No Safe Harbor — Chapters 14 & 15

With 8-year-old Jacob now in police custody, knowing who to trust becomes a life-and-death question as private investigator Shane McPhearson risks everything to find the answer before it’s too late.

Chapter Fourteen

Rick Sparlo sat on the covered veranda, swirling his rocks class and mixing rare scotch between pearls of ice. “So where is he now?” he asked in the general direction of his speakerphone.

“We’re not sure,” came Perkins’ hesitant voice. “Things are hush-hush. Reporters are in a frenzy trying to get information. All anyone knows is he’s been found and he’s alive.”

Sparlo bit down on a piece of ice, crunching. “You realize he could be in a room somewhere with a video camera, telling about how two policemen threatened his mother and aunt a few nights ago.”

“We know that.”

“I’m not waiting until I’m on fire before I put out the flames,” said Sparlo. “You understand that?”

“Yeah. We’ll take care of things.”

“So you keep telling me. I’m running out of patience and you’re running out of time.” 

Sparlo stole a long sip, draining his glass, letting the oaky scotch filter between his teeth.

After an awkward pause, Perkins spoke up again. “What about Sharon? Me and Jerome… we feel she’s a risk.”

Digging his tongs into a fresh supply of ice, Sparlo dropped a few frozen spheres into his glass and refilled it, then settled back into his spot on the veranda. “Let me prioritize things for you,” he finally said. “You’re up shit creek without a Goddamn boat. Stop worrying about finding a fucking guide!”

“But we —”

“Sharon is my problem. You just worry about dealing with that kid before I deal with you,” Sparlo said, then thumbed the speaker button, ending the conversation.

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My reasons for being sleepless in Seattle

Seattle’s famous gum alley, where you can try literally millions of different types of gum for FREE!

I honestly believe I was a resident of Seattle in a past life. And not just because of things like free gum, fish tossing and some of the coolest graffiti I’ve ever seen (although those are all good reasons). There’s just something about Seattle that strikes a chord in me more than any other place I’ve lived or visited — from Dallas to Atlanta, NYC to Anchorage. Without question, it’s the main reason I chose Seattle as the setting for my crime novel while I was still living in Atlanta back in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

I’ve been to Seattle four times over the years, the most recent being last week as part of a writing road trip that included stops in Cannon Beach, Ore., for a special three-day conference for writers to “Get Lit at the Beach,” (That’s “lit” as in “literary,” folks) and then on to Seattle for some final research as I finish my book AND to attend a Chemical Brothers concert with my oldest son. (Warning: If you click on that link and have ingested any type of Mary-ju-wanna, you’ll be sitting there a while.)

Continue reading My reasons for being sleepless in Seattle

No Safe Harbor — Chapters 12 & 13

As detectives Kazad and Aames begin to question the “justified” shooting of 8-year-old Jacob’s mother by police, they also begin to question private investigator Shane McPhearson’s role as a “kidnapper.” With Jacob now in police protective custody, the answers they are getting only seem to be leading to more, darker questions.

Chapter Twelve

Spotless white nurse shoes squeaked past Aames and Kazad as they waited in plastic chairs across from the examination room, paper cups of coffee between their feet. They had been at St. Anne’s Hospital for more than an hour and had yet to see Jacob.

At the other end of the hall, elevator doors opened, releasing a thin brunette wearing a tweed jacket and dark slacks. She walked briskly toward them offering a courteous smile. 

“I’m Tabitha Mills. Child Protective Services,” she said, extending her hand. “I’ve been assigned to Jacob Bettington. Any word on his condition?”

“Not yet. So far, things seem pretty routine,” Kazad said. “The exam should be finished any time now. Would you like some coffee?”

Mills declined with a wave of her hand. “Caffeine triggers my PMS.”

Kazad and Aames exchanged glances as Mills took a seat, unclipping a barrette and releasing folds of thick hair. “It was a joke, boys,” she said, gathering her hair into a ponytail. “So, what can you tell me about Jacob?”

“Missing since Wednesday night. Probable kidnapping,” said Kazad.

“Noted,” said Mills. “Now can you tell me anything I haven’t already read in the paper or seen on the news?”

“I can speculate,” said Kazad. “Then again, the news seems to be full of that, too.”

