Thursday, April 30, 2009

Friday Fiction for May 1, 2009

Friday Fiction is Dancin’ on Rainbows this week, courtesy of our hostess, Sharlyn. Dance on over to her blog, and allow Mr. Linky to lead you to some terrific fiction.

Since Katya is going to play such a major role in Precocious by Consent, I thought I should feature an excerpt with her in it. Lloyd and Faye Timmons have traveled to where she is now living, and shown up at the church she attends. They are invited to join the pastor and his wife for Sunday dinner, and in the previous chapter, Lloyd has dropped a bombshell on the meal by blurting out that they are there to ask for Katy’s help. In angry reluctance, Katya affects the persona of Katy at the end of Chapter 1.

Chapter 2
Sunday noon

Lloyd looked across the table. The eyes that stared back at him were those that had once defied him in the interrogation room. It wasn’t Katy, the innocent little girl he’d first met on the platform of Tibbington Street station; it was Katy, the guarded and savvy performer. What have I done?

What you needed to do, detective.

Not now, Ilsa. I don’t have the time.

He slipped the photo from his shirt pocket, and handed it over the table. “Those two girls are Lara Schumacher and Celia Moore. Celia’s body was left in a parking structure for us to find. As of this morning, we have no word concerning Lara, though she is probably also dead already. While Celia was still alive, the killer carved a message into her back with a pocket knife. He sprinkled alum powder into the wounds, and then continued to torture her for several hours before electrocuting her with a lamp cord. The only reason we know that she was picked was that her last name was the same as the login alias of an FBI agent working to catch him on Facenet. He has a knack for ferreting out law enforcement officers posing as children on the ‘net, so we need someone that can pass for a child anywhere.”

“What do you expect me to do?”

“The FBI has a good idea what the killer looks for on Facenet, and they think he looks for evidence that his subject is who she says she is. He might check school newspapers, or watch bus stops, or music recitals, or any of a number of things that an adult posing as a child would have a difficult time faking. Katy looks like a child and knows how to act like one.”

Katya leaned back and crossed her arms. “You want me to live full time as a child? Is that what you’re asking, lieutenant?”

“It’s the best chance we can think of to catch this guy. The FBI has tied him to the deaths of twenty-nine girls all over the country, and he’s taunted them by saying they’re missing a lot of his victims. A child goes missing roughly every forty seconds in this country, and with that many missing children, he could easily be connected to a lot more abductions.”

She looked at Faye. “You said God would set me free of this.”

“Katya, I-”

Gosia interrupted the response by tapping on her glass with a spoon. “I do not know how things are done in California, but here, Sunday Dinner is a time of peace. You may continue this discussion in the living room after lunch, but for now, all it is accomplishing is to make our food and our hearts grow cold.” She alternated glances between Lloyd and Katya. “I put up with it this long, because I hoped you two would settle it and we could move on, but that isn’t turning out to be the case. Now, Lloyd, pass me the bread, and let’s enjoy lunch in peace.”

“Yes, ma’am; I apologize for my poor timing,” Lloyd said, handing the basket of bread over to her.

“I’m not hungry anymore,” Katya commented, starting to stand.

“Please, sit,” their hostess said. The request was a nearly perfect balance of gentle entreaty and firm command. “I know you, Katya; if you do not eat, you will be ill before the afternoon is out. You need the food, and you need family right now.”

She reluctantly sat down and picked up her fork. With little enthusiasm, she speared a carrot and ate it.

Asher took a bite of the roast, closing his eyes with a smile as he chewed. “Sweetheart,” he said after swallowing. “The roast turned out fantastic.”

Lloyd chewed a mouthful of the tender beef, and had to agree. If Faye didn’t ask for the recipe before they left, he would.

The pastor dipped his bread in some of the drippings. “So, where do you folks fellowship out in California?” he asked, before taking a bite of the bread.

“We go to Shepherd’s Chapel in Sunny Grove,” Faye said. “The teaching is solid, the music is good, and it’s just big enough to have ample opportunities for service and fellowship, without being so large that we feel we get lost in the crowd.”

Lloyd’s mind drifted away from the small talk. I blew it, he thought.

You didn’t ask the right way, detective. You asked for Katy, and in Katya’s mind, Katy is the prostitute she no longer wants to be.

