novel-in-progress, writing

A Word From Our Sponsor

We interrupt the normally scheduled post for a few moments of shameless self-promotion.

I am pleased to announce that a tentative release date for my new novel Deception Island has been set. The new work will be presented to the public on (or about) April 15, 2015. It will be the first release since the final volume of The Ni’il Trilogy, Ni’il: Waking Turtle was released in 2011. (I’m so proud.)

Now the real (as in the kind I don’t enjoy doing) work begins. Creating a marketing plan and accompanying budget. Creating and ordering promotional materials, writing copy. All of which isn’t much fun, but is absolutely necessary as a writer if writing, alone, is not enough and you’d actually like someone else to read your work. (More on this later.)

Also, since I spend much time and many words in this blog talking about writing and the art of creating fiction, I thought it was time to show the blogosphere that I seriously try to follow my own advice when I put words on paper. It only seems fair.

Therefore, I present you with Chapter One of Deception Island, my new novel:

*****

The memory was as clear and sharp as if it had only happened yesterday.

It was Labor Day weekend. Jason was twelve.

He and Jeremy sat in the captain’s chairs at the stern of his father’s boat, The Lady L, each of them gripping their rods as if expecting a salmon to jerk them overboard at any second. Their dad sat behind them, at the wheel, maneuvering around the other fishermen on the Sound and keeping the boat at good trolling speed.

The late summer sun was warm on Jason’s face and flashed in a zillion tiny jewels among the waves. The sky was cloudless. A light westerly breeze cooled the air just enough to make a sweatshirt comfortable. The air smelled of cedar from the nearby islands, sea salt, and diesel exhaust. The Lady L’s engine grumbled like a tiger purring.

It was heavenly.

“Hey Jason?” his dad called from his seat at the wheel.

Jason turned back toward his father. He thought the man would never look more relaxed, more at home, than sitting there in faded jeans and a flannel shirt, his feet shoved into rubber boots, one hand comfortably minding the boat’s wheel, while watching his sons work their rods. This was where his father was meant to be, not in a shirt and tie in some office above the cannery floor.

“Yeah?” Jason asked.

His dad nodded toward something off the stern on the starboard quarter. “See that twenty-foot Bayliner a hundred-fifty yards out?”

Jason quickly spotted the boat his dad was talking about. It was a big, open cockpit number with only a windscreen as protection from the elements; what his dad called a “fair weather” boat. A figure straightened up with a fishing rod and cast his bait out over the stern. His yellow plaid shirt looked unnaturally bright against the white of the boat.

“I see it,” Jason said.

“What’s he doing wrong?”

It was a test.

Jason glanced to his brother for help, but Jeremy, four years older and a veteran of many such tests, had suddenly grown gravely concerned about the action of his reel.

Jason was on his own.

What was the guy doing wrong? Jason bought a little time by reeling in some line while he scrambled for an answer. For the correct answer. He knew his dad was looking for one in particular. But what was it?

“It ain’t that hard a question, son,” his dad prodded. “What’s he doing wrong?”

Jason watched the man settle back in a captain’s chair and pour something from a bright silver thermos into a cup. Coffee probably, though something harder wasn’t out of the question. Many fisherman spent the afternoon getting wasted out here. His dad said it was fine as long as they weren’t piloting the boat. Piloting a boat drunk was just as stupid as driving a car drunk; both could get everybody killed. It was one of THE RULES.

Like someone had flipped a switch, he had the answer.

“He doesn’t have a buddy with him.”

“Give the man a cigar!” his dad said. “Naw, you’re too young, but I believe I will.”

He fished a cigar out of a shirt pocket, then lit it with his lucky Zippo. Jeremy, who had been paying attention after all, playfully slugged Jason on the shoulder. Jason slugged him back.

“Now remind me, son. Why should he have a buddy with him?”

“Because there’s no one there to help him if he gets hurt or falls overboard.”

“Exactly. Rule number one is–?”

Both boys answered together. “Never take a boat out alone farther than you can swim back.”

“And how far can you swim?”

“Not far with a busted head,” Jeremy said.

His dad’s laughter echoed over the blue waters of the Sound.

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novel-in-progress

Deception Island, Chapter 4, scenes 1 & 2 (revised)

The memory was as clear and sharp as if it had only happened yesterday.

He and Jeremy sat in the captain’s chairs at the stern of his father’s boat, The Lady L, each of them gripping their rods as if expecting a salmon to jerk them overboard at any second. Their dad sat behind the wheel of the boat, steering around the other fishermen on the Sound and keeping the engine at a good trolling speed. It was Labor Day weekend. Jason was twelve.

The late summer sun was warm on his face and flashed in a zillion tiny jewels among the waves. The sky was cloudless. A light westerly breeze cooled the air just enough to make a sweatshirt comfortable and bore the scent of cedar from the nearby islands to mix with the smells of sea salt and diesel exhaust. The Lady L‘s engine grumbled like a tiger purring.

It was heavenly.

“Hey Jason?” his dad called from his seat at the wheel.

Jason turned back toward his father. He thought the man would never look more relaxed, more at home, than sitting there in faded jeans and a flannel shirt, his feet shoved into rubber boots, one hand comfortably minding the boat’s wheel, while watching his sons work their rods. This was where his father was meant to be, not in a shirt and tie in some office above the cannery floor.

“Yeah?” he said.

