Thursday, July 29, 2010

Friday Fiction for July 30, 2010

It’s my turn to host Friday Fiction this week, so look below for the Linky tool and the list of great stories for you this weekend.

One of my Faithwriters & Facebook friends, Tim George, posted a quote this week that went, “Faith-based fiction is nothing but pious platitudes and saccharine sweet fluff for people who want to be shielded from the realities of life.” (Note: this is not his opinion, but one he was sharing as part of an ongoing discussion) In many cases, that is what the main Christian publishing houses will accept for printing, but to categorize all Christian fiction or Faith-based fiction as bereft of the realities of life is itself patently unrealistic. Some of us seek to write stories that reflect not just characters trying to live the ideals we believe in, but in a realistic depiction of the world we live in. What encouragement can it be if our characters exist in a universe that lacks the situations real people deal with every day? The reader will think that, “Of course it’s easier for this character to live the Christian life – they live in a world modeled after a 1950s era Disney movie.” Evil exists in our world. The Bible showed it. The “heroes” of our faith through history have needed to live with it. We have to live with it. Our characters have to live with it, if we want our stories to not correspond with Tim’s quote.

This week’s chapter from “Precocious by Consent” is a look at a world that isn’t saccharine sweet fluff (and also offers a bit more insight into last week’s chapter).

Chapter 19

Wednesday morning

Sid looked at the two printouts arranged side-by-side on the desk in front of him. To the left, the Missing Person Report for eleven year old Elena Zazueta, last seen Halloween two years ago. To the right, the report for thirteen year old Rosalie Emerich, last seen Thanksgiving weekend of the same year that Elena had vanished. Early suspicions in Elena’s case had leaned towards non-custodial parent abduction, since her mother had vanished a couple of months before the daughter disappeared.

Rosalie had been classed a runaway, following reports that she and her parents had fought over her older online boyfriend that holiday weekend, after which she had stormed from the house. Attempts to find the boyfriend had gone nowhere, and a ten-thousand dollar reward had been posted by a community group for any information leading to her safe return. They should have noted if that online boyfriend was on Facenet. I bet he was playing her the whole time, just waiting for the occasion when she would be ready to call him to pick her up.

The coroner had almost instantly ruled out either girl for the identity of the body in the grave. The recovered victim was from African heritage, and they were still waiting to see if dental records would identify her. Did you think it was funny to leave us evidence of you being an “equal opportunity” serial killer?

Elena had been taken from Prescott, Arizona, while Rosalie had last been seen in Chandler, Arizona. The search to align the map found under the grave began from those locations, but there were other investigators working that project.

He made a phone call to the Phoenix office, passing along the information that the two missing girls were now believed to be linked to his investigation, and requesting renewed follow-up from that angle with the girls’ families and friends. Maybe if we dispel any romantic notion of two young lovers running away together, or a mother reclaiming her daughter, some of their friends will have something new and useful to tell us.

He hung up the phone, not envying the agents that would shortly be visiting the families. He’d had a similar visit with Lara Schumacher’s parents after learning the girl had been taken by the Facenet Killer. Hope tries to hold on, even as desperation takes over. There’s still a tiny chance she may get away, but we know it’s unlikely. Maybe he just gave us photos of two missing girls just to mess with us, but if these girls were still out there somewhere, he’d have to chance that we’d find them alive before finding this grave, and catch him in his bluff. It’s been a year and a half; if there’s anything left of these girls but bones, I’ll be surprised.

He had another call to make, and checked the note in his smartphone for the number.

The phone rang twice before it was picked up. “Hello?” a muted female voice answered.

“Is this Lloyd Timmons’ room?” he asked.

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“This is Special Agent Powell with the FBI.”

“Oh, hello, Agent Powell. Yes, this is Lloyd’s room. My husband is asleep at the moment, though. Can I give him a message when he wakes up?”

“I was calling to see how he’s doing today, and to ask if he feels up to going over anything he might remember from Sunday night.”

“I don’t know how reliable anything he could tell you today might be. When I got here this morning, he was telling me about his visit with Ilsa last night.”

“Who’s Ilsa?”

“Ilsa was a murder victim he investigated a few years ago. When he first became a homicide detective, he started imagining conversations with the victims as some kind of mental aid in the investigation. Most of them, he stops having the conversations once the case is solved, but for some reason, he still imagines talking to Ilsa.”

“So, what was different about this one?”

“Ilsa had the same condition as Katya.”

“Hmm. I see. What was it about his ‘visit’ last night that leaves you concerned?”

