novel-in-progress

“Deception Island:” Chapter 1, scenes 3, 4

Fifteen minutes later, Jason hitched the strap of his lap top case back onto his shoulder and stepped off the curb along with the crowd of other late arrivals crossing John Street. On the south side of John Street he ducked between two umbrellas, hung a right and headed up the block toward The Seattle News building. The rain had paused for the moment, but the clouds still hung low and pregnant with moisture. The air was cool and smelled of the Sound.

As always, he found himself gazing in simple admiration as he approached the building. Something about The News Building always awoke in him the kind of awe a cathedral might inspire in others.

The Seattle News Building had been built in 1925 by the newspaper’s founder and the paper still occupied the first five of its seven stories. The top two housed a CPA and a law firm. It’s facade was weathered red brick, darkened now by the rain, with limestone cornices and elegantly arched windows. Every doorknob in the place was polished brass; every door solid wood; every floor tongue and groove oak. It felt solid and eternal, like it was beyond the dirt and decay of the every day world.

The only other buildings that could even come close had been some of the older buildings at the University.

He climbed the steps up to the arched entrance and pushed through the heavy glass door with the paper’s name etched across it.

The lobby was floored in pink granite and paneled in mahogany. Tropical plants lurked in the corners and ornate brass chandeliers hung from the ceiling. It looked like a genteel hotel. Ahead and to his left was the counter for the Circulation Department; beside it was the counter for the Advertizing Department. This was where most people, from paper boys to businessmen, actually dealt with the newspaper staff. A handful of people were lined up to talk to one of the clerks. To the right, a group stood waiting for the elevators, mostly clerks from the administrative offices on the sixth floor, chatting about their weekends.

Jason walked past the elevators and took the stairs. He was only heading up one floor.

The news room wasn’t anything like the movies; Hollywood depicted it as a cross between the floor of the stock exchange and a smoky bar, with a hundred phones ringing, reporters and editors screaming at each other while copy boys darted in and out of the chaos like street urchins.

In reality, the news room could have been the workspace at any large company. First, it was smoke-free like every other business in the state. Second, the news room only got really intense when a story broke late enough to crowd their deadline. Right now, the deadline was fifteen hours away and the atmosphere was almost serene. Phones chirped, laser printers whirred, people talked. It sounded very business-like.

For some reason, it always smelled dusty. He’d never figured out why.

Marcia sat at her desk across from the elevators, the telephone pressed to one ear. He waved at her as he passed. She lifted a hand and smiled, then he was past her and making his way through the warren of desks to his work station. About two thirds of the paper’s reporters were already there, catching up from the weekend, answering emails, or working on new assignments. He exchanged greetings with a half dozen before reaching his own desk, setting his lap top and briefcase on the floor and booting up his computer.

Debbie looked over from her desk immediately to his right and flashed a smile. She’d woven her dark hair into a braid that fell between her shoulder blades. Her make up was almost invisible. Like most of the reporters, she dressed simply: a teal sweater over a white button-up shirt, khaki slacks and flats. A hooded waterproof jacket hung over the back of her desk chair. Jason liked her and respected her work. She had a sweet, wholesome, girl-next-door look that hid a mind like a tiger shark.

“Hey,” she said.

“Sorry I’m late. I-5 was a zoo today.”

“So I heard. Must be Monday.”

“All over,” he said. “You talk to Miles yet?”

She shook her head. “Stevenson issued a statement this morning. Did you see it?”

“Not yet, but I heard about it on the radio. It sounded like the usual ‘I have nothing to hide’ crap.”

“Pretty much. It should be in your email.”

Both reporters knew that the real victory lay not in what the Councilman said or didn’t say in his press release, but in the fact that he’d felt a need to respond to their charges so quickly. It meant they’d struck close to the bone. It meant he was worried.

This was what every reporter lived for, blood in the water.

“Anything from the construction company yet?”

Debbie shook her head. “Not a peep.”

