Sunday, April 16, 2006

Do One Thing (Chapter One)

Okay, here's the first chapter of a novel I started while taking an online creative writing course a few months ago. The course is with the Gotham Writers Project and this is the second course I've taken with them. They have a cool website and both instructors I've had were quite good. More chapters will come later, hopefully.


Chapter One

Naturally, just as I put shampoo in my hair, the doorbell rang. Just a minute, I called out before I pushed my head under the water, rinsed out the suds and reached for a towel. A quick attempt at drying off, before putting on my robe, as I dripped water across the hardwood floor to the door.

“Mr. Blevins?” The somewhat familiar guy in the suit asked.

“Yeah---Cooper. And you—I’ve seen you around—you’re Mr. Fletcher’s son, right? Sorry, I was in the shower.”

“Well, I’m not really here as Mr. Fletcher’s son. I’m Detective Mark Fletcher.” And he sounded serious.

“Oh, mmnnhh. Then you’d better come in. Have a seat. Just give me a minute.”

As I closed the bedroom door and climbed into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt my mind flipped through possibilities, but nothing really fit. I own and manage this old mansion that was turned into apartments years ago. I’ve made sure everything is up to code. I’m studying for my GED so I can start classes at the university in the fall. I haven’t had any trouble with the law since just before I did my third and final trip into rehab and that was over a year ago in California. I also work part-time at Bacon Securities as a guard and we did have that fire a couple of mornings ago. Maybe it has something to do with that. I opened the door, mostly clueless.

“Okay, sorry about that, but I have to work in about an hour,” I said moving to the chair across from the small sofa where he was seated.

“No problem. I’m sorry to bother you but this shouldn’t take long. It’s about Luke Mason,” he dropped that as he opened a small notebook.

“Luke? What about him?

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“God—let me see, over a week ago, at least. I’m not really sure. But,” I left the chair and went to a bulletin board on the wall by my desk. I took a thumbtack from a post-it and carried the note to the detective. “Two mornings ago when I came home from work, this was on my door.”

“Mr. Blevins. I really need your help on something. Please call as soon as you can,” the detective read the note. “And?”