Mills slipped a pen and legal pad from her courier bag with fleeting amusement. “I’m not the enemy, detective. I need information — speculative or otherwise — that can help me help that little boy in there,” she said, pointing her pen at the exam room.

Kazad began to reply but Aames broke in. “Please forgive my partner. He’s had a long day,” he said, patting Kazad’s shoulder. “He’s usually in bed before 7 p.m.”

A bleary-eyed doctor emerged from the exam room and crossed the narrow hall. “I’m Dr. Freely. You must be with the 8th Precinct,” he said as all three stood and exchanged introductions.

“How is he doing?” asked Kazad.

“Well, other than the need for a bath, some supper and a good night’s sleep, he seems to be in good shape,” said Dr. Freely, who then added: “Come to think of it, that’s about all I need, too.”

“Any idea how long he’s been on the street?” Mills asked.

“It’s only a guess, but judging from his condition and what little he told me, maybe ten to twelve hours,” said Dr. Freely.

“Did he say anything to you about where he’s been?” Kazad asked. “Or has he mentioned any names?”

“No. The conversation has been very limited,” said Dr. Freely. “You have a very frightened little boy in there.”

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No Safe Harbor — Chapters 10 & 11

Private investigator Shane McPhearson, now identified as a kidnapper and sought by detectives, takes to the streets disguised as a transient in order to find 8-year-old Jacob and protect him from crime boss Richard Sparlo and cops on his payroll. WARNING: These two chapters contain strong language and an attempted sexual assault.

Chapter Ten

As the heavy rains edged across Puget Sound and away from Seattle, a lazy drizzle followed, stalling out over Lincoln Parkway. In the alley between the deli and coffee shop across from Sharon Reese’s condo, Shane had propped open a trash dumpster lid, angling it against the wall to create a makeshift cover as he huddled beneath it and listened to the dull strike of raindrops.

His collar-length hair was now slicked back and oily. Two days without shaving had darkened his face. A plastic garbage bag had been fashioned into a poncho over torn khakis and a soiled sweatshirt. The boots were gone, replaced by dirty sneakers; no socks.

Exhaust fumes spiraled down the alley as a city bus departed from a stop near the entrance, continuing on its route through Lincoln Park and to a ferry a little more than a mile away. Shane had parked the Wrangler there for safe keeping, then caught the bus to avoid the risk of being seen.

He shifted uncomfortably as renewed concerns seeped into his thoughts. The sitting and waiting in the darkness while staring at Reese’s drawn curtains allowed his mind to wander into places he preferred not to go — places where Jacob was frightened and alone.

They were places mapped by Shane’s own childhood of being shuffled between foster homes and time spent on the street avoiding them. It wasn’t that he’d experienced a lot of neglect or physical abuse, although there had certainly been some measure of both. However, it was the constant and prevailing sense of indifference that stung the most. The feeling that he was just another kid being moved through a limbo-like system until he was old enough to be booted out, making room for the next sad story and monthly state check. Though he was now a grown man with a life of his own, the twin prongs of abandonment and indifference that defined his childhood still lingered. His cautious approach to friendship was testimony to that. So was his fear of commitment to Sam.

She was everything he could want in a companion and a lover, which made her everything he was afraid of losing again.

Shane sat quietly under the battered dumpster lid, understanding that his connection to Jacob was deeper than he’d been willing to admit.

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If the jeans fit, wear them! (at least until your legs go numb)

Hey, the belt is just there for moral support…

Welcome to Post Traumatic Tuesday which, in this case, is a column written during my first marriage. This post isn’t about venting or vindictiveness but, rather, about reflecting on an unhappy marriage in the best way I know how: Through humor. 

I have now been happily re-married for the last 16 years to someone who constantly inspires me to laugh for the right reasons.

Now, we can all laugh together…

* * * * * * * *

I have a favorite pair of jeans I refuse to give up and which, over the last few years, my wife has attempted to eradicate on six different occasions. She hates these jeans because, according to her, they are “ripped, frayed and embarrassing.” Particularly when I forget to change them before going out somewhere in public, such as our front yard. Her attempts to get rid of my jeans have escalated from them being “lost,” to an incident last week in which she claimed my jeans “spontaneously combusted,” forcing her to put out the flames with the nearest extinguishing device: A meat cleaver. 

