Thursday, August 26, 2010

Friday Fiction for August 27, 2010

You’ll find Friday Fiction hosted this week at A Work in Progress, by none other than Catrina. Be sure to visit for Catrina’s story this week, and to find the Linky tool with the list of all our participants.

This week’s chapter from “Precocious by Consent” is a bit long, but it was fun to refine the chapter after visiting the actual location last week. The biggest detail that I was not able to determine from using Google Earth to scout the locale, was how rocky the ground is. The details now reflect the actual conditions at the site. The photo below shows the area referred to towards the end of this chapter.

Chapter 22

Wednesday afternoon

Chiriaco Summit was even smaller than Sid had imagined it. The town, if he could call it that, was comprised of a single gas station, a café, and a museum dedicated to General Patton and the tank soldiers that had trained in the area during World War Two. The promised airport was only a single strip of pavement, suitable for little more than small private aircraft. The Summit did a moderate amount of business for a midweek afternoon, apparently attracting those whose fuel tanks, stomachs, or bladders could not wait for either Indio to the west, or Blythe to the east.

The agents and field techs on this excursion availed themselves of the facilities before making the final drive to the map location. Many walked out of the gas station’s mini-mart with cold beverages to combat the warm desert temperature. Standing in the direct sun, Sid expected they’d all sweat out more than enough to stave off repeated bathroom trips.

Two Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies came out of the café, having arrived well before the FBI crew, while a California Highway Patrol officer walked into the eatery for a break. Sid chuckled, despite the seriousness of the trip, wondering if the town had ever before hosted such a gathering of law enforcement officials. There might have been more MP’s when Patton’s troops had trained in the area, but even that was questionable.

The deputies were directed to him by one of his associates, and crossed the parking area to speak with him. “Agent Powell?” the one said. “I’m Deputy Gordon, and this is Deputy Zito. We’re here to extend whatever assistance you need from our department.”

“We appreciate the cooperation,” Sid said.

“What have we got out here that interests the FBI?” Deputy Zito asked.

“We have a map left for us by a serial killer.”

“A map to what?” Gordon asked.

Sid let out a slow exhale before answering. “It could be a grave, or it could be a taunting clue to something else, or it could just be his way of playing games with us, getting us to chase out here after nothing. We won’t know until we search the location.”

“This would be a good area to hide something like that. We have an awful lot of open desert out here. You’re sure this map is from your killer, though?”

He nodded. “He left the map buried with another of his victims.”

“That’s weird. I didn’t think killers would go to all the work of hiding a body, and then do something to make it easier for us to find it.”

“It’s a form of bragging to him. He’s not just boasting about the murders, but also about how many we don’t know about yet.”

“One sick puppy, huh?”

“Yeah, that about sums it up.” He looked over at Weiderman, who gestured that everyone was ready to go. “You two follow us, and with any luck, we won’t keep you out here too long.”

“Yes, sir,” they both replied, and headed towards their vehicle.

Sid climbed into the driver’s seat of the full-sized SUV, and checked the map one more time. One of the computer techs had done an overlay of the map onto a computer map, and extracted the GPS coordinates for the indicated location. While it might not be exact, it would give them a better starting point for the search than trying to approximate the location the old-fashioned way.

They drove back over the freeway to an old road, and turned left. The pavement ended maybe three hundred feet after the turn, giving way to a dirt road. Almost immediately, they turned right onto another dirt road, heading south away from the freeway. The road gradually curved off towards south by southwest, until it reached the base of some hills. Just a little further, and they made a sharp left onto a smaller dirt road leading them southeast into a small valley, until the road led up the side of the hill to their left.

He kept his speed slow, creeping up the hill to both watch for hazards in the road, and to minimize the dust on the vehicles following him. When he felt his rear wheels slipping on the rocky surface, he engaged his four-wheel drive and continued up the moderately steep incline. The road leveled out and ended in a wide spot that hosted a tall, metal high voltage power line tower.

Sid parked and shut off the engine, and then waited until the other vehicles had done likewise. When all the traffic had stopped, he got out of the SUV and surveyed the area. The Interstate was visible through a gap to the northeast, but most of the clearing was surrounded by drop-offs. A small stone ring close beside his SUV contained the remnants of a campfire, and assorted spent shot shells scattered on the ground marked the location of a wildcat shooting range. Hunters wouldn’t have left so many shells, he reasoned, and he couldn’t imagine much in the area that would be game-worthy. So far, he hadn’t seen so much as a single crow or vulture, let alone quail or doves.

