Until MISSING goes live on Amazon, I wanted to give you a chance to read a sample. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter.
I liked the Deluxe Diner, though I'm not sure what was so deluxe about it. The service was shitty, but the coffee was good. Not that fancy cat-shit barista stuff they serve at Starbucks, but old-school coffee, the kind that comes with the little thumb-sized paper creamer containers that the waitress carries in her apron. Not that I ever take cream. I like mine black. Usually, I pocket the cream to take back to the office to feed to the stray tomcat that lives out back. One-eyed Willy. Yeah, I named him after the pirate from The Goonies. It's a good flick. But I digress.
I took another swallow. My coffee had gone cold. I waved at Lorraine for a refill, then struck a match and lit a Camel because I knew it would be a couple minutes before she hobbled out from around the counter. I don't use a lighter. Sure, I carry one, just in case, but I rarely use it. The smoking experience is more visceral, more real somehow, when a match is used. I think it’s that whiff of sulfur and the acrid fumes that burn the eyes a little. After taking a nice long drag, I set my cancer stick on the ashtray and watched the lacy ribbon of smoke climb its way toward the ceiling.
This was my booth. I never sat anywhere else— not that I had to, since the place was always empty. I'm not sure what I'd do if it got busy and my seat wasn't available. Sit somewhere else, I guess. But it was a good booth for me. The flickering neon sign just above the window created enough glare that someone outside had to look really hard to see in, but I could see out just fine. Not to mention my flat was right across the street.
Because the place was never busy, it was always quiet— and I like quiet. It makes for good thinking. And right now, I needed to think.
Outside it was dark and raining. But this was no surprise. It had been raining for two weeks straight: not a constant deluge, but a light drizzle with intermittent showers, and the occasional downpour. At least that's what the weatherman said. Right now, it was a downpour. Small rivulets of rainwater flowed down the window beside me, converging near the bottom before disappearing from view. The weather fit my mood perfectly.
I looked out to the ugly rose-colored building across the street and took another drag. My flat was on the second floor and the light in the front window was still on. Of all the screwed-up things I've seen, this one beat 'em all. There was a dead man in my front room, and I had no idea how he got there.
I was working late at the office, which was pretty typical. I'm not much of a morning person, so I stay late to catch up on paperwork. It suits me fine; I get more work done when I'm there alone. My boss, Frank, is a good guy— actually, he’s a great guy, one of the best— but he's a talker. About eight, I grabbed a couple files I was working on, locked the place up, and went to meet a new client. Nothing special, just some accountant who suspected his wife of infidelity and needed evidence for the divorce proceedings. We get them all the time. It’s a pretty simple job: follow the mark and snap a few compromising photos. We call it a "tail and nail."
After the meeting, I swung by the corner market to pick up some snacks and a bottle of gin. One of the perks of not having a car is that I can drink all I want and not worry about DWI's. Not that I'm an alcoholic; I just like my gin. It’s like Christmas in a bottle. I headed on home after that.
As soon as the cab pulled up in front of my flat, I knew something was hinky. There was light coming from the front window. Most people would think they'd accidentally left it on, but not me. I never, ever turn on the overheads. They hurt my eyes. I don't even know why I bothered putting bulbs in them when I moved in. If I have some reading to do, I turn on a lamp. There's a few scattered around. The thing is, they all emit a nice soft yellow glow, not the harsh white glare shining through the window.
I paid the cabbie and went around back. I always use the back steps; that way it’s not so obvious when I come and go. At the top of the stairs I sat the groceries down on my pathetic excuse for a balcony and drew my pistol from its shoulder holster, feeling the weight of its false reassurance settle in my hand.
I'd never shot anyone before, not even back when I was on the force. Sure I went to the range on a regular basis, and I could put five out of six rounds in a three-inch bull's-eye at thirty yards, but there's a big difference between throwing lead at a paper target and at a living, breathing human being. It doesn't matter how good of a shot you are if you ain't got what it takes to pull the trigger when it counts. For a man with a soul, it takes conviction; a certainty that whoever's on the other end of that barrel deserves to die. Now, considering how the deadbolt was busted and the door was pried away from the jamb, I figured my first time might be right around the corner.
I nudged the door open with my foot and glanced inside, pistol leading the way. The kitchen, illuminated faintly by the living room light filtering down the hallway, was empty, except for the pile of dishes in the sink. I stepped inside and eased the door shut behind me, muffling the noise of the outside traffic. I stood there quietly for a few minutes, listening for any movement in the place. Hearing nothing, I moved down the hallway, checking the bathroom on the right and the bedroom on the left, making sure they were both clear. At the end of the hall, I froze. Illuminated by the overhead light was a figure lying on the floor— a man dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt.
