By the time Shane was kicked out of the records building, the sun was a lick of fire on the horizon but he’d gotten most of what he wanted. He’d spent the entire afternoon following a paper trail through birth certificates, deeds, utility bills and voter registrations. At 5:30 p.m., he called his client, Patricia Collins, with good news. After eleven months of waiting, Collins was the proud daughter of a new mother.
The biological one she never knew.
He gave her the last known address and, thanks to some help from a contact at Pacific Bell, had tracked down a recent phone number. No guarantees but it was a start. Though he wished her the best and was glad to provided a chance to fill what she had described as a life-long void, he slid the pay phone receiver back into the cradle with mixed emotions. It had been his search for his own parents that spurred him into private investigation years earlier. And while that decision had changed his life’s trajectory for the better, there was no small irony in the fact that it was the same void Collins felt that had set his early life on a much different, self-destructive path.
As a young man moving from foster home to foster home, he had struggled finding a sense of identity or belonging. He filled the void with anger one bitter shovel full at a time, eventually burying himself deep enough that no one could reach him. Deep enough that he didn’t need to feel anything.
As I mentioned a few posts ago, each morning I find a photo I’ve taken — sometimes for the sole purpose of creating these daily memes, other times to the chagrin of my kids — and turn them into a meme offering advice or an inspirational thought to share with other writers. After 25 years, I have acquired a lot of baggage wisdom on the subject of writing. I share these daily affirmations to my editing service’sFacebook and Instagram pages for multiple reasons.
Aside from the opportunity to offer a thought or insight that a fellow writer might be needing that particular day (it happens), it’s also a great way to jumpstart my creative day, whether working on someone’s else’s manuscript or my own. Though some celebrated writers like Hemingway had a different approach to finding their creative muse, I have found it beneficial — and this is just me — to not be passed out drunk by 11 a.m.
So, I make memes, blending images with a kernel of inspiration, knowledge, insight or occasionally popcorn. But generally it’s the first three.
Detective Bill Parnelle’s black leather shoes and white tube socks mounted the stairs as he entered the squad room. During lunch, he’d accessorized his tie with ketchup and was personalizing it with a napkin when he saw Det. James Kazad from the missing persons division waiting for him. “I figured you’d get the Bettington case,” said Parnelle. “When did they call you?”
“About an hour ago. Apparently, they had to calm the father down before they could be sure about the boy and get more info,” Kazad said. He moved around to what appeared to be the front of Parnelle’s desk. Except for the chair, Kazad couldn’t be sure; piles of paperwork, candy wrappers and condiment-stained napkins made it a toss-up. “You got anything for me?”
Parnelle licked his fingers and then tossed yet another stained napkin onto his desk. “A little, but not much,” he said while shuffling through papers and wrappers. “My part of the investigation is over.”
“Already?” said Kazad. “It just happened last night.”
“I know, I know,” said Parnelle, still rummaging. “But I.A. was all over it and both the crime scene and medical examiner’s reports were like Windex — not a streak.” He suddenly stumbled onto the file. “Ah, here. Take a look. It was a clean shoot.”
“Still. Just one day?” said Kazad, flipping the file open.
“Jim, it’s not like 10 years ago. Nowadays, guys like Hollins can smell a bad shoot in a couple of hours. This one was wearing perfume.”
In the highly competitive world of unpublished mystery novel manuscripts (it’s a thing), one can never be too careful. Which is why I keep each chapter of my new book, No Safe Harbor, under wraps, cellophane and occasionally my bed until… well…
Saturday mornings at 9 a.m., when I post it for the whole world to see (apparently it really IS a small world.) So, sure, maybe I am overreacting. And maybe the teddy bear I gutted and stuffed with a Go-Pro aimed at my desk 24-7 is a bit much. But hey! It’s a M-Y-S-T-E-R-Y novel! Doesn’t this add an element of M-Y-S-T-E-R-Y by making it a secret until it’s posted? It’s so secret, in fact, that I make our dog leave the room while I’m writing each chapter in this final draft.
Sure, drafts one through three — who cares? I even let a stray cat into the room for that.
It’s been more than 80 years since Clarence Birdseye, inspired by ancient food preservation methods used by Arctic Eskimos, made history by introducing the very first frozen food option: “Savory Caribou on a Stick.” Though his first selection was met with little enthusiasm, Birdseye persisted and eventually created a line of frozen vegetables that many of us are still gagging on today.
