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.”

Standard
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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novel-in-progress

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

Some of you will have seen an earlier version of this. For those who have, these two scenes are now 50 words shorter, but essentially unchanged. For those who haven’t seen it before, these are the opening scenes of my new novel. I hope you enjoy them.

Chapter One

Really.

All he wanted from life right now was just one day he could sleep in.

Instead, once again, her damn dog was on the bed.

Beside him, Lisa groaned and pulled the edge of the comforter over her head. Maybe if the dog couldn’t see her, she seemed to think, it would move on to something else. Jason tried pretending he was still asleep. Hector, Lisa’s little dust mop, wasn’t buying either ploy. He tap danced across Jason’s feet and lower legs, then tried a soft shoe over Lisa’s. In case that hadn’t gotten their attention, he barked twice, if you could call it that. His bark wasn’t exactly guard-dog quality. Hector was Pomeranian, ten pounds of long beige fur, attitude and little else. He was what Jason’s dad, who’d had a series of labs and retrievers over the years, would call a yip-yip dog.

“Hector, go back to sleep,” Lisa groaned. “Leave us alone.”

Hector yipped again and improvised another tap dance across their legs.

A claw dug into Jason’s ankle like a tiny little knife. “Ow!” He jerked the injured leg away. “Damn it!”

Hector celebrated his success by performing doggy calisthenics over their legs and yipping nonstop. He had them now and he knew it.

Lisa turned over and snuggled up against Jason’s back. “He needs to go outside. Can you take him?”

“Why me? He’s your dog. Or whatever he is.”

He felt her stiffen beside him.

“Fine.” She tossed the comforter aside and sat up on the edge of the bed. “Come here, Hector, my good boy. Mommy will take you outside. Don’t listen to Mr. Grumpy Pants.”

Mr. Grumpy Pants? What was this? Kindergarten?

Jason tried to tune them out and go back to sleep.

“Oh crap! Crap, crap crap!”

Jason sighed. Sleep obviously wasn’t going to happen. Not today. “What now?”

He felt her abruptly leave the bed. When he raised his head Lisa was already hunched over the dresser in the tee and panties she’d slept in, frantically pulling clothing out of a drawer. “The alarm didn’t go off! We’re late!”

“Shit . . .” Jason glanced over at the alarm on Lisa’s night stand. It read 7:37. The alarm was supposed to wake them more than an hour ago.

“I’m supposed to be teaching 131 at 8:30!”

Lisa ran to the closet, gathering a ski sweater to add to her load of underwear and jeans. Hector hovered near her feet, barking nonstop with the sudden excitement and running in tight little circles.

“Jason, honey, could you please take Hector out while I jump in the shower?”

“Sure,” he sighed. “I’d love to.”

More than anything.

His sarcasm was wasted. Lisa had already disappeared into the bathroom. A second later, the shower started up.

He rubbed the sleep off his face and climbed out of the nice warm bed, found yesterday’s pair of jeans, and slipped them on. Hector yipped nonstop and bounced between Jason’s feet and the bedroom doorway.

“I’m coming, you overgrown rat.”

Hector darted out into the living room ahead of him. He paused to sniff at the empty cartons from last night’s Chinese on the coffee table. Jason was a couple of steps behind him. “Don’t even think about it.”

Hector turned away and scurried to the sliding glass door leading to the back patio.

Jason paused over the empty food cartons. A single piece of barbecued pork clung to one side, It was no bigger than a fingernail. He picked it off the cardboard and crouched down in front of Hector. “Don’t tell your mom, okay?”

Hector accepted the tidbit, downed it and thanked him with a quick lick of the fingers.

Jason unlocked the sliding door and pushed it open. Hector bounded over the little patio and onto the lawn like he was off on a great adventure.

Jason shivered and closed the door against the morning chill. It was October and it was Seattle, which meant it was cold and wet and would be cold and wet pretty much until spring. It wasn’t actually raining now, but everything was still glistening wet. A low, soiled-looking overcast clamped down just above the tops of the neighborhood firs. Even the light seemed filtered by heavy curtains.

The shower went off. Lisa would be putting on her face in a moment.

Hector had finally found the perfect patch of grass and squatted down to do his business.

Monday morning.

Jason sighed and kicked himself for letting her talk him into staying over again last night.

*********

It being Monday morning and all, a multi-car accident on I-5 just south of 40th Street had transformed all four southbound lanes into a parking lot. Seattle’s notorious rush hour had just become a nightmare. According to the local news radio, traffic was backed up as far as Everett. Highway 99, the other major north/south route, was nearly as bad because of the overflow.

The city itself was a natural bottleneck. Seattle was built on a strip of land about twenty-five miles long north to south, but only six or seven miles wide. Several million people commuted to the city every day, almost all of them either from the north or the south. All it took was one little hitch in the flow and everything ground to a halt.

Like now.

Jason turned east on 45th Street, away from the Interstate, cruised through light traffic for a mile and a half, then turned south on Mountlake Boulevard toward the University. Lisa had probably steered her little Civic on the exact same route thirty minutes before. Maybe she’d missed the worst of the traffic.

Within a block and a half he was back in bumper to bumper traffic, but that was normal. Like most colleges, the University of Washington had been designed for foot, not auto, traffic and he usually avoided the area if he could. But at least traffic was moving. He could probably walk faster than it was moving, but it was moving.