She later apologized for hacking my jeans, telling me she reacted instinctively to a dangerous situation. I told her I understood and that, instinctively, I planned to continue wearing my newly perforated jeans — at least until the remaining threads give way to the force of gravity and I am suddenly de-pantsed. 

Probably while raking the yard. 

Continue reading If the jeans fit, wear them! (at least until your legs go numb)

No Safe Harbor — Chapters 8 & 9

In this installment, Shane, now a suspected kidnapper, searches for eight-year-old Jacob, who is running scared on the streets of Seattle. As Shane’s identity begins going wide, Jacob discovers the truth about his mother, setting up a collision course between himself, Shane and the detectives trying to piece it all together.

Chapter Eight

Shane returned to Lincoln Park, parking the Jeep near the pay phone across from the playground. He knew the park was now dangerous territory; if the police were looking for him, this was a likely place to start. But it still remained his only link to Jacob. If he was going to spend time on the phone and looking through reports, it was going to be where there was a chance — no matter how slim — of spotting Jacob.

Scanning the area, Shane stepped from the Wrangler and into the phone booth, punching the numbers to The Nook. Sam picked up on the second ring, dishes clanging in the background.

“The Nook, this is Sam.”

“You beeped?” asked Shane.

“Oh thank God,” she said. “I’ve been watching the T.V. looking for you in handcuffs. Did you get what you were looking for?”

“I did. It was a little dicey but I managed to slip in, get the reports and slip out without sounding the alarms,” said Shane. “How about Gerald at City Hall. Did he get you anything on the dad?”

“Unfortunately yes. He’s a colorful guy.”

“What shades?” asked Shane.

“My guess is black and blue,” Sam replied. “Two DUIIs and a charge of disturbing the peace. All in the last year. The man is a drinker and he’s violent. You fill in the blanks.”

“What did the report say?”

The clanging kitchen sounds faded as Sam moved into the storage room. “Neighbors called the police and reported yelling and screaming from the Bettingtons’ apartment. The incident report describes broken plates and furniture, but no obvious marks on Jacob or his mom. Police charged the father with what they could and left. I think if the neighbors hadn’t called, the marks would’ve been there.” She paused. “As you know, I’m a bit of an expert on the subject.”

Shane absently nodded. Sam was open with him about her childhood and a father she only referred to as Jack Daniels. “The file I got shows the Bettingtons living in Woodway. That’s a good forty miles from from here. That’s too far away for Jacob to find his way back to. And if your abuse theory is right — ”

“It is, Shane. I can feel it.”

“Then home is the last place he’d be running to.”

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No Safe Harbor — Chapters 6 & 7

In this next installment, a new threat is revealed as private investigator Shane McPhearson and detectives are in a race against each other in the search for 8-year-old Jacob Bettington on the streets of Seattle.

Chapter Six

A white-jacketed man in his mid fifties held out a tray of assorted colognes, pointing a well-manicured finger at one fragrance in particular. “Started carrying your favorite, Mr. Sparlo.”

A nod of acknowledgment, and Sparlo lifted the slender bottle from the tray before slapping the bold, musky scent between his thick palms. He applied it to his face and neck, finishing with a trip over his slick hair as a crisp, white hand towel was handed to him. He promptly soiled it with remnants of cologne and hair oil.

“See you tomorrow, Benjamin,” he said, tipping the man a twenty. He then shifted his tie and left the exclusive spa frequented by wealthy lawyers, doctors, political gamers and businessmen like himself.

His business was commodities: heroine, cocaine and the leasing out of desirable women to the financial elite. It was an enterprise that afforded him a lifestyle attained by those who were either incredibly lucky or incredibly deceitful.

And luck had never played a role in the life of Richard Vincent Sparlo.

Glossy Gaziano alligator wing-tips galloped over white tile as he passed through the spa entrance, oblivious to the assortment of fresh-cut flowers, reflecting pools and instructors who were all young and obscenely in shape. He caught the stare of a 20-year-old with “Dangerous Curves” printed over the tight swell of her breasts. He exchanged an appreciative grin and passed through large double doors that parted on his approach, quickly making his way into a dark limousine that was waiting to take him to his daily brunch reservation at Le Pichet — a small, 32-seat restaurant in the Pike Place Market District. The restaurant’s French cuisine was as exquisite as it was expensive. And its limited seating assured the level of service and anonymity he required.

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