His dad nodded toward something off the stern on the starboard quarter. “See that twenty-foot Bayliner a hundred-fifty yards out?”

Jason turned back to the stern and quickly spotted the boat his dad was talking about. It was a big, open cockpit number with only a windscreen as protection from the elements; what his dad called a “fair weather” boat. A figure straightened up with a fishing rod and cast his bait out over the stern. His red plaid shirt looked unnaturally bright against the white of the boat.

“I see it,” Jason said.

“What’s he doing wrong?”

It was a test.

Jason glanced to his brother for help, but Jeremy, four years older and a veteran of many such tests, had suddenly grown gravely concerned about the action of his reel. He didn’t even seem aware of the question. Jason was on his own.

What was the guy doing wrong? Jason bought a little time by reeling in some line to reposition his bait. Mentally, he scrambled for an answer. For the correct answer. He knew his dad was looking for one in particular. But what was it?

“It ain’t that hard a question, son,” his dad prodded. “What’s he doing wrong?”

Jason watched the man settle back in a captain’s chair and pour something from a bright silver thermos into a cup. Coffee probably, though something harder wasn’t out of the question. Many fisherman spent the afternoon getting wasted out here. His dad said it was fine as long as they weren’t piloting the boat. Piloting a boat drunk was just as stupid as driving a car drunk; both could get everybody killed. It was one of THE RULES.

Like someone had flipped a switch, he had the answer his dad was looking for.

“He doesn’t have a buddy with him.”

“Give the man a cigar!” his dad said. “Naw, you’re too young, but I believe I will.”

He fished a cigar out of a shirt pocket, then lit it with his lucky Zippo. Jeremy, who had been paying attention after all, playfully slugged Jason on the shoulder. Jason slugged him back.

“Now remind me, son. Why should he have a buddy with him?”

“Because there’s no one there to help him if he gets hurt or falls overboard.”

“Exactly. Rule number one is–?”

Both boys answered together. “Never take a boat out alone farther than you can swim back.”

“And how far can you swim?”

“Not far with a busted head,” Jeremy said.

His dad’s laughter echoed over the blue waters of the Sound.

The islands appeared on the horizon like a smudge of charcoal in the crease of a gray canvas. The whole world was gray. The rain had stopped earlier this morning, but it had left a high overcast hiding the sky behind a curtain of ink-washed cloud. Below it, running to meet the clouds at the horizon, the Sound glistened in the weak light like greasy pewter, its surface only slightly warped by a gentle swell. It was in the subtle crease where the Sound met the sky that the islands now grew.

Jason leaned against the railing just behind the ferry’s starboard bow, his hands shoved deep in his coat pockets against the damp chill, and watched the islands grow as the ferry plowed toward them. It was peaceful. The only sounds the splashing of water under the bow, the raucous scream of gulls, and the steady thrumming of the boat’s powerful engines as they pushed across the water.

He had the exterior deck all to himself this morning. It was well past tourist season. His fellow travelers this morning were all regulars, people whose jobs demanded they ride this ferry early on Tuesday morning. They’d seen the view countless times before and would countless times again; they chose to spend their time in the warmth of the cabin with a coffee and the morning paper.

Jason had seen the view before himself, but was too restless to sit inside and wait.

He had also read The News this morning. The story about Stevenson he’d briefed Debbie on yesterday ran on the lower part of the front page, under a byline crediting both himself and Debbie. The story was good. Debbie had kept to the outline he’d already sketched out, but added some nice quotes that really fleshed it out.

He sent Debbie a text now. Nice job on the story.

The reply came within a minute. Thanks. I had help. How are you?

Okay. On ferry now.

Let me know if I can do anything.

I will. Thanks.

The islands were now close enough that Jason could begin to make out individual features: the blunt point of Mt. Shaw, the highest spot on Ebey Island at a whole 450 feet, the whitewater marking the shoreline of Deception Island to the right, the occasional flash of color marking a house among the forest. They were still too far away to see any real detail.

Jason pulled the photo from his coat pocket and looked at it again. He’d probably looked at the mysterious man’s face two hundred times since opening the envelope yesterday afternoon. He still had no idea who the man was or why his dad thought him important.

The man’s identity would be the second question he intended to answer. The first was what had really happened to his dad. He simply could not believe that his father just fell overboard and drowned. He’d even looked up the weather conditions for Friday and Saturday. It had been mild on the Sound around Ebey Island, with temperatures in the low fifties, a steady rain, and winds barely breaking ten knots. His dad would have called it “bathtub” conditions, certainly nothing he couldn’t handle.

And, of course, there had been the rule his dad had drummed into both his boys: you never went out on the Sound alone. Had his father broken his own rule the day he died?

Jason sensed, rather than heard, the cabin door open and close behind him. He glanced over as a tall, powerfully built man in a black overcoat paused to light up a cigarette. He was absolutely bald, not even a shadow of stubble. The man got his cigarette going, nodded at Jason, and leaned back against the cabin wall.

There was no smoking in the cabin, of course.

Jason returned the nod, slipped the photo back into his pocket and turned back toward the islands.

His cell phone chirped that he’d received a text. He fished the phone out of his pocket and opened it. The text was from Lisa, who would be getting ready for school right now.

How’s it going? Her text read.

On ferry now. Be there in 10.

Good luck. Miss you already.

Me too. Call you tonight.

He closed the phone.

