Dear Readers and Colleague Fiction Writers:
The following is my first draft of Chapter 1 of my novel in progress, Inspector Javert, looks like. My fellow writers know well that Chapter 1 of the published novel may bear little resemblance to what you are about to read. So, here goes:
Chapter the First
“Do I stand at hell’s threshold?”
“Why might you think that?”
This unseen speaker’s voice had an unexpected air of calm . . . welcome.
“I committed the gravest of all sins. Taking my own life. Now, I must reconcile myself to accept the punishment I deserve.”
“And what might that sin be?”
“In the moment following my discovery of the one true God, whom I had never truly known . . . we wrestled, as Jacob once did with the angel. Through the whole of one night. Having wrestled with the author of an even higher law than the civil code, I could not go back to headquarters—to my life—as if nothing had changed. I might have even found myself one day in prison. What a fall that would be! To end my wretched life where it began. And from which unquestioning adherence to law had rescued me. At the same time, going forward, taking an unmapped step into the future. Impossible. This very night, my last on earth, unleashed within me the folly of my life, the wretched horror of facing another day on earth . . . . I sought the coward’s way out. Taking my own life. I stand before the throne of my Divine Judge, sir, prepared for my final judgement and punishment.”
“And what do you expect that punishment to be?”
“My sin is between my Creator and me. Whoever you are, I owe you no further discourse.”
Javert’s unknown companion did not respond. “Am I alone again?” the self-condemned new arrival said. “No matter. I prefer no audience for my commission to the pit of flames.”
His companion spoke. “I am sent by God, your Creator and Father, to assure you, my son, that you are safe.”
“Perhaps you misunderstood, so I repeat. I am resigned to my fate.”
The calm, kindly voice repeated his assurance of safe harbor.
Javert rejected deceit. “Come, Divine Judge! I am a man of action. Cause and effect. Why do you delay? Only once in my life of honorable service did I hesitate. Only once violated my sworn duty as defender of law and right order. See what it cost me! Life. Liberty. Reward for a job well done. Perhaps promotion to the higher positions which I deserved. Until the last evil night. If you delay my punishment, I accept that as punishment begun.”
“What is the last thing you remember?” his companion said.
“Who are you to ask such a question?” Javert had no history of responding to an unknown questioner. He demanded confessions. He carried out punishment proclaimed by a judge, be it jail time or the most feared sentence of all—years spent in the horrors of the galleys. Even death by guillotine paled by comparison to a lifetime in chains.
“Permit me introduce myself.”
The deceitful response came with a tone of respectful humility.
“I am Charles Francois Myriel, late Bishop of the Diocese of Digne. Your fellow countryman. The Divine One whom you recently encountered assigned me to welcome you to Afterlife.”
“After . . . life? Then, I . . . I still live?”
“Quite. But in a form previously unknown to you.”
“A bishop? . . . . Of the Holy Catholic Church? Surely you mock me. I reject your disguise, Satan! You have met your match. I spent my entire life unmasking deceivers like you.”
“Your caution is reasonable, I assure you. Nonetheless, such was my position in life. Where you go now there is no rank. All are equal.”
“Then, you too are an unrepentant sinner?” Javert said. “We arrive together at the gates of hell to await and share the fire that never consumes.”
“That is what you expect?”
“I do and am resigned to it. What other fate may the likes of us deserve? A failed bishop of the Church and a fallen guardian of the sacred legal codes of France. How we paragons of righteousness have betrayed our vocations!”
“On the contrary, Javert.” Myriel stifled a chuckle. “I assure you we stand not at the edge of the fiery pit. Far from it, it pleases me to report. Exceedingly.”
“Before you confuse me further, I need to ask how you know me, sir? Have we met before?”
“Call it what you will. I am . . . was . . . known for never forgetting a face. I etched indelibly into memory the image of every man, woman, and child who came within my broad purview. Though a man of your own faith, I do not recall your passing my way or ever hearing your name.”
“Correct. We never met, in France or anywhere during our lifetimes. We do, however, share a common acquaintance.”
“Oh? And that might be?”
Javert disliked word games—or any games. When he demanded a confession, he settled for nothing but raw, unembellished truth. Cheats and liars, every wrongdoer crossing his path spent time in prison, if the feared guillotine did not claim priority.
“The man known to each of us is Jean Valjean, who still walks in Earth time. Surely you recall that name . . . and face, Javert. I met him only once. You two, I believe had a lengthy history ”
Hearing his lifelong nemesis’s name jolted Javert. A flood of memories gushed back in rapid sequence. Their force rendered Javert speechless. Reclaiming his composure, he hissed, “Indeed. I . . . know . . . the man.” After a nightmare-filled pause, he continued, “I despise the very sound of that name. At the same time—and I cannot believe what I am about to say—I cherish it. Never in my life have such contradictory emotions flooded me at the same time, regarding the same person.”
“I must confess,” the bishop admitted, “I have struggled against similar clashes of feelings myself.”
He recalled his years as a young husband exiled in Rome. Sharing life with his new bride. Their mutual, passionate love and the hope of bringing a child into the world. Not long after her death, he felt the call, of all things, to renewal of his Catholic faith and later—and most surprising—to priesthood.
At first, he had shunned the image of himself as celibate priest, seeing in it a betrayal of his lifelong devotion to his life-partner, too soon snatched from him. She took to her grave their most-prized possession. Hope. A desire for children. How he fought the call to ministry! The stronger his effort to deflect God’s call, the more convinced he became that he had already decided to surrender to the insistent invitation. A decision he never regretted. Not that he ceased loving his spouse, whom he lifted up daily in consecration along with the Sacred Bread of Eucharist. He said nothing of this to the newly arrived spirit, called on earth Inspector Javert.
“About this Jean Valjean.” With great difficulty he asked, “Does he live still?”
“I assure you, Javert, he lives.”