“He told me she touched him, and even climbed onto the bed and went to sleep beside him, like a frightened child might with a parent. I’ve never heard him refer to anything but discussions with any other victim, and he never really had a problem differentiating between the fantasy and reality. This morning, he talked about her like she was really here.”

“Have you talked to his doctor about this?”

“He says it could be the pain medication. He said some people have very real-seeming dreams while on it, but that he was going to keep him under close observation for a few days, because it could also be a symptom of head injury from the explosion.”

“Okay,” he said, after a moment’s thought. “I’m going to try and get by to see him today, but I’ll keep it a social visit for now. Is there anything we can do for you while he’s recovering?”

“The kids are here now, and are staying with me, so I think we have things pretty well covered, but thank you for offering. Right now, I think prayer is about the best thing anyone can do for us, so that’s all we’re really asking anyone else for.”

Yeah, I’ve been so impressed with how well prayer has been working on this case so far. “I’ll pass along the request. Don’t hesitate to call, though, if you see anyone that you think looks out of place, makes you feel suspicious, or you just need to have a little extra feeling of security close by. I’ll make sure someone gets there fast.”

“The Sunny Grove PD already has people watching the house and Lloyd’s room, though I don’t really think it’s necessary.”

“Keep my number handy anyway.”

“I will, Agent Powell. The nurse is here to check on Lloyd, so I need to get out of the way. I’ll tell him you called.”

“Thank you. You take care, Mrs. Timmons.”

“You, too, Agent Powell.”

He ended the call and looked around the room. How many of these people believe in prayer? Is it even worth passing along the request?


He spun around in his chair to face his associate. “Got something?”

“We’ve pinpointed the map. It’s an area southwest of Chiriaco Summit, off Interstate 10 east of Indio.”

“How far are we talking?”

“It’s about one hundred and seventy miles from here. There’s a small airport at Chiriaco Summit, so we could cut some time that way, if you wanted.”

He shook his head. “I’m guessing we’ll need vehicles to get from the airport to wherever the map leads us, and I don’t believe at this point we’re going to accomplish much getting there an hour or two earlier.” He drew in a slow breath and released it. “Get the field team ready, and have the local authorities meet us someplace convenient. Let’s shoot for being on the road in a half-hour.”

“Yes, sir.”

He unclipped his tie, and dropped it in the desk drawer before calling his wife. Even if traffic was flowing smoothly all the way out of the metro area, they were still looking at three hours out and three hours back, plus whatever time it took to find and collect whatever evidence might be there. It’s going to be another long day.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Friday Fiction for July 23, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Christina B, at With Pen in Hand. Look for the Linky tool and the list of wonderful reading over there.

“Precocious by Consent” has crossed the 25,000 word mark, with loads of story left to write. Detective Lloyd Timmons was the main character in the first book, “Precocious by Design.” Lloyd uses a technique of imagining conversations with the victims of the crimes he’s investigating, and Ilsa was the deceased in the first story. These conversations take a strange twist in this chapter.

Chapter 18

Tuesday night

Lloyd only knew that it was late. Just how long after visiting hours had ended, he couldn’t tell. Faye had offered to bring him a talking clock, but he hoped he wouldn’t need to wear the bandages that much longer. The next time a nurse came in to check on him, he’d ask her the time – if he was still awake.

The medication they gave him dulled the pain, and he supposed that was an improvement over how he’d feel without the meds. His left pinky finger itched, which he found bizarre since said digit was no longer attached to his hand. There’s something just plain evil about feeling an itch, when there’s no place to scratch it.

Finding a comfortable position to try and sleep was an adventure in and of itself. There wasn’t any side of his body that didn’t hurt more with his weight pressing it against the mattress. You’d think they’d create a hospital bed that would accommodate injured bodies better.

You’d think an Army veteran and long-term police officer wouldn’t get half his hand blown off by an amateur bomb in a cheap stereo.

Sort of like how a professional performer leaves the train station with the wrong client and gets herself killed, Ilsa?

We all make mistakes, lieutenant. Mine cost me more, but look what it accomplished. What did yours accomplish?

It’s too early to tell, Ilsa. What might we have said yours accomplished that first few days after your murder?

It accomplished getting me inside your head, Lloyd. Why haven’t you let me go, like you have the other victims you’ve imagined talking to?

I don’t know. Maybe my pastor’s warnings are coming true, and I’m slipping from just imagining these conversations, into some form of psychosis.

Are you starting to believe I’m a real ghost haunting your mind?

Again, I don’t know. I can’t understand why I can still imagine talking with you, but I can’t get Celia or Lara to form in my mind the same way.

What do you think happens to us when you let us go?

