Prelude to Southern Blood (part 1 of 3)

Southern Blood was the working title of a thriller that I started and shelved. I hadn’t yet learned the benefits of outlining and the story wandered off into the weeds somewhere around the half-way point, never to return. Still, there were parts that I liked, and it seems a shame to let them rot in a file.

The prelude to Southern Blood is self-contained enough that I can share it as a series of short posts, so I thought it would be fun to dust it off and put it out there for you.

This material is (a) for mature readers and (b) contains elements some readers may find disturbing.

Morocco – August 1931

The steel scaffolding rattled in the dark. Every footstep started shivers that some quirk of the design would amplify, raising metallic pops and squeaks from two or three tiers away — just far enough that one could never tell where they were coming from.

It was easy to forget that the huge structure supported hundreds of men and tons of equipment all day, every day. That it had done so for almost three years with never a failure. Things were always different at night.

Alard Joubert had counted on that, and deliberately left his flashlight locked in his truck. The light would have spoiled the ambiance, and worse, might have been spotted from the labor camp… which would only have led to awkward questions. He didn’t need it anyway: The sky was thick with stars, and he knew every board and brace.

Besides, with a young lady clutching delightfully at one arm, he needed his other hand to carry the wine.

He had had grim notions when he accepted this position. Five years — maybe longer — at the edge of a brutal desert, surrounded by ignorant natives, eating camp food. And so far from the lights of Paris! In the end he had reluctantly agreed because his father-in-law had gone to great lengths to secure this commission for him, and it would catapult him far above his peers when he finally returned.

Already the dam was taking shape. Even from the heights of the scaffolding, he could hear the water of the N’Fiss churning through the diversion channels and smell the wet concrete of the evening pour. There had been setbacks, as there always were in an undertaking of such scope, but the universal cures for such things were simple diligence and a refusal to tolerate laziness and excuses.

He had learned the hard way that the Moroccan reputation for superstition was well-earned: For the first three months they were chronically behind schedule because some worker would refuse to drill or blast for fear of upsetting the jinn that he thought lived in this or that hole in the ground. They would still be digging the first diversion channel if he hadn’t had the Adjudant deal with the problem. No one had expressed a concern about the jinn since.

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