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.


At 4:38 PM , Blogger GutterBall said...

It's a good FYI chapter. Any good PI should have a certain amount of "cop instinct", so you've done well setting that up. I mean, if all is really as it should be, why does he have the heebie jeebies*? Exactly!

There are (ha! I did it this time!) a few places where the narrative gets a little static -- a lot of "I did this, I did that, I did the other" -- but you'll catch those on another pass, especially if you read it out loud. That's how I always catch it in my own crap. It's one of the trip-ups of first person, but I have no doubt you'll jazz it up without shading to purple. Heh.

I'm ready for more already!

*Incidentally, a friend of mine decided that my nickname, GB, wasn't good enough, and so started calling me Heebie GB. Geez.

At 5:35 PM , Blogger Wonderwood said...

Hey GB! (Heebie) Thanks again for your comments, I appreciate everything you've said so far. Yeah, it still needs some polish, I know, and it'll get some attention when I come back to it. Whenever I get stuck on forward progress, I go back and work on what's already written. I've finished chapter four and just started chapter five, and that's where I am right now. Chapter four is almost ready for view, and it's a good chapter as it introduces Gator, and also ups the stakes by introducing another plot element (the plot thickens, as they say), and the story starts picking up pace. Up til now, I've tried to get some plot elements set up, introduce some of the cast, throw in some clues that don't look like clues but will have significance later, and mostly give you some insight into the MC without spending a bunch of time talking about him. Hopefully I've done this. I look forward to your comments on the next one! Thanks again!

At 8:45 PM , Blogger GutterBall said...

Hey, a story like this has to develop. You'll never hear me complain about set-up, so long as you don't go all Hardy on me.

I may be ADHD (with emphasis on the H), but even my attention span isn't so short that you can't have exposition, that great lost art. Action is great, but so is build-up.

At 12:14 PM , Blogger Leary said...

Hey WW! Sorry I have been so slow to read your chapters... I get carried away with my own stuff sometimes.

This chapter was well-done. Left us hanging just enough, gave us just enough info, and kept us stimulated through nearly every sense. I felt like I was there.

Good going!
Thanks again for the kind words on Faeries. Fun story to write!

At 8:09 AM , Blogger Wonderwood said...

Thanks KC, I appreciate you reading. I hope you'll come back for more :-)


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