I imagine you walking through a door into eternity, where your spirit is already residing anyway.

No one ever told me what waits for me in eternity, Lloyd. What can I expect when you let me go?

I believe our spirits will stand before God and be judged for the lives we’ve lived.

How do you think Lara and Celia will fare in judgment?

They were just young girls. I can’t imagine God condemning them for anything they might have done in life.

What about me? How will I fare?

Ilsa, I –

You don’t want to say it, do you? I was a prostitute. I did things you believe are morally wrong. Is this why you don’t want to let me go, Lloyd?

I still see you that way I first saw you. Even knowing what I know now, I can’t let go of that image of an innocent girl raped, murdered, and thrown away over the side of a freeway.

But I wasn’t an innocent girl, lieutenant. I was a prostitute that catered to men considered the most socially reprehensible deviants in society. What waits for me, Lloyd?

God is the Righteous Judge, Ilsa. Only He knows what waits for you.

If this is just an imaginary conversation, Lloyd, then why do you skirt my question so much? Is it so hard to put what you’re thinking anyways into words?

I’m afraid hell waits for you, Ilsa. I don’t want to let you go because I don’t want to think about you spending eternity in hell.

Ilsa formed in his mind, standing at the left side of his bed and looking at him. Maybe I stay around because I’m also afraid that hell waits for me. Of all the men I knew in my life, Lloyd, you were the only one that really cared about me, without regard to what you might get from me in return, even when you learned what kind of woman I truly was. Why?

Because once upon a time, I had a dream where I stood near Jesus, surrounded by men ready to stone a woman for adultery. As I watched, He knelt down and wrote out in the sand every sin I’d ever committed. He looked into my eyes for just a moment, and I had no doubt that He absolutely knew I was guilty of each and every thing He wrote. I moved away, like every other man in the group, until it was just Him and the woman standing there. He let the woman go without condemnation, and as I watched, He looked to me in the distance, saw my pain, and then with a single sweep of His foot, wiped out the entire list. When I think about that dream now, Ilsa, the face of the woman is yours.

She touched his two missing fingers. A dream like this one, Lloyd?

He shook his head. More real than this.

She climbed onto the bed and snuggled up against him, much as his own daughter had done when she was little. With great care, she wrapped his wounded hand in both of hers. Is it worth it, Lloyd?

Is what worth it?

You once asked me if the results made my death worth it; what about your hand? Are your injuries worth the results?

It will be, if my involvement in this case helps stop this killer.


Yes, Ilsa?

When I dream about having a father, he has your face. I wish I’d grown up with a daddy like you.

I wish you had, too, Ilsa. Maybe then, we would have never had reason to meet.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Friday Fiction for July 16, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Joanne. Stay cool and comfortable at your computer, and head over to An Open Book for this week’s great reading.

When I started thinking about the plot for Precocious by Consent, one of the themes that occurred to me was Katya’s discovering what she had missed in her childhood. Those of us who were blessed with good parents and wonderful childhoods can easily take so much for granted, so I started wondering just what trivial things might seem so much more important to someone who had never had them.

For a reminder, Katya was born with a forced genetic condition called Paedomorphosis. Although she is an adult, she retains the physical size and general appearance of an adolescent girl. She has been recruited to help lure a serial killer into the open, and her undercover work involves having been placed with the Adamsons as a foreign orphan. Because the killer is very adept at ferreting out law enforcement posing as children on the internet, not even the Adamsons are aware she isn’t really a child.

Chapter 17

Tuesday evening

Katya followed the Adamsons through the large department store. Mom had decided a young woman needed a more diverse wardrobe than what little she had brought with her from Romania, or the couple of outfits they had already bought for her. Several pairs of jeans rested in the cart, a couple of dresses, a variety of blouses and shirts, socks, three pairs of shoes, two packages of panties, and three training bras.

Not that I will ever need to wear a bra. The only way my breasts will ever get any larger than they are now, is if I have them surgically enhanced.

“Let’s see,” Mom said. “You need a backpack for school, too, don’t you?” Without waiting for an answer, she steered the cart towards the luggage aisle.

Their path took them by the toy section, and Katya glanced down one aisle to see two younger girls excitedly browsing the Fancie dolls and accessories. I could have collected those silly dolls any time since the Agency was taken down, so why am I worried about it now? She hurried to catch back up with the Adamsons, even as they turned down the aisle with the backpacks.

“Which one do you like, sweetheart?” Mom asked. “It needs to be sturdy, of course, but that’s no reason you can’t also have one that suits your tastes.”

