Meet Drake Savage
Thanks for joining us.
Today we’re having a “True Confessions” kind of thing goin’ on.
Let me explain:
Ever since I started writing Savage Investigations, my technique for editing is to jump in and start changing stuff and then saving the changed version as whatever day it is when I’m editing. That way the original is still intact, just in case I decide later, “Oh, what a fool I was to change that! Bring it back!” It’s still there, so no worries, even when it kinda sucks or is less than what I really wanted to say. The seed of the idea is still there…
What comes next is the very (or darn near) first draft of Chapter One from way back in the oughts, 2005, to be exact, back when the world was new and so was I…
I read it over last night and realized how far I have come as a writer in 11 years, and thought I would share it with you, warts and all.
Be warned: It’s quite warty, and horribly adjective and cliche-ridden! But hey, I hadn’t read Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing yet and was just starting out, y’know?
I found this early draft quite amusing, and then I realized that this is pretty close to the version of my manuscript that I showed my friend, David Lloyd (Google him), when we first met that July, during Jake’s and my first International Comic Con in San Diego. He was so very kind and offered no criticism, aside from the fact he didn’t like the name, “Drake Savage”. He said “Drake” was too uncommon and folks might not be able to relate to the character, and suggested “Joe” or Frank”, or another more common, and more relatable name, so I set out to justify Drake’s name by having him be an abandoned baby in the wee ours in the lobby of the Drake Hotel in Chicago, and then adopted by Frank Savage, the Night Manager at The Drake and his wife, Lydia, who wanted a baby so bad, but was alas, barren back in 1973, when fertility was a mystery. It appeared that Frank and Lydia would be child barren until the night that Drake’s homeless, unwed mother, left him in a basket on a table in the lobby of The Drake Hotel, with a note pinned to the blanket saying something to the effect of “Please give my baby a better life than I could.”
Back in `07, more or less, I wrote the first eight pages of a comic script called, “Meet Drake Savage” as the first in a series of introductory comics to all the major characters in the Savage Investigations universe. I have a vague outline of how to finish the comic with Frank and Lydia adopting Drake, and the hotel chain owner, Conrad Hilton himself, seeing the P.R. nightmare as a wonderful marketing opportunity, making little Drake the mascot of the hotel, putting Frank and Lydia up permanently in one of the lesser suites, rent free, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t remember right now (but I know I have it written down in here somewhere…), ending in their tragic death in an elevated train accident, throwing nine-year-old Drake into the Social Services Child Welfare system, resulting in a criminal incarceration at age 17, forced to join the military or go to jail. Drake, being the clever kid he was, chose The U.S. Air Force, where he blossomed into the heroic terrorist investigator that actually brings him to Albuquerque, to become Drake Savage, Private Eye, and owner of Savage Investigations.
Whew! That’s a real House That Jack Built, huh? Hope now that you know the whole story, you’ll still buy the books, or at least, keep it to yourself. Mum’s the word, eh?
Now here’s another little known fact about Drake Savage, and the main reason I wanted to keep the name. He was a character that I created back in the late 80’s or early 90’s as a costume for a party: Drake Savage, International Man of Mystery and Billionaire Philanthropist.
So, without further adieu, let me embarrass myself and bare my practically virgin, creative soul for your reading pleasure and amusement. Please, be gentle, and I hope you’ll still respect me in the morning…
The sign on the door says “Savage Investigations.” While it may sound like he’s an anthropologist, he’s not. He’s a P.I. A private investigator, a gumshoe, a shamus. Even in the 21st century there’s a place for guys like him. People still need other people followed. Husbands want to know if their wives are being faithful. Corporations need to know if their intellectual property is safe, and people like the guy standing in front of his desk, need to know why somebody shot two .45 caliber slugs into his house in the middle of the night, just inches away from his sleeping son’s head.
