Thursday, February 22, 2007

Chapter Four

This is probably the last chapter I'll post for a while, but I think it's a good one. It introduces another primary character, drops in another plot element and ups the stakes. It isn't absolutely polished yet, put it's getting close.

Chapter Four

“Suicide, my ass.”

“There was a note.”

“Big fucking deal. That doesn’t mean anything. If the cops are on top of it, they’ll have a handwriting expert look at the signature. Bet my Harley it’s forged.”

“I’m sure they’ll look into it.” I was looking at the lower half of Gator’s body, sticking out from underneath the front end of a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. The car was up on ramps, and Gator was beneath it on a dolly.

“Where did you say this happened?” He’d not seen the news, which didn’t surprise me.

“The fish camp is in Barlow County.”

He rolled out from under the car, sat up and looked at me with his good eye. He wore a patch over the other. Gator looked like the prototypical Harley guy. He was large man with a broad frame and long black hair going gray, pulled back in a ponytail over which he wore a doo-rag, and a Fu-Manchu mustache that matched his hair. He wore a sleeveless black tee shirt that displayed well-developed, tattooed biceps. Worn out jeans, and black cowboy boots. The eye-patch gave him a pirate-type appeal.

“Barlow County?”


He laid down the wrench he’d been holding and stuck his hand up to me. I took it, braced my feet and pulled. He groaned as he got to his feet. He took an oil-stained rag from the back pocket of his jeans and wiped his hands, frowning. He removed his doo-rag and wiped his forehead.

“That’s different, then.”

“How so?”

“Let’s go inside and I’ll tell you,” he said, leading the way from the detached garage in his back yard. His old Bassett hound, Bullet, had been lying in the shade of Gator's pick-up, and he gradually raised himself to his feet, wagging his tail as he followed us. We crossed the yard to the house, and I noticed that Gator’s limp seemed to have become more pronounced. The limp was from an injury sustained many years ago in a motorcycle accident. He’d lost his eye at the same time.

He never called it an accident. He called it the “reckless pursuit of justice.” He had been a bounty hunter in Savannah, Georgia, and he’d been in a high speed chase with a fugitive who was fleeing charges of distributing cocaine. Gator wrecked the bike when a passenger in the car he was chasing had leaned out the window and taken a shot at him. The bullet hit his helmet and shattered the face-shield and one of the fragments had lodged in his eye. He lost control of the motorcycle, ran off the road and hit a stop sign, nearly severing his left leg. The car he was chasing ran the stop sign and was struck by a tractor-trailer, and the fugitive and his partner had been killed. Gator’s leg was destroyed, but the surgeons had managed to piece it together and save it.

We went in through the back door and I followed him to the kitchen. He pulled a pitcher of tea from the refrigerator, filled two glasses with ice, and poured them full. Then he took an orange from a fruit bowl and sliced it into wedges, squeezed a wedge into each glass and handed one to me. Gator’s iced tea was the best in the land, bar none. I took a healthy swallow and was instantly refreshed. Two more swallows and the glass was empty. I helped myself to a refill.

Gator picked up the pitcher. “Might as well bring this with us,” he said, and limped out to the screened porch on the back of his house. The back yard was shaded by several mammoth live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, and was bordered by the Amelia River. We sat in rocking chairs and propped our feet on old wooden wire spools. He put the pitcher on the short table between our chairs, within easy reach for either of us. Bullet lay down in front of us, resting his sagging face on his front paws.

“So, what’s different about Barlow County?” I asked.

He pursed his lips and stroked his mustache with a thumb and index finger.

“Ever heard of the Dixie Mafia?”

“Dixie Mafia? I’ve heard bits and pieces. I don’t really know much about them. I thought they kind of fell apart back in the eighties.”

“That’s true, to an extent. The Dixie Mafia was never a true mafia type organization, with families and Dons and shit like that. The best way I can describe it is they were a loosely organized network of convicted criminals and crooked politicians, located primarily in small towns across the Deep South. Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, with hubs in bigger cities like Atlanta and Baton Rouge, even Jacksonville. They were mostly involved in moving stolen goods, gambling, contract hits, and importing drugs. Most of the members were recruited while in prison, but many of the major players were police officers and sheriffs.”

He drained his glass and refilled it from the pitcher. He pulled a pack of Marlboros and a lighter from the pocket of his tee shirt, shook one loose and put it in his mouth. He lit up and blew a couple of smoke rings that hung in the air, floating slowly upward as they expanded and dissipated. I sat quietly and waited for him to continue.

“In this area it was mainly drugs. Marijuana and cocaine. The importers would pay off the sheriffs in these small, backwoods towns, and then they’d either fly in and land the planes on some makeshift landing strip out in a cow pasture, or they’d fly over and drop duffle bags from the planes. The cops would stand guard while the planes were unloaded or the duffle bags were gathered up. This was mostly back in the sixties and seventies, before the real Mafia decided they wanted a piece of the action, and started working with the Cartels down in Columbia.”

“Bobby Joe Blakely was the sheriff in Barlow County from nineteen-sixty-five up until nineteen-eighty-three, when he was killed. All during the heyday of the Dixie Mafia. It was widely rumored that Barlow County was a significant drop off point for a whole bunch of drugs. I’m talking tons and tons of the shit. Coke and weed. Bobby Joe was in charge of security for the smugglers, and he was well paid for his services, so the story goes. In March of eighty-three the FBI busted a plane with four tons of Columbian coke on board, out in a cow pasture in Barlow County. Three days later, Bobby Joe was found in the trunk of his car with his throat slit.”