A dark puddle of blood emanated from his head and was slowly soaking into my area rug. Dammit, that rug had belonged to my grandmother; they'd better be able to clean that.
File folders and loose papers littered the floor around him. My desk had been thoroughly ransacked.
I moved closer for a better look, being careful not to contaminate the scene. I could see two entrance wounds in the back of his head— small caliber— what the cops call a double tap. It was the sign of a professional hitter.
Certain now that the apartment was empty save for the corpse adorning my living room floor, I went back to the kitchen and grabbed a pair of gloves from "the drawer". I got the term from my mother. Anything that didn't have an otherwise logical home was tossed into it. With the gloves on, I carefully fished out the man's wallet. By this point, my nerves were a little frazzled, so I went across the street to the diner to figure out my next move.
I thought it would be fun to write a story using the internet craze above. Here's what I've got so far.
As far as sleepy little towns go, it was a perfect picture of torpor‐ early to bed, slow to rise, and wont to hibernate through the cold dark winter‐ nestled snug in a little valley between the mountains. And then the murders began.
The first to go was the local high school Latin teacher. She was found after her car went over a bank and wrapped itself around a tree. At first, it was thought to be a simple accident. After all, the roads were windy and deer frequently darted out of the woods causing quite a few wrecks on dark nights.
The second, Heath Owen, was the owner of a small brew pub who was found amongst the stainless steel mash tanks. He had suffered a blunt force trauma with severe cranial hemorrhaging. It appeared that he had slipped on the recently hosed-down floor and bashed his skull open on the lip of a tank. The authorities ruled it an accidental death.
It wasn’t until the third body turned up a week later that deputy sheriff, Cheryl Meyerhoffer, started thinking there might be something more to these “freak” accidents.
It was a bright, frigid October morning; the kind when one might look outside and contemplate going for a walk but decide against it because it looked too cold. Cheryl was in the middle of her first cup of coffee, half-dressed in her uniform, and debating whether she should sneak out onto the porch for a cigarette when her phone started ringing. She sighed heavily and took another swallow of coffee before answering.
“Charlie, it’s too early for you to be calling me. I’ll be at the office in an hour,” she said as she went to the counter and picked up a half-eaten piece of toast.
“I know Cheryl,” said the voice on the other end. “You know I wouldn’t bother you if I didn’t have to, but... we got a body down at Chester Farms you need to see before you come in.”
Chester Farms was just on the edge of town. It was a little artisan operation that drew in the swanky folks from across the mountain and tourists that drove past. They sold canned goods, specialty meats and sausages, and the like. Chester, the owner, was a retired lawyer and didn’t need the money. He was also eighty-three years old.
“Chester? The old coot finally kicked off, huh? What do they need me for?” Cheryl asked.
“It’s not Chester,” replied Charlie. “It’s his granddaughter.”
Chester’s granddaughter was the belle of Fairview. At 23 years old, she held the most pageant titles, appeared in more local TV commercials, and was known by just about everyone in the county. She also had quite the head for business. While her parents were busy running the family store, she was building a horse empire. She started with one she received as a gift for her fourteenth birthday‐ trained it, groomed it, and bred it. With good genes and the right connections, she put herself through school at U.C. Davis, then returned home and put that education to work. Her death would make headlines.
“Be there in twenty,” snapped Cheryl and she hung up.
So my first blog post. I thought I'd spend a bit of time talking about the process of writing my first novel. It has truly been a learning experience.
I started writing MISSING while I was living in Chicago, which was at least ten years ago. I wrote the first chapter which established the character and set the tone for the novel. Then I put it aside... for a long time. I'd come back to it every now and then, but it wasn't until three years ago that I started writing in earnest.
I was so pleased when I finally finished. Not that I was actually finished. I knew it needed revisions and changes, but this part of the process was alien. I had no idea what to do. So I asked for beta readers.
I am so grateful to those folks who braved this first draft. Your input has been invaluable. Scenes have been rewritten, new elements added, and I have a better book.
So then what? How do I get this thing published? Well, I wrote a query letter. That was excruciating. I have no idea if it was any good, but it's out there in an agent's inbox. Or maybe it's already been deleted. Who knows? Maybe I'll get picked up, maybe I won't.
Right now, I'm talking to an editor about fixing my manuscript. That's painful for two reasons. 1) It's expensive and I'm cheap. 2) It shows you just how bad your writing really is. But it's absolutely necessary.
So that's where I am in the process. It's been fun, and I hope to learn even more as I keep navigating this whole writing thing. Thanks for reading!