No sooner had he sat down than his desk phone chirped. He picked it up before the second ring. “Reynolds.”

“Can I see you in my office?” He recognized Miles’ gravelly voice.

“Be right there.”

He returned the phone to its base and glanced at Debbie. “Miles wants to see me.”

“Probably wants to give you a gold star.”

“Probably two.”

Miles wasn’t really the feel-good, positive feedback type.

“Wish me luck.”

“Always.” Debbie smiled as he left his desk.

Jason made his way across the news room to the News Editor’s corner office. He probably wanted to discuss a follow up to yesterday’s article about everyone’s favorite City Councilman. Fortunately, Jason already had an article sketched out profiling Stevenson. Debbie was working on a similar story about the son-in-law’s construction company. He also had been gathering material for an article about the history of graft in the city government, particularly the Public Works Department.

He’d let Miles make the final decision on what to run. He was the editor; he would anyway.

Mile’s door stood open when he arrived. He tapped on the door and poked his head in. “You wanted to see me?”

Miles sat at his cluttered desk, but he wasn’t alone. Two other men were sitting in the office chairs facing the editor’s desk. Both were in their mid to late forties; both wore wool suits in earth tones, comfortable shoes and conservative ties. The one to Jason’s right was a little taller and heavier than the other. He had dark hair graying at the temples. The other had sandy-colored hair buzzed so short it looked like a shadow on his pink scalp.

Jason pegged them as cops.

“Excuse me. I’ll come back later.”

“No, come in, Jason. Please, have a seat,” Miles said, his tone unusually mild-mannered. That really worried him.“These gentlemen would like to talk to you.”

Jason stepped into the room. All his defenses were on high alert. What did they want? Was Stevenson retaliating already? It seemed a little heavy-handed, even for him.

The dark-haired cop heaved himself to his feet and extended a hand. He was about four inches taller than Jason and fifty pounds heavier. Jason could see a mark on his neck were he’d nicked himself shaving this morning. “Det. Kyle Peterson, King County Sheriff’s Office. This is my partner, Det. Ron Dahl.” The other man had also gotten to his feet and offered his hand.

Jason shook both men’s hands, keeping his face neutral. “What can I do for you?”

Peterson took the lead. “Why don’t we have a seat?”

Jason glanced at Miles for a clue where this was headed, but his boss’s expression was unreadable.

He pulled over another office chair and sat to the right of the two detectives. With Miles, the four men formed a small, irregular circle like a group therapy session.

Det. Peterson took a deep breath and gathered himself.

“We have been asked to contact you on behalf of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department. Normally, we wouldn’t bother you at work, but we tried several times at your apartment over the weekend and weren’t able to catch you.”

San Juan County? So this had nothing to do with Stevenson.

“I spent the weekend at a friend’s.”

Peterson nodded as though he’d suspected as much.

Jason thought about the message left on his voice mail. That had been the Sheriff’s, too. “What’s going on? What does the Sheriff want with me?”

Peterson took a deep breath. “Mr. Reynolds, there’s been an accident involving your father.”

The breath caught in Jason’s throat. For some reason, he suddenly became aware of the Old Spice cologne one of the detectives was wearing and the whir of the hard drive in Miles’ computer.

“Is he okay?” a voice asked.

Peterson shook his head. “I’m sorry.”

“What happened?” that same voice asked. It sounded like his own, but he didn’t seem to be the one asking. He was somewhere else, watching it all happen
.
“Sorry, we really don’t know any of the details. We’re just helping them contact you. You’ll have to call the San Juan Sheriff’s Office for that. ”

The detective handed Jason a business card with a phone number and extension written in ink on the back. Above the number was the name Sgt. Daniel Hayden.

“When?”

“Again, I don’t know any of the specifics, but we received the call from San Juan Saturday morning.”

Saturday morning. Two days ago. His dad had died two days ago and he hadn’t even known.

