Sunday, July 28, 2013

Beginnings - Fertile Ground

Here we are again on another Sunday, and I'm late.  Sorry about that.  I totally planned to have this scheduled and ready to go, but the days got away from me. 

As I said last weekend, I was on a suspense kick.  This is the third of those and the one that didn't get finished.  Someday, maybe...

Fertile Ground
As she walked down the produce aisle, Adam could smell her fertility.  Her long brown hair was pulled taut from her face into an unflattering ponytail, but she could have been butt ugly for all he cared.  He didn’t need to look at her for long, he only needed to get inside her.  Plant his seed and be done with it.
Nine months from now, she would bear a perfect child in his image.  They always did.
Seven weeks ago, she had been just another blurred face at a pro-life rally.  He noticed her then, but another already held his eye.  By now that other girl was draped over the porcelain, proving her womb already bore his fruit.  He was finished with her.  On to the next.
She reached out to squeeze a cantaloupe, testing its ripeness.  He smiled at the irony.
Chances were good that she didn’t even know she was no more than fertile soil.  Most women didn’t know their cycles as well as he did.  They never took the time to watch the signs.  They never bothered to understand God’s rhythm or His plan for them.
Only he understood what the Lord’s intentions were.
“Be fruitful and multiply,” he whispered as the girl chose a bag of grapes and set them inside her cart.  Those gentle hands would raise his son.
He could imagine the strong sturdy legs taking their first steps.  A wide smile of too few teeth expressing the first joy of being a man.  For the first few months, he knew, children were little more than the monkeys some assumed humans were made from.  But he knew better.  The beginning of a man’s life was just a test; walking upright was the passage signifying God’s plan.
His sons would all know their true place in the world.
Let the women raise them through those monkey years.  Time enough to claim them once their abilities began to grow.  Once they became men.
And if any females were born, he decided, he would ignore them.  Someday they would bear sons.  After all, it was their only purpose.
“Excuse me,” a shy voice said.
He looked up and caught himself looking directly into the same watery blue eyes he’d seen at the rally all those weeks before.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
This wasn’t the first time one of the girls had recognized him as he followed their paths.  He wasn’t an easy man to forget.
“Oh!  Hi!,” he said.  “Didn’t I see you at the protest in Ann Arbor last month?”
Her lush mouth split into a wide smile of perfect teeth.  “I thought that was you.  Funny seeing you here.”
“I was just thinking that myself.  I travel a lot for work.  How about you?”  His words came out as smoothly as if they were rehearsed, but they were words he’d spoken at least a dozen times.  It helped that they were true, just not particularly true for this occasion. 
“Not me.  I live a few blocks from here.”  She nodded her head in the general direction of her home.  He pasted a surprised look on his face even though he’d been there the night before, watching her.
“Small world.”
“Well, I’ve got to run.  It was nice seeing you.  Next time you’re in town, look me up.”  She tried to make her words sound sincere, but he knew she didn’t really want to see him again.  They never wanted to, but they always did.
In fact, she would be seeing him again tonight.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Beginnings - Nanotechnology

After I finished Manhunter, I got on a suspense kick.  The next book that came out of my head went through a couple false starts, but I think I really had something going here.  I called it Nanotechnology just as a filename to keep everything straight.

I wrote this all the way through to the end, but after I finished it, I set it aside before I edited, and I started something else.  Partway through the something else, I received a rejection on the full for Manhunter (aka Dying Embers) that derailed me and made me doubt whether I could ever successfully write suspense.  Needless to say, I dropped this and the other thing, and went with something I was pretty sure I knew how to write.

I still think this book has potential, but right now there are a few other books in the editing queue ahead of it.  Here's the beginning...