No sooner had he formed the thought than both lanes of traffic ground to a halt. To their left the massive facade of Husky Stadium hulked across barren parking lots. To the right, students in raincoats or under the protection of umbrellas scurried around red brick buildings toward their morning classes. The overcast seemed to have lowered and grown darker. In the distance, he could just see the steel gray surface of Lake Washington.

He glanced over at the powder blue minivan idling beside him. A woman with long dark hair was talking on her cell phone and gesturing with her free hand. Behind him, a man with a mustache that matched the dark color of his SUV grimly sipped coffee from a Starbucks cup.

One afternoon, several years before, while sitting at a traffic light just like this, he’d glanced over to the car next to him and recognized the prominent Pastor of an area mega church. The good Pastor had been spending his down time at the traffic light getting friendly with a blond woman in the passenger seat. Jason had suspected the blond was not his wife. He’d snapped a quick photo with his cell phone, done some investigating and confirmed that the good Pastor was indeed breaking the Seventh Commandment.

His story had ended up on the front page, below the fold, but the front page. You never knew where the next story would come from.

But not today.

His cell burped that he’d received a text. He fished the phone from his jacket pocket and glanced at the display. Lisa. He opened the phone and the message.

Made it, she’d written. CU 2nite? Luv u.

His phone asked him if he wanted to reply.

He wasn’t sure.

He wasn’t sure about a lot of things when it came to Lisa. Oh, he liked her. He liked her a lot. There was no doubt about that. She was kind and smart and funny in a goofy sort of way. She was working on her Masters in American History at the University and could spend an evening discussing the nuances of the Nineteenth Century political climate and then without any kind of transition be on the floor wrestling with Hector like a little girl.

She collected teddy bears, for God’s sake.

He truly enjoyed being with her. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that she was beginning to make long term plans. As in lifetime plans. He wasn’t sure he was ready for that. He didn’t want to break up; he didn’t want to see other people; he just wanted to slow down.

They had to have a serious talk, but he didn’t know how to go about it without hurting her.

He decided to avoid the whole issue for now, saved her text, and instead called the newsroom. Marcia, the receptionist, answered on the second ring, only a touch of frazzle to her voice. He told her about the traffic situation and that he’d be late.

“Oh we’ve heard,” she told him. “Believe me, we’ve heard. Half the newsroom is running late. Miles is not a happy man.”

Miles Condiff was City Editor and Jason’s boss.

“Miles wouldn’t be happy if Jesus came down to personally hand him a Pulitzer.”

Marcia laughed. She had a nice throaty laugh.

“Besides, it’s Seattle. He ought to be used to it by now.”

“You know Miles. ‘We’ve got a paper to get out!’”

“Tell him not to have a coronary. I’m on my way.”

Marcia said she would relay the message. “By the way, I really liked your story yesterday.”

He smiled and thanked her. It still made his heart glow when someone liked his writing. They said their goodbyes and he closed his cell phone.

His car radio was already tuned to one of the all news channels, such as it was. He viewed most of his colleagues in broadcasting with barely concealed contempt. How could you take seriously a medium in which an in-depth report lasted two minutes? But he wanted to hear whether anyone else had picked up his story.

With the help of an inside source, he had uncovered a scam involving a contractor who was providing inferior asphalt to the City Roads Department, but charging for top-of-the line product. It was no wonder the city’s streets were in such sad shape. Not only was the contractor essentially doubling his profits at taxpayer expense, but he’d been doing it for nearly ten years. And that was almost exactly how long the contractor’s father, Harold Stevenson, had been on the City Council.

There was no mention of it on the radio, but it was late in the rotation and they were talking about the Huskies win over Cal last Saturday and whether they had a shot at upsetting the Oregon Ducks on Saturday. (Jason wouldn’t bet on it. The Ducks were very good.) The headlines would come at the hour and half-hour. He checked his watch. He had ten minutes.

The double column of vehicles ahead of him began to move forward. He slipped his car into gear and followed the taillights of the Camry in front of him for about a hundred yards before the procession again came to a stop. Now though, he could see the traffic signals ahead. He figured he’d get through the intersection on the next cycle.

A few raindrops splattered against his windshield, then thickened to a light rain.

“Perfect,” he sighed.

He opened his cell phone again and dialed his home phone number. No one was there, of course. No one had been there since Friday morning, which is why he needed to check his messages. When it switched over to voice mail, he punched in the access code and waited as the computers did their thing.

The spooky computerized woman told him he had twelve new messages.

He told the computer to play the messages.

The first three were computer-generated sales pitches offering to refinance his mortgage (he rented) eliminate his credit card debt (it was reasonable, thank you) and save him money on his auto insurance. He quickly erased all three. Next up was a man’s voice: “Hey, it’s Charlie. Listen, I met this gorgeous woman, but she won’t go out unless I find a guy to go out with her roommate. What are you doing tonight?” Jason had no idea who the guy was. Charlie? He didn’t think he knew anyone named Charlie. Besides, the message had been left on Saturday night, so it was too late now. He deleted the message.

He quickly deleted five more messages that were either sales calls or hang-ups, then a man’s voice caught his attention. For one thing, it was a real man, not a computerized imitation. The voice also had a tone that grabbed his attention, somber. “This is Detective (the name was unclear), of the King County Sheriff’s Department. I’m trying to reach Mr. Jason Reynolds. It is very important that I speak to him as soon as possible.” He repeated that it was very important and left a call-back number. The voice mail said the message had been left Saturday afternoon.

Jason frowned, wondering what that was all about and hit the button to save the message.

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