When he came into the office, a wave of tension washed in with him. He stood nervously in front of Savage’s desk, his face worn and haggard from too many sleepless nights. His shoulders were slumped, as if he were carrying the weight of the world on his back. His gray-green eyes brimmed over with worry and concern as if they might just overflow with tears at any moment. He timidly offered his hand to Savage, who rose to greet the potential client, hand outstretched.
“John Moore,” he identified himself. “As I said on the phone, I got your number from the back page of the Alibi. I didn’t think you’d be open on a Sunday morning, though.”
“We never close,” Savage chuckled. You never know when a new client might come along and since he lived in the back room of office, he was always there. It looked like the ad on the back of the Albuquerque local free newspaper, “The Alibi”, had paid off.
“Please, have a seat, Mr. Moore,” Savage said.
“Please, call me John.
“The police said it was gang violence. While my wife and I were cleaning up the shattered glass in the street—they shot through the windows of our van at the house, taking out the front and rear windows. A little while later, a thug, not from the neighborhood, wearing an expensive leather coat, baggy black pants, long hair pulled back in a ponytail, came strolling down the street. He gave us a hard look as he went by. I could have sworn he was smiling, as if he was checking out the handiwork of his boys.”
“Do you agree with the police, John?” Savage asked.
“I’m not sure. I suppose I do. They know more than we do about this sort of thing. Our lives have been changed by this and all I really want is peace of mind that it won’t happen again.”
“Well, John, these are strange times we are living in. I’ve heard that most gangs don’t hit the same house twice, though,” Savage said, just missing the mark of being reassuring.
Savage could almost see the tears welling up in his eyes as he recalled the event.
“The police officer on the scene told me to contact him at this number.” He produced the business card of an officer Manuel Martinez with the case number, dated over a month ago, and a contact phone number. “But when I called a few days later to get a status on the case, he wasn’t there and they told me that it would take weeks to process the evidence anyway.”
“What kind of evidence did they turn up?”
“They found three .45 caliber shell casings in the street in front of my house and the two slugs they dug out of the exterior wall of our son Johnny’s bedroom. Just another foot higher and they would have hit him. He’s afraid to go to sleep. I’m just not sure that anything is being done to find these guys, Mr. Savage.”
“John, the cold, hard fact is, nobody died. With the increasing crime rate and the recent police budget cuts handed down by city hall, the cops in this town are very busy. Before you hire me, why not see how their investigation goes?
“And you can call me Drake.”
“That’s just it, Drake. It’s been five weeks. I’m afraid nothing is being done and I’m tired of waiting. We’re willing to pay your fee. Jennifer and I have some money saved up and the peace of mind will be worth whatever the cost.”
Savage could tell by the frayed hems on the sleeves of his faded yellow polo shirt, old jeans, and worn sneakers—you can really tell a lot about a man by his shoes–that he was not a rich man. Savage felt bad for the guy. His happy, safe, suburban world had been turned upside down in a matter of a few seconds and now he no longer knew which way was up. So he could continue sleeping at night, Savage would have to give him a break on his usual fee.
As if reading Savage’s mind, he asked, “What do you charge?”
“Well, I usually get five hundred a day, plus expenses, but in your case I’ll knock it down to one fifty, and I’ll eat the expenses, within reason.”
“I appreciate that, Drake. We aren’t rich.” He confessed.
“What do you do for a living, John? Is there anybody who might have a vendetta against you?”
“I’m an IT support tech at the base and Jennifer, my wife, is a database programming analyst. It’s not like we’ve been approached by any nefarious types to sell government information or anything like that.”
Savage could see that he wasn’t flush with cash and he liked him. He figured Moore to be the kind of guy that coached his son’s soccer team.
“Look John,” Savage said, “I think I might be able to help. I know a couple of guys on both sides of the law. I’ll ask around.
“Why don’t we give it a few days? Let me see what I can dig up. If it is a gang related thing, I don’t think anything else will happen. Like I said before, gangs, like lightning, don’t usually strike twice in the same place. The other thing is, gang related crime is practically impossible to track down. Too many frightened witnesses and nobody wants to come forward. Which reminds me, were there any witnesses?”