Gator took the last drag off his cigarette and stubbed it out in a tray on the table. “No one was ever arrested for the crime, but I’ve heard the inside scoop from some people that would know. What happened was, Bobby Joe was getting heat from the FBI, they were snooping around and causing problems, getting a little too close for comfort. At the same time, some Columbians had approached him about bringing in some of their shit, wanting to use Bobby Joe’s landing strip. He made the decision to let the FBI have the Columbian’s plane with all the coke on board, figuring it would take the heat off him and his partners. Well, the Columbians didn’t take too kindly to him donating their coke to the FBI – they don’t take it lightly when they get double-crossed – so they whacked him. This accomplished several things. Number one, the FBI was satisfied that they’d put a dent in the incoming drugs and with Bobby Joe dead, they thought it would put an end to the trafficking in that county. The other thing it did was take the Columbians out of the picture in southeast Georgia and northeast Florida. They wouldn’t take another chance on trying to partner with any of the Dixie boys in this area, and they found other ways to bring in their product, anyway. This cleared the way for the Dixie Mafia to get back to business as usual, because they had Bobby Joe’s nephew in their pocket. Guess who the nephew is.”

“Tell me.”

“Jimmy Ray Cooper, Bobby Joe’s deputy at the time. He’s been sheriff in Barlow County ever since Bobby Joe’s murder. Going on thirty years now.”

“Everybody in the gang have two first names?”

Gator laughed. “I think it’s a requirement.”

“So the Dixie boys are still running the county?”

“I guess you could say that, but it’s not the same as it was back in the seventies. It’s on a much smaller scale today, and much more low-key, but make no mistake, Jimmy Ray runs that county. I think his thing now is gambling. I guess drugs are still in the picture, but if what I’ve heard is true, he’s part of a fairly large gambling operation.”

“I wonder if any of this is related to Golden’s death.”

“What was he doing at the fish camp? I mean, why that place?”

“I don’t know. Like I told you, I’d barely started working for him when this shit went down. I have no idea how or if he’s tied to that camp. I guess the detectives will look into all that. It’s not my business anymore. Detective Gordon made that pretty clear.”

“Gordon?” Gator’s eyebrows went up, and then he made a face like he wanted to spit. “I know him, he’s an idiot. I did a couple of takedowns in Barlow County, back in the day. Matter of fact, that’s where I busted myself up.”

“Your crash happened in Barlow County?”

“Yep. The dude I was chasing was from Durden, county seat of Barlow. When he fled the charges in Savannah he went home thinking he could go underground for a while, get some help and disappear. I tracked him there with the help of another bounty hunter; a guy goes by the name of ‘Hawk’. Hawk knew all about Barlow County and its Dixie Mafia tie-in, that’s how I learned all this history. Your Detective Gordon came to the hospital to interview me after the crash. He’s one of Cooper’s boys, you can believe that.”

I didn’t say anything. We rocked and looked out at the river. I’d been wondering why Richard had gone to that particular fish camp. Now it took on a new importance. If he was involved with the Dixie Mafia in some way, the real cause of his death and the reason behind it might never be resolved. The Barlow County cops might just bury the whole thing.

“What are you planning to do?” He was looking at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Nothing. It’s none of my business, like Gordon said.”

A smile was twitching under his mustache. “That right?”

“That’s right.” Bullet was looking at me, too. He blinked in slow motion.

“I’d be real careful if I was you.”

“What did I just say? I’m going to mind my own business.”

“Well, then, I’ll just tell you. While you’re minding your own business, watch your fucking step up there. If you decide to go looking around, you’ll want to do it real quietly. Gordon wouldn’t think twice about making you disappear if he thinks it’s in his best interest.”

I decided it would be useless to continue the argument. “Okay. If I decide to go looking around, I’ll be careful.”

“Real careful.”

“Right. Real careful.”

The phone rang inside the house and Gator rocked out of his chair to go answer it. I sat there, looking out through the screen at the trees and the river, wondering if any of the information Gator had shared with me tied in to Golden’s death, or if it was simply coincidence. I looked at Bullet and he blinked at me again. He seemed to have his own thoughts on the matter.

“What do you think, Bullet?”

He raised his head and licked his drooping chops, let his tongue dangle as he considered the question. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes were full of doubt. He didn’t believe me either.

Gator came back out to the porch. “That was dinner calling. Charlene’s makin’ chicken and dumplins, and she invited you to join us. You don’t want to turn this down, I promise you.”

“Chicken and dumplins sound pretty damn good to me. You talked me into it.”

I followed Gator over to his girlfriend’s house, which wasn’t far. He wasn’t lying. Charlene’s chicken and dumplings were as good as I’d ever had, and I told her so numerous times. Her biscuits were of the same quality, as were the turnip greens. It was as fine a meal as I’d had in a long time. I told them I owed them one and they brushed it off, but I invited them to my house for a cookout next weekend.

Gator walked out to the driveway as I was leaving. He had a few more words for me.

“I know you said you aren’t going to get involved in the investigation, and maybe you won’t. I hope you don’t, for the reasons I’ve already told you. But, if you somehow find yourself looking into the thing, watch your back. I can’t stress that enough.”

“I appreciate it, Gator, I really do, but I’m sure the police don’t want my help. It’s their case, and they can have it. I need some clients that can pay for my services and, unfortunately, Richard Golden won’t be writing any more checks.”

We shook hands and he watched me back out of the driveway. I waved as I pulled into the street and drove away.

My cell phone rang as I was driving home. I checked the ID but didn’t recognize the number.

“Chuck Brody.”

“Brody, this is Detective Gordon.”

Barlow County’s finest. Wonderful. “Hello, Detective.”

“I need you to come up here tomorrow; we have to get an official statement.”

“Should I bring an attorney?”

He made a noise that was supposed to be a laugh but sounded more like a bark. “That’s up to you, shamus.”

I didn’t plan to bring a lawyer, but I’d let him think about it.

“What time?”

“Ten o’clock. My office is in the police department building next to the county courthouse in Durden. Know where it is?”

“I’ll find it.”

Chapter Five will conclude this scene, and the stakes will go up some more. Once again, comments are appreciated! Peace and sunshine.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chapter Three

This chapter sets up the MC for the end of the first act and his decision to investigate. It isn't a complete scene, the scene actually continues for two more chapters, but I like short chapters and there is a good break point. It provides a little more insight into the main character, drops some clues for the MC to investigate, and also sets up the introduction of another primary character in the next chapter. Once again, comments are appreciated!

Chapter Three

I was watching the news when Wally called and asked me what I had planned for the evening. I told him I hadn’t made any.

