes out all the cash. He asks the proprietor if the motel fee has been paid. She says, ‘Diner’s Club,’ and Gunny holds a twenty and a couple of singles up in Redwick’s face, puts that cash back in the wallet, sticks the rest out toward Patty, sticks the wallet back into Humpty’s inside coat pocket. 

“Gunny’s still holding, probably, two hundred bucks. She, Patty, she shakes her head. And I say, ‘Oh, the advice,’ and she, no one would take her for dumb; Patty says, ‘Maybe Mr. Redwick should switch to some, um, boxers… maybe some, uh, dark color; that might be a choice.’ She takes the money. Now Gunny’s smiling. We’re, all of us, laughing. Not Redwick. He does look a little relieved, maybe.”

Wendall stopped, inhaled, blew the smoke out kind of forcefully. We all watched the cloud get sucked into the fan, some of it actually going out the window.

“Wait. Wait. So, Morty gets a call; three car pile-up by the Carlsbad Slough. He gets on his bike, starts it up, peels out. Lights and sirens.”

Jumper filled in with, “Not your jurisdiction.”

“Right. Then, two doors down, this other guy tries slipping out of a room. Gunny’s watching Patty. She must of looked over. The motel owner, she seems, um, concerned. Gunny gives me a look. The other guy, he tries to duck back into the room. I run down… yeah; I can run… I push open the door, grab this guy. He must have thought it was all over when Morty left.”

Wendall did a sort of relaxed pose, casually inhaled, slowly blew out smoke.

“And?” Jumper and I both asked.  

“And…” Wendall looked pleased. “And there’s another, definitely underaged girl inside; not beat up, but… I mean, it was obvious. So, short story long, it all went official. Other than the money.”  

Any excerpts from “Swamis” are protected under copyright laws, Erwin A. Dence, Junior, author.

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