“I’m terribly sorry. Is there anyone we can call? Any family in the area? A minister maybe?”

Jason shook his head. He couldn’t shake the image of his dad lying alone in a morgue somewhere for two days while the authorities tried to track him down. There was no other family; his brother and mother had both died years ago; there was no one else to be there for him. Two days.

“We’ll make sure he gets home safely,” Miles said. “Thank you, Detectives.”

The detectives rose in unison, and slipped quietly toward the door.

Jason took a deep breath. “Man, your job just sucks.”

“Yeah,” Det. Peterson paused near the door. “Sometimes it really does.”

Jason looked down at the card the detectives had left with him. He had to look somewhere. The phone number was still there, written in blue ink, the handwriting firm, but sloppy like it was jotted by someone used to taking quick notes. A reporter or a cop. He turned it over and looked again at the printed name: Detective Kyle Peterson, King County Sheriff’s Office and his phone number. The reporter in him decided the detective seemed a righteous guy. He would be worth trying to develop into a contact.

He flipped it once more and took in the handwritten number on the back. It hadn’t changed.

“I suppose I should make a phone call,” he finally said.

Miles was watching him closely from his seat behind his desk. His chin rested in his right hand. “You can use my phone, if you’d like.”

“Thanks anyway,” Jason shook his head and rose to his feet, the card still held in front of him. “I’ll call from my desk and find out what’s going on. I’ll probably need to go up there.”

Miles peered at him. “You going to be okay?”

Jason nodded.

“I’ll talk to HR and get you some time off. You have some vacation coming, don’t you?”

“I think so.”

“I’ll take care of it. If there’s anything else I can do to help, just let me know.”

Jason thanked him and headed for the door.

“And Jason?”

He turned back.

“I’m very sorry about your father.”

“Thank you.”

He made his way back to his desk, walking across the news room like his mind was on a two second delay. His body acted on its own. It was his body that returned a “’morning” to Rick Coburg as he passed outside Miles’ office, his body that made the legs move across the carpet and maintain balance, his body that avoided running into desks and dividers. His mind wasn’t involved.

Then he was his desk, sitting in his chair. It was just all disconnected.

After a moment, he picked up his desk phone and punched in the number written on the card. He needed to talk to Sgt. Daniel Hayden.

Someone picked up on the first ring.

“Sgt. Hayden.”

The voice was female. Brusque and business-like, but definitely female.

“Hello?” she asked.

“Um,” Jason hesitated. His mind seemed to be working with the speed of jello. “I’m trying to reach Sgt. Daniel Hayden…”

There was a pause on the other end. “I’m Danielle Hayden.”

Now he was embarrassed. “I’m sorry. The note is hand-written; it looks like ‘Daniel.’”

“Don’t worry about it; it happens all the time,” she told him. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Yes. I think so. This is Jason Reynolds,” he managed to say. “I’m supposed to call you regarding my father, Lee Reynolds.”

“Mr. Reynolds,” her voice softened. “You’re a hard man to track down.”

“I know. I wasn’t home this weekend,” he told her. He took a deep breath. “I just finished speaking with a couple of Sheriff’s detectives down here. They gave me your number.”

“Yes. I asked them to. Some news shouldn’t come over the phone.”

“Can you tell me what happened? Was it a heart attack? He’d had some heart troubles a couple of years ago.”

The medications had been working though and he’d changed his diet, quit smoking, drinking, all the stuff the doctors told him to do. He’d been doing fine. At least he’d said he was when they’d talked. How long ago had that been? Two weeks ago? Three?

“We’re still investigating, but it looks like he had a boating accident sometime early Saturday morning.”

“What kind of boating accident?” Jason frowned. There were a lot of things that could go wrong out on the water.

“All indications are he fell overboard and drowned.”

The sensation of unreality, that the entire morning was some kind of twisted dream was overwhelming. “There’s got to be something else you’re not telling me.”

