Wendy of Wensend blog invited me to write a guest post, after she read and reviewed The Grrrl of Limberlost. My guest post explains how “Comedy of Manners” (the Rain City series tagline) applies for the characters in The Grrrl. You can read that post on Wendy’s blog.
The Grrrl of Limberlost is told from multiple viewpoints: A security programmer following a major malware problem, an injured PTSD guy protecting his family from vengeful gangsters, and a porn-farm IT admin with a whacked world view.
Let me further tweak your interest in The Grrrl of Limberlost. Although you can browse the first 10% on Amazon, here’s the first chapter, introducing Samsara Byron—the security programmer and riot-grrrl with personal and professional problems.
1. Sam Refactors Reality, sans Caffeine
Christmas eve morn, as I traversed the ice sheet cascading down Madrona Drive, a dark-eyed junco flittered up from my blind spot and bashed itself against my car window.
I accelerated, unable to help the poor creature as its heart pounded four hundred panicked beats in the minute it would take to die. Yet I could have prevented a pointless death, if only I’d seen what was coming.
My name is Samsara Ada Byron. I’m a programmer, a good one, fairly well-known in certain circles. However, the magnetic poles of my professional life swapped six months ago, spinning me back to Seattle, not to rusticate but to do new work. Life here is mostly peaceful. However, the universe perpetrates senseless violence such as the junco’s death at unpredictable intervals; on Christmas Eve my little brother Pete tripped the lever.
After being incommunicado since September, Pete dropped in from Europe, taxiing to my house through last night’s sleet storm, then staying in my kitchen only long enough to recharge his phone, video camera, and laptop before disappearing into the frozen Seattle night. But what’s a girl to do? Given how we were jerked up together as children, I can’t hold a grudge when Pete fails me. Still, I wish I’d been home drinking cold-brewed coffee over breakfast with Pete instead of driving to work in the early iced-over dawn. Hence, one could say Pete had a degree of responsibility for that junco.
Then bad news on the radio: Cliff Mass described the large cold air mass headed for the Puget Sound Conversion Zone, ready to dump record snow. I switched to KEXP. With my house south of the Convergence Zone, record snow wouldn’t be my problem. If I left work early, I’d only have to cope with paranoid, incompetent Seattle drivers who freak at every dusting of snow and skid into your lane. Or into a ditch or a hedge or a Metro bus.
In the thin winter dawn’s light, I grabbed my laptop bag from the passenger seat, skidded across the unsalted, unswept sidewalk (made worse by my Doc Martens, which couldn’t get a grip after last night’s sleet storm), and took my habitual place in line at Soul Meets Body Espresso, an indie coffee bar till lunch time, a last-choice South Lake Union café till ten p.m. Among the positive results from the shift in the tectonic plates of my professional reality, now that I’m back in the Pacific Northwest there’s espresso more to my liking. In this case, Caffé Vita.
The customer ahead of me departed, not giving me enough time to remember her name to say hello—it’s something Dragon, I know, because she scares me. Natasha? Natalia? She manages the network where I work. Just as I nodded and half-voiced a greeting, it was my turn to order a triple-espresso.
“¡Hola, Maria! ¿Que tal?”
Maria the barista—the first person I speak to each day—waved good-morning. “Estoy bien. Un momento, por favor,” she called back to me, just as my cell phone played Pete’s call tone: Return of the Grievous Angel.
“A junco died because of you,” I said instead of hello.
“Hey, Sister Sam. Your laptop ended up in my bag last night.”
“Hell, Pete. Bring it back. Pronto.”
The satchel that dangled from my shoulder now felt like an impending national catastrophe. I had some new pseudocode on my laptop that should be only in my hands, even though another copy was safely locked in the cloud. I ran a quick mental loop: I have a secure second-factor authentication mechanism for logging onto my laptop. In no way could anyone break the crypto without both the laptop and me coexisting in the same space-time continuum.
My new partner Quinn loomed over me. I’m tall, but Quinn is six-four, and with his long hair, drooping sad face, and perpetual faded black t-shirt, he makes you think of Uriah Heep (the hair-metal band, not the Dickens creep). He’s Microsoft old money who left early and became an angel investor.