His crew and the deputies came and stood in a loose circle around him, and he took a moment to meet each set of eyes. “Okay, people,” he finally said. “The map indicates a spot roughly southeast of here, and your GPS units should already have the coordinates marked. Deputies Gordon and Zito, I want you two between some of my people, since you don’t have the GPS receivers we’re using. Just follow their lead. We don’t know how precise the map we found is, or how closely the mark is to what we’re looking for, so we need to spread out and start searching the location, and beyond if necessary. It’s rather steep and rocky right off the side here, so it might be better if a few of you went back down the road, and walked up from the bottom to check out the sides here. Keep in visual contact with each other, and be careful where you step. I don’t want any of you getting on the bad side of a rattlesnake, or twisting your ankle in some animal hole. As before, if you find something suspicious, call it out, but don’t disturb it until we’ve had the dog sniff it over. Our man has proven he’s not against leaving us hazardous surprises, so let’s get through this without any injuries, okay?”

A murmured chorus of agreement sounded in response, and the crew checked their receivers before starting their search. Some made their way down the easiest part of the slope most in line with the map destination, while others walked back down the road to come in from below.

Sid had already been sweating before they started walking, and before he’d taken two dozen steps down the direct route, he removed his cap to wipe his brow with the back of one hand. I should have gotten a drink at the gas station, he thought. It’d sure be embarrassing to give everyone else the safety lecture, only to end up sick from the heat myself because I forgot to hydrate.

His GPS counted down the distance to the marked location, pointing the destination just slightly right of straight ahead. His eyes constantly scanned around him, from the spot where he would place his next step, to just ahead, to left, then to right, and back to the start of the process. So far, he found nothing but normal rock landscape.

This would be a lousy location to try and dig. There’s very little open ground that isn’t covered in large rocks, and I’d bet what smooth dirt is showing, is hiding more rocks just beneath the surface. If he left something in the open, how long would it last?

“Powell,” one of the field techs off to his right yelled. “We’ve got something here.”

“Everybody hold up,” he yelled in response, and then went to investigate the find. “What is it?” he asked when he reached the tech.

The tech pointed. “These rocks look like a recent slide,” he replied. “I’m not certain, but I think I caught a glimpse of something metal under the rocks.”

“It’s worth checking.” Sid gestured behind him. “Bring the metal detector and the bomb dog over here,” he called. “Let’s see if there’s something under this spot.”

The tech with the detector came over and swept the sensor over the area. “There’s something here, all right,” she said. “More than just someone’s old beer cans. I’m guessing some kind of large, metal box.”

The handler walked the dog around the location, and then shook his head. “Dartie’s not alerting on anything. If there’s a bomb in there, it’s too deep for her to smell.”

“Okay,” Sid said. “Get a couple of shovels over here, and let’s see if we can pry these rocks out of the way. Everyone else, continue to search the area. This may not be what we’re looking for, or it may not be the only thing left out here for us.”

It didn’t take long to remove some of the smaller stones that covered the item. A flat, painted surface with just a few spots of rust showing along some scratches and dents was revealed, and checked again by the dog. They then worked to displace the larger stones, until they’d removed enough that the top and several inches down the side were exposed, revealing the handles and latches of a metal box. A bead of black caulking ran around the box, sealing the lid to the base in addition to the latches.

“What do you think, Sid?” Weiderman asked. “Do we want to open it now, or go ahead and finish digging it out before we open it? I’m assuming you don’t want to just see if we can lift it straight out now.”

“No, I want to make sure he didn’t leave a nasty surprise for us underneath it, before we try lifting it. Let’s cut the sealant, have the dog sniff it again, and then see if we can open it before we dig any deeper. I’d hate to spend too much time on this, if it turns out to have nothing to do with our boy.”

“Okay,” Wiederman said, pulling a knife from his pocket. He leaned on the rocks to run the blade through the bead of caulking. When he’d cut a few inches, he sat up and grimaced, blurting an expletive.

“What’s wrong?” Sid asked.

“The box is outgassing,” Weiderman replied. “There’s something rotting in there.” He stood up and stepped away, looking like he was going to be sick.