Katy was also the child that could have fooled all of us, if we hadn’t already known about you, Ilsa.

You first saw Katy as the child on the platform, but did you ever consider how long Katya lived as Katy, the performer?

No, I never did.

So much of your identity is wrapped up in the work you have done for years, lieutenant. What if you decided your work was immoral, and that you needed to walk away from it? Would you still appreciate being called Lt. Timmons?

I don’t know; being a detective has been so much a part of my life for so long, I’m not sure I can imagine not being one.

Perhaps Katya had been Katy for so long, that she had a hard time imagining not being Katy. Now, you have come here and suggested she is still Katy.

I was right; I blew it.

She will agree.

After what I just did to her?

Trust me; she will agree, because she cares. She knows what was done to me, and she cares about what was done to Celia. She cares about what will be done to other girls if she doesn’t help.

“Lloyd?” Faye nudged him.

“I’m sorry; what?”

“Asher asked you a question.”

“Oh; sorry. My mind was wandering.”

“I could see that,” Asher said with a chuckle. “I asked what had you so deep in thought.”

“I was just thinking about – someone.”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Friday Fiction for April 24, 2009

Friday Fiction this week is being hosted by Vonnie on her blog, My Back Door. Look for lots of great submissions over there.

After two consecutive FF submissions that were rather dark in nature, I decided I needed to post something more pleasant. If I had to title this excerpt from “Eridanus Comes”, I think I’d title it something like, “The Memory of Trees”. I like this scene, and while there is much more waiting to happen in the story, this snippet shouldn’t leave the reader hanging.

Chapter 12

After all the work of helping organize the reunion, being back at the Embassy seemed sedate and lazy. It didn’t help that her mother was loathe to offer her any other venues for service, and even basic tasks were handled by the staff priestesses.

She enjoyed spending time with her mother, sharing the details of her youth in T’Cha and especially at the priestess school, but she needed more to do than reminiscing. A priestess was not supposed to envy the domestic duties of her husband, but at least T’qa had work to occupy him. Between the children and S’Ra’s puppy, he was constantly dealing with one thing or another.

Walking down one of the forest trails near the compound, S’Bu enjoyed the smell of the evergreens and the sounds of life around her. Her nephew’s farm was interesting, but vast fields of grain were no replacement for a thick cover of trees. There were differences between the forests of Qi’le and their Terran counterparts, such that she could not just close her eyes and pretend she was near the village that had been home for so many years. While it wasn’t the forest she was most familiar with, it was still home in that it was where she had been born.

Home; it was a matter of choice, even if so many people didn’t think of it as such. Y’La’s husband Sean; the priestess Alice; the priestess Holly; Fred Timmons; they were people that had been a part of her young life that had all chosen a home far away from the places of their births. Her mother could stand with that group, but the priestess B’Tra had chosen the B’sela more than she had chose Earth as a home. Perhaps it was easier for the Terrans on Qi’le, since the culture of the Archipelago was as near as the Terran districts in the larger cities or the settlement of Puerta del Cielo. The Embassy was the only real Qi’le culture to be found without a journey aboard one of the Voidships, but for all of her mother’s efforts and the contributions of the staff priestesses, the Terran influence was still far more prevalent.

It could be home, if she simply thought of it as such. The presence of her husband and children contributed much to her acceptance of a place. She might even grow to accept Earthrise as home as long as they were with her, though it would always be a struggle to feel comfortable without even a real sky overhead, much less the covering of the trees.

She removed the letter from the high priestess and read over it once again, wondering if the time was right to present it to her mother. The high priestess L’Sa had gone to her final dream the winter before the delegation had departed, and her daughter had become the high priestess D’Ya. The priestess B’Tra could name three high priestesses she’d had close access to, though she had never met any of them face to face. It was ironic, really; many priestesses served their entire lives and counted themselves fortunate if they garnered the attention of the high priestess once in their service. Her mother had exchanged familiar communications with three, and her recommendations had carried significant weight with them.

That her daughter had been personally blessed by two high priestesses would have brought her considerable status in any village on Qi’le, though it didn’t rate mentioning to any Terrans.