I twitched and murmured a greeting, then clutched the phone to my ear, so the bad news about straying code wouldn’t leak out.
“I figured it out when I put my thumb on the fingerprint reader and it wouldn’t turn on.” Pete copped a plea of innocence, which ticked me off. “You gotta help. I need a video clip from my laptop. A man’s life is at stake.”
“Again? Come to my office, Pete. Now.” My brother runs a video production business in which I’ve invested bongo bucks. While playing international man of mystery, he loses a laptop with works-in-progress at least once a year and always adds a statement about imminent jeopardy in the insurance claim.
That’s my little brother: imminent jeopardy.
“C’mon, Sam. Just upload the most recent video file from my laptop to my website,” Pete pleaded. I’m still clamping my phone to my skull so that Quinn can’t hear. Hi, Quinn, this is your security-genius partner who let her brother walk off with her laptop.
“I’m at work, Pete.”
“You don’t have a real job any more. But in my case, a man might die. Or maybe a little girl.”
“You will die if—”
The cell connection dropped, delivering dead air as a dividend for investing in my flakey brother. Reflected in the café window, my hair seemed to have absorbed the 220-volt shock that my laptop had wandered off with my brother.
“Hey, it’s Samurai Sam at sunrise.”
Alec, the totally metro attorney who worked with me on patent applications all last week, stepped into line in front of me. Yeah, “metro” is passé, but so is Alec. He leered as I jammed my phone into my pocket. Decades of practice had tattooed that smirk onto his fading pretty-boy face. He nudged my shoulder with his.
Eww. No touching at work. Or in an espresso bar.
“How are you.” I inched away, not wanting to imply that I cared to hear an answer. Unlike the programmers I’m used to working with, Alec wears a tailored suit and an early-millennium metrosexual haircut, but he has reached his pull-by shelf date: guys that much older want to recapture what they’ve lost. However, a guy in a suit doesn’t even know why he wants a math geek in black jeans—I got caught in that dilemma once before. They are organically unable to understand the inviolable rules for Friends With Benefits. Not that Alec has ever had the chance of Benefits.
I turned to Quinn. “I have the final algorithm for intrusion detection.”
Quinn’s ecstasy upon hearing that appeared as a slight twitch at the corners of his mouth. “What’s left?”
“A round of verification passes, as we discussed.”
“What are you doing for Christmas, Sam?” Alec asked, ignoring Quinn who, in fact, pays Alec’s exorbitant fee.
“Nothing special.” Just the usual: throttling my little brother.
“Joining your family on Limberlost Island?” Alec said, since he’d been digging at details in my personal life the whole last week we worked together.
“No, small-town life gives me hives.”
“Join me for Christmas,” Alec said, “so you aren’t alone.”
I fiddled with my three dollars for espresso. “When hell—”
Maria the barista stepped into the walk-in freezer for more coffee beans and began screaming.
I leaped over the counter, satchel and all, as Maria’s shrieks rose to hyperventilating hysteria. Her hands flailed wildly, so I took firm hold, repeating her name over and over to distract her.
“C’mon, take a deep breath, Maria.”
So Christmas Eve morning, I cradled Maria and murmured gently in her ear while bossing Quinn with a series of firm commands.
Quinn fumbled with his phone. Alec disappeared the moment that he might be useful.
“Take my cell if yours doesn’t work.” I pulled it from my pocket awkwardly and tossed it his way. Gangly, geeky Quinn dropped the catch, chased the phone across the freezer, and then repeatedly punched the wrong buttons, while more heads poked through the doorway.
“Keep everyone out of here.”
I shooshed while Maria cried. And, of all things, I’m telling my partner Quinn: “Put your head between your knees so you don’t faint.”
Ice crystals twinkled across the body that lay amid the crashed litter of soup-in-a-bag and raw French fries in the freezer. The man’s blue-grey face screamed silently through its cellophane wrapper, complaining bitterly about his death.