She looked up and down the assortment of backpacks, thinking she should choose one that would seem appealing to a middle-school aged girl. Instead, her eyes fell on one in a pale blue color, very close to Gary’s favorite color. She slid it from the display hook, and gave it a better examination. She held it up to the Adamsons. “I like this one.”

“That one seems awfully plain and utilitarian,” Dad said. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have one that has a bit more flair to it?”

“I like this one,” she repeated. “It reminds me of home.”

He gave her an understanding smile. “I guess I can’t really argue with that, can I?” He took the backpack from her and dropped it in the cart.

Mom stroked her hair. “Are you feeling a bit homesick, Cathy?”

She nodded. In ways you probably wouldn’t expect. The bed seems awfully empty without Gary in it, and I miss being where I can just be Katya, instead of playing the role of Cathy.

“Honey, why don’t you go look at electronics or something, while we do a little girl-specific shopping?” Mom said to Dad.

“Afraid you’re going to embarrass me? I am a doctor, you know,” he replied.

She gave him a gentle push. “Yes, you’re a doctor, but Cathy isn’t, and there are some things that a young girl would rather not talk about in front of a man.”

Katya fought to keep from laughing out loud. If you only knew…

His huff was anything but serious. “Well, fine. I can be trusted with the intimate medical issues of more patients in my lifetime than I can hope to count, all over the world, but I can’t handle shopping with my daughter.”

“It’s all right,” Katya said, tugging gently on Mom’s sleeve. “I don’t mind. He will see what products we buy anyway, and I’m not embarrassed to discuss them in front of Dad.”

Mom gave her a regretful smile. “I would have been mortified to talk about such things in front of my father at your age, but I guess I need to learn that you’ve come from a different generation and even culture than I did. Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“I’m sure.” This is one area where complete honesty is necessary. “I should have my period in another week. It is certainly nothing I need be ashamed of, is it?”

“You’re that regular? When did you experience menarche?”

“I do not understand. What is ‘menarche’?”

“When did you start having periods?”

Okay, complete honesty isn’t going to work here, after all – I can’t tell her that was longer ago than the age I’m supposed to be. “A couple of years ago.”

“You started young. I suppose, then, that we don’t need to have a discussion about what you can expect when it happens.”

“Mama told me all I needed to know, and prepared me for it.” I wonder if Mama knew the whole of what was in store for me? Did they tell her or any of the other mothers what they had planned for all of us girls?

Dad took the pragmatic approach. “I guess we should just let you go pick out what you need and be done with it, instead of standing around in the luggage aisle talking about it.”

They headed back towards the Health and Beauty department, which took them by the toy department once again. The same two girls still stood at the Fancie display, as if the decision of what items to buy were of monumental importance. Katya hesitated, turning a longing look towards the assorted dolls. This is silly – they’re just foolish toys. Even the age I’m pretending to be, I would have outgrown Fancie dolls.

“Cathy, sweetheart?” Mom said. “Is something wrong?”

“I never had a Fancie doll,” she said, quietly. Why did I tell her that? I could have had one any time in the last few years.

“Did you have any dolls, sweetheart?”

“I was allowed a baby doll,” she said, suddenly feeling a mixture of anger and sorrow. “Just one. I never had any other dolls.” Toys were for children that were allowed to have a real childhood, not for girls being raised to just act like children for men who enjoyed their illusion of ripping away a child’s innocence.

“Aren’t you a bit old for a Fancie doll?” Dad asked.

Mom sent him a soft shush. “When I was your age, Cathy, I would close my bedroom door, and get my Fancie dolls out to play with when no one could see me. I wish I still had those old dolls – they might be worth something now, as much as Fancie has changed over the years.” She turned the cart down the aisle. “Every girl should have at least one Fancie doll in her life, and every mother should have the joy of helping her daughter pick out her first one.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Friday Fiction for July 9, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by none other than Patty over on her blog, Patterings. Patty started the Friday Fiction weekly event, and handed it over to Karlene when other concerns kept her away from it. We’re glad to have her back with us this week, so make sure you visit her blog and let her know how much we appreciate her.

“Precocious by Consent” has been on a back-burner for around a year now, and I’ve been wanting to get back to it. In that, I read back through what I’ve written so far to get back into the flow of the story, and to get reacquainted with the characters. While Lloyd and Katya are returning characters from the first book, “Precocious by Design,” this mysterious character in Chapter 8 makes his debut appearance in this excerpt. We’ll see more of him as the story progresses. Previous excerpts from this WIP are: Prologue, Chapter 2, Chapter 5, Chapter 7, and Chapter 10.

