The Captain’s Play: Two Tocks before Midnight — Released and FREE (today)
After a series of updates (I would find a missing comma, insert it, upload the ebook, and find another one…), I’m pleased to announce Two Tocks before Midnight is available for public consumption, a 9,500 word short novella or long novellete murder mystery.
It is currently available only at Amazon.com through the KDP Select program, but I will probably only do that the first three months.
Here is the first thousand words:
October 24th, 1859
I have never been fond of sentimental ramblings so I will keep this short. Indeed, if not for the insistence of my friends, I would just as soon let the matter slip away with the sands of time. But repeated pleas from the curious and the morbid compel me to share with you the strange affair of October 24th, 1859.
I can’t even say with certitude that the events of that date occurred exactly as I remember them. As time passes, so do the minute and myriad details; rough edges are made smooth and the inevitable romanticizing of the past plays havoc with true fact.
Still, as I am a Christian and an honest man, what follows is as accurate as my fallible mind can relate.
Nearly two score years separate us from those days and that night in particular. I, alone—so I am told—am survived out of the lot of us.
Our society had a dozen members at its zenith.
Each brought to the group his individual talents and ambitions. Mine lay in ancient Near Eastern languages. To give a brief sampling of the others pertinent to our discussion, Dr. Christopher Harding was an expert in papyrus, cuneiform, and writing methods of antiquity; Mr. Thomas Phillips was skilled at ancient weaponry; and of course there was Mr. Charles Tock who could converse in thirteen languages and read five more. Charles Tock and Thomas Phillips are of special interest to our story.
Before I begin about the events of that night, I think it important to share a little more about our group.
We called it the Agora. It was to be an open marketplace to foster ideas for the betterment of man. That was the name; the structure, however, was modeled after Dr. Franklin’s Junto society. In a show of hubris that even today causes me to cower with embarrassment, our charter set forth the goal of leaving to the world a greater legacy than that of the good Doctor. Indeed, we had the mind to compete with the man who “took lightning from the sky and the scepter from the tyrant’s hand” as Turgot put it. He surely laughs at my friends in the hereafter. There are times I fear I hear his laughter echoing in my dreams, beckoning for me to come.
I do not think it wrong, however, to recollect our accomplishments as humble as they may be when held to Dr. Franklin’s light.
We established a Freeman’s society which secured the release of one hundred and thirty-six Negroes. Our society also made sure these men and women were taught a trade and their letters. It is of considerable pride to report nearly all of them transitioned well after the war. Indeed, several families prospered. To this day, there is no greater joy than to receive a letter or a visit from one of the families.
It is also true that our services were used on a number of occasions by the police, as this letter will attest. Though small, we were well-connected and able, by merit of our collective talents, to be of some value to law enforcement.
We financed the repairing of the dam in Clarkesville, which was completed a mere month before the great flood of fifty-six. Several of us were involved with building libraries, windmills, schoolhouses, and churches.
In short, our efforts saved the lives of hundreds of mortal and immortal souls. However, again remembering our foolish goal, Dr. Franklin’s invention of the simple lightning rod alone, has surely saved millions.
We met every Monday night precisely at six in the evening. If someone was absent or tardy, he was made to do “community service.” This usually meant clearing the streets of horse manure. The honor of such a job was a great incentive to show up on time and it was a rare occasion when one of us did not.
Charles Tock came to us a few years before the events of that dreadful night. (As a matter of protocol we all referred to each other by our first names no matter our age or status outside the Agora.) I distinctly remember Charles’ introduction the first time he appeared before our group. I relate it now because it accurately illustrates his dry humor and breadth of knowledge.
“My name is Charles,” he said, pausing to allow his eyes to greet each of us. “That can’t be helped, but I always intended to marry royalty to avoid being churlish.”
Only a few of us caught the etymological jesting. Having a name, Carl, that shares the same cognate as Charles, namely “churl,” I was one of them. “Churl,” as you know, came to mean the opposite of nobility, a rude man somewhat above a peasant.
Despite his poor taste in arcane humor, his broad knowledge and experience soon propelled him to something of an elder position among us. Most of us at the time were, after all, two decades his junior.
Many people have asked me if we suspected anything unusual about him from the beginning. Well, we all knew that he could be willing to compromise his principles to get what he wanted. He had demonstrated this vice in small ways over the few years we knew him. Still, none of us anticipated his spectacular downfall.
He came suddenly, and one winter morning, he left just as suddenly—and without telling anyone. As I have mentioned before, missing even a single meeting was heavily discouraged. It was doubly shocking considering how integral he had made himself to the club.
On the third meeting after his initial absence, it was decided a party should be sent to learn what had become of him. The talk of discipline from the week before turned to genuine concern. I was not chosen to join the search party, but I did hear their report. His lodgings—the address he gave in the society’s records was an abandoned slaughterhouse. As it turned out, no member had visited Charles outside club meetings during the time he had been with us.
But the mystery was only to begin.
For more, please go to Amazon to download it. It will remain free through tomorrow (1-11-12). After that, it will only be .99.