Payton Landis caressed the service revolver in his lap.  Part of him wanted to believe one bullet would end all of this, but it would only end his involvement.  Whether he lived or not, Project Hermes would move forward.  His death would only stall them for a brief time while Secretary Dougherty brought another patsy up to speed.
Lord knows there were enough of them standing in line to head the Terrorism Task Force when he was gone.  Assistant Director Tweeg—his own underling—practically drooled last year when Landis hinted about retiring.
And then his dream to spend his winter years romancing his wife crumbled like so much asbestos.
Landis’ eyes strayed to the picture frame on the corner of his desk.  His wife smiled back at him like she once had every morning, but no longer could.  Today, though, disappointment seemed to tinge her expression.
“I’ll come see you tomorrow, Sweetheart,” he told the image, but even as the words left his lips, he knew he lied.  Four months ago he’d visited the hospice just in time to see the nurse changing Evelyn’s diaper.  One look at her former voluptuous body turned living skeleton and he threw up in a potted plant.
That was the last time he saw his wife.
A longer time had passed since he laid eyes on the woman occupying the frame next to Evelyn’s.  When the photo was taken, Randi was barely old enough to be called more than a girl.  Fresh from college and new to the academy, she looked so young in her crisp new uniform.  Other than the mischief in her eyes, she looked like the consummate rookie law enforcer.
If he did this thing he was ordered to do, she would hate him. 
He met Miranda Kruz during a guest lecture at Quantico, and in no time at all, she became like the daughter he never had.  In the photo, her smile held so much promise and such innocent hope for the future.  If she could only understand what this decision would mean for the country they both loved, she might see its importance. 
Most likely, she would damn him for the rest of his days.  She wouldn’t be the only one.  Lord knows, he damned himself enough for all of them. 
Back then he wanted her to succeed, but he was so certain she’d fail.  Too pretty, too sensitive, and way too enthralled with the idea justice could always be served—she should’ve fallen apart at Quantico, but instead she excelled.  Even though he recommended her appointment to the Secret Service, he was sure they’d boot her on her ass, but instead she received accolades.  When he requested her transfer to his own Terrorism Task Force at Homeland Security, he was afraid every spark within her would dwindle until she became another mindless drone.  She would’ve been better off it had, but he couldn’t have been more wrong.  Eventually she settled into the mold each organization wanted her to accept, and somehow the fire still burned in her eyes.  
With one hand, he tipped her photo facedown so she couldn’t witness his act of betrayal.
He thought about his friends—the few men he really could call by the term.  With the secret he would carry after today, seeing any of them again would be tantamount to spitting on the values they shared.  Even now, he could never sink so low.  One by one, he ticked off their names and asked for their forgiveness. 
“Why do this at all?” a silent voice niggled in his head.
The reasons were so few, and even those sounded insufficient.  He could blame pressure from Dougherty; he could cite fear of losing his job.  He’d been with the government for so many years he could no longer envision himself as anything else.  In the end, though, only one real reason sprang to mind. 
Maybe if those men he loved so well thought about his life and this choice, they would understand.  Maybe they, too, had lost a loved one to the country’s growing insanity. 
He picked up his wife’s photo and prayed he was doing the right thing.  He told himself that someone before him should’ve already exercised some courage.  If anyone had the balls to do what he was doing now, his wife would be home cooking dinner instead of lying in bed drooling on herself.  Perhaps the young man who’d been deported three times—and returned after each—could have been stopped before he raped again, before he forced his way into the Landis home to commit yet another horrific crime.
The memory of his wife crumpled and broken at the bottom of the stairs leapt unbidden to his mind’s eye.  A miracle kept her body alive, but nothing would bring back her mind.  If only he’d seen the rightness of this plan when Dougherty first brought the idea to him, his beautiful Evelyn would still be whole.  He couldn’t change what happened to her, but if this project worked, he might be able to stop such a vicious invasion from happening to anyone else’s wife.
Looking at the stack of correspondence on his desk, he deftly pulled out the only mail that meant anything tonight.  Regardless of what either of those letters said, their content probably meant his damnation.
The first bore the insignia of Davis Labs, addressed by hand in the owner’s own bold strokes.  If Jack Davis accepted this project, its timely completion was assured.  Although Payton only met the engineer once, he had no doubts of Davis’s competence.  From their brief acquaintance, he also knew every tiny doubt he himself had would multiply under Davis’s scrutiny until the man couldn’t help but refuse the job.
Hell, only Payton’s insistence even got him to look over the specs.  Less than a week later, the return envelope landed on his desk. 
The Nigerian was a different story.  Casting a sideways glance toward the other envelope, Landis silently wished that particular proposal never arrived.  Only this morning, the beige envelope embossed in gold slid out from his daily pile of mail, and he felt his chest tighten. 
Of the half-dozen companies who received the request for quote, Mertex was the one Landis hoped would never go after the contract.  In every way they were as perfect as Davis Labs, but still, something about the look in Dr. Ahumibe’s eyes turned even his ex-soldier stomach.
The overly proper man in the Armani suit wanted the project too much.  Not like a man who wanted to solve a difficult problem, but for some other reason Landis could only guess at.  And the guesses all filled him with dread.
He balked over opening what he knew would be the winning bid.  He was half tempted to crumple the envelope into a tight ball and toss it into the nearest open flame, but it was no use.  No matter what he did, Mertex would get the contract.
“Get this project done,” Dougherty had told him.  “On time, and under budget.”
Payton knew Mertex would propose the cheapest bid with the shortest lead time for completion.  Even if he was wrong and Davis’s envelope did contain a quote, he knew it couldn’t be competitive.  For some indiscernible reason, Mertex would undercut everyone.  The hyena-hungry look in Ahumibe’s eyes foretold the truth.  The quote would contain a price for which the company would barely make a profit.  If the project ran long, Mertex and its shareholders would lose their shirts.
Without even realizing what he was doing, Landis slumped forward and cradled his face in his hands.  The world would be a better place if none of the companies bid.  Everything would’ve been better if he himself had refused to obey orders and walked away from his job rather than send this project out for quote. 
He might stop this avalanche now by refusing to open the envelopes.  All he would have to do was call the remaining bidders and take the project off the table.  The possibility still remained to walk away from the horror he was about to commit.
Except he couldn’t walk away while Evelyn was…  He shuddered away from the image.
If it could be done, this project could stop another man from arriving home late to find his future shattered.  Bringing an end to this so-called ‘immigration problem’ was within his power.
One little call and millions could be saved.
This is what he told himself as he picked up the phone.  It was what he told himself, but he didn’t really believe it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Beginnings - Cut & Dried