“My neighbor across the street said he heard something, but by the time he got out of bed and looked out the window, they were gone, only taillights fading up the street. He couldn’t even make out the model of the car, and when I got up, I couldn’t see over the next-door neighbor’s hedge, so we never even saw it. Almost everybody on our half of the block heard the gunshots but nobody saw anything,” he said, frustration filling his voice.
“Hmm, that’s not much to go on, but I’d like to interview your neighbors. They might remember something helpful. I know some techniques that are designed to jog a witness’ memory. Don’t worry, I won’t strong-arm anybody. I have a friend who’s a cop and he does all the strong-arming.” Savage chuckled.
Moore smiled for the first time since Savage had met him.
“I’m sure they all want to help. We are a very tight knit little community. We watch out for each other.”
“That’s good,” Savage said. “There’s not enough good will in the world anymore. Everybody seems to be just out for themselves. It’s sad.”
“Yes,” Moore said, shaking his head. “There just don’t seem to be good neighbors anymore–except on our block. I’m sure they’ll do anything they can.”
Savage had enough information to launch an investigation now.
“I’ve got your number, John,” Savage said. “I’ll be in touch.
Savage escorted Moore to the door. They sealed the deal with a firm handshake and he said goodbye. His step was definitely lighter than when he walked in. Savage liked making people feel better.
After Moore left, Savage went to the window to check out what kind of car he drove. You can also tell a lot about a man by the kind of car he drives. He peered through a slit in the blinds and saw him get into a six-year-old, forest green, Honda Passport with a red, white, and blue PLAYSOCCER bumper sticker on the back window. Savage was right. He wasn’t rich.
He sat down at his desk and began to formulate a plan, but since he always thought better behind a good, strong cup of java, it was time to visit Mabel’s for a bit of inspiration in the form of a double shot latte’. Back in the forties, a shamus worked best fueled by strong black coffee by day and whiskey by night. Savage didn’t have much of a taste for whiskey, but he did appreciate a good cup of joe. He developed a love for the coffee bean while he was stationed in Italy, defending America as a Special Forces grunt in the Air Force.
He’d seen some pretty hellish things in his day, usually being first on the scene to investigate the aftermath of terrorist bombings and the like, but his military life paved the way for his present life and it taught him how to survive. He really did hate the nightmares, though. Sometimes he’d wake up in a cold sweat at three in the morning because of the horrors he’d seen.
The shrinks at the VA threw drugs at him, but since he didn’t want to be a drug-addled zombie, he decided to take care of it himself. Sink or swim, and fortunately, he was a pretty fair swimmer. The nightmares weren’t quite as frequent now.
He locked up the office, went down the elevator, and strolled up the street to Mabel’s.
Mabel is a piece of work. She became a single mother after her husband was shot and killed during a robbery 20 years ago. She raised their four kids on her own, working two and three jobs. The family was poor but she raised them right. Her children went to school with clean clothes and clean faces. They knew the value of an education, too. All four went to college on scholarships. Her oldest, Martin, became a doctor. Next in line was Rosa, a lawyer. Then came Russell, now a successful architect. Finally there was Julia, an environmental scientist. Mabel’s kids pitched in and bought her the diner and the building that houses it. They pay the bills. Mabel wants for nothing but she earned it.
Sometimes Rosa hires him to do some work and Mabel’s kids appreciate the fact that Savage keeps an eye on her. He always eats for free.
Mabel was there, sitting at a table reading the Albuquerque Journal. He wondered if she ever slept. It might have something to do with the fact that she lived upstairs, but she seemed to always be there, watching over her café, even when he’s been there at eleven at night. If the doors were open, she was there until they closed.
She looked up from her paper, “Hi, Baby!” she called sweetly. She always calls him “Baby.” She is the only one that can get away with that. It’s an affectionate term she reserves for those who are special in her life, and he feels honored to be counted among them.
Savage smiled and nodded to Tony, behind the coffee bar.
Tony smiled back and Savage knew that in just minutes he’d be enjoying the best latte’ in the world.