The timbre of the thrumming engines changed under his feet. The ferry’s bow began turning as if the captain intended to pass to the left of the island. But Jason knew it was merely the maneuver that would begin their approach to the landing at Port Salish. The captain was positioning the boat.

He had watched countless times as his dad had made the same maneuver heading back from a day of fishing.

Now he would never be able to see it again.

The islands were now close enough to make out details: the ornate Victorian roof and towers of the Lundgren house high above the bay; the baby blue rectangle of the water tower on the upper slopes of Mt. Shaw. Jason could even pick out the colored jewels that were cars moving along Shoreline Road.

He could not see the town itself yet because the body of Deception Island was in the way, which explained how Deception Island got its name. The early explorers had thought it was part of the main island. Only when Ebey Island was fully charted was it determined that a narrow channel actually separated the two bodies. Thus its name.

The ferry completed its maneuver, turned to starboard and headed into the channel between the islands.

The smoker coughed behind him. Jason glanced back in time to see him light a second cigarette and drop the first onto the deck. The man caught his eye and shrugged through the cigarette smoke.

Jason turned back to the islands. Now he could clearly see the Victorian castle Lars Lundgren had built on the heights of Lundgren Point where he could keep an eye on his domain. His descendants still lived there as far as Jason knew. The yellow paint certainly looked fresh. A long set of white wooden stairs led from the house to a dock where a launch was tied.

The ferry passed a shoulder of land on the left and began a left turn into Salish Bay. Ahead lay the little town of Port Salish, clustered on a shelf of land and the adjoining slopes at the head of the bay.

The Captain got on the PA system and announced their arrival at Port Salish.

Home.

Jason turned away from the rail and started back toward the cabin.

The smoker apparently had similar ideas. He was already gone.

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novel-in-progress

Deception Island, Chapter 3 (revised)

In which we meet the antagonist, Taylor Smith, for the first time.

Taylor Smith wasn’t actually bald. He did have the receding hairline of many men in their late forties, but actually had quite a lot of hair. He spent several minutes every morning carefully shaving his scalp just like he shaved his beard. It was a habit he’d picked up as a young man in the Marines, continued in his time as a cop, and now was second nature. Trouble was, sometimes he missed a spot, like just above and behind his right ear.

And it drove him batty.

He self-consciously touched the line of stubble now as he took one of the chairs in front of the Director’s desk. It was full dark, well past normal office hours and the lights of Seattle’s business district lit up the windows of the office. It was really quite dazzling.

“Anything to report?”

“Not much,” Smith answered, willing his hand down into his lap. “He appears to be in for the night. He’s probably going up to Port Salish in the morning.”

“I assume there will be nothing to find when he gets there.” The old man sipped from a tumbler of scotch, his preferred refreshment this time of night. He had not offered any to Smith and Smith had not expected him to. If he had, Smith would have had to decide whether to shoot him right there.

“Of course.”

The old man nodded, seemed to consider his next question for a moment.

“Do we think he’s going to be a problem?”

“It’s too early to tell. So far, he’s done nothing a grieving son wouldn’t do, but it’s early.”

“How big a problem could this be?”

“Worst case scenario? He has the potential to be a disaster.”

“He’s that good?”

Smith nodded and touched the line of stubble behind his ear again. “You read the paper. You’ve seen his file. He’s very good at what he does. He also has the medium to reach a wide audience and a reputation that will make that audience listen. Just ask Councilman Stevenson.”

The old man snorted. “Stevenson is a moron.”

“A moron that’s won five straight elections.”

The old man downed the rest of his whiskey in a single swallow and set the tumbler on his polished desktop with a thud. “I assume we have contingency plans to deal with this if it does become a problem?”

“Of course. That’s what you pay me for.”

“Really?” The old man peered at Smith. It was like meeting the gaze of a rattlesnake. “Seems to me you were supposed to take care of this problem a couple of weeks ago. Yet here we are.”

Smith refused to be intimidated, but he lowered his hand into his lap again. “It is what it is. We deal with it. This is the wrong business if you’re expecting perfection.”

The old man nodded. Just barely. “So what is your recommendation?”

“We sit tight and continue to watch him. We should know in the next few days how big a threat he’s going to be, or whether he’ll be a threat at all.”

“Either way,” the old man told him. “I want this problem eliminated by the end of the week. Understood?”

Smith nodded. “Understood.”

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novel-in-progress, writing

Untitled Novel: opening scene (first draft)

This is the opening scene of a novel I began several years ago, but abandoned because there were too many problems I couldn’t seem to fix. I recently brought it out again. The first half isn’t bad; the second is awful. Anyway…

Spring snuck into Oregon sometime during the afternoon, the perfect end to a perfect month. The long winter of mottled clouds and endless rain had given way to clear skies, warm sunshine and the earthy scents of new grass and fresh daffodils.

Cindy took off her coat and tossed it into the backseat for the drive home, a smile plastered over her face. Children shouted in play on the far side of the cyclone fence separating the playground from the parking lot. She’d had her share in her class this afternoon, so anxious to enjoy the day that it had taken every trick in Cindy’s arsenal to keep their attention on spelling and math.

She started her car and drove out of the parking lot, noticing as she joined the traffic on Trevor Street that the line of maples in front of the school was now in bud. She hadn’t noticed that yesterday.