This week's beginnings is a cute little mystery I started but never finished.  Ever time I try to pick it back up again, I read through what I've already written to get a grasp on the storyline again.  And every time, I'm laughing so hard I can't seem to make it all the way to writing more. 

Could be fear that I can't keep up that level of funny.  Could be fear that I'm the only one who thinks any of this is humorous.  :shrug:

:drumroll:  Here's the beginning of Cut & Dried: A Jordan Almond Mystery.  (Because yeah, I have a whole series of these planned - if I can ever finish this one and find someone to buy it.)

Jordan Almond: Cut and Dried
Chapter 1
I’ve heard it said there are a million stories in the naked city.  I don’t know about the naked cities, but here in Flint, nothing is as obvious as that.  Of course, if things were laid out for anyone to see, I’d be out of a job. 
You see, I’m a private detective. 
I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, I’m not living the dream.  I mean, it pays the bills, and I could be doing a lot worse things with my life, but to paraphrase an old country song I hate, ‘Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be P.I.s’.  It’s harder work than it sounds, and sometimes you piss people off enough to want kill you.
Seems to happen to me a lot more than I’d like, but that’s the way life goes sometimes. 
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not in this for the money; I’m not in it for the prestige either.  This business isn’t as rich and glamorous as Hollywood would have you think, which is too damn bad.  There’s a silver lining here somewhere.  I haven’t found it yet, but a gal can hope, can’t she?
Who am I?  The name is Jordon Almond.  Yeah, yeah.  I’ve heard all the jokes, so don’t bother.  My parents thought it was funny.  I don’t. 
From what I was told, the name was actually Allman up until the ‘60s when my father took a bad trip and ended up changing it to something more in tune with Mother Earth.  After he woke up a few years later, he kept it Almond because he thought it was a good joke.  Now I’m stuck with it.  I would’ve changed the name years ago if my father hadn’t made me promise to keep it.  He knew I never broke a promise.  I wish I’d remembered my father’s sense of humor before I agreed.  He up and died before I could wiggle out of it.
He also roped me into the family business, but he did that after he was gone.  His last will and testament said that as soon as I finished college, the whole kit and caboodle was mine.  So I stepped off the platform—degree in hand—and right into the gaping hole of my future as a private detective.
Now you see why I never bothered to change the name on my office door.  Even after my father died, I left it like it was:  Eddie Almond Investigations.  Hell, even in the crappy neighborhood where Eddie bought this office, I don’t want to take a chance on someone stopping in to buy candy.  I don’t do candy.  Hell, I barely even eat the stuff. 
Not that taking over the family business was the worst day of my life.  Oh no.  I’ve had plenty of worst days in my thirty-five year existence, and most of them had nothing whatsoever to do with dear ol’ Dad.  In fact, one of the crappier days I couldn’t really blame on Eddie at all.  If I had to blame it on anything, I’d blame it on my own desperation. 
You see, it was like this... 
About three years ago, if I remember correctly, I was sitting at home minding my own business.  It was probably about three a.m. and I was playing a bit of no limit hold-‘em before I got started on my day.  Just as I flopped a straight, and was drawing to an inside straight-flush, the lights flickered once and my damn computer rebooted.  As luck would have it, I was sitting in one of those rooms that just folds your hand when you lose your connection, so not only did I not make my straight flush, I lost the couple hundred dollars I’d already bet.
So there I was watching a week’s worth of groceries disappeared into cyberspace, and cursing a blue streak, when the phone rang.  Of course, I didn’t answer it; that’s what they make machines for.  (No, I don’t have voice mail.  One of these days I’ll drag myself into the 21st century, but don’t look for it to be any time soon.)
After I finished rebooting and looked at my account balance on the poker site, I wasn’t quite feeling like playing any more.  A few more sessions like that, and I was going to have to find a new way to supplement my income.  Maybe they needed a new dog washer at the Pampered Pooch.  Problem is: I like dogs the same way I like kids—as long as they aren’t mine they’re wonderful.  It’s not like the P.I. business is all that lucrative, but like I said, a promise is a promise.
With nothing else to do, and my brain still whirring like a kids’ toy, I decided to listen to the phone call I didn’t want to pick up.  Bad mistake.  I should’ve just erased the damn thing and went to bed.
“Jordan?” said a familiar voice I couldn’t place.  “I need you.”  If only...  At the moment, I wasn’t seeing anyone, didn’t know anyone I’d want to need me, and I certainly didn’t think the image popping into my mind was what the caller had in mind.  I searched my brain to figure out where I’d heard that somewhat effeminate male voice.  I knew it wasn’t a work-related voice.  This business eats up the effeminate and shits them out.  Hell, I’m a woman and I can’t get away with femininity. 
Then the little light bulb went off over my head.  My hairdresser!  Of course.  By the time I figured it out, the rest of the message had played, but I was pretty pleased with myself for naming that voice in under five words.  Enough patting myself on the back, though.  Since Gerry didn’t swing on my side of the street, he obviously needed help, and since he was the only one in the tri-city area who could do anything with my hair, I figured I’d better help him.  If only to keep myself from looking like something the cat coughed up.
Reaching for a pen and paper, I pressed the replay button.
 “Jordan?  I need you.  I’m at the police station.  They… They think I killed someone.  Can you help me?  Please?”
Now Gerry Fitzpatrick could be a bit bitchy sometimes, but the thought of him as a murderer was beyond stupid.  He cried when he had to clean the traps at his less-than-upscale salon.  I once saw him have a funeral for a particularly unlucky field mouse who must’ve been in town visiting his more urbane relatives and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Gerry couldn’t kill anything.
So why were the cops thinking he had?
Looking at the clock, which wasn’t much help since the power burp had set it to the flashing 12:00 again, I decided I didn’t really need to sleep that night anyway.  I grabbed a jacket to throw on over my sweats, and headed out the door.
Oh, the things I do for a good haircut.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Beginnings - Manhunter