A transport passing high overhead disturbed the natural sounds of the forest for a few minutes as the craft accelerated out of the atmosphere. At least one such vessel a day departed Portland for the orbiting stations, while many more transports remained in the atmosphere en route to other cities on the planet. The price of rapid travel was the regular desecration of nature’s peace, but at least Portland was not one of the busier terminals on the continent. The interruptions did not last a long time, either, and before she had walked much farther down the trail everything was back to as it should be.

She decided she would ask her mother just how long it had taken her to become accustomed to the unnatural noises of the Terran technology.

The trail curved down a gentle slope, bringing her to the shore of a small lake. A simple wooden bench had been constructed under some sheltering branches, and she sat for a while looking out across the water. Some birds paddled across the surface, periodically diving after something unseen beneath them, while in the distance a larger animal waded a short ways in to drink of the clear liquid.

She could imagine a time when her siblings had been young and the family had walked down the same trail to sit by the lake. Lessons would have been recited, drawing on examples from the scene around them, before the children had been excused to play. There would have been games and laughter, and none of them would have thought of a time when the family bonds were broken. Elizabeth would have been old enough to have received the early lessons of priestess training, but she would probably not have reached the stage where she’d rejected the calling. K’Mi had been the baby sister at that time, and it would still be some years before her mother would cry out in desperate prayer for a daughter to accept the robes of the priestess.

The trees had been there when that happy family had gathered by the lake, and there were those who believed the trees could remember the things that had happened around them. There was a tradition that the first tree of the original forest still stood somewhere on Qi’le, and that if one found it and went to sleep beneath it, the tree would reveal its memories through the person’s dreams.

It was nice to think that if she went to sleep for a while, her dreams would be filled with the tree’s memories of her siblings all playing together on the shore of the lake. She smiled and looked at the spongy loam covering the ground. It was just as likely the memories could be of a private moment her parents had shared in that location when they’d walked the trail without the children. She would not be surprised at all to learn she had been conceived in such a location, since she had already thought how nice it would be to bring T’qa down the trail while her parents watched the children.

She folded the letter back up and placed it back in the protective covering provided for it. Rising from the bench, she turned back up the trail towards the Embassy, hoping to take back some of the serenity of the isolated lake with her.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Friday Fiction for April 17, 2009

Things have been so busy, I didn’t manage to submit anything for Friday Fiction last week, nor did I even get a Challenge Entry in for the Faithwriters “Hot and Cold” topic this week. Tonight has been the first chance I’ve had in several days to get any work done on Precocious by Consent. In the last excerpt I posted, I left the reader with something of a cliffhanger, so this week, I offer the resolution to the main question left by that chapter. The story is now up to 10,600 words, and hopefully, I’ll have more time to work on it.

Friday Fiction is again hosted this week by Patty over on her blog,

Chapter 7
Saturday, late night

Sid accepted the cup of coffee from Lloyd Timmons. “Thanks,” he said, and took a sip. Numerous boats moved slowly about the channels, shining spotlights across the water. Searchers walked along the shore, the piers, and even the breakwater surrounding the Queen Mary, likewise looking for anything that might indicate where the missing girl might be. Officers from several police agencies, the Sheriff’s Department, the Coast Guard, the Bureau, and volunteer divers, had descended on the two cruise ship terminals to join the search.

The Sunny Grove detective took a drink of his own coffee. “Do you think he was telling the truth, or just jerking us around?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Sid replied. “I wouldn’t put it past someone like him to send us out here for no other reason than his sick amusement, but I’d hate to assume he was lying and learn later we could have saved the girl if we’d taken him seriously.”

Timmons grunted. “These are the kinds of cases that both make me want to retire, and drive me to work harder. Homicides are bad enough when they’re a crime of passion, or a fight that got out of hand, but this guy enjoys it.”

“It’s a game for him, and he keeps us playing by making sure we know when it’s him.” His cell phone rang. “This is Powell. Uh huh? Okay; where at? I’ll be there as quick as I can.” He snapped the phone shut. “The Coast Guard divers have something over on the San Pedro side. Come on.” He took off at a fast jog for the car, with the detective following behind.

“Did they find her?” Timmons asked when they got in the vehicle.

He started the engine and switched on the lights, including the flashing red and blue emergency strobes. “They didn’t want to say over the phone, just in case someone might be eavesdropping.” He sped out of the parking lot and along the road that skirted around the harbor complex. The well-lit yards of cargo containers and lots of import cars waiting for transportation to market passed by on his left, and as the San Pedro terminal buildings came into view, he fought a sick feeling in the pit of his gut.