Tony Antonio makes the best espresso you ever had. His real name, Ermenegildo di Baldassare Antonio, was a mighty big name for a little Italian guy. It was too hard to pronounce so when he came to America, he shortened it to Tony. He’s old school Italian, from a little town in southern Italy where his family has run a five-star restaurant for generations. His was a big family, and while all of his brothers and sisters became award-winning chefs, Tony concentrated on the perfect cup of espresso. Just the right mix of his own blend of coffee beans, not too strong, not too bitter, but with a bite. A taste that lingers in your mouth long after it’s passed your lips but isn’t overpowering. Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett’s gumshoe, would have loved Tony’s espresso mixed with a shot of rye.
Savage’s usual table was in the back corner. He always sits with his back to the wall and a clear view of the door—more of that military commando training. After all, that’s how they got Wild Bill Hickok.
Tony brought over the steaming cup of latte’, prepared just the way he knew Savage liked it, a thin layer of foam covering the top. He stood there like a wine steward with a $1500 bottle of wine, awaiting the confirmation of what he already knew. Still, the steward needs the assurance of the connoisseur’s delight with the first sip, carefully reading the patron’s face and then delighting in the gleam of the eye that registers satisfaction.
“Perfect, as always,” Savage gave his assent. Another satisfied customer. Tony smiled, and then went back to the coffee bar.
A few seconds later, Mabel materialized to take his order. It was really just a formality—she already knew what he wanted. Even if she didn’t know the customer, she never used an order pad. She knew every single order in the place, who got what, and everything special about the order. She is one sharp lady.
“The usual?” she asked. Since it wasn’t noon yet, she knew he’d want breakfast.
“Yep,” Savage replied. His usual breakfast was three eggs up atop a pile of hashed browns with a side of bacon and wheat toast.
“Billy!” she yelled.
“Yes, dear?” came a voice from the kitchen.
“Coming right up, Drake!” came Billy’s cheery reply.
“Thanks, Billy!” Savage called out.
Billy is Mabel’s cook. Formerly Chef Wilhelm Schach, of a high-class, four-star restaurant in L.A. named Schach Therapy. The restaurant was a huge success and he got caught in the tidal wave of excess that generally accompanies great success, namely cocaine. He seemed to have it under control, or so he thought.
Unfortunately, his business partner was in league with the mob and started skimming money from the take. Soon Wilhelm didn’t have the money to pay the bills and his restaurant failed. He went bankrupt. Suddenly without an income, he started selling drugs for the mafia. Just to get some money together to open up another place, he told himself, but most of his profits went up his nose.
He got caught in a DEA sting operation and was given a choice, a minimum of ten years hard time in Folsom or a reduced sentence for cooperating with the feds. Witness Protection allowed him to do his time in the Santa Fe penitentiary and moved him to Albuquerque when he got out.
He went into Mabel’s to get his first meal as a free man. She could tell he was troubled and inquired as to the nature of his dilemma. He took a chance and told her the whole story. She hired him immediately, as long as he stayed clean. 18 months in prison had cleaned him out physically, but he knew it would only take one episode and he’d be right back where he was when he got popped in the first place.
He’s been cooking for Mabel for five years. She pays him just double minimum wage and she lets him live rent-free in an apartment upstairs next to hers so she can keep an eye on him. She’s stingy with his paycheck because she doesn’t want him to be tempted to fall back into his old ways. The way she sees it, if he can’t afford it, he can’t buy it. Billy’s fine with that. As a recovering addict, he needs all the help he can get.
He has no desire to live life in the fast lane again anyway. He is content to work for Mabel, the greatest boss (and mother hen) in the world.
She gets the best cuisine money can buy. He is a magician in the kitchen and even though it’s American fare, it’s prepared by a four-star chef, making Mabel’s the Best American Restaurant in Albuquerque, as voted by the Alibi, the local free newspaper’s, readers poll, five years in a row.
And of course, Tony’s espresso has been voted as the “Best Cup of Joe” in town.