One of the techs put on a facemask, and took over cutting through the seal. Within a few moments, the smell of decay filled the air around the rock pile, and those watching moved to find a spot upwind from the stench.

The tech looked up at Sid. “The seal is as cut as can be done from here,” he said. “You want the dog to sniff it again before I try the latches?”

“Yeah. At this point, I don’t think there’s any trap on this box, but I don’t want to assume anything right now.”

The tech stood up and moved out of the way, letting the handler bring the dog in again. Dartie showed more interest in the box, but didn’t alert the way she’d been trained to respond to the smell of explosives.

Sid nodded to the tech, who then tried the first latch. It popped up, and the box released the remainder of its pent-up gasses. Cautiously, the tech released the other latch, and stepped back. Taking a shovel from one of the other techs, he put the blade under the lid, and lifted it open.

The corpse faced up, with arms in front of it. Sid turned away, pinching his nose. “Find one of the deputies,” he said, to no one in particular. “Tell them to get the coroner out here.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Fiction for August 20, 2010

We are spending the weekend in beautiful Big Bear California, to celebrate Nancy’s birthday this Sunday. Happy birthday to my favoritist* person in the whole world. I love you!

Friday Fiction can be found this week at Polliwog Pages, Vonnie’s fun blog for the young and those of us that refuse to grow up. Find the Linky tool there for all the great stories this week!

I’m taking a break from posting more of my current WIP, “Precocious by Consent,” as the next chapter is going to get some instant revisions after today’s visit to the real life location where it takes place. I scouted the location using Google Earth, but there is nothing as good as seeing it up close and personal to refine the details and make it right. It would have been “good enough” as-is, but it can be better.

Instead, I’m going to respond to a recent comment someone made on a Pod story excerpt. They wanted to read some of the back-story involving Dr. Marcel. In all the Pod stories I’ve written, the closest to actually showing the late doctor I’ve come, is a short dream sequence. This isn’t an oversight. I purposed early on in the writing that Anthony Marcel would only be seen through the memories of other characters, or through their perception of his writings or work. This week’s offering for Friday Fiction illustrates well the concept of how one might evaluate Dr. Marcel, based on what they choose to focus on. This is the first part of the chapter, excerpted from the second book, “Marta’s Pod.”

Chapter 8

Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

Gerald Lawton snored, providing the only discernible sound in the room they occupied on the island. Linda had regarded his snoring as annoying for many years, until he’d spent that week in the hospital after his cardiac episode. She’d realized that first night home alone in their bed that the snoring was him, and that annoying as it might be it served as an audible reminder that he was still with her. The prospect of never hearing that sound again had changed her perspective on it, and now the sound comforted her much as a security blanket comforted a young child.

Gerald had always slept easily; he’d commented many times that any problem that wouldn’t still be waiting in the morning wasn’t worth losing sleep over, and any that would still be waiting wouldn’t benefit from losing sleep. He seemed to have a knack for turning off his mind and allowing his body to fall asleep; a trick Linda had never managed to learn. Her mind continued to mull over the day’s events, leaving her unable to doze off despite being quite tired. Lying there with time to think, she considered many aspects of their situation that she hadn’t been able to focus on while the Pod had held their attention.

She had four daughters that she couldn’t talk about. Our families know we came to find out about Marta, but what can we tell them now? Will the government allow the extended family in on the secret, and maybe permit a family reunion out here? What will they think when they learn what Dr. Marcel did to the girls, creating them as mermaids?

She still wasn’t quite sure how she was handling that little piece of news. Her mind ran through various emotions as she considered Dr. Marcel’s role in the escapade. How dare he create children from our samples without consulting us? How dare he keep those children away from us? How could he think he had the right to manipulate the genetics of so many children in such a way that condemned those children to a life outside of normal society? He had been such a kind man when he helped us have Mark. He’d understood; he’d approached all our problems with such empathy that we couldn’t help but trust him. Had he even then been planning what he was going to do afterwards?

She wanted to slap him; grab him by the necktie and repeatedly hit him until she couldn’t move her arm anymore. She imagined screaming at him, asking him over and over who he thought he was, doing this to them and to those children. He was dead, though; she would never have the opportunity to make him stand accountable for what he’d done. She prayed that somewhere in Eternity Anthony Marcel was taken to task for his decisions. She imagined a dark place where Dr. Marcel would spend the afterlife, haunted forever by his deeds.