Cindy rolled her window down, enjoying the sweet air washing warm over her face and wreaking havoc with her hair. But that was okay. Better than okay, everything was fantastic. The last four weeks had been the best in her twenty-three years. She had finally gotten her chance at a full time position in the extremely competitive Eugene school district. It was unfortunate that Mrs.Wright had to get cancer, but it was a chance. After nine long months pinching pennies on a substitute’s erratic wages and Bryan’s stipend as a graduate teacher, she had seized the opportunity and run with it.

To top it off, Bryan had taken her out for dinner on her birthday and surprised her with a ring and proposal. She had accepted in a heartbeat. Waiting at the traffic signal leading onto the Delta highway, she glanced down at the ring and its diamond. It still caused chills to break out up and down her spine.

The light changed to green and she accelerated into the heavy flow of traffic on the freeway heading south into Eugene. It was the start of the weekend and it promised to be a gorgeous one. The change in the weather made her want to do something. She didn’t have anything specific in mind; she just wanted to do something.

She passed through the office buildings of downtown–quickly emptying them onto the streets–and turned west onto 18th. Within blocks, the office and retail buildings gave way to apartments interspersed with family houses and swatches of park space.

Everywhere, it was spring. They tinted every tree with bright green buds; every yard and garden splashed with the fiery yellows of daffodils and the softer pastels of tulips and rhodys. She could swear none of them had been there the day before. Neither had the people. After the long winter, the parks and sidewalks were full of citizens taking advantage of their new freedom. They rode bikes and roller blades, walked their dogs and just walked. Nearly everyone wore a smile as broad as her own.

Near the west end of 18th Street, Cindy slowed and turned into the drive of her apartment complex. She paused to allow a soccer ball, then a handful of young boys to spill into the roadway, then continued to the end of the drive and the last building in the complex.

They designed all the buildings in the Californian style so popular in the seventies–two stories of six apartments, with each apartment opening into a covered–but otherwise open–walkways, with the walkway for the second story forming the roof for the first. A concrete and steel stairway at each end of the building provided access to the second floor.

Right now, the parking area in front of the building seemed to have been turned into a car wash. Bryan was spraying suds from his jeep with a garden hose, while Jen and Stacy–their neighbors–laughed and ducked away from the cold water. Bryan was bare chested and wore cut-off jeans and sneakers. Both girls, who were students at the University, wore tight, water-soaked shorts and bikini tops.

Cindy felt her mood sour. She didn’t really doubt Bryan’s faithfulness anymore, but he was an incorrigible flirt and always would be. He couldn’t help himself, she supposed.

She parked beside Bryan’s jeep, grabbed her book bag and stepped out into the warmth of the evening.

“Hey there!” Bryan dropped the hose and came around the Accord to kiss her.

She accepted his kiss, but not a hug. “You’re all wet.”

“Sorry,” He smiled wryly, looked himself over and shrugged. “I guess I am. How was your day?”

“Good,” she told him. “But not as good as yours. Classes cancelled today?”

“You look really nice, Cindy” Jen said with a big, almost honest smile. She was blonde and blue eyed with the boobs and sweet, tight ass of a Barbie doll. Of the roommates, most of their male visitors initially came to see her.

“Thanks.” Cindy smiled. Jen’s nipples were dark and quite erect under the wet material of her bikini. “Hi, Stacy.”

Stacy smiled and pushed dark hair out of her eyes with a wet hand. “Isn’t it a gorgeous day?”

“It is.”

Though she referred to her neighbors as “girls,” they were both only a year or two younger than she was. The fact that she’d graduated last year into the real world of job hunting just made her feel years older.

“You should change and come help us,” Bryan suggested. “Get out in the sun for a little while.”

She smiled, but shook her head. “You guys seem to have it under control.”

“Want us to wash your car too?” Jennifer asked, holding up an oversized soapy sponge in one cute hand. Sudsy water ran white down her arm to trickle off her elbow. “We’re pretty good at it.”

I’m sure you are, Cindy thought. But she smiled and nodded. “Sure.”

“Everything okay?” Paul asked, his face growing serious.

She nodded. “Just tired. I’ll change and come out and watch for a bit.”

He nodded and turned the hose on her Accord.

Cindy climbed the stairs toward their apartment, fighting to keep the jealousy smouldering in her breast from bursting into open flame. There was no reason to think there was anything going on but innocent fun. They were just enjoying the warm weather.

As she reached the top of the stairs, a shriek sounded below. She turned as Jennifer skittered away from the car, her back arched and dripping water from Bryan’s hose. Both Bryan and Stacy thought this terribly funny.

Cindy turned away and entered the pigstie that was their apartment. Neither of them were very big on housekeeping and almost nothing was done until the week-end. She ignored the clutter and went into the bed room where she stripped off her blouse and skirt and let both drop to the floor with the other dirty clothes that formed a kind of second carpet, then sat on the foot of the bed in her bra and panties to remove her hose.

There was no reason to suspect anything was going on, so why did she feel so jealous? He had cheated before, it was true, but that had been over a year ago. He’d apologized in tears, sworn it would never happen again, and pleaded for her forgiveness. Since then, he’d lived up to that promise of fidelity. She’d forgiven him long ago and agreed to be his wife, why was it so hard to trust him?

She tossed her rolled up hose on the dresser and slipped into a tee shirt, nylon running shorts and a pair of sneakers.

He hadn’t even had the decency to ask her about her performance evaluation.