Precocious by Consent

Chapter 8

Sunday morning

The white utility van stood out among the family vehicles in the nice neighborhood. Parked along the curb in the middle of the block, though, it barely rated notice from the residents going about their business. The magnetic signs on the doors identifying the van with Ameritel Communications insured few would think twice about the presence of an unfamiliar vehicle in the area. The man in the driver’s seat lit up a cigarette and took a deep drag of the smoke.

I should quit, he thought, regarding the slender white roll of paper and tobacco. This is unhealthy and expensive. He chuckled, taking another puff. On the other hand, it’s not like I expect to retire and die of old age anyway. Savoring the smoke before exhaling, he blew a lazy smoke ring out the window. It’d be easier to quit if I didn’t like these American cigarettes so much.

The garage door across the street opened, and an older couple loaded two sets of golf clubs into the trunk of the car before backing out of the driveway onto the street. The man driving looked at him, and he returned a smile and a polite nod. When the garage door had closed, the car headed off down the street.

With another puff of the cigarette, he watched the car recede in the rear view mirror. Would you have waited for the door to close before driving off if I had not been here?

Three houses in front of him, a husky teen-ager pushed a lawnmower through a side gate, and started work on the front lawn. The kid wore headphones, and periodically made rhythmic movements as though dancing to whatever tune played on the device. When I was your age, I danced with a mop at a neighborhood bakery, to music on an old radio much too large to carry around. He smiled at the memory of a simpler time in his life, and wondered if he would have paid any more attention to a strange vehicle in his neighborhood than the dancer paid to him.

The front door on the home across the street and behind him opened, and he watched in his side mirror. Two boys ran for the SUV in the driveway, followed by two adults who easily could have been their parents. He continued to watch as the dark green Toyota pulled out and cruised by him with the boys making faces at each other in the back seat. Comparing the license number to a text on his phone, he blew an exasperated plume of smoke out the window. That was it, but where is she?

The movement of the garage door of the same house drew his eyes back to his mirror. The mid-sized sedan backed out of the garage, and waited in the driveway while the door closed again. After a minute or so, an older woman came out the front door, wearing a nice outfit and carrying what appeared to be a large Bible. A girl followed her out, and the woman pulled the door closed before offering her hand to the child. This could be promising, he thought.

The woman held the car door while the girl settled into the back seat, and then took her place in the front seat. She was just pulling her seatbelt across her chest as the car passed his van, and he did his best to avoid looking like he was watching them.

The girl in the back seat was looking all around, and for just a moment glanced at the van. That was all he needed to see the face, and he stifled the satisfied smile. It is you, Ekaterina. Why are you back here in California, and playing the child again? What are you up to, lapochka?

The car disappeared around the corner, and he crushed out the remainder of the cigarette. He keyed in a series of numbers on his phone, arranging the payment for the information, and shifted in his seat.

A car pulled in behind his van. The police cruiser in his rear-view mirror didn’t have the lights going, but he still placed his hands on the dashboard in plain sight as the officer walked up to the window.

“Good morning, sir,” she said. “One of the residents noticed you’d been sitting here a while. Are you having a problem?”

He gave a good-natured laugh. “It’s their problem I am here for,” he said. “We’ve had a few complaints of a dead zone in this neighborhood, so I’m waiting here while my co-worker checks things on the tower. When I get his call, we’ll know he’s fixed the problem.”

“Any idea how much longer that will be?”

He shrugged. “It depends on how much needs to be done on the tower. I’m hoping we’re done soon; I’d like a cup of coffee and a bathroom.” His cell phone chimed, and he shielded the screen from the sun’s glare to read the text message. Transfer complete, the confirmation message informed him. “That’s it; we should be done here. Do you need anything else, officer? Would you like my supervisor’s name to verify our work order?”

She shook her head. “That won’t be necessary. If you’re done and ready to get out of here, then that should satisfy the residents.”

“Thank you, officer.” The old tricks still worked; be cooperative, but not too cooperative. “If you have any problems with your Ameritel service, don’t hesitate to call us.”

“Thanks,” she said. “I have Pacific Wireless, so I don’t think it would do me much good to call you.”

He gave her a big smile. “If you have problems with your Pacific service, call us; I’m sure we can set you up with a competitive plan and better service, if you’re interested.”

She threw him a dismissive wave. “Have a nice day, sir.”

“You too, officer.” He started the van, and eased away from the curb. Departing the neighborhood for the main street through the suburb, he turned into a doughnut shop and went inside. If by any chance the police officer followed him, she would find him enjoying a cup of coffee after using the bathroom. He would even offer to buy her a doughnut, if she stopped in.