After an unfortunate series of disconcerting and time-consuming events, I am writing fiction again. Here is a teaser from my 4th novel (currently in creation). Please ask me how my novel is going, as there is no accountability so motivating as your friends and family kindly nagging you about your progress!
The Synopsis of A Badge Washed Up:
A grieving middle-aged, African-American cook finds the badge of a forensic scientist, who is presumed dead, washed up on the shore at a beach-side retirement community. No one in authority will take Janey’s clue seriously so she searches for Brooke Stone, the missing scientist, on her own. Janey finds a lot more than she expected.
Chapter 1: The Hook
My son, Saul, didn’t always die in my dreams, but that didn’t make any of the nights after his death less of a nightmare. Even in my sleep, on some level, I suppose I still knew that he was really and truly dead. I found every dream of him so close to real though, because I wanted it to be so badly, that I could smell his hair still. My heart was a wound that never healed. Walking long distances on the beach numbed it some. Plodding fatigue brought me to an edge that hinted at living. Moving proved I was breathing. That I should continue breathing.
I often walked the shores after work, at sunset, until my heels were cracked and bleeding. One day last August, I got more than I bargained for though.
My hands were shaking even though the heat beating down on the sand was so hot that my eyes felt scorched. I felt sorry for all the little elders of the Shore Acres Seaside Retirement Resort where I worked. Their thin old skin loved the heat, but so much sun was hard on their pale eyes. In truth, I felt sorry for the entire world. All the time, I just felt sorry.
I felt sorry for my beautiful dead baby. The injustice of his promising life cut short in his prime burned so rough in my chest that my hands still shook, two years later, whenever I thought about it.
I paused my walk, stuttered stepped into the surf, and let the green Gulf of Mexico wash in and out over my toes. The smell of salt filled my nostrils and pricked at the edges of my eyes reminding me of the taste of the tears I was too dry to cry any more. I kept playing back the last time I saw my son, Saul, alive.
“Come on, Momma, I'm walking one mile up the road. Julie's house is right on the edge of Orange Grove. The first house on the left as you turn into the neighborhood.” He bugged his eyes out at me and shook his head.
“I know you can walk the mile, Saul.”
“Julie is a good kid. We're really going to work on our project for the science fair. I promise.” Saul spread his large hands open in front of his body and stuck out his lower lip.
“I know Julie is a good kid. And you know I trust you.”
He rubbed the palm of his hand over his tight brown curly hair. “So, what's the hold up?”
I watched him shift from foot to foot, one ratty Converse over the other, as he waited for me to answer him. He was sixteen years of earnest adolescent energy.
I wasn't sure what my problem was, but for some reason, I didn't want him to go out that evening. My stomach grumbled. I should have listened to my mother's intuition that early February night. “It's winter, Saul.”
“It's Gainesville, Florida, Momma. Low of sixty-two degrees today.”
“It gets dark before six 'o-clock, Saul.”
“There is a sidewalk the whole way. I have to cross one street and there is a stop light there.” He gave me a sideways smile and draped his arm around my shoulders.
I said nothing. Why didn’t I hold him tight right then?
“I'll take my hoodie in case it gets cold, and I'll be home by seven for dinner.”
I shook my head and smiled back at him. Why didn’t I tell him I knew the hoodie wasn’t necessary?
“I'll also leave Julie's phone number on fridge for you.”
He was a good kid, an Honors student. He never sassed me. He never complained that we couldn't buy him a car or a phone, or that his clothes came from the third-hand bargain boxes at second-hand shops. He smiled every day and he did his best to make others smile too. He tried to take care of me.
“Okay,” I consented, trying not to frown. Why didn’t I insist he hug me right then?
He promised to be home by seven for dinner that night because we both knew his dad would probably wander in very late, drunk and smelling like some other woman.
I don't know when I heard the first siren for sure. It was fifteen minutes after seven, I was sitting at the kitchen table with our food plated, when the bottom just dropped out of my stomach as if I was on a plummeting airplane. I got really worried. Saul was never more than a few minutes late to anything in his life. He was two days early for his own birth. He rolled out of bed every morning before his alarm clock went off. I stared at our plates. Instant mashed potatoes, canned green beans, and thin fried pork cutlets cooled on the microwave-safe malanite. I listened to the sirens outside. The one siren warbling siren exploded into a symphony of sirens.
I thought I should call Julie to see what time Saul left her house, but when I got up from the table my feet took me past the phone and through the front door.
I ran accross black-top parking lot in my socks, toward the front gate of our apartment complex, and the sound of sirens. I remembered tasting my heart in my mouth as I called out for Saul. I remembered seeing one of Saul's Converse on its side on the pavement, covered in so much blood that it looked red rather than washed-out gray all over.
I remembered many things. All of them hard. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be whole, to be real, to be happy. I couldn’t remember being innocent enough to believe that justice would eventually prevail. I couldn’t remember what it was like to assume that the world would play fair if I played fair too. My heart ached the most though, because I couldn’t figure out what good love was in a world that killed my kid with impunity.
Eventually the sound of the ocean, tide rolling over shells, brought me back to the hot beach again. I hadn’t realized how far I’d walked out into the Gulf of Mexico. I tottered on the unsteady slope of sand. The hem of my basketball shorts was wet.
Salty waves tugged against the back of my knees and shell grit slapped at my shins. That’s when it hit me, literally. A sharp wet slap on the side of one knee pulled past me on a wave and then caught between my legs, limp and leathery, as the wave receded. The water was gritty, so I couldn’t see what it was. I reached down and plucked it from the water. Black leather, well-worn before it was worn more well by the ocean. It looked to be a wallet at first. A broken clip on one side. I thought it was odd to have a money clip on the outside of a wallet at first. I flipped it open to find a wad of kelp wrapped around a gold colored shield.
Even through the kelp, I could tell the shape of a badge. The bare edge of metal glinted in the sun. I pulled the kelp away and peered at the badge’s dull enameling proclaiming, “Florida State Department of Public Safety.” I rubbed away more kelp and the engravings became clear, “Forensic Scientist, 424242.” The plastic ID sleeve was empty, gaping like a dead jelly fish. A shiver shot down my spine. The leather, dead skin, was waterlogged and gross. I wanted to drop it, but the enamel of the badge was warm, and I couldn’t let it go for some reason. I traced the “424242” with the tip of my index finger. The grooves were soothing. I folded the wallet up and clutched it, dripping beside me as I walked home. The numbers and the title sang in my head with each foot step. I didn’t know much about law enforcement then, at least not much positive, but I knew a, “Forensic Scientist” probably wasn’t a typical police officer. A Forensic scientist might not even carry a gun. Worry tugged at my gut. A Forensic Scientist sounded like someone who could easily get hooked into troubling things and end up dead. Or mired in a world of hurt. Like me.
I put a paper towel down on my dresser and left the leather wallet laying in the sunlight to dry. The badge unclipped with a soft thwap and I rinsed it carefully under the bathroom tap. Multi-colored sand grains trickled down the porcelain and rimmed the rusting metal edges of my sink’s drain. I knew I would leave the sand there to sparkle in the water, a testimony to my new complete-lack-of-housekeeping habit.
|An old mock-up of an idea for the cover.|