She touched the diamond on her finger and told herself to quit being so insecure. He had asked her to marry him and she’d said she would. Did she plan to spend the rest of her life worrying every time he talked to another woman?

Besides, she wouldn’t let a nagging insecurity ruin her mood.

The high pitched sound of women’s laughter floated up from the parking lot.

Cindy half-heartedly gathered and armload of dirty clothes and dropped them on the hamper. Tomorrow was laundry day and it was a good thing. They wouldn’t be able to walk through the bed room in a few more days.

She took a deep breath, smiled, and went outside.

The girls had her little Accord covered with a thick layer of soap suds and were busily scrubbing away, their tits bouncing in counter rythmn to their exertions, while Bryan waited with the hose to rinse.

Cindy climbed halfway down the stairs and sat on one of the concrete treads. It was warm from the afternoon sun.

Bryan glanced up at her and smiled. He said something to Stacy, dropped the hose, and walked up to sit on the tread beside her.

“You’re sure you’re okay? You seem kind of bummed.”

She smiled and shook her head. “Just tired.”

“How did your evaluation go?”

She smiled. He had remembered after all. And he’d walked away from the other girls to come sit with her. Sometimes she was too stupid for words.

“It went well,” she told him. “She said I was really good with the kids. Their test scores are improving and unless I screw up big time in the next few weeks, she’ll recommend I be hired permanently next fall.”

Bryan beamed. “Really? That’s terrific. Congratulations!”

She couldn’t help but smile at his reaction. “Well, I don’t have a contract yet, but I’m so close I can taste it.”

He leaned over and hugged her with strong arms. “When I saw your face, I thought it had gone badly . . .”

Cindy returned his embrace. She loved him more at that moment, than she ever had, more than it seemed possible.

“I didn’t know what to say,” he continued, still keeping one arm tight around her waist. “You’re heart’s been so set on this. I didn’t know how I could make you feel better–”

“But it’s all right,” she told him. “I’m all right.”

“You’re more than all right. You’re wonderful.” He kissed her, then turned to the girls and announced the good news to them. As she accepted their congratulations and explained again that she wouldn’t actually have the job–and the generous benefit package that went with it–until the fall, all thoughts of anything but friendly flirtation between Bryan and their neighbors left her head as though they’d never existed, leaving only the faintest shadow of guilt.

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novel-in-progress, writing

Deception Island: Chapter Two, scenes 3 & 4 (revised)

Once again, this is the revised version of my previous excerpt of Deception Island. It ends up being about thirty words shorter than the original version.

Jason ran down to the deli a few blocks away to get a couple of sandwiches while Lisa started another load in the washer and folded his dried jeans. Lisa had a 2:30 seminar and they agreed she needed to attend, but until then she would help Jason with his laundry.

When he returned, they unwrapped the sandwiches–a pastrami on sourdough for himself, a turkey on wheat for Lisa and two bags of chips–on the coffee table and sat on the couch to eat. Jason had given away his dining room table years ago to make room for his desk, so meals were taken on the coffee table. For a few minutes they concentrated on their lunch. Because they’d overslept that morning, neither had eaten breakfast.

“Tell me about your dad,” Lisa said, pausing between halves of her sandwich. “What was he like?”

Jason wiped his fingers on one of the cheap deli napkins and thought about an answer to her question. “He was a man.”

“Well, I kind of assumed that.”

“No.” Jason shook his head. “Not just an adult male, but a man. There’s a difference.”

Lisa looked intrigued. “I’m listening…”

“He was strong and tough as anyone. I don’t think he was sick the entire time I was growing up. I know he never set foot in a doctor’s office unless it was for one of us kids, or when Mom got sick. He was a commercial fisherman until us kids came along, then, because Mom thought fishing was too dangerous, managed the cannery until he retired. Both are tough jobs that employ tough people.”

Lisa nodded and took a bite of the second half of her sandwich.

“But the same tough guy never raised a hand against his wife, never belittled us kids when we screwed up, never made us feel stupid. Life wasn’t perfect, by any means, but growing up I never doubted my parents loved each other and that both loved us kids.” He looked at her. “There’s an awful lot of people who can’t say that.”

Lisa hooked an errant lock of hair behind her ear. Her own parents had divorced when she was in grade school. Both remarried within a few years and she’d spent her childhood bouncing back and forth between the households.

Jason smiled as a memory came to him. “We had a dog when I was growing up, a goofy mutt named Festus.”

“Festus?” Lisa frowned.

“Festus,” he grinned. “It was the name of the lame deputy on Gunsmoke; my dad was a big fan.”

“Okay.”

“Hey, I didn’t pick the name. I just loved that dog the way a little boy does. He was as much a part of my family as my brother, my mom, or my dad.”

“Like Hector.”

“Like Hector,” he admitted. “Anyway, one day when I was nine or ten, Festus wouldn’t get up when I went to feed him in the morning. He’d never done that before. I went and got my dad, who explained that Festus was fourteen years old, really old for a dog, and dying.”

“Oh man.”

Jason nodded. “He explained to my brother, Jeremy, and me that everything dies sooner or later and that the best thing we could do for Festus was be there so he wouldn’t be scared. My father, the tough guy fisherman, sat down on the floor with us and took Festus’ head in his lap while me and Jeremy knelt down beside him. He held Festus’ head and stroked him and told him what a good boy he was, while Jeremy and I petted his back. We sat there like that until he finally stopped breathing.”

