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.”

“Suicide?”

“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?”

“No.”

“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.

“Leaving?”

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.

7 Comments:

At 7:05 PM , Blogger Leary said...

I am thrilled with this story for you! I am also jealous that you so effortlessly put things into words and I struggle to do likewise. I can't even describe a cold winter day with frosty air.

Sigh.

Oh well.

Good job! keep going!

 
At 9:41 PM , Blogger Wonderwood said...

KC, that you? Thanks for the kind words, but, ah, effortlessly? LMAO! That's classic. I sweat, ponder, brood, wonder, stumble, and blunder through every sentence. I only hope that I string them together in such a way as to make sense and hopefully keep a reader's interest. I really do appreciate you reading and commenting, and I absolutely appreciate your support. Thanks again :-)

 
At 10:52 PM , Blogger Southern Writer said...

I love this, too. Great job! As usual, a couple nits - please laugh and take me with good humor. First, you see the obvious place to give us your protag's real name, right, Sherlock? It doesn't mean you can't repeat it later, when he's introduced. You do want it to stick with us.

I knew some basic facts about him, from what I’d read in the paper and seen on the news.

Who are you talking about here? The next sentence is about Richard, but in the paragraph above, you said:

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.

So in one paragraph, it sounds like they're friends, and in the next, it sounds like they barely knew each other. It's kind of confusing.
Otherwise, good stuff! (You do make it seem effortless.)

 
At 6:27 AM , Blogger Wonderwood said...

SW, thanks again for your comments! I agree with you about the paragraph where I'm setting up the meeting with Richard. I've tried it a couple of different ways, and I guess I still need to work on it more. I'll figure it out and fix it, I don't want any confusion, it shouldn't be difficult to clarify what's happening. With regard to the MC's name, I haven't regarded it as urgent to throw his name in there as early as possible. I didn't want to drag it out, but up til now hadn't thought of it being a big deal. I see an easy way to fix it. In the first chapter when he gets the mysterious phone call, I can introduce his name right there. The caller says "Chuck Brody?" He says, "That's me." and the dialogue goes from there. No big deal, and that way I can still introduce Wally as being a smartass beach bum who turns out to have a surprising literary twist to his personality. I've got some cool characters that will be making their appearances real soon. I've just about finished the fourth chapter, and I'm putting some polish on chapter three right now.

As far as effortless, I guess it's a good thing that it seems that way LOL. I think as writers that's what we strive for, but as you know, there is nothing effortless about the process. I sweat over every word. But I love it, and if it comes out seeming effortless, then I guess I've achieved my goal.

Thanks again! You know I respect and appreciate your thoughts and opinions. mmmmuuuuwahhhhhh!

 
At 7:58 PM , Blogger Southern Writer said...

Wally has a literary twist? That's going to be great!

Actually, it is important to get your mc's name in as early as possible - just like when you write a query, you need to get your title in, too. You'd be surprised how many people forget to do that. Do you read Evil Editor? You're going gangbusters here, and I really enjoyed reading.

Thanks for the mmmmuuuuwahhhhhh! Now I feel special. Back atcha.

 
At 8:07 PM , Blogger GutterBall said...

Man, it's gotta suck to find your one and only customer dead the day after he hired you. I certainly hope he paid up front.

I won't be like Dave (though his advice is usually pretty sound, if ruthless) and suggest that you half what you have here, but you could prune here and there to make the back story flow a little more quickly.

As it is, I had no trouble following it or staying interested. Kudos! And keep it coming, because I LOVE a good thriller/murder mystery/blood-bath!

 
At 10:27 PM , Blogger Wonderwood said...

Thanks again, Gutterball. I agree, this chapter needs some trim work, and it'll get some. It's not a first draft, but it isn't finished yet. I'll be posting the third chapter pretty soon, it needs some more work, but I'm getting close with it. Once again, thanks for reading and commenting! I truly appreciate it :-)

 

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