I’m thinking about the following line:
“… the manganese reek of an aluminum casting works that drained down through the sinus and into the back of his throat.”
What, precisely, is this reek? Electrical wire casing scorched with a butane cigar lighter.
… the manganese reek of an aluminum casting works–for him, electrical wire casing scorched with a butane lighter–that drained down through the sinus and into the back of his throat.
I like this move for two reasons. The first is the drive to specificity necessary for vivid fiction. The second is the relationship it establishes between the narrator and Koestler. That “for him” suggests Koestler would not be able to identify the “manganese reek” the narrator knows about, but would know what wire casing scorched by a butane cigar lighter would smell like. The attentive reader will wonder about the circumstances under which Koestler gained this knowledge and what that might say about him. The very attentive reader might wonder about the tensions between the narrator and Koestler.
So now, the complete opening as it currently stands:
Koestler plodded along, uncomfortably seated in the rank cockpit of middle age, face contorted by the
foulodor of his own crisis. And such an odor, a stench, something beyond metaphor: the manganese reek of an aluminum casting works–for him, electrical wire casing scorched with a butane cigar lighter–that drained down through the sinus and into the back of his throat. Koestler dubbed that the “high note.” It rode atop a yeasty, cloying base of aging brewery, boiling malt [addition], sensed as much in queasy gut as weary nose[/addition]. Strange, he thought, he should be so overcome. After all, by this stage of the game the senses have begun to dull, which might explain the Tobasco Koestler added to nearly every dish, anything to conjure a sensation–if only a tongue-pricking heat stripped of the vinegar and pepper.
[Note: edit made 12/5/11.]