“Come on over. Michelle and Wendy are gonna come by, and I’ve got four steaks marinating, three pounds of shrimp boiling, two bottles of Chianti chilling.”

“And a partridge in a pear tree, I guess.”


“I think I’m gonna lay low tonight, try to get back into a normal sleep pattern.”

“Wendy’s gonna be disappointed.”

“Life’s full of disappointments. She’ll get over it.”

The local news featured Richard Golden’s death as the lead story. I’d asked Gordon to keep my name out of it, and so far he had, saying only that they’d received an “anonymous tip” about suspicious activity near the fish camp. The news reports contained nothing that I didn’t know already.

I flipped through the channels and tried to unwind but I was too restless to relax. I decided to go for a drive in the old convertible, a 1969 Camaro SS, my pride and joy. Restoring old muscle cars was a hobby of mine, and this was my latest project. It wasn’t completely restored yet, but I was working on it.

As I drove south on A1A with the top down, the last remnants of daylight were being chased away to the west, blurry ribbons of orange and purple dissolving on the horizon. It was a warm night with high, thin clouds being pushed around by a humid sea breeze. A nice night for a drive. Although I didn’t remember making a conscious decision to go there, I wasn’t surprised to find myself taking a right off the highway onto Mickler Road and driving by Richard’s office.

His office was on the left as I passed by, and a light was on somewhere in the building, shining indirectly through a window in the front. I thought this to be somewhat unusual; but then, it wasn’t exactly business as usual after what had happened last night. I wondered who was in the building. No cars were parked in front, but there hadn’t been any cars parked there when I made my visit yesterday, so I assumed the employees parked in back.

I continued past the office and a little further down saw a dirt road on the left that ran off into the woods. About twenty yards into the woods the dirt track was blocked by a chain that was connected to a thick post on each side. A sign hung from the chain – No Trespassing. I turned the car around, backed it up to the chain and shut it off.

I didn’t like leaving it there, unlocked with the top down, but I didn’t expect to be gone long; I just wanted to find out who was in the office at this hour. Darkness settled in quietly as I walked back up the road. When I reached the boundary of the office property where the tree line stopped, I jumped a small culvert that ran parallel with the road, my shoes squishing in the soft, wet turf on the other side, and entered the woods. I walked through the trees and saw that the light was coming from a room on this side, most likely the office across from Richard’s. I continued walking until I could see the rear of the building. The back door had a small landing that was lit by a porch light, and a short flight of steps that led down to the rear parking area.

The storage building had a flood light mounted under the eve, and it cast a large oval of light on the gravel lot. There was a silver Toyota SUV parked near the steps of the office. I made note of the number on the tag.

I was debating about leaving my cover and walking up for a look in the window when the light in the office went out. I stepped back behind a tree and waited. I was crouched low among the palmettos when I heard the dull throb of an engine and beams from the headlights cut across the woods as a car turned into the driveway.

A shiny red Corvette convertible with the top down cruised up the drive to the back, and I recognized Paul Freeley behind the wheel.

Just as Freeley turned off his engine and climbed out, the back door of the office opened and Georgia Cantrell stepped into the porch light. She looked surprised when she saw Freeley. She was carrying what looked like a couple of text books in one arm, her purse hanging by a strap on her shoulder. She had keys in her hand and pulled the door shut but didn’t lock it.

I was parallel with the storage building, about forty yards away from where she was standing. I couldn’t hear what she said to Freeley, but I heard his reply.

“Yeah, leave it open, thanks,” he said.

He closed his car door and approached the stairs as she reached the bottom. They spoke briefly; she nodded as he put a hand on her shoulder. Freeley continued speaking as she pulled a tissue from her purse and wiped underneath her eyes, dabbing at the corners. She nodded again and he gave her a one-armed hug. Commiseration.

They parted and he walked up the stairs and went inside as she got into the SUV, backed out and drove away. The light came back on, the same room as before, and I concluded that it must be Freeley’s office. I wondered what Georgia Cantrell had been doing in there.

I decided to have a look at what Freeley was doing. There was too much light to approach the building from this side, so I started walking the edge of the woods around behind the storage building to the other side, where I could approach the building in darkness. The undergrowth was thick, and I swiped at spider webs as I avoided the sharp prongs of the palmettos.

I reached the other side of the office building and could see indirect light coming through the window of Richard’s office. I left the safety of the woods and was crossing the grass when the light in Richard’s office came on. Six quick strides put me next to the building, standing in the flower bed.

I slid up to the window and looked in without getting directly into the light. Freeley was investigating the drawers of Richard’s desk. I noticed the computer was missing from the desktop. The police must have confiscated it.

Freeley closed one drawer and opened another. He was frowning, tight-lipped and upset, which was natural under the circumstances. His boss had been found dead and he’d just gotten the news this morning. The business would be thrown into disarray. Investors would be pulling out or, at the very least, putting things on hold until Richard’s death was resolved. Freeley was the financial brains behind the operation; he handled the investors and the money. He would have his hands full for the foreseeable future.

He closed the last drawer in the desk and turned to the credenza behind him. He opened the doors and searched the shelves and drawers. He was deliberate and methodical and I had the impression he was looking for something specific, not just snooping around. He pulled out file folders and thumbed through them, put them back in place. He closed the credenza and spun back around in the chair, leaned back and rubbed his face with both hands.

Dark circles hung under his eyes, and his face seemed to have put on years since yesterday. He sat up and leaned forward, looking over the items on the desk, saw something that caught his interest, and picked up a business card from the blotter. He examined it, frowned and put it back on the desk, then stood up and walked out of the office, turning the light off as he went.

I watched him cross the hall and disappear into his office. A few moments later he came out carrying a briefcase, turned off his light and started toward the back door. I snuck over to the corner and peeked around just as he stepped out and locked the door. He trudged down the stairs and over to his car and cranked it up. He drove away slowly, the throaty rumble of the powerful V8 rising as he turned onto Mickler and accelerated toward the highway, passing the side of the building from which I’d been observing, and I watched his taillights fade as the car drove out of sight.