“I’m sorry?” she sounded genuinely puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“My dad practically grew up on the Sound. He’d spent his whole life on boats, both working and for pleasure. Him falling overboard and drowning is about as likely as you or me running into a parked car on the drive home tonight.”

The pause on the other end stretched into discomfort. When she spoke again, Sgt. Hayden’s tone had lost its friendly sympathy. “Like I said, Mr. Reynolds, we’re still investigating. It’s possible something like a heart attack caused him to fall overboard.”

He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and forced himself to calm down. The lady probably wasn’t even involved in the investigation. She was just some poor slob assigned to notify the next of kin. It would do him no good at all to piss her off.

“I’m sorry,” he told her. “I didn’t mean to be rude. I guess I’m more upset than I thought.”

“That’s understandable. You’ve just had a shock.” But her voice kept the formal tone.

He took another deep breath. “Do I need to come up and make an identification?”

“That won’t be necessary. But you will have to arrange for the funeral and such things. It’s nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow or the next day; the Medical Examiner over in Friday Harbor should be finished by then.”

Jason closed his eyes. They were doing a post-mortem on him. Of course they were. They did a post-mortem on every unusual death. It was standard procedure.

“The ferry runs every twelve hours. 7:00 am and 7:00 pm from Anacortes.”

He thanked her.

“And Mr. Reynolds? I am sorry for your loss. Your father was very well liked in this town.”

“Thank you. And again, I’m sorry if I offended you earlier; I’m sure you’re covering every base.”

Again there was a pause on her end, but shorter this time. “Let me know when you get to town, Mr. Reynolds.”

He told her he would, set the phone back on its base and leaned back in his chair. For a few seconds he just sat there not really thinking about anything, his eyes idly watching the geometric patterns develop on his computer’s screen saver without really seeing them.

His dad was dead.

His dad was dead. Deceased. Passed away.

Dead.

No matter how often he repeated it to himself, it still refused to become real. His dad was too big, too tough, and too strong to let something as flimsy as age or heart disease do him in. The man hadn’t even seen a doctor the entire time he was growing up. It was like someone telling him that Mt. Rainier had crumbled to dust, or the Pacific had dried up. He would have to see it with his own eyes before he truly believed.

Tomorrow. He would be able to see it with his own eyes tomorrow.

But first, there were things he needed to do. There were preparations to be made, both for the trip back to his home town and once he got there. He needed to pack some clothes, enough to last for a week, maybe more. He had to arrange for a funeral. Was there even a funeral home in Port Salish? He needed to settle his father’s affairs, pay bills, file life insurance claims, figure out what to do with the house, the boat, the truck. There were probably a dozen other things he hadn’t even thought of yet.

He just needed to start.

Instead, he stared at the screen saver playing across his computer monitor.

“Hey.” Debbie looked over at him. “You okay?”

Jason made his mouth form the semblance of a smile. “Sure.”

He didn’t think she believed him.

“What did Miles say in there? You look like you’ve just gotten the ass-chewing of the century.”

He shook his head. “My dad died. I just found out.”

“Oh god.” Her hand landed on his forearm. Gave it a squeeze. “I’m so sorry. Had he been sick?”

Jason shook his head. Not sick enough to keep him from going out on his boat.

She gave his arm another squeeze.

Both looked up as Miles approached Jason’s desk.

“I just got off the phone with HR,” Miles said and looked at Jason. “You’re officially on vacation through Friday, meaning I don’t expect to see you at this desk until next Monday. If you need more time than that, let me know. We’ll work something out.”

“What about the Road Department stories?” They had to follow up. It was the only way to keep the pressure on Stevenson.

“Debbie can handle it. Copy her on your notes and make sure she has a way of contacting you if any questions come up. Okay?”

Jason and Debbie exchanged a quick glance. Both nodded. That would work.

“Copy Debbie your notes and get out of here,” Miles told him. “The paper will survive. Go take care of yourself and your family.”

Jason didn’t tell him that he now had no family left to care for.

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