For a few moments, neither of them said anything. The remains of the sandwiches lay on the wax paper, forgotten, unwanted.

“He sounds like he was a really good man.”

For the first time all day, the loss of his father was beginning to feel real. He thought he might prefer the way it was before.

“You’ve never talk about him much.”

“Dad and I were never that close,” he said. “Not as close as I think either of us wanted.”

“Why’s that?” Lisa pinched off a corner of her sandwich and slipped the tidbit into her mouth.

“I don’t know. We just never had all that much in common. I think if my dad and I were just two men, unrelated, we’d be acquaintances, but not really friends.” He looked at her. “Know what I mean?”

“Sure.”

“I was the artsy one, the one who took after Mom. Jeremy was the one who took after Dad. He was the football and basketball star, the hunter, the soldier. I sometimes thought Dad couldn’t quite figure me out.”

“What do you mean, ‘figure you out’?”

He paused for a moment, searching for a good example. “It’s easy to show your support for your kid when they’re a running back on the football team. You go to the games. You celebrate their touchdowns. You save their clippings from the paper. That’s easy. How do you show the same amount of support for your other kid who was named editor of the school newspaper? Then editor of the yearbook? There’s no cheering section for that.” Jason shrugged. “I don’t think he ever really figured that out.”

The dryer buzzed.

Lisa was on her feet before Jason could react. “I’ll get it.”

“I can do my own laundry, you know.”

She leaned over to kiss his cheek. “Since you won’t let me come along to help you up there, doing your laundry lets me help you down here. Besides, I’m going to have to head to my seminar soon. You’re on your own after that.”

She hugged him then, kissed him again, and went off to fold his dry clothing. Jason remained on the sofa, staring at the remains of their sandwiches on the coffee table. After a moment, he reached over and began to re-wrap his sandwich. He was no longer hungry.

After Lisa left to attend her seminar, Jason worked on finishing his laundry, then packing the clean and folded clothing into a suitcase, then a second suitcase. He was going to be gone for several days, possibly a week or more, and the weather would be a factor. It was October, which meant he could be looking at everything from sunny days with highs in the eighties, to wind and rain, and even an outside chance of snow. In addition to underwear, jeans, slacks, various shirts and sweaters, he also packed a set of thermal underwear, a pair of wool socks, and a knit watch cap.

Finally, he pulled his only dark suit from its spot at the side of his closet and brushed the dust off the shoulders. Obviously, he didn’t wear it very often. He was more of a sport coat kind of guy, but during his senior year of college his father had insisted that a new graduate needed a suit. They’d spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon shopping the city’s menswear shops before deciding on this particular suit. Despite Jason’s protests, his dad had insisted on paying for the whole thing, including the alterations. He’d called it an early graduation gift.

It had been a memorable afternoon, just himself and his dad, wandering around the clothing shops of downtown Seattle; lunching on burgers and a beer at a hole-in-the-wall pub near Pike Street, then another beer; watching the fishing boats coming in to the docks on the waterfront. It had been the first time they’d spent any serious time together that was less father-and-son and more as simply two grown men sharing an afternoon.

He wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

He slipped the suit into a garment bag along with a couple of ties that seemed appropriate and added that to the pile of luggage near the door. For a moment, he stood there and scanned the apartment, trying to think of anything else he might need. Nothing immediately came to mind.

Lisa had insisted he spend the night at her place. She’d even offered to cook him dinner. He had offered no resistance. As a result, he would be leaving from there in the morning, not here, so he needed to make sure he didn’t forget anything.

He smiled suddenly to himself. You’d think he was going across the country, not just a couple of hours upstate. If he did forget something critical, it wasn’t like he couldn’t come back and get it.

Still, he wandered from room to room, double checking his mental list as he went.

He came to his desk and stood looking at his laptop and briefcase, lying among the piles of paper and file folders. They were the tools of his trade. He wasn’t originally going to take them because he wasn’t going up there to work; he was going up there to bury his father. Now he was having second thoughts. First of all, they were his toolkit in exactly the same way wrenches were a mechanic’s. Without all the contact information, software, and accumulated notes they contained, he would be worthless as a reporter. He almost never let them out of his sight for more than a few hours at a time. Now he was going to leave them in his empty apartment for a week?

What if Debbie called with a question about the Road Department story? He added his briefcase and his laptop to the pile of luggage at the door.

He already felt better, more complete. The sensation he was forgetting something had gone.

As he stood there, wondering what to do with himself for the hour or so until he’d head over to Lisa’s, his eyes fell on the pile of unopened mail sitting on the kitchen counter. He walked over and began to sort through it, pitching the junk into the trash, saving the bills to deal with later, and concentrating his attention on the few items that seemed interesting.

One envelope in particular drew his interest. It was a 9×6 manila, with his name and address handwritten in blue ink on the front. There was no return address. The postmark, though smeared, looked like it said Port Salish. His hometown. His dad’s hometown.

He examined the handwriting again, trying to determine whether it was his dad’s. Unfortunately, his dad was not a letter writer by nature and Jason wasn’t familiar enough with his writing to say whether it was, or not. Still, who else would send him something from Port Salish?