I walked around the building and stood in the gravel parking lot, wondering what individual business Georgia Cantrell and Paul Freeley had in the office that night. There were too many possibilities to consider, most of which weren’t the least bit ominous. Most likely they were simply looking after the business, preparing for the inevitable inquiries of clients and business associates, and an onslaught of condolences. They were also dealing with their own grief. Nothing suspicious about that. Perfectly natural.

Only it didn’t feel that way.

I walked back to my car and drove home, thinking about the mystery caller. Who all had known I was working for Richard? Paul Freeley and Georgia Cantrell had known. Terrence Tyler had recommended me, so I assumed he knew. Richard himself, of course, and whoever he might have told. That was the problem. I had no idea who Richard may have spoken with about my involvement.

Wendy’s car was parked in front of Wally’s house when I passed by, and I decided I’d drop in to see what was going on. I liked Wendy. She didn’t have the annoying habit of growing expectations if we happened to share a night of physical pleasure, and she’d never once asked “Why haven’t you called me?” That alone put her at the top of my list for female companionship. Plus, she was good looking, with a body that was built to go the distance.

I parked in my driveway and walked back to Wally’s place, and I could hear music coming from the yard in back. I went in through the front door, detoured through the kitchen and grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, continued through to the back.

They were all sitting out on the patio, sprawled in lawn chairs in the light of several tiki torches. Wally was sitting on the end of a chaise that Michelle was laying on, strumming his guitar and singing “Aimee” by Pure Prairie League. Wendy was lying on another chaise, and Wally’s neighbors, Todd and Pam, were sitting in chairs around the patio table.

Wendy squealed and hopped up, skipped over and hugged me, mashing her breasts against my chest as she smiled up at me. She kissed me quickly on the lips.

“Hiya, handsome.”

“Hiya, doll. How’re you feeling?”

“Better, now,” she said, as she lifted my hand and twirled beneath it.

I raised my beer in salute to Todd and Pam, and they waved back. I smiled at Michelle, nodded at Wally, and let Wendy lead me back to her chair. I straddled the chair and leaned back and she sat between my legs, reclining on me. It was a nice fit.

I smelled the lingering aroma of Wally’s homegrown mingling with the tangy scent of the sea as we sat on the patio, talking quietly and enjoying the evening while Wally strummed and sang. When Wally tired of playing he turned on the outdoor sound system, tuning in to a jazz station.
I sipped my beer and let my mind wander. I listened to the conversation while thoughts of the mystery caller and Richard Golden and other things tumbled around under the surface. I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t any of my business. It didn’t do any good.

It was after midnight when Todd and Pam excused themselves, thanking Wally for the food and spirits and entertainment.

It wasn’t much later when I tapped Wendy’s shoulder. “If you’re planning to take advantage of me tonight, you’d better get busy.”

She stood up and helped me out of the chaise.

“Let’s go, cowboy,” she said. “I’m ready to ride.” Her smile was wicked.

“Don’t hurt him too bad, Wendy,” Wally said. “He’s old and fragile, you know.”

“Watch your mouth, little man. I’m only two years older than you,” I said.

He saluted me with his wine glass. “See ya, Gramps.”

* * * * *

Wendy was gone when I woke up Sunday morning. She left a note on the kitchen table.

Thanks for the ride, cowboy. See you around the waterin’ hole.


If I was capable of falling in love, Wendy would be a prime candidate.

I started the coffee and showered while it was percolating. I decided to take a drive up the coast and see my friend Stanley “Gator” Stallings. I wanted to talk about Richard Golden, and I could always count on Gator’s unique insights to shed light on any questionable situation.
Many thanks to the people who've read and offered comments so far. If you're so inclined, please let me know what you think about this chapter. Peace and warm Krisp Kreme donuts for all the good people.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Chapter Two

Well, this is the second chapter as it exists right now. It explains a bit of what is going on in chapter one, provides some backstory and introduces new characters that have significant roles in the story going forward. Here it is:

Chapter 2

It was nearly nine o’clock the next morning when I turned in to the narrow drive next to my house and parked my truck. My friend Wally Thompson was walking up the street carrying his surfboard, coming from the beach. He was shirtless, tanned and muscular, sun-bleached hair dangling to his shoulders. Wally lived on the next block up, and seeing him pass my house with his board was a daily occurrence. It wasn’t unusual for him to see me arriving home from work at some odd hour of the morning. Being a private investigator offered strange working hours.

“Morning, Colombo,” he called out. Wally liked to give people nick names, and I was alternately Colombo, Perry Mason, and Rockford, among others. If I did something dumb I was branded 'Barney', the ultimate shame. When I did something clever I was rewarded with 'Sherlock'. A literary figure, Wally’s highest praise.

“How’re the waves this morning?” I asked.

“Not much to work with today. I mostly floated and tinkered with my serenity.”

“Worse ways to spend the morning.”

“You look like you’d know.”

“I would,” I said, turning to go inside. “Cup of coffee?”

“Hell, yeah.”

I left Wally in charge of the TV while the coffee percolated and I took a shower. It felt good to finally wash off the swamp water and mud. The shower refreshed me, but I was still exhausted. I toweled off, put on a pair of khaki shorts and a tee shirt, and followed the smell of coffee down the hall. Sunlight was streaming into the kitchen through the window over the sink as I filled two mugs. Another sunny day in Neptune Beach.

I went to the den where Wally was sprawled on the couch, watching something about the Wild West on the History Channel.

“So, who or what kept you up all night?” he asked, as I handed him a cup.

I rolled down into the overstuffed chair and propped my feet on the ottoman. “You won’t believe it.”

Wally raised an eyebrow. “Really? Try me.”

“Richard Golden is dead. I found him hanging by his neck last night.”

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

I briefed him on my phone conversation and ensuing frolic in the swamp. “The cops kept me around all night, asking me the same questions over and over.”


“That’s how it looks.”

“Did he leave a note?”

“Yeah, they found it in his back pocket. Composed on a computer and printed with an inkjet. It had his signature. The detectives are checking his computers, home and office.”

“What did it say?”

“That’s the interesting part. It was a confession. Said he killed his wife because she was leaving him. He couldn’t live without her and couldn’t bear the thought of her being with someone else. Now he’s so full of remorse he can’t live with himself. May God have mercy on his soul. Signed, Richard Golden.”