“Well, it sounded urgent so I didn’t even change out of my uniform. I went down to knock on his door. No answer. I tried several times, thinking he was asleep, it was 7 in the morning, but he never answered. I came back up here and tried to phone him—no answer, so I left a message on his machine. Then I wrote a note and went down and put it on his door.”
“I saw it,” the detective interrupted.
“Then I came back up and went to sleep,” I continued. “When I woke up and had some coffee—about 2 probably, I tried him again. Nothing. I’ve tried off and on since then—the same, nothing.” I made a gesture with my hands and returned to the chair to light a cigarette.
“He wrote ‘Mr. Blevins’—that’s pretty formal. You didn’t know him very well?” The detective asked, making another note.
“Not really. I’ve only been here about 6 months. I’ve spoken to him in the hall a few times, that’s about it.” I shrugged.
“Is it unusual for him to leave you a note like that?” He watched me answer.
“For him, yes. The older tenants get upset easy over a leak or something and they can get dramatic and all. I never had anything like that from Luke before.” I watched his eyes as he moved to make another note.
“About Luke Mason, he was found dead yesterday. We’re quite not sure what we’re looking at yet. Maybe murder.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I shook my head. “I mean, I didn’t really know him, but still, it’s pretty hard to believe.”
“He seemed like a really nice kid, never any trouble. He just doesn’t seem the type.”
“What type?”
“To end up killed.”
“Ever known anybody who got murdered, Mr. Blevins?”
“Not really, no,” I lied to his face and he didn’t seem to catch it.
“Did Luke have many visitors?” He returned to the questions and his notebook.
“I really couldn’t say for sure, but no one ever complained about him. He never had any loud parties. No pot smell in the hall. There was a girl I saw him with a few times, but I never caught her name,” I paused for a second. “He did seem to hang out a little with the guy in five, Ethan Adkins. I just saw them together a few times. Ethan’s a grad student and he’s tutoring me for my GED.”
He made a quick note of that. “Quit high school, huh?”
“I was gonna be a daddy. I joined the military. None of it worked out. Old news and a long story.”
“Sure,” he nodded and reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out an official looking paper. “This is a search warrant. I thought rather than make a big scene and jack the lock or something, you might have a spare key so we can do it quietly. I’ve already got the lab boys printing the door.”
“I’ve got one,” I replied, not sure whether to give it to him or not.
“Have you ever used it?”
“The key? Nope. Never even been inside the place. If there were ever any problems I guess he took care of them himself. When I painted the other apartments, he said his was fine, that he’d done it himself a year ago, so I didn’t argue with him about it. He was paying the rent and all. I’ll get you the key.” I decided and started to get up from the chair when he threw out another little item.
“There’s something else.” His voice was firm and curious.
“Okay.” I sat back down.
“You and Jamie Freeman from Bacon checked out an alarm at the old Emmons place two nights ago, right?” He stated facts.
“Yeah,” I answered curiously.
“I already talked to her, but I just want to hear it again from you.”
“Okay,” I shrugged as he watched closely. “Let me think. The alarm tripped just after midnight. Jamie, she’s in charge, called it in and spoke with an officer--.”
“Officer Harris,” he offered.
“Okay. He told Jamie they had their hands full with a few things, for us to drive up and check it out and call him back. So, we grabbed the keys and drove up there. You know where it is?”
“Was,” he said with a slight smile, or maybe that was a smirk.
“Okay, was.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Anyway, the place is—was huge. She was driving. I got out and opened that huge old gate and we drove to the front of the place. The back door alarm was the one that had been tripped. We did a sweep of the grounds first. We turned on the floods and also used flashlights. We spent at least an hour doing that. We found a few animal prints but nothing human. And it’d been raining that day so the ground was soft. We didn’t find anything. Not even a used rubber or empty beer can. The back door was still locked and there was no sign of any disturbance back there at all. Jamie’s good—she’s been doing this for a while.” It’s so much easier to remember things when you’re sober.
“I know her,” he said, smiling widely this time. “And she is good. Also, takes no shit.”
“True,” I smiled. “We could see the floor was covered with dust and if someone had been walking inside, we’d see their prints. So, we went in the front door. My God—we were in there until after 3:00. We checked every possible nook and cranny. No one had been in the house for a long time. As we were getting ready to close up and leave, Officer Harris drove up. He said we hadn’t called and just wanted to check on us. He and Jamie talked and he said he’d have someone drive by a few times just to check. And we left.”
“And by five o’clock the place had burnt to the ground,” he said without expression.
“Okay, yes, but we checked everything, everywhere,” I countered, sounding a little defensive.
“I know you did.”
“Then why all the questions?”
“That’s where Luke Mason’s body was found. In the ashes of the house.”
My face dropped. “You’re joking, right?”
“No joking, Mr. Blevins.”
“What the hell was he doing there?”
“You don’t know?”
“No, what?”
“He owned it.”
“Oh, come on. He owned that huge old place? Why the hell was he living here then?”
“You really don’t know any of this, do you?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“And I don’t know how you can buy a house from someone and not even know his name.”
“You’re not making sense to me, detective. I’m sorry.” I light another cigarette.
“He owned this house. You bought it from him.”
“Oh, come on.”
“No, really,” he closed his notebook. “How did you come to buy this place?”
“My lawyer in California worked with a realtor here. I only signed the papers,” I paused for a second. “Are you sure?”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Who?” “The other tenants, maybe.”
“They didn’t know. A company---.”
“TTH Holdings, right?” The name clicked into my head.
“Yes, they thought a company owned it.”
“So, why were you so surprised I didn’t know?”
“I wasn’t, not really. Just checking the water. Detectives don’t like coincidence and there are a couple of pretty big ones here.”
“And everything you said checks out. My Dad has nothing but good things to say about you,” the detective said with a slight smile. “He says you take better care of this place than anyone ever did. And I can see it. And Jamie says you’re a good worker, straight. Why don’t you get the key and I’ll search his place?”
After I closed the door behind him, I poured the last cup of coffee and turned off the pot. I sat in the chair that looks out over Third Avenue and watched the street and thought about what I’d just heard. Mostly, there were just more questions. After I got settled in here several months ago, I had a tenants meeting where I introduced myself and listened to them talk about problems with the building and what they’d like to see done to improve it. That was the first time I saw Luke and just about the last. I’m busy and I don’t bother tenants unless there are problems and he never seemed to have any. I don’t even know what he did. If he was a student or worked or what. He seemed to have money, a nice car, nice clothes.
Detective Fletcher is right, though. There are a couple of pretty big coincidences hanging around and they always attract suspicion. I’d bought this house from him, even though I didn’t know it at the time. He was also my tenant. He had come to me for help, someone he didn’t really know at all. That part was pretty odd in itself. Maybe it was about a totally different matter. Who knows? And, I was at the scene of his murder just hours before it happened. I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but that’s not the problem. I came here to this little university town in West Virginia to get away from it all, not to be looked at by the police for a possible connection to a murder. It doesn’t make me nervous, but I don’t like the general feeling of it all. I looked at the clock and got up from the chair.
I rinsed out the coffee cup and put it in the sink and then went into the bedroom to shed the jeans and T-shirt and put on my little gray Bacon Security uniform with the black shoes. I’ll talk to Jamie when I get to work and she what she has to say. She’s lived here all her life. She’ll know all the dirt. And maybe I’ll mention it to Ethan the next time we study. Just to get an idea of how this all adds up, if it does.

