Finch Excerpt: Standing on the Ridge, Looking Down

This excerpt seems pretty indicative of the first quarter of this year for me. Anything could happen going forward. Cue: The Black Keys “Goodbye Babylon” for this bit.

An hour later, Finch stood on the ridge and stared down. Far below, the dull blue snake line of a canal. Two detectives in a boat. Slowly making their way northeast. Finch was about three hundred feet above them. Wyte was a large shadow with a white face, the boat a floating coffin. Dapple had been reduced to a kind of question mark. Not a good place to be. Anyone could’ve been on the ridge, looking down. Lucky for them it was just him.

A steep hillside below Finch. Made of garbage. Stone. Metal. Bricks. The petrified snout of a tank or two. Ripped apart treads. Collapsed train cars pitted with scars and holes. Ragged scraps of clothing that might’ve been people once.

A dry smell hung over it all. Cut through at times by the stench of something dead but lingering. He’d been here before, when it had just been a grassy slope. A nice place. A place couples might go to have a picnic. Couldn’t imagine it ever returning to that state.

The weather had gotten surly. Grayish. A strange hot wind dashed itself against the street rubble. Blew up into his face. Off to the northeast: the Religious Quarter. A still-distant series of broken towers, steeples, and domes. Wrapped in a haze of contrasting, layered shades of green. Looking light as mist. Like something out of a dream from afar. Up-close, Finch knew, it reflected only hints of the Ambergris from before, that place once ruled by a vainglorious opera composer, shaped by the colors red and green.

The canal led into the Religious Quarter, but Wyte and Dapple would have to disembark much earlier. Their objective lay just outside the quarter.

Finch’s gaze traveled back down the canal, toward civilization. Zeroed in on a series of swift-moving dots some two hundred feet behind the boat. Dark. Lanky. Angular. Using the bramble on the far side of the canal as cover. Partials. Trailing Wyte.

Stared down at the story unfolding below him with a kind of absurd disbelief. Swore under his breath. Took the measure of the Partials down the muzzle of his semi-automatic. But it was a long shot. Literally. He lowered the gun.

Maybe Wyte knew about the Partials? What if they were providing support? No. Blakely would’ve mentioned that. Blakely would’ve told him about Partials. Probably sent to make sure Wyte did as he’d been told. Was the Partial with them, or was he back at the apartment guarding a dead man?

For a moment, Finch just stood on the ridge, under the gray sky. Watched with envy the wheeling arc of a vulture like a dark blade through the air.

Easy to turn away. Heretic didn’t expect him to be there. Wyte didn’t know where he’d gone. Finch could say he’d been investigating some other lead. Could return to the station. Forget he’d seen any of this. Wait for them to get back. If they came back.

Bliss: “It isn’t what you find out that’s going to keep you alive. It’s where you’re standing…You shouldn’t be worried about me, or what I was doing. You should be worried about yourself.”

Bone-weary. Hungry. Bliss’ words still in his thoughts. The fall through the door still devouring him. Finch looked back the way he’d come. Looked down at Wyte and Dapple. Remembered Dapple calm once, at his desk, stealing a moment to write a few lines of poetry. Remembered Wyte training him as a courier for Hoegbotton. His patience and his good humor. Long nights in their home, laughing and joking not just with Wyte but with Emily. Back before the end of history.

Now he was standing on top of a mountain of garbage, trying to figure out how he’d gotten there.

“Fuck,” he said to the vulture. To the false light of the Religious Quarter. “Fuck you all.”

Then he was descending the ridge at an angle. Trying to put enough shadow, enough debris, in front of him and the canal that the Partials couldn’t see him.

This was going to get worse before it got better.


  1. Dan Read says

    A very intimate and immediate third person, Jeff. The action of the scene is clearly told, advanced swiftly by the short sentences and fragments. At the same time, the subtext really gives you a sense for not only the character’s state of mind but also the physical landscape and surroundings. Peppered in there we get some of the interior monologue of the detecting and puzzle solving, not to mention a little Ambergris lore. Definitely makes me look forward to reading the book.

  2. Jeff VanderMeer says

    Everything beautiful must die someday, Michael. Better it die in full bloom than as a bunch of dried flowers shoved under a sofa.