“That’s it? You buy that?”

I took a sip of coffee and considered the question. Richard and Sheila Golden had been separated for about five months, prior to her disappearance, and she had filed for divorce. She had been missing now for two months in a case that had been closely followed by the local media. The police had not officially named Richard as a suspect, but he was the primary “person of interest”. It amounted to the same thing, the way the media presented it to the public, and most people suspected it was only a matter of time before he was charged and arrested. Her body had not been found, but there was substantial evidence of foul play, and the evidence pointed to Richard. He hired me to find out what happened to his wife, and clear his name.

“No. I don’t buy it.”

“How long were you working for him?”

I’d taken the job on Thursday night. He died Friday night. “One day.”

“Learn anything?”

“Not much. I hardly had time to get started.”

“You think he killed his wife?”

“Before I met him I thought maybe he did, like everyone else, but after talking to him I didn’t think so. He told me he still loved her and I believed him.”

“The note didn’t say where her body could be found?”


“What about the phone call? Who sent you out to the swamp?”

“That’s the big question.”

“What did the cops say about it?”

“Not much. I’m not sure they believed it. The lead detective didn’t take a shine to me. Called me ‘shamus’.”

“Shamus?” Wally laughed. “Talk about old school.”

“Yeah. Detective Gordon, your typical redneck blowhard. Said my story was ‘flimsy’, but he couldn’t come up with a good reason to arrest me. Seemed like he wanted to, though. He asked questions, wrote notes, asked the same questions again in different ways, to see if my story stayed consistent. I didn’t take it personal, I figured he just didn’t like the shamus population in general."

“So what’re you going to do now?”

“Leave it to the experts. I’m just a witness. And they made it pretty clear that my investigative talents, such as they are, won’t be needed. Told me to mind my own business and be available to give an official statement.”

“You’re not going to poke around a little?”

“Probably not. The cops will figure it out, they don’t need my help.”

“I guess,” he said, unconvinced. Wally didn’t particularly care for the police, and they didn’t care much for him. Wally’s lifestyle – funded by a rather large inheritance – consisted of surfing, smoking weed, chasing women, and working on his cars. A thirty-five year old teenager. As he often said to me, “Why grow up if you don’t have to?” He’d never been in any real trouble with the police. Busted once for possession when he was caught smoking a joint on the beach. Nothing major, but the local cops knew who he was and they didn’t let him forget it. They suspected, incorrectly, that he was into heavier stuff. I didn’t count the fact that he grew his own weed as a major offense.

“I’ll see what they come up with. The phone call still bothers me. Someone knows something. Whether they were trying to save Richard from killing himself, or they just wanted me to find the body, I don’t know. The cops don’t seem to think it rules out suicide.”

“It doesn’t rule it out, but it makes his death a bit more suspicious, don't you think?”

“Yeah. It does.”

I sipped my coffee and stared at the TV, not really seeing what was happening on the screen. My thoughts kept getting pushed aside by the image of Richard Golden hanging by his neck. Tugging at the rope.

Despite the coffee, my eyelids were getting heavy, and my brain wasn’t clicking in its normal fashion. I needed sleep.

“I’m going to hit the rack for a couple of hours. I’m beat.”

“You look it,” Wally said, standing up. “Thanks for the coffee. I’ll catch up with you later.”

* * * * *

It was three-thirty in the afternoon when I opened my eyes. I felt better but still groggy. I decided to go for a jog on the beach to shake off the cobwebs and get my blood flowing again. I stretched in the driveway, looking around as I loosened my quads and hamstrings.

The only people out in the mid-day heat were the ever-present construction workers. It seemed like every third house was undergoing a major renovation. This neighborhood was still experiencing the benefits of the recent real estate surge, even if the market had cooled elsewhere. Any property close to the beach was still appreciating and you could see small cottages, fifty years old like mine, nestled between million dollar condos and duplexes under construction.

I walked the two blocks to the ocean, still getting loose. I was shirtless and the sun felt good on my shoulders. I kicked up some sand as I broke into a jog when I reached the hard packed surface left behind by the outgoing tide. The waves were breaking nicely and the surfers were out in numbers. I went south, toward the pier, and lengthened my stride as my breathing settled into a steady rhythm.

My mind began to clear and I tried to sort out my thoughts on Richard Golden. I recalled my meeting with him on Thursday night. He’d phoned me that afternoon and said we had a mutual friend, Terrence Tyler, a man that I’d once worked for who’d recommended me. Richard wanted to talk to me about his case. I was curious, and I needed work, so I agreed to meet him.

I knew some basic facts about him, from what I’d read in the paper and seen on the news. Richard Golden was a real estate developer who specialized in residential construction. He bought the land, developed it for small neighborhoods, sold some lots to other contractors and built some houses himself. He had ambitions of becoming a bigger player in the market and just over a year ago had bought a valuable tract of land near Fernandina, which he hoped would be his signature development, but according to some reports he was leveraged out the ass and struggling. He’d never been in any trouble with the law, before his wife’s disappearance. By most accounts, he was an average citizen trying to make his mark in his chosen line of business.

We met at Smugglers, a popular restaurant and nightclub at the beach. He was waiting for me in a dark booth in the corner of the bar, and stood to greet me as I approached the table. He was taller than average, about my height, and built like he’d once been an athlete. He had wavy brown hair starting to gray. His eyes, even in the subdued lighting, were a luminescent blue. He had white teeth and a strong chin. A good looking guy.

“Chuck Brody, I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He shook my hand like he was pumping me for water.

We sat and ordered drinks, and I decided to get right to the point.

“What exactly can I do for you, Mr. Golden?”

“Find out what happened to my wife,” he said. His eyes were steady, sincere.

“Mr. Golden, I – “

“Call me Richard.”

“Okay, Richard. Look, in my business, I find missing people. That’s what I do. But the people I find are presumed to be alive when I go looking for them, and so far I’ve found them that way. Your wife, excuse the insensitivity, is presumed dead.”

