Introduction to a truthful novel and Chapter One

So, deprived of travel, what has this longing-to-be boulevardier been doing since February? Writing and writing and writing. And editing. And getting feedback from a few guinea pig readers. And then editing again. And rewriting. And finishing to the point I’m ready for a larger pool of beta readers for what I’m calling “a truthful novel.” And I hope that means you.

With no stored up travel blogs, the time has arrived for the big reveal. Hate to be a tease, but An Ostrich-Plumed Hat, and, Yes, She Shot Him Dead is heading toward serialization. Right here. On this blog. For you. In the tradition of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Please note I used the word tradition not caliber.

So what can you expect from a truthful novel? There are numerous perks to engaging in an affair with one of the wealthiest men in the city. But, if you end up shooting him, the man’s status imperils your life.

A true story: In November 1914, Hedda Burgemeister shot Otto Koehler dead in her bungalow on the southside of San Antonio—a cottage that was a gift to her from the victim. A self-made man, the German-born millionaire was president of San Antonio Brewing Association (think Pearl Beer) and was prominent in civic and social circles. A trained nurse, Hedda was a more recent immigrant from Germany.

Was it murder or self-defense? How could Hedda possibly expect to receive a fair trial when the corpse in her bedroom owned the town—when the shooting was so sensational, it made headlines in newspapers throughout the country? The facts of the case are not easy to evaluate—even though the papers freely shared them all. So you need to be the judge.

Hope you will accept this assignment. And that you will subscribe to this blog and share any chapters you might find interesting with others. Then, maybe, one day, the number of readers will grow to the point that a publisher will not be able to ignore the groundswell of support for printing this in book form – just like what happened in the case of the aforementioned authors. Oh, and please do not hesitate to let me know of any typos or grammatical errors you might encounter or other recommendations you might have.

So here it goes….

Chapter One, Hedda Burgemeister, November 1914

Waiting. Leon Johnson stands on the platform above the menacing crowd seeking vengeance for the death of Dr. Maverick.

Unblinking. His stare hypnotic. Liquid pools in his dark eyes, yet no tears spill out of the deep wells.

Hedda cannot turn away from the macabre scene. 

“I’ll meet you all in heaven,” Leon whispers.             

Hedda flinches as Sheriff Tobin reaches toward the lever to drop the trap door.

She jerks awake. Spared from witnessing the nightmare’s conclusion.

Sharp sounds, like firecrackers, explode in her head. Gunfire unleashes a flood of feverish recollections.  

Hedda attempts to shake off the fog clouding her head.

Was it two days ago? She is unsure.

Beads of perspiration pop out on her forehead. Chills run down her spine. 

She grasps her left wrist and finds it tightly bandaged.

Of course, she knows how to slit a wrist, but the silver knife she grabbed from the sideboard proved far too dull a tool for the job. And the bullet she fired came nowhere near her head.

Hedda fights the urge to call out to a fellow nurse. To plead for something to put her out of this misery. Instead, she lies frozen with eyes squeezed closed. Sounds reverberate from the hallway.

A bevy of nurses must surround the guard outside her room. His voice booms as he reads the lurid details from the newspaper. Could not he at least whisper? 

She speculates about the glaring headlines. Perhaps “Millionaire Whose Charities Were Many Meets Sudden Death?”

What a sordid story unfolds beneath the headlines. Reporters revel in scandal. A moan slips out as she realizes the magnitude of this one. 

For years, she experienced romance and drama safely˗˗between the covers of books. Yet now, she is the fodder fueling the gossip-driven imagination of an entire city. 

Hedda needs no newspaper to tell her where Otto Koehler lies. Elegantly attired and splendidly displayed, he is where he insisted all family events take place. His estate on West San Pedro Place. Probably in the parlor. 

Otto Koehler house on West San Pedro Place (now Ashby)

Long lines of people spill into the street, waiting to pay their solemn respects to Otto’s newly-made widow holding court in the solarium, her wheelchair framed on three sides by delicate orchids and billowy fronds of verdant ferns.

Drifting back into drug-muddled sleep, Hedda finds herself lying in the coffin.

One stony, unsympathetic face after another peers down at her.

~  ~  ~

Nurses roll Hedda from side to side as they change the sheets under her. They carry on their annoying banter as though she were deaf. 

“They say 2,000 mourners attended his funeral.”

Surely they know she has sustained no injuries that would prevent her from hearing. She wants to scream “stop” and flee the room. 

“My cousin Karl works at Hauser Floral Company, and he said they couldn’t find enough flowers to fill all the orders. Why, the only flowers left in the whole city must be the ones growing right there in Mister Koehler’s own garden!” 

Hedda stifles her anger. She keeps her body rigid and stares straight ahead as they continue to change the bedclothes. 

Their inconsiderate bedside manner substantiates her longstanding peeve. No matter how pleased the founding doctors of the Physicians and Surgeons Hospital are with their nursing school, the results do not impress her. These San Antonio-trained nurses absolutely are not as professional as those from Germany.

“Karl told me that it took six automobiles just to transport all the flowers to the cemetery.”

Footnotes

Sheriff John Wallace Tobin did pull the lever hanging Leon Johnson after his whispered words for the assembled crowd. The Author will, or Dr. Herff will, tell you more about how Johnson arrived at that point later. Much later.

Surely a woman finding herself in the news below that actual headline would have all sorts of horrid nightmares.

A multitude of mourners did line up outside Otto Koehler’s home to pay their respects, and six automobiles were required to transport the floral tributes to the cemetery.

Continue to Chapter Two

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