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.


Patty Wysong said...

Waaaaa! I was SO hoping he'd get to her in time! I cannot imagine...

Dee Yoder said...

Me, too. What a sad ending! The fact that Peej and I are soooo sad shows what a gifted story-teller you are, Hoomi. It's like this is a real girl. Excellent details.

Catrina Bradley said...

Gripping! Your descriptions of the girl were so vivid I (unfortunately) had no problem picturing her last moments of life. You also made me hate whoever did this to her.

Joanne Sher said...

Great tugging at - and playing with - my emotions. I was right there - and really, really hoping they'd get to her in time! Excellent.