“For what it’s worth, my wife was getting the church Prayer Chain going when I left. By this time, we should have a whole lot of people praying for this girl.”

Sid didn’t respond to the comment. His mouth was dry and his throat tight as he took the turn towards the old Ports o’ Call shopping area. An officer waited by the sidewalk with a flashlight, and he stopped next to the man and shut off the engine.

“Agent Powell?” the officer asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“I was told to wait for you, and take you to the dock. The boat should be here in just a couple of minutes.”

“Lead on.” They walked between buildings to the waterfront, and followed the path to a gate. Several officers waited on the empty pier, while another opened the gate from the other side to let them through.

Standing with the other officers, Sid closed his eyes. Under other circumstances, it wouldn’t be a bad way to spend some time. A wisp of a breeze carried the smell of the open ocean through the harbor, and the sound of the waves washing against both the pier and the shore created a deceptively peaceful background noise. He’d always preferred the mountain forests to sandy beaches, but he had to admit there was also a certain magic to the sea. Will there still be a mystique to the Pacific after tonight? Investigating an abduction and murder on Mount Baldy hadn’t spoiled the mountains for him, but he’d already had ample pleasant memories of camping trips through most of the western forests.

He opened his eyes. Timmons had his eyes closed and his head lowered, with his lips making just the slightest motions of silent speech. The mood on the pier was sober, and the rest of the officers watched with grim faces the distant lights of an approaching boat. If there’s any good news, it hasn’t been spread around yet, he thought.

The gate opened behind them to admit a man and a woman with a gurney. Paramedics or coroners, he wondered.

The boat made a sweeping turn to line up with the pier, and throttled back to approach at a safe speed. Lines were tossed to two of the waiting officers, and the vessel was pulled into the mooring. A man in a Coast Guard uniform stepped up on the gunwale. “Agent Powell?” he called.

Sid stepped through the gap made for him in the waiting group. “Right here,” he answered. He gestured for Timmons to follow him.

The ensign led them to the back of the boat. “Is this the girl we’re looking for?” he asked, pulling a tarp back.

He dropped to his knees beside the body. “This is her,” he choked out. “This is Lara Schumacher.” Biting back an expletive, he asked, “Where was she?”

A diver with his wetsuit pulled off his shoulders and back stood over them. “We found her just off the tip of Terminal Island,” he said. “We informed Ensign Whitt as soon as we located her, and he called you, but it took us a few minutes to get her to the surface. She wasn’t in real deep water, but her legs were threaded through a cinder block. He bound her feet together with four large zip-ties and several dozen turns of adhesive gauze, and had used a bunch more of that stuff to bind a scuba tank to her back.”

“How long-?”

“It’s hard to say, sir. An eighty tank with three thousand PSI of air at that depth could last someone who stays calm an hour or more easily, but we don’t know what pressure was in it to start, and it’s doubtful a girl in that situation is going to stay calm. The tank was empty, so if there were air in it to start, she managed to keep the regulator in her mouth until it ran out.” He shook his head. “I don’t know if she would have survived even if she had enough air for hours. The water here isn’t exactly warm, even at that shallow a depth.”

“I’m sorry, Agent,” the ensign said. “Should I recall the rest of the searchers now?”

“Yeah, call them in. I assume you brought up the tank and the cinderblock?” Sid said.

“They’re up by the dive gear. Whoever did this got hold of an older set-up, and just used the bare minimum. Just the one regulator hooked to the tank; no mask for her face, or proper mounting for the tank. He had her hands bound under the same gauze holding the tank to her back, so she couldn’t have even pinched her nose to equalize her ears if she needed,” the diver said.

He stood up. “Let the coroner take the body; I need to go tell her parents.”

Timmons placed a hand on his shoulder. “Do you want me to go with you?”

“No; we have them waiting at my office, and a couple of other agents are waiting with them. You might as well go home.”

The older man nodded. “Extend my condolences to the family, please. I’ll see if I can get one of these other officers to give me a ride back to my car.”

Sid watched the detective head up the pier towards the gate. I hope this idea of yours works, Timmons.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Friday Fiction for April 3, 2009

Wow. What a week it’s been. It’s hard to believe it’s time for Friday Fiction again. This week, you’ll find Mr. Linky right at home over at Patty’s blog, Patterings.