A few of you may recognize this beginning a little.  This story started out as Manhunter and then morphed into the book now known as Dying Embers (which I'm currently querying).  Since I've got the new incarnation going through the fold, spindle and mutilate machine known as submitting, I thought I'd just drop the original beginning out here for y'all.

For those of you who've read the other beginning, what d'ya think?  Did I scrub it too much?  For those of you who haven't, it's over at Killer Chicks.  Feel free to go read it and do a little compare/contrast.  I expect at least a thousand words and it's due Monday.  (Okay, not really - I was channeling my inner homeschool teacher there for a second.)


Chapter 1
As she approached the twisted Mercedes’ wreckage, its cracked side mirror winked at her like they shared some unspeakable secret.  The wind blew through her mousy-brown hair, making the leaves of the grand old trees waver and the moonlight dance across the pine straw.  All around her whispered the soft hush of the forest and faint noises from the road.  So peaceful.  She could almost forget what she’d done, if not for the sickly, wet gurgle.
Standing beneath a tree a few yards above, she couldn’t tell if the sound emanated from the vital fluids dripping out of the engine, or from her husband and his mistress.  Maybe it was the tree as its sap oozed from a wide gash where the metal had ripped away the bark.  The car was dead.  The other three would die soon enough. 
She only felt sorry for the tree.
Her intention had only been to send them down the embankment to the gully below.  If she’d known a tree would stop them partway down, she would’ve planned the whole thing better.  If she’d planned the thing at all, this would’ve gone so much smoother. 
Whatever Will had done, the tree didn’t deserve to pay for it. 
“Hello?” a harsh voice rasped in the night air.  It was filled with pain and the wet sound of too much spit or too much blood.  The noise was so soft anyone else wouldn’t have been able to tell who survived the impact, but she knew the cadence deep inside her, even before her brain had time to register it consciously.
“Hello, Will,” she whispered back.  With a slow deliberateness, she nudged a rock down the steep hillside.  It bounced off one of its many brethren with a loud clack, and her smile widened.  Except for the poor tree, she picked the perfect spot. 
“Hello?” he said louder, his terror filling the air and echoing off the jagged crags.  “Is someone there?” 
Her lips curled into a sneer as she bent to pick up a rock.  With a deftness born of many summer softball games, she tested the weight of it in her hand and then hurled it against the one unbroken pane of glass left. 
The sound of its shattering came only an instant before Will screamed like a little girl.  Or maybe it was his cheap hussy. 
If she was lucky, they were both alive.  Their heartbeats would mean her plan hadn’t completely failed after all.  Oh, she wanted them dead, but not too quickly.  If she was going to spend the rest of her life suffering from their betrayal, the least they could do was spend a little time suffering themselves.
Above them on the road, a semi chugged its way up the hill and she froze.  Everything would be ruined if they were discovered now.  Truck drivers could see too much from their perches, and she needed time for her tormentors to die.  In the morning, the skid marks would be visible on the asphalt, or the sun would glint off the car’s mirrors, and they would be found. 
Too late.