This is a small sample of the book I'm trying to write by the end of April. It's essentially about a group of super smart people—a think tank—who solves problems in order to better the world. The two characters in this excerpt are Dolores and Phillip, and while Dolores is the leader of the group, this conversation will prove that there's a lot more going on here than you might expect. You are welcome to ask questions in the comments, but I may not answer them to your satisfaction (before you ask: Sam's a cat).
Think Tank: Excerpt #1
Dolores woke up to the phone ringing, and immediately regretted opening her eyes. It wasn’t until she was blinded by the light that was streaming in from the window that she realized how sore she was from her night in an awkward position on a stiff chair. The phone seemed to be particularly screechy this morning, despite all of the time that Dolores had spent deliberating over which of the tacky options offered grated on her nerves the least. It could only be worse if Brandon was on the line.
“Hello.” Dolores rubbed the shooting pain in her left hip and blinked until the room came into focus. She debated sitting at her nook for a few seconds before she decided that she was too tired to get over there.
“Dolores? You don’t sound happy. It’s Phil.”
“Are you okay? I can come over.”
“No, no,” she said as she spotted a pile of books that had been knocked over while she had stumbled for the phone. “I’m just . . . I’m just tired.” She tried to straighten the books with one hand while she held the phone to her ear with the other.
“Dolores, it’s one in the afternoon.”
“Yes, well, it was a long night last night.”
“Right. That’s why I called. What did you come up with?”
Dolores had to stop and think about that one for a second. What did happen last night? He was probably calling about something specific, she could tell from the tone in his voice. Something he would have known about. Something that they had talked about . . .
“Are you still there?” Phillip seemed to be less patient than usual.
“Yes, of course. I just have this headache and . . .” Oh, yes. The group had met last night. About Caroline. “They couldn’t find anything, and we even brought James in.”
“That’s impossible. You had to come up with some suspects at least.”
Suspects. Yes. “We have a list . . . somewhere.” She scanned the floor for a while before she realized with a sigh that it was directly underneath the pile of books that she had just finished. “Hold on.” She put the phone down so she could reach down and get the paper—not an easy task for a woman her age—and she turned back to find that Demeter, the earth-brown kitten with one white paw, was meowing into the receiver.
“Who was that?” Phillip asked after Dolores had picked the kitten up and placed her gently on the floor.
“Demeter . . . the brown one.”
“Is that the one that keeps tracking in mud?”
“Unfortunately. I haven’t let her out in a while, though, so she’s clean today.”
“Okay, so what do you have for me?” Phillip had that annoying pep in his voice that he used whenever he wanted to keep Dolores focused.
“Six names, no . . . seven. I don’t recognize any of them, but I think that James is going to bring us some research tonight.”
“Is he coming in person?”
“He said he was. Are you?”
“Yes. Definitely. Sorry about last night; I’ve had some families who are going through some hard times right now. I told you about the layoffs, right?”
“Yes, and . . .”
“Yes, I know.” Phillip said with a pause. It wasn’t hard to detect the frustration in Dolores’s voice. “I know that you called the company. It’s that CEO’s fault, not yours. It’s just too bad that my flock has to pay for his mistakes.”
“It’s horrible, that’s what it is.”
“Well, let’s talk about things that we can control, shall we? What do you want me to tell Caroline when I call her?”
“If it were anyone else, I’d say that we should give her the names and have her tell us if they ring a bell. But with Caroline . . .”
“Yeah, I know. The Christmas party all over again. Does George think that this is even a threat?”
“There’s no way to know, not yet,” Dolores sighed into the phone, “I had this dream that an army of sentient computers was rising against her, but I don’t think that theory holds any water.”
“You mean because there are no sentient computers?”
“Well, that and also because of Caroline’s record of supporting technological advancement. I just don’t see why . . . I mean it would be rather ironic if . . .”
“Dolores . . .”
“Well, fantastic or not, it is the only theory that we’ve had so far. The numbers don’t really make sense in binary, or any other numerical code that we know of. I think that I’ll ask James to look at the numbers and see if he can make any sense of them, but Hannah and George are probably our best bets in that department.”
“Are they coming tonight?”
“And what about Ute?”
“James is coming, too. That makes you, me . . . six in all, with Lot.”
“Why do we need Lot?”
“I think that he needs us more than we need him.”
“Ah. Well, I’m sure we can keep him busy. Dolores?”
Phillip gave the kind of pause he liked to give when he was trying to word something carefully, “Dolores, why don’t you call Caroline this time? She told me last week that she wants to hear from you.”
“Oh, no she doesn’t.” Her head suddenly hurt a lot more, and her stomach didn’t feel much better. “She’s just . . . I . . . I don’t have anything to wear.”
“Yes she does. She’s your friend too, remember? And you know that she isn’t going to care what you’re wearing when you talk to her on the phone. She won’t make you teleconference or anything. She won’t even know.”
“It’s just . . . no. you talk to her. You’re so good at it. And you have kids to talk about when she asks. No, you call her.”
“Fine, Dolores, but I promise that she really wants to hear from you. Besides, what am I supposed to say when she asks why you’re never available? Caroline doesn’t understand things like that. She’ll think that I’m keeping you away from her.”
Before Dolores could think up an excuse, Sam jumped on her lap, in an obvious search for attention. She rubbed the back of Sam’s head thoughtfully for a second before she responded. “I can’t talk to her, Phillip. I can’t.”
Phillip must have heard the shakiness of Dolores’s voice, and perhaps he could hear how weak she suddenly felt, because he dropped the subject, promised to call Caroline, and told her how much he looked forward to seeing her that evening. As soon as she heard the dial tone, the phone dropped from her hand, and Dolores sank to her knees, feeling a paralyzing wave of anxiety wash over her entire body. There were too many memories, too many lost opportunities, pulsating with disappointment, embarrassment, and guilt. She was going to drown in it all.