Jason opened the envelope and pulled out a photograph. A young Asian man stood at the stern of a boat. He wore faded jeans, a coat and knit cap and squinted unsmiling into the camera. Behind him on the left lay blue water bordered by dark ridges of forested land. To the right were the crowded boats and tangled masts of a marina. Port Salish harbor.

It was the standard souvenir photo his dad took for all his charter customers. But it was usually given to the customer. Why did he send it to Jason? He flipped the photo over, but there was nothing written on the back. Nothing written on it at all, no name, no date, nothing.

He returned to the envelope, shook it, then peered inside. There was nothing else. He’d hoped there’d be a note of explanation, something at the very least to identify the man in the photo. But there was nothing. Just the photo of an unidentified Asian man.

So why had his dad sent it? Apparently, he thought there was enough significance in the photo itself to make a note unnecessary.

He examined the photo again, trying to see what his dad had wanted him to see. The man in the photo was unremarkable. He looked to be of average height and build and a complete stranger to Jason. He studied the face for several minutes, but couldn’t kindle even a spark of familiarity. There was nothing in the background that caught his attention and nothing strange about the part of the boat he could see. It had to be something about the man. But the only unusual thing he could find was the fact that the man wasn’t smiling. Usually his dad’s clients were beaming when he took their photo. This man wasn’t. If anything, he looked grim.

Muffled voices sounded in the corridor outside Jason’s door. A second later he heard the unmistakable giggle of Trudy Benson. Her husband, Don, wouldn’t be far away. The two were nearly inseparable. They had lived in the next apartment ever since Jason had first moved in and the three had become friends over the years. He needed to ask if they would watch his apartment and collect his mail while he was gone.

He slipped the photograph into his inside jacket pocket and went to talk to his neighbors.

Standard
novel-in-progress, writing

Deception Island: Chapter Two, scenes 1 & 2 (revised)

Again, this is a revision of an earlier post. Those who have read these scenes probably won’t notice much difference. I just “tweaked” them a little. The revised version is seventeen words longer than the original. Enjoy.

It took almost two hours for Jason to copy and explain to Debbie his notes, the article he had sketched out on Stevenson, and his strategy over what they should do next. All subject, of course, to Miles’ approval. Debbie was more than capable of filling his shoes for a few days and had the advantage of already being familiar with the story. Still, he’d kept most of his ideas in his head, not on paper. That, and the fact that you needed some kind of Rosetta Stone to understand the notes he did take, made Debbie the only practical choice. It would have taken too long to bring anyone else up to speed.

The nuts and bolts mechanics of working a story seemed to dispel the surrealism he’d been struggling with. By the time Debbie and Miles forced him out of the newsroom, Debbie assuring him that she would call if she had any questions at all and Miles insisting the paper could survive for seven days without him, Jason almost felt normal.

At least his mind seemed to be functioning properly and he no longer felt like he was standing off to the side watching himself like some kind of puppet. Now he felt capable of taking care of the things he needed to do before leaving.

How he would handle the tasks he’d face in Port Salish was another story, but he’d deal with that later.

There was still one problem he couldn’t answer. He had no idea how to handle his relationship with Lisa and this new development wouldn’t help. She would want to drop everything and come with him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what he wanted and he didn’t know if he could explain why. Even to himself. It was just something he needed to deal with on his own. At least at first. Somehow, he had to tell her without making it a total rejection.

The drive home was uneventful. The accident this morning had been to the north; he was heading east and most of the traffic was still heading into the city, not out. His apartment was part of a large complex on the southwestern edge of Bellevue, across Lake Washington from the city proper. He’d lived in the same place since his junior year of college. It held a nice mixture of college students, retirees and young couples just starting out. Best of all, it was just a few minute’s drive from both the University and downtown and a short walk from the lake.

He gathered his accumulated mail, let himself into the apartment, deposited the mail on a dusty kitchen counter and his laptop and briefcase on the floor. For a moment, he just looked around his little one-bedroom. He hadn’t been home since Friday morning, three days ago, and he felt like he had to reacquaint himself with the place. He walked through the living room and into the bedroom and bath. Everything was exactly as he’d left it, which is why it felt so weird. It was like everything had frozen in place three days ago.

Back in the living room, he checked his land line answering machine for new messages. There weren’t any.

He decided he could put it off no longer, pulled out his cell and sent Lisa a text asking her to call him when she had a minute. The class she was in now would end in about ten minutes.

He sighed and headed into the bedroom to start packing.

*******

“Jason!”

“In the laundry.”

He pulled a soggy mass of wet denim from the washer and tossed it into the dryer. One of the first things he’d realized was there was no way he would be able to pack for seven days without doing laundry first. He simply didn’t own that much clothing. The first load had just finished washing and he was making room for the second.

Lisa swept into the kitchen, tossed her bag on the counter, sending pieces of his mail scattering to the floor, and headed straight for him, her arms already extended. She looked like she was going to burst into tears. He straightened up and accepted her hug.

“I’m so sorry,” she murmured into his chest. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay” he assured her.

Lisa stepped back and looked up at him, her hands still holding his. “Really, how are you doing?”

“I’m okay. Really. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”

“It will take a while, I’m sure.”

He let go of her hands and returned to the task of moving laundry from the washer to the dryer. “For now, I’m just trying to keep busy.”

Lisa looked down at the dirty clothes piled around their feet. “Don’t waste much time sorting, do you?”