Better Weeks

It's been over a week since I've had time to even think about posting something. Work last week was hell, just one of those weeks that are best forgotten. Over the weekend, David and Lorin and their friend Pat came down from Sharjah on Thursday and stayed the night. We had dinner at Hemingway's at the Hilton. Very little about Hemingway's really changes and I find it's my favorite place to go for a bar meal. The music isn't too intrusive and you can carry on a decent conversation and the crowd isn't too rowdy, until much later in the night. Most of had the huge burgers and they were great, even if they are now only a once a month treat for us over-50's. On Friday we went over to Phil and Enma's flat for Phil's birthday. There was a nice crowd there and the food was great as always.
I finished Carter Beats the Devil. It was a very good read. The writing was very strong and the plotting and pacing were quite good. Opening with President Harding visiting Carter the Great's magician show in San Francisco and his dying the same night to the new invention of television, the book was an entertaining mix of history and fiction. Turned to detective fiction after that with The Skeleton Room by Kate Ellis. It's a series with the police detective Wesley Peterson, so I started this series with about book 6. I hate that. Still, the characters are strong and interesting, with personality, and the setting is Devon, England, which adds a bit to the plot. It also is a mix of history and fiction with strong writing and fast pacing, although the plot at times got a little bit convoluted. I'd try another in the series, though, just to give it a chance. I just started Folly by Laurie R. King. I'll let you know.
Well, it was another bad week for the Bushies and for America. One can only shake one's head and hope that the country can survive. I have my doubts. America is in the midst of its own internal holy war and it looks like the bad guys are winning. It will mean the end of the American Dream, you know that don't you. Why intelligent people still feel the need for the god mythology is beyond me, but if they need it, okay, no problem. But when it's used to damage others lives and as a means of government, it's unforgivable. It's sad when the news bits showing the Bushies appear to be a parody of themselves. I saw Karl Rove referring to Iran's president as nuts for believing he had a halo on when he addressed the UN some months back and for believing that he has some sort of divine knowledge. If you changed the name of the country and the president, Rove could have been talking about his own boss. Oh well. That's the way it is.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Trying Again And...

This is my second attempt at a blog. The first one was not free, for one thing, and also I was never really happy with the format I began and then continued with my postings. Most were lengthy political rants against Bush and government, which have been repeated over and over to where most people just wish they'd go ahead and put him and all his gang in prison and rid our country of this blight. Anyway, this one isn't quite as fancy as the old one, but I want to try a different approach to this one and then we'll see how it goes. Oh, there will still be politics, don't worry. But I just want to see what else I can do with this medium. It's Thursday night here in Abu Dhabi, almost 10:30. Thursday and Friday are our weekend. I slept obscenely late today and thought of going to the beach, but then it clouded over and I just decided to do a few projects around the flat that I've been putting off because I'm basically pretty lazy. In about an hour or so I'll make my nightcap and settle down to read in Carter Beats the Devil by David Glen Gold. I'm really enjoying it after the murder mystery I just finished. It qualifies as legitimate literature. It opens with President Harding's death just following a show by the great magician Carter. I have no clue if this is based on fact or not and have been meaning to do a search and find out, but haven't taken the time. Anyway, after that opening, it backs up to tell the story of Carter, his early family life and his rise to fame. Houdini plays a role in all that. I read a review of a biography of Houdini not long ago and wish I could remember the title. I'd like to read it. Just read online that Libby is saying that Bush authorized the leaks to the press in the run-up to the illegal war in Iraq, possibly including the Plame leak. How much is finally going to be enough? Good night and good luck.