It’s still not done.
However, please accept this week’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing as my doctor’s note. The truth is, I’ve been side-tracked by a lot of life-changing events the last few months, including moving into a new home, the latest season of The Bachelorette and the discovery of DubSmash. I’ve also been spending time visiting an old friend — a murder mystery I wrote 15 years ago.
They say for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Following that train of thought, the flip side of humor is drama. In this case, I’ve been delving into the flip side of my weekly humor column to work on “No Safe Harbor,” which has been collecting dust and patiently waiting for its final revision since I put it aside in 1999 to pursue my career as a columnist. I’ve decided the wait is finally over for this manuscript, which I’m preparing the final draft for in hopes of a mid-August debut.
It’s not your traditional murder mystery in the sense that it’s really more of a “why-done-it.” There’s no mystery behind who commits the murder, only questions:
Why was it committed?
What does a seemingly homeless young boy know about it?
Who can he trust?
And will a solitary private investigator with a dark past be able to find the answers before it’s too late for the both of them?
This is the premise behind “No Safe Harbor.”
For this week’s Nickel’s Worth, I’m turning the tables by offering a sneak peak at the first chapter and asking for your nickel’s worth. Aside from a handful of family and a few friends, no one has seen these pages. Please feel free to offer your suggestions and feedback.
Please be honest and don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I’ve had death threats from people for making fun of fruitcake.
I can handle it…
Flashing red and blue erupted across Lynda Bettington’s rear window, escalating her steady rhythm of panic into a mounting crescendo. Hands trembling, she held the road through a fishtail over the damp streets, pressing the accelerator closer to the mat. She raced onto Highway 99 toward Lake Washington. The roads there were dark, with streets spurring off every few blocks. She took a narrow side road as the car shot through pale lamplight and a maze of industrial alleyways. In the back seat, suitcases bounced and shifted, slamming against the rear doors as the car careened onto another pitted avenue.
Dampness just short of rainfall blanketed thin layers of oil, creating a slick skin over the asphalt. Suddenly, the car hydroplaned, pinwheeling across the roadway. Lynda’s grip locked onto the steering wheel. For an instant, red and blue flashing seemed to be all around her, until an explosion of glass and twisting metal replaced all thoughts of color.
A few yards away, the police car swerved to an angled stop.
The caution lights turned off, leaving only high beams spilling over the mangled car. Officer Dan Perkins sat forward and crossed his arms over the steering wheel. Next to him, Gerome Taylor tossed aside his seatbelt and cracked the passenger door, planting his foot on the road. He remained seated, staring at the wreck.
The rear of the Citation lay crumpled against a massive oak, leaving the hood section jutting onto the left side of the roadway. From their vantage point, the patrolmen could see into the front seat where suitcases had toppled, a few breaking through the glass. The wipers swept a growing mist from the windshield as the patrolmen watched Bettington slowly emerge from the car and fall palms-first to the pavement. She crawled over the oily blacktop, swaying in and out of consciousness, gazing into the high beams through blond hair streaked with blood.
Taylor reached across his partner and into the glove compartment. Removing a pair of rubber gloves, he went to the trunk and slid a waist pouch from beneath the spare tire. Inside was a revolver and two plastic bags of powder. He stopped by the driver’s door on his way to the Citation. “As of now, we’re in pursuit of a blue Citation, plate number LPQ-182. Call it in,” He said and started toward the wreckage.
Bracing herself against the fender, Lynda struggled to remain on all fours as the dark figure approached from the light. She thought there was something shiny in the silhouette’s hand, but her vision was cloudy. Her bangs and eyelashes were sticky. The world was at angles. A siren was wailing.
“This is six-zero-eight,” Perkins began reporting from the patrol car. “We’re in pursuit of a blue Chevy Citation, plate number alpha, Lincoln, Quebec, zero…”
Ahead, Taylor approached Bettington’s hunched form. He scanned the distance and saw the highway was dark in all directions. Placing his foot against her shoulder, he shoved her off balance.
“…Suspect is heading onto Route 99. Wait, we’ve entered an alley,” Perkins reported. His tone suddenly turned dramatic. “They’ve lost control. Dispatch EMS. They’ve hit a tree.” He flipped off the siren.
Taylor waved Perkins from the car. Tightening his grip over Bettington’s trigger finger, he fired a shot, jettisoning a slug through the driver door.
“Shots fired!” Perkins yelled into into the mic, dropping it as a second bullet pierced the windshield.
Taylor checked Bettington’s hand to make sure the revolver was secure. “You’re a real desperado,” he said, peeling off his rubber gloves and shoving them beneath his slacks. He walked away quickly, letting her arm fall to the ground.
Lynda’s ears held the thunder of gunshots. She watched the figure fade into the lights, her hand weighted down by the revolver. Gazing past the barrel, she could make out the white door of the police car etched with black words. Above it, someone was positioning himself, arms extended over the door frame.
A loud pop, and Lynda’s head jerked upward, knocked into the opposite direction before crashing back onto the asphalt. Though her eyes no longer faced the patrol car, the words they read held her final thought.
To Protect and Serve.
Taylor holstered his pistol. “How long until the medics get here?”
Perkins pinched the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. “Five, maybe ten minutes.”
Taylor locked the waist pouch in the trunk then joined Perkins in the front seat. “I.A. is going to crawl up our asses. Probably assign a homicide detective,” he said. “They’ll both ask a lot of questions and scratch themselves a while, but we’ll get a clean shoot. Self-defense.”
“What about the gun?”
“Took it from a punk last month. He even had the numbers filed off already. It’s probably changed hands fifty times.”
“And the motive?”
“Heroin,” said Taylor. “We’re about to find some on the floorboard.”
Now it’s your turn. I tried a few writing devices in this first chapter. For example, when referring to Lynda Bettington from the patrolmen’s perspective, it’s always as “Bettington.” But when we see things from her perspective, it’s always as “Lynda.” I did this to illustrate the cold objectivity of the killers and their actions while, at the same time, trying to help readers identify with Lynda’s fear whenever we see things through her eyes.
Does it work?
Give me your nickel’s worth…
(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. Still looking for that perfect book for summer reading? Ned’s first book, Humor at the Speed of Life,available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. Disclaimer: You should still use sunscreen when reading this book)