“I know, but I didn’t do it. I loved her. I still do,” he said. “I was trying to convince her to come back to me when she disappeared. I had nothing to do with it. Someone is setting me up.”

I expected to hear something along those lines.

I asked him about the night she’d disappeared. He told me he had been out with his friend, a man who worked for him, Paul Freeley. They’d been at a local bar and he had been drinking heavily, as had been his habit since his wife left him. He’d always liked to drink his share of whiskey, he said, but now he was indulging more than he ever had. Drowning his sorrows. He went home about nine o’clock, and had several more drinks while watching TV. He passed out on the couch.

He woke up the next morning, hung-over, took a shower and went to work. That afternoon the cops arrived at his office, requesting that he come downtown for questioning. He called his lawyer, Tim Schneider, who met him at the station.

The police obtained a search warrant while he was being detained, searched his home and his car, and found traces of blood in the trunk, which turned out to be hers.

“What about the divorce? Was she trying to shake you down?”

He rubbed his forehead, ran his hand through his hair. “Yeah, I guess. She was going for every penny she could get.”

“So, from the perspective of the police, you had motive. You also had opportunity. You have no alibi for the rest of the evening after you left the bar. The police found evidence of violence in her apartment, and they found her blood in your car. Those are the facts as the cops see them. On a positive note, they don’t have a body.”

Richard nodded, waiting for me to continue.

“Who would want to harm your wife and set you up for the crime?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “She was a manipulator, and she knew how to get what she wanted. She could be a bitch, you know? She pissed off plenty of people, women mostly. But I don’t know of anyone that hated her enough to kill her.”

I didn’t ask him to explain why he still loved her, knowing what kind of person she was. It wouldn’t make sense to me, or anyone else. Love never makes sense.

I asked about people close to him that were also well acquainted with his wife. He named several people; mutual friends, his employees, social contacts, and I wrote them down in my notepad.

“Does this mean you’re going to help me?”

He didn’t strike me as a liar. Desperate, maybe, but that was understandable.

I told him my fees and he nodded, very agreeable. His phone rang and he looked at the number, said he needed to take the call and stood up. He apologized, saying he’d be right back. When he came back he paid the tab and we left, going our separate ways, with me telling him I’d see him at his office in the morning.

I found his office on a small side road off of A1A, just south of the Ponte Vedra city limits. It was a small stucco building with a gravel parking lot, palm trees and flower beds in front and a slice of green grass on the left side. The gravel drive continued behind the building on the right, and I could see part of a larger building in back, what looked like a garage for keeping equipment and supplies.

The front door opened to a reception area. To the right was a brown leather sofa and a coffee table with several magazines spread out, showing pictures of tastefully decorated homes. To the left was a desk, and behind the desk was a pretty blonde woman, smiling pleasantly. She filled out her Polo shirt rather nicely. I guessed her to be in her late twenties.

“Good morning,” she said. Her green eyes seemed to peek over her cheekbones, like the sun rising over the mountains. “Can I help you?”

I handed her my card and said I was there to see Richard.

“Oh, yes, Mr. Brody, Richard told me he was expecting you.”

She hopped up and came around the desk, and I saw that the lower half was just as nice as the upper. Her faded jeans were snug and showed a nice form. She leaned into the doorway that opened to a hall leading to the back of the building.

“Richard, Mr. Brody’s here,” she called.

“Great. Send him back,” I heard him say.

She pointed down the hall. “First door on the left.”

Richard was behind a large oak desk, and he stood and waved me toward a couple of client chairs facing him. We shook hands across the desk and sat down and I opened my notebook.

I began by asking him about his business, and if there was anyone that would hurt his wife to get to him. He said he had stepped on a few toes – “It happens a lot in this business” – but no one that would go to such extremes to get back at him. At least, not that he was aware of. He told me about his current project, Treasure Cove, and the investors currently involved. He’d been struggling to hold onto his investors with all the media attention coming down on him. I wrote down the names of these people, as well as others he’d worked with in the past.

I asked more questions about his wife’s habits, her job, social activities, organizations that she belonged to. He told me she had once been a real estate agent, but she had quit soon after they got married and hadn’t worked in three years. She was active in a tennis league, and she worked out just about every day at World Gym. She had a regular group of women that she liked to shop with. I took down their names, a couple of which I was familiar with. She liked to run with the well-to-do crowd.

I asked if she had any boyfriends.

He shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of, but she wouldn’t want that kind of information to get out, with the divorce still pending.”

“Gut feelings, though? Do you suspect she was seeing anyone?”

He hesitated, leaned back in the large leather chair, looked out the window to his left. He seemed to reach a decision.

“No. I thought there might be someone when she first left me, but I didn’t have anything to base it on.”

We were interrupted when a man stepped into the doorway.

“Hey, Richard, sorry to intrude, but we’ve got that meeting at noon,” the man said. He had well-groomed blond hair, average build, dressed in jeans and a yellow Polo, which seemed to be the company uniform here on Casual Friday. Early thirties, maybe. Looked like he probably belonged to a fraternity when he was in school.

“Hey, Paul, this is Chuck Brody, a private investigator. He’s going to be checking some things out for me. Chuck, Paul Freeley. Paul’s the financial brains of the operation.”

I stood and shook hands with him. He had brown eyes and boyish grin that the ladies probably found charming.

“If I can help in any way, just let me know,” he said.

“Will do. Thanks.”

I told Richard I had enough information to get started, and that I’d check in with him later in the day. I walked out into the reception area, where the blond lady was typing something on her keyboard. She looked up.


I flattered myself that she looked disappointed.

“Not without a proper introduction. You know my name, but I’m afraid I don’t know yours.”

She stood and offered her hand. “Georgia Cantrell,” she said. Her southern drawl was softer than a lullaby.

“Chuck Brody. My pleasure.”

“Will you be dropping in again, Mr. Brody?”

“It’s Chuck. And if I don’t drop in again, send out a search party.”

She laughed. I noticed that there was no ring on her left hand. “Let me know if I can help with anything,” she said, and I wondered if heard any emphasis on the last word. I decided it was wishful thinking on my part.

I drove home and spent the afternoon reading every article I could find on the internet about Richard Golden, and his wife’s disappearance.