I, for one, am still unable to walk past lima beans in the frozen food section without getting the dry heaves. This reaction stems from my childhood, and a spoonful of lima beans I’ve been trying to swallow since 1973.
Unless you’ve been hermetically sealed and stuck in a freezer, you already know March is “National Frozen Food Month.” Coincidentally, I should mention this happens to fall in the same month as “National Ear Muff Day,” “Extraterrestrial Abduction Day” and “National Pig Day,” meaning that, for anyone whose pig happened to be wearing ear muffs at the time it was flash frozen by alien abductors, this is a big month for you.
Seven hours had passed since an officer-involved shooting dragged Roy Hollins from his bed a little after midnight. He had driven up the mid-section of Seattle to the seedy West Industrial District along Highway 99, where “Circus of the Stars” was well underway when he’d arrived. Acting as ringmaster had been Capt. Bill Whitmore, shining the spotlight on the appropriate stages while amazing feats of speculation drew gasps from the crowd. Two clowns — one from homicide and the other from Internal Affairs — separately questioned the two patrolmen involved in the incident.
In all the hoopla, the main event was practically forgotten.
Lynda Bettington was still lying under a damp canvas blanket when Hollins began his initial walkthrough of the crime scene. As lead crime scene technician, he’d been with the department for sixteen years, the last ten of which he’d spent picking through crime scenes. He still attended every seminar he could and lectured at a few of his own. Police shootings always required his presence. He was thorough, unblinking and unbiased in his investigations.
Except for Chief Hammond and Internal Affairs, he answered to very few.
Photography has always been a big part of my life, stemming from my early love of cinema and continuing through photography classes in high school, my many years in journalism and, now, as a way to tap back into my creative roots.
Part of the journey in this new chapter of returning to creative fiction, conjoined with helping writers through my editing services, has been a daily effort to blend the two into inspirational opportunities. The result has been a routine of beginning each day by taking one of my photos and utilizing it to illustrate an important point, tip or simple encouragement for my fellow writers. What started out as a promotional tool has developed into something I hadn’t anticipated: a morning meditation of dovetailing two of the things I love most.
It’s kind of a version of haiku, challenging myself to find the just the right words, within a limited space, that embellish a photo in a very specific way.
Much like my reading a book about transitioning jerkily into someone’s mid- to extremely-late 40s (perhaps even early 50s), I now, at the age of 57, offer proof that I am habitually late to every cultural phenomenon (not counting the release of Star Wars in 1977, thanks to my mom). This often leads to awkward moments with family, friends, acquaintances and the occasional stranger thumping cantaloups next to me at the supermarket as I share my excitement over a newly discovered movie, TV series or musical talent.
“Have you heard that song The Year 3000 by this group of kids called The Jonas Brothers?!? They’re really great!”
“I’m sorry, were you talking to me?”
“Yes! Have you heard of them? They’ve got another song called…”
“Lovebug? Hello Beautiful? Mandy? Yeah. They’re like in their 30s now. And married. Were you in a coma or something?”
As flashing red and blue erupted across Lynda Bettington’s rear window, her panic turned to desperation. Dampness just short of rainfall blanketed thin layers of oil, creating a slick skin over the asphalt. Hands trembling, she fought to hold the road as the balding tires on her rusted Dodge squealed through fishtails over the slick streets. She pressed the accelerator closer to the mat anyway, racing onto Highway 99 toward Lake Washington. She knew she’d never outrun them — but if she could make it there, the roads were dark with streets spurring off every few blocks.
Losing them was her only real chance.
In the back seat, suitcases bounced and shifted, slamming against the rear doors as the car careened onto another pitted avenue along one of Seattle’s many industrial districts. The strobing police lights reflected in the rearview mirror grew wider across her face as the cruiser steadily closed the gap. Bettington spun the wheel into a hard turn, causing the car to pinball off of a concrete barrier before she righted it and accelerated through pale lamplight into a maze of narrow back alleyways. Glancing quickly into the rearview, she saw only darkness sliced by yellowy streams of alley lights. A shallow breath of relief escaped her as she turned her eyes back to the alleyway.