Monday, 23 March 2009

Chapter One -- continued

Because I've been neglecting this blog, I thought I'd post the balance of chapter one of my mystery novel, HB.

Do remember, this is a work in progress, far from a finished scene.


Grant had a face of stone. “One of our detectives was murdered today.” He signaled to Breckenridge.

The television screen at the front of the room erupted in a kaleidoscope of colors and settled into a black and white picture: a vinyl booth, a scarred and scratched formica table, a cheap fringed lamp shade above. Plastic ferns in phony planters separated it from the booth behind. Darius recognized the setting: Scott's Lunch Room on East 45th. He sat forward in his chair.

Someone in the briefing room shuffled his feet, someone else shuffled papers. Someone’s sweat added pungency to the mix. Darius tried not to breathe too deeply.

In the video, the empty booth spelled some kind of ominous truth. It wasn't long before a blonde woman in dark glasses, jeans and t-shirt, carrying an armful of papers, slid into the booth. She opened a big Mexican style purse, pulled out a couple of pens, and an iPod, which she immediately plugged it into her ears. She pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head and began flipping through her papers.

This wasn't the subject Darius was expecting to see.

"The camera was focused on the wrong booth," Grant said, his voice as stony as his looks. “Our undercover detective sat in the booth behind this one, behind the ferns."

The woman pored over a stack of pages, fully engrossed in her studies. Every once in a while she made a mark on one of the pages. A teacher grading her students? She was so focused a plane could have crashed in the street outside the coffee shop and she would not have noticed. In profile, she had a straight nose, thin lips that she chewed as she worked, and blonde hair cut straight just above her shoulders, that swung forward onto her cheeks as she bent over the papers. She used her left hand to push it back behind her ears; she wore a ring on her index finger, a wide band sprinkled with stones, and a watch with an intricately-tooled leather strap.

Grant continued, "The camera was set to run for five hours as we had no firm time when the meeting was taking place. It was a routine surveillance; information gathering, and so unmonitored."

Armand said, “ Breckenridge, fast forward at this point. Nothing happens for some twenty-five minutes."

Speeding up the tape did not seem to alter the events transpiring on screen. The blonde flipped the pages a little bit faster, her left hand went up a little more often to smooth her hair. At a signal from Inspector Armand, Breckenridge returned the tape to normal speed. Something was finally happening. The blonde gave a small forward start.

“This could be when our detective got shot. No one heard a shot, so a silencer was used. She’s probably reacting to the body hitting the booth behind her.” She pulled the ipod from her ears; it hung about her neck as she stared ahead, her lower lip dropping. She was frozen that way for a good ten-twelve seconds, then swung into action, gathering her papers together with feverish haste, picking them up and hugging them to her chest as if they were in danger, and scrambling out of the booth. At that point she turned to face the camera and the shot showed her eyes, wide, light irises with round black pupils. A split-second later, she lowered her sunglasses and was gone, running.

"She saw it," Warren said.

Medson smiled smugly. "She saw it, all right. I checked out the table, the exact place she was sitting. And you know what? She was staring into a great big mirror. She saw the murderer.”

“Bravo, Medson.” Armand clapped his hands. “But who she? Do we know her name?"

"Well, no. The restaurant staff couldn't tell me. They were all pretty upset about what had happened. And you can't blame them, that was some mess they’ll have to clean up."

"So what do we do now?” Warren said. “Do we have to go out and start combing the area looking for this girl?"

"No. I know who she is." Armand handed a book to Warren.

Warren examined it, mystified. "Fall Down in Flames," he read the title. "A Novel by Helena Becker." He turned it over. "Aha! She's a writer."

"My wife had this on her night table," Armand said. "I don't usually pay attention to what she reads, but that's the woman. And according to Louise she's had a string of best sellers."

"Romance novels, huh?"

"As a matter of fact, no. Psychological suspense, Louise calls it."

"She looks a tame sort," Warren said doubtfully.

"Nothing tame about the passages I've read."

"No kidding? Maybe I'll read it..."

"Give the book to Scarlett. It's going to be his and Doane’s job to find the woman, find out what she saw, what she knows. You and Medson go to the restaurant, interview the staff again. canvas the neighborhood. We need to get a description of the killer." He took a breath. “He killed Dean Haskins, undercover detective trying to set up an arms buy. One of our own. And her life may be in danger.”

Warren grudgingly thrust the book at Darius.

Darius checked the picture on the back. It was a black and white head shot, the writer looking into the far distance, lips curved in a faint smile. He said, “The killer must have made Haskins. Wasn’t the booth wired for sound?”

“It came out unintelligible. We have technicians working on it, but they aren’t optimistic.”

He handed the book to Doane. She ave it a quick study. “Any description on the killer?

Medson glanced at his notes. “The three waitresses were so rattled they couldn’t say the sky was blue. The guy was tall, short, black, white, blond, brunette. But the bus boy seemed more together–he remembered the guy wore a red baseball cap, black stringy hair, mustache.”

“Bright kid. Your classic disguise.”

“When you go to the restaurant,” Armand said, “ask the busboy to come in, we’ll do a sketch.”

Breckenridge came with some notes written in his meticulous hand. “Contact addresses for Ms. Becker. Her home, her ex-husband, her ex-lover...”

“Thanks.” Darius accepted the list. “I want everything you can find on her. We’ll need to find her before the bad guy does.”


Kim Doane had wispy red hair, an ultra-feminine topper to her tough-as-nails demeanor. As they headed for the car, she said, with a slight shake of her head, “It was that kid, again, right? You aren’t his father.“

Darius stared into the distance, ”Yeah, Nicky took it hard when his mother and I called it quits. He was looking for a father. And what Joan was looking for, I couldn’t provide. She said it herself, she has an urban neurotic syndrome.”

“She likes to sleep around.”

Kim was blunt, as always. “Well, that, too. But I told Nicky to call me whenever. Can’t let a wounded ten year old down.”

She put on her sunglasses. “You driving, or me? You’d have made a good dad for him.”