I’ve fallen quite a bit behind on reading Friday Fiction the past week or so. Between things jumping at work, and getting two entries ready for the ACFW Genesis contest, I haven’t had a lot of reading time. I’ve managed to hit a few submissions, but not nearly all of them. Now that the contest preparation is finished, I hope to get caught up.

For Friday Fiction this week, I’m posting pretty much all I’ve managed to have time to write on Precocious by Consent this week one short chapter taking the word count total from last week’s 7200 to this week’s total of just under 8000. Any progress is good progress, but hopefully I’ll be able to devote more time to it now. The story is playing out various scenes in my head, and I really want to get them written.

Besides which, as you’ll see from this latest chapter, there’s a psycho on the loose, and I need to see just how everything is going to play out.

Chapter 5
Saturday evening

Sid Powell stood at the old wooden workbench in his garage, carefully sanding the first of four table legs he’d turned on the lathe earlier. Carpentry was relaxing; the puzzles and challenges of extracting furniture from the wood occupied his mind, and didn’t leave lives hanging in the balance. The Red Oak he’d chosen for his latest project had an interesting grain, and as always, he enjoyed the smell of real wood.

Two squeals sounded through the open door to the house, followed by an exasperated shout and a door slamming closed. His youngest daughter had a friend staying over, and his oldest daughter had finally had enough of their shenanigans. At fifteen, Carmen was impatient for her driver’s license, and lacking the ability to escape by car, she regularly retreated to her bedroom. Ten year old Lori seemed to take special delight in seeing just how quickly she could drive her big sister from any other room in the house.

Between the two girls, thirteen year old Ted managed to escape the antagonism of both sisters. Last Sid had looked, his son was in the den, killing zombies or something equally weird on the game console. Though he had tried repeatedly to interest the boy in woodworking, Ted was still just a bit too impatient for the time-consuming process of finishing the wood properly.

Sid blew some loose sawdust from the table leg and smiled. Getting all four table legs ready for the first coat of varnish would take many hours of careful work, but there was always discernible progress. He liked being able to see results; in his professional career, a case could often stall for days, weeks, or even years. Progress could depend on something intangible and unpredictable, and some cases were never solved.

It would take a while, but eventually a new table made of stunning Red Oak would replace the old, mass-produced factory table in their dining room. Where a sticker on the old table admitted it had been made in Mexico, the new table would have his initials carefully carved in attractive script, next to the year he’d completed it. With care, his grandchildren could someday feed their grandchildren at that table.

His cell phone rang, and he wiped the dust from his hands before answering it. “This is Powell,” he said, his tone a balance between business and personal.

“Agent Powell,” the taunting voice drew out the words. “You’re not letting Lara Moore play on Facenet anymore, are you?”

“How did you get this number?”

“Oh, you of all people should know that information is out there for the taking. You just have to know where to look.”

Keep him talking, Sid thought. Listen for anything that gives away his location. “Okay. You called me; what’s on your mind?”

“Come now, Agent Powell. It’s not what’s on my mind that matters, is it? It’s what’s on your mind. What information would you like to know where to look for?”

“Well, for starters, why don’t you tell me where we could meet face to face? I really hate having these conversations by phone.”

“I think I’ll let you figure out how to find that information for yourself. What other information would you like to know where to look for? Or maybe I should give you a hint; who would you like to know where to look for?”

“Are you going to tell me where to find Lara Schumacher?”

“No, but I’ll tell you where to look. Think big boats and happy people, but think fast. If she remains calm, she should have an hour or so of air.”

“She’s still alive?” He ran from the garage to the phone in the kitchen.

“Yes, at least she was when I left her a few minutes ago. Lara and I have been having a good time this past week, but I’ve gotten bored with her, so it was time to move on.”

“Where is she?”

“Good luck, Agent Powell.” The call ended.

He dialed 911, and identified himself as soon as the operator came on the line. “I need search teams to the cruise ship terminals in both Long Beach and San Pedro,” he said, grasping on the first idea of where big boats and happy people would be found. “I have information that a missing twelve year old girl may be trapped somewhere around one of those places with about an hour’s worth of air. Tell the responding agencies to look anywhere that might be enclosed or underwater. My team will be on its way.”