“You working?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he filled her in on John Moore’s dilemma. Ordinarily, he would never betray a client’s confidence, but there was no one to overhear the conversation and besides, it was Mabel. He had often solved cases just by talking them out with Mabel. Probably ought to give her a consulting fee, but she wouldn’t take it.
“Why would anybody do something like that? Destroy the sanctity of a family’s home?” she rolled her eyes.
“The police said it was a gang thing and you know, all bets are off when it comes to gang violence.
“I stopped trying to figure it out a long time ago, Mabel. The only thing that gets me through the night is the goodness that is left in the world. It still offsets the evil, thank God.”
“Well, I hope you help those poor folks find peace, Baby. If anyone can, it’s you.”
She disappeared to get his breakfast.
As he sat sipping his latte’, he decided to call Detective Luke Swanson.
He had been stationed with Matt, Luke’s little brother, in Italy. Even though he had 20 years on the kid, there was something about him that Savage liked. He wasn’t like the others on Savage’s squad. There was something special about Matt. He had a truly unselfish attitude and genuine love of helping people in need. Usually after an op, Savage and his boys would go out and blow off some steam. Matt always joined in the fun, but stayed off to the side, watching their backs, preferring club soda to alcohol. Being the only sober one, he’d step in if there was trouble. He was always the designated driver, too. A valuable member of the team.
He excelled in explosives training at the academy and he became the squad explosive ordinance disposal, or EOD, expert.
All Matt really wanted was to come back to Albuquerque when his hitch was up and be a good cop like his big brother. Unfortunately, a terrorist’s bomb cut that dream short.
An Italian diplomat’s daughter had been kidnapped. Since it was such a high-profile op, Savage was ordered to stay behind and coordinate.
The team got the word that she was sitting on the steps of the American Embassy, wired with enough C-4 to blow up a city block. Matt, being the EOD expert, was assigned to disable the bomb.
He was equipped with a helmet camera and headset so Savage could see everything that Matt saw. The girl was still wearing her school uniform. The navy blue jacket was mostly obscured by the vest of explosives. Terror flashed in the girl’s dark eyes. He could almost smell the fear through the monitor.
“Parlate inglese?” Matt asked in a soothing voice.
The poor girl was trembling with fear.
“A little,” she whispered, afraid she might detonate the bomb.
“Good. Now I’m just gonna get this thing off you and then you can go home and see your Madre e Padre, okay?”
Some of the fear faded from her eyes as she thought of her parents. She nodded slowly.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ve done this a thousand times,” Matt said.
The confidence in his voice made her relax a little more.
“Okay, Matt,” Savage said into his microphone. “So far, textbook. How are you feeling?”
“Everything’s fine, Chief.”
“Boys, get the blast shield set up and get everybody out of that building.”
The rest of the team went to work and set up the blast shield. They got all the civilians out and everyone withdrew to a safe distance.
Matt kept his eyes on the girl. Her face was twisted with fear.
“What’s your name?” Matt asked, already knowing the answer. It was in the briefing, but it made the girl think of something other than the situation.
“Giovanna. It means God is gracious.”
“He certainly is,” Matt agreed.
“Here we go. Now hold very still, Giovanna, and we’ll see what we can do about this,” he worked quickly and confidently.
Matt managed to disable most of the C-4, tossing it into the explosion-proof bin next to the blast shield.
“Chief, you gettin’ all this?” Matt said into his headset. “This is a strange one. Never seen anything wired quite like this. They didn’t do a very good job. Just look at this wiring. Amateurs, y’know?”
“Matt, if you don’t think you can do it, leave it alone. The majority of the bomb has been disabled. We can bring in another expert. She’s relatively safe now,” Savage cautioned.
“Aw shucks, Chief, and leave this pretty thing wired to explode? There ain’t nothing to it. Looks like I just gotta cut this—“
Savage was deafened by the roar of the explosion for a split second until Matt’s headset and camera were incinerated by the blast. His monitor went blank.
END OF CHAPTER ONE
To Be Continued…
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