“Never have.” Jason finished loading the dryer and turned it on. “I just wash everything in cold water.”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “Maybe that’s why all your white socks are actually a light gray. Clothes come with washing instructions for a reason, you know.”

He shrugged. He hadn’t been aware there was a problem with his socks.

“Here, let me do it.”

Jason didn’t protest as she forced him aside and began sorting his clothes into piles of whites, darks, and colors, explaining the differing water temperatures for each as she went. Jason let her go. It made her feel useful and he had no burning desire to do the laundry himself. The fact that he would probably never sort his clothes, didn’t mean he would stop her from doing it.

Lisa scooped up the pile of whites and dropped them in the washer. “Bleach?”

“Don’t have any.”

She sighed, added detergent, set the water temperature to hot and started the washer. “Well, hot water’s better than nothing.” She wiped her hands on the thighs of her jeans and turned to him. “What else do we need to do?”

“I don’t know. Not much. I need to pack once I have some clean clothes,” he told her. “Then, once the Benson’s get home, I’ll ask them to pick up my mail. I can gas up the car in the morning. I think that’s about it.”

“You’re not heading up there tonight?”

He shook his head. “First thing in the morning. I mean early. I’ll need to be on the road by 5:00.” That should get him to Anacortes by 6:30 with plenty of time to catch the 7:00 ferry. He’d rather be early and have to kill some time, than risk being late. If he missed the ferry it would be twelve hours before his next chance.

She looked up at him, her expression a cross between concern and something else he couldn’t identify. “I’m sure I could get a few days off. I’d just have to call a couple of professors.”

Jason took a deep breath. He’d gone over this conversation countless times in his head, searching for the right words, the perfect words. He’d never found them. Plus, in none of those scenarios were they standing in his tiny laundry room, dirty clothes piled around their feet. And none of the scenarios fully accounted for the living, breathing Lisa standing right in front of him, her dark eyes searching his face.

So he punted.

“You want some coffee? I made a pot when I got home, so it’s fresh.”

Something passed over her face. “Sure.”

Jason led her into the kitchen, stopping to gather the mail she’d knocked off the counter, then grabbed two mugs and filled them with coffee. Lisa leaned back against the counter, facing him.

“All I have is non-dairy creamer,” he told her as he set a mug on the counter. “Hope that’s okay.”

“It’s fine.” Lisa added some of the powder to her coffee and stirred it in. “You’re avoiding my question.”

Jason took a deep breath, released it. “I know.”

“You don’t want me to go with you.”

“It’s not that,” he paused. The perfect words had eluded him all morning and remained out of reach now. He just had to plow forward and hope for the best. “I don’t think it makes good sense right now.”

Again, something passed over her face, like a flinch, then was gone. She studied her coffee like the secrets to the universe were held in the dark liquid.

“There isn’t going to be much for you to do up there, other than give me moral support.”

“That’s kind of the point.”

“I know, but school is too important. With mid-terms coming up, it makes more sense for you to go to your classes and come up on the weekend. That way you won’t fall behind and the weekend is when the funeral will probably be held anyway. That’s when I’ll need you the most.”

She nodded, but didn’t look at him. “I just don’t want you to be alone. You shouldn’t have to deal with this alone.”

“That’s why God invented telephones.”

The attempt at humor didn’t even raise a smile.

“Honey, I really think this makes the most sense. ”

She still wouldn’t look at him.

He felt helpless. This wasn’t going the way he’d hoped. “Please, don’t be mad.”

“I’m not. I just don’t understand,” she said, finally looking up at him, her eyes bright with tears. “If my folks died I’d be a blubbering wreck. I’d want you with me because I couldn’t function on my own.”

“I don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet,” he told her. “It won’t be real until I get to the house, maybe not even then.”

The truth was he hadn’t yet shed a tear for his father. It was still just a bunch of words. Shocking, yes, tragic even, but it truly wasn’t real. He didn’t know when it would make that transition. When he saw the body? When he stood in his father’s empty house? At the funeral? He didn’t know. With his brother, it had been during the funeral, but when his mother died it had been immediate. Then, the sense of loss had hit him like a giant wave, nearly drowning him in grief.

So far, Lisa had shed more tears for his father than he had.

What did that say about him?

She reached over now and took his hand in her own. “That’s what I’m worried about; when it does hit you, you’re going to be all alone.”

He squeezed her hand and shrugged. “It’s just something I’ll have to deal with. And I know where you are.”

Lisa shook her head and looked down at her coffee. “This creamer sucks.”

Standard
novel-in-progress, Writing and Editing

Deception Island, Chapter One, scenes 3 & 4 (revised)

Again, some of you will have seen this before, and will probably not notice any huge changes. These scenes have been edited and revised and now come in at almost fifty words less than the original post.

Fifteen minutes later, Jason hitched the strap of his laptop 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 the 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.

He climbed the steps 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 Advertising 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 fifth floor, chatting about their weekends.

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

The newsroom wasn’t anything like the movies—something of 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 newsroom could have been the workspace at any large company. First, it was smoke-free like every other business in the state. Second, the newsroom 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 he’d never quite figured out, it always smelled dusty.

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 laptop 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.

“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 newsroom to the City Editor’s corner office. Miles 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 client 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. “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 hands with both men, 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 client 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 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 did it happen?”

“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 newsroom 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 they 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 at 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; 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.”

But the medications had been working 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 last 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 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 Jason 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 had no family left to care for.

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