When my eyes began to blur from reading on the monitor, I decided it was time to get something to eat. I walked up the block and saw that Wally’s truck was gone from his driveway, and continued walking to Third Street. I was about halfway through a cheeseburger at my favorite diner when my cell phone rang. I checked the caller ID but it was blank, indicating the ID had been blocked. The mystery caller.

It was after seven, so I tried to reach Richard on his cell phone. No answer. Thirty minutes later I was on my way to the swamp.

This all seemed like a long time ago, but it had just happened yesterday.

Now Richard is dead. It would be interesting to see what theory the cops came up with.

I came out of my reverie and realized I’d gone much farther than my normal run, and I slowed to a walk. I finally stopped and looked out at the ocean. I thought about the phone call. I saw Richard’s face, bloated and grotesque, his fingers in the noose. I thought about Detective Gordon. None of my business. I turned north and took my time going home.

And that's the second chapter. Comments are appreciated! Peace and God Bless.

Friday, February 09, 2007


Okay, another revision on the first chapter is done. I removed the first version (not really the first, but the first one I posted here), and replaced it with the revision. Kaycee and Brenda, your comments were helpful. I don't know if this new version is any better, but hopefully I've made changes that will increase the tension in the first half of the chapter. I hope it's an improvement. Once again, comments are appreciated!

Friday, February 02, 2007

First Chapter

I'm working on the plot of the mystery I've decided I need to write. Why do I need to write this? Because it's a good exercise in plotting, and it's outside my comfort zone. My comfort zone being: know where the story starts, and know where it ends, and start at the beginning and write toward the end. This is how I wrote the first manuscript I completed. The result was a year of writing and a year and a half of revision. Genre-wise, the first one was a thriller, and I guess that method was okay for that kind of story, it just sort of evolved on its own. But, I've decided to write a genre mystery, and the plotting has to lead the writing. So, I'm stumbling along in unknown territory, researching and learning as I go. Here's the first chapter:

Chapter One

Up to my ass in alligators. I’ve said it before but never have I meant it so literally. Waist deep in the swamp, wading through the brackish water as pale beams of moonlight cut through the trees, I knew there were alligators.
I held my Glock at shoulder level as I moved toward the dim yellow light of the cabin, sliding from tree to tree and trying not to stumble on the roots in the water.
My eyes caught movement to the right, an indistinct shape shifted in my peripheral vision. When I tried to focus, I saw only varying degrees of darkness, layers of shadows. All was motionless under the low-hanging Spanish moss, and I wondered if I’d seen any movement at all.
The swamp was noisy. Fifteen different species of frogs thrived in this tide-controlled bog, and it sounded like every one of them was starting a riot. This would work to my advantage, masking any sound I might make on my approach. I would try not to disturb the frogs. Or the alligators.
The cabin was a wooden shack with a tin roof, built on stilts and sitting four feet above the water. A deck was built around the outside, the front portion of which was covered, and from there a short set of wooden steps led down to a dock-like walkway, running fifteen feet and connecting to solid ground. The moon provided ample illumination to see a dark Chevy Silverado parked in the drive at the end of the walkway.
Amber light glowed weakly from an open window in the back of the shack. I listened for voices as I advanced, but I could hear nothing over the frogs. From the back deck a small dock floated with the rise and fall of the tide. This was my destination.
I stopped to take inventory of my surroundings and noticed two dark bumps on the surface of the water about twenty feet to my left. When I looked more closely I recognized them as the eyes of an alligator and, judging by the length of its snout, I gauged it to be a rather large one. It was pointed in my direction but it wasn’t moving. I stood still and held my breath, waiting to see if the creature was going to stir. It seemed that the monster was sizing me up.
Just as I decided I should breathe again, the gator dropped beneath the surface and vanished. Now I was a statue. A frog could have hopped onto my gun and spit in my eye and I wouldn’t have blinked. Time hung like a crooked picture.
A mosquito buzzed by my ear and a moment later I felt the familiar tingle on my neck. I could almost hear it sucking my blood but I resisted the urge to slap it. A couple of seasons came and went with no sign of the gator. The mosquito was still draining me. I couldn’t stand there all night, I decided to take my chances. But first I had my revenge on the insect, ending its life in a liquid splatter on my neck.
I covered the last thirty yards to the dock quickly. A canoe was tied to the corner, and from the dock a wooden ladder lead up a couple of feet to the deck. I stood in the water below, listening for sounds of movement in the house, but I couldn’t detect any noise coming from inside. From my position I could see the Chevy truck alone in the drive, and it looked like the one owned by my current employer, the man who had hired me to find out what happened to his wife. I wasn’t able to make a positive ID, there are thousands of dark Chevrolet trucks on the road, and I couldn’t imagine why Richard Golden would be here. I couldn’t think of any good reason.
I removed my small backpack and placed it on the dock, floating just above waist level. I unzipped it and took out a hunting knife in a leather sheath and laid it down, and moved the pack to the back edge of the dock.
I pulled myself quietly up onto the wooden planks and crouched there, listening for any human sound. I saw a disturbance in the water to the left, and through a pool of shimmering moonlight the gator was gliding away. The swirl from its tail was at least twelve feet behind the snout as it faded like a ghost into the cypresses.
I picked up the knife and put it in the waistband of my jeans, around by the small of my back. I hoped there would be no circumstance to defend myself, but the feeling wasn’t optimistic. My instincts were humming, something felt wrong with the whole scene.
The frogs, in concert, went silent, leaving a conspicuous void in the air. The crescent moon held its breath, and the stars twinkled without a sound. A lonely cricket threw out a wager, but no one would take the bet and he soon gave up trying.
I clicked the safety off the Glock and climbed up the ladder to the deck. Keeping low, I moved to the back door and peered through the window into a dark, rustic kitchen, which was open to the living area, forming one large room. I tried the door; it was locked. There was light streaming through a doorway in the wall of the living area, coming from the room with the open window to my left. I saw no shadows, but I knew someone had to be in that room.
I stayed low and moved along the wall, creeping to the window. From this angle, the head of a bunk bed was visible against the wall on the far side. I leaned around, widening my view into the room. I stopped when I saw movement.
A shadow up on the wall was swinging slowly to and fro. A silhouette, with the head cocked at an unnatural angle, and a thin shadow leading up from the neck. My scalp tightened. I leaned back against the wall and took a couple of deep breaths.
I cocked the hammer and spun quickly, bringing the gun up and into the window, panning the room before I looked at the hanging man. He was alone.
It was Richard Golden.
What fresh hell is this?
I ducked back down and tried to gather my senses. I moved quickly around the deck, performing a search of the perimeter but there was no one lurking outside the house. I tried the front door. It swung open, creaking mournfully as I slipped inside.
Entering the bedroom, I saw that the rope was tied to an exposed beam in the ceiling. Below was a chair lying on its side, and the toes of his Nikes swung inches above, twisting slowly. He was clad in faded jeans and a green tee shirt. His right arm was crooked at the elbow and two fingers of his hand were wedged between his neck and the rope, like tugging at his collar. His collar was definitely too tight.
The light was coming from a lamp sitting on a nightstand, next to the bathroom door. I reached into the bathroom and flicked on the light, spun back and waited, but no one came flying out or took a shot at me. I looked in and it was vacant.
I checked the man’s left wrist for a pulse, but there was no life left in him. His hand was cool to the touch. I looked at his swollen face, just long enough to confirm my earlier identification, and turned away. The face of a hanging man is a dreadful thing to see, and the image of his bulging eyes and protruding tongue would be hard to forget.
Obvious questions blasted through my mind. Why is Richard Golden here? And why is he hanging by his neck? Is this suicide or murder?
His presence was so completely unexpected that I decided it must somehow be tied to my reason for being here, and the sinister implications of this sent a hard chill through my system.
I turned off the bathroom light and unplugged the lamp, went out to the deck to retrieve my pack. I inspected the dock area in the light of the moon. It was bare and dry, with the exception of my own wet markings. The canoe tied there was old and weathered, and held a small pool of rainwater and leaves in the bottom.
There was a length of rope lying by the other corner of the dock, tied to a cleat. I picked up the loose end and it felt damp. I felt the rope that secured the canoe, and it didn’t feel quite as moist. I had an urge to use my flashlight for a look into the swamp but I didn’t want to make myself an easy target, if anyone happened to be lurking out there. I listened for any unusual sounds, but all I heard were a few frogs working to get the chorus started again.
I skulked out to the driveway and felt the hood of the truck. It wasn’t hot, but in the heat of the swamp it was hard to tell how long it might have been sitting.
I looked around the clearing, wondering what the hell was going on here.
I’d had an instinct that I was being set up, which is why I came to the cabin through the swamp. I was suspicious about the caller who’d requested the meeting and given me directions to this place.
The caller had been vague, promising information on “the case you’re working on.”
“Which case? I have several,” I lied.
“The lady.”
“What kind of information?”
“Information you’ll be glad to have.” He gave me directions to the shack.
“As soon as you can get there.”
“Why do we have to meet eight miles from nowhere?”
“You’ll understand when you get there.”
“I need a better reason than that.”
“No, you don’t.”
How could I not come out here? Sure, it might have been a bullshit lead, someone playing a sick joke, but I couldn’t take the chance. My curiosity wouldn’t stand for it.
Could it have been Richard who called, disguising his voice? That’s a possibility, but not much of one. I have a God given knack for hearing dialect. Richard has – had – a distinct South Georgia drawl, thick as molasses. I identified the caller’s voice as having hints of a Philly accent. Even if Richard could disguise his voice, his best effort couldn’t pull that off.
And if he could, what’s the point? He could have iced himself at his house and saved me a trip through the swamp.
I shined my light through the window of the truck and saw some papers on the passenger seat, a cell phone lying on top, and an empty whisky bottle on the floorboard. Both doors were locked.
The shell and gravel driveway wasn’t a surface from which tire tracks could be lifted. I saw other markings, but there was no way to tell how fresh they were.
I wanted to take a quick look around inside the shack before I called the police, just to satisfy my own curiosity. It wasn’t any of my business, really, this was a case for the local detectives. Murder or suicide, it wasn’t my job to decide, but I saw no reason not to access whatever information I could gather. I’d earned that much slogging through the swamp.
I went back inside and looked around in the dark. I felt safer with the lights out. There was nothing remarkable about the room. It was the bedroom of a backwoods fish camp. Two sets of bunk beds against the walls and a worn out rug lying in the middle of the floor. An ancient chest of drawers between the windows on the front wall, the small table and lamp next to the bathroom door.
The room was neat, the beds were made and nothing was out of place, except Richard. I put on my gloves and opened the drawers on the dresser, they were all empty. Nothing in the nightstand, either. The bathroom held no clues.
The detectives would know I snooped around; my soggy trail wouldn’t be hard to follow. I wouldn’t try to lie about it, but I was careful not to disturb the scene in a way that would be disruptive to their investigation.
I decided not to press my luck by searching Richard for the keys to his truck and having a look inside, as much as I wanted to. Poking around the scene is one thing, frisking a dead man is quite another.
I left the shack and walked up the drive to the dirt road running east and west. I’d left my truck about a half mile up the road. I drove back toward civilization until my cell phone showed reception. I called the police, told them what I’d found, and then I waited.

So ends chapter one. Not too many people read this blog, but anyone that happens to stumble across it, comments are welcome. Peace and God Bless.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Working at home, sort of. This is my home office, where the deep pondering, brooding, head scratching, frustration and screaming occur. And sometimes I actually get some writing accomplished. Plotting a mystery, I'm finding out, is no easy task. It isn't hard to come up with a plot, but to find a fresh twist to add is something that requires much more thought. The motivation for the crime needs to be compelling, but there are only so many motivations. It seems to come down to love, money, revenge, or a crime of passion. These have all been worked over thousands of times, so how do you come up with a new twist? There's the rub, as the saying goes. So I'm working on it, and trying to write as far into the story as I can without having the killer's motivation completely resolved in my mind. No one ever said it would be easy, but it is fun.