As she imagined that place, she found that she heard a voice speaking out of the darkness. “If the only parent that will ever love me was Dr. Marcel, then I don’t want to remember any faces other than his.” Marta’s voice echoed in her mind, evoking a completely different image of the doctor than what Linda wanted to see. Her grandson was named after him because Marta had loved the doctor like her own father.

She had four daughters she’d never known she had; she had a son-in-law who adored the one and cared for all of them. She had a grandson to love and spoil, though how she could hope to compete with Joshua Cardan and the Pod in that regard she had no idea. In a moment of sober reflection she realized that over all that, and even over her son Mark, the face of Dr. Marcel looked on. In spite of his flaws, she owed him more than she could ever hope to repay. For the second time that night she prayed, this time asking that eternity might have mercy on the soul of Anthony Marcel.

* - Yes, I know "favoritist" is not a real word. Nancy is still my favoritist person in the whole world.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Friday Fiction for August 13, 2010

The imaginative young Sara is our hostess for Friday Fiction this week, on her blog, Fiction Fusion. This is the weekend of the annual Faithwriters Conference in Michigan, so this has to be a good week to visit the blogs you’ll find in the Linky tool.

Short chapter from "Precocious by Consent" this week, but another important tidbit stashed within.

Chapter 21

Wednesday noon

He stepped out of the van, and adjusted the tuck-in of his shirt. Walking to the back of the van, he removed the baseball cap from his head, and mopped his forehead with a bandana before opening the back doors. A tool belt then went around his waist, an orange cone onto the street behind the van, and then the doors were closed again.

Atop the van, in a special rack, a long extension ladder waited. He lifted the ladder from the rack, and carried it to a nearby utility pole. With the attached rope, he extended the ladder and rested the hooks over a heavy cable some twenty feet above him.

A young boy came over. “What’cha doin’, mister?”

He smiled at the boy. “I’m with Coastal Cable, and I just need to do a little routine maintenance on the cable here. Shouldn’t you be in school?”

“I had a dentist appointment this morning, so Mom kept me home. What’s ‘maintenance’ mean?”

“Well, it’s kind of like fixing it before it breaks, so that you don’t lose your television or internet when something goes wrong.”

“Can I watch?”

“Sure, but what I need you to do is to stand back over there a bit, so in case I accidentally drop something, you don’t get hit by it, okay?”

“Okay,” the boy said, and went over to lean against a fence.

He gave the boy an approving nod, and started climbing the ladder. Is this neighborhood so safe, that your mother isn’t concerned with you being out of her sight, malchik? At the top, he opened the cable amplifier box, and made a pretense of cleaning the o-ring.

The pole overlooked an immaculate backyard, and without being obvious about it, he studied the house attached to the yard. A second floor window faced the yard, and pale lavender walls showed through the open curtains. That should be your room, Ekaterina. My information is that you have been ‘adopted’ by this family. Why? What game are they playing with you now?

From a small case in his tool belt, he removed a tiny electronic device, which he attached to the utility pole. He fed two fine wires into the amplifier box, and connected them into the cable circuit. Satisfied by a quick check on his smart phone, he closed up the box and descended the ladder.

“That’s it?” the boy said, when he reached the ground.

He gave a quick laugh. “That’s it,” he replied, unhooking the ladder and collapsing it.

“It sure didn’t look like you did much up there.”

“Ah, but if I did my job right, I won’t have to do much later, either. A little work today, prevents a lot of work tomorrow.”

“Now you sound like my Mom.”

“Your Mom sounds like a smart woman – you should listen to her.”

“Yeah,” the boy said, looking away. “You know, I think I’ll just go watch some T.V.”

On a beautiful day like this, malchik? I’ll bet your mother told you to get outside and play, rather than sitting in front of the television or computer. “Well, I have other calls to go on, so you have a nice day, okay?”

“Yeah, you too,” the boy said, and wandered off.

He secured the ladder atop the van, put the tool belt in the back, and climbed back into the driver’s seat. Before starting the van, he checked his laptop for a more thorough test of the newly installed device. Confident that it would work according to design, he left the neighborhood before his presence could cause any concern for the residents. It would be awkward to explain his cable company uniform, if the same officer that had seen him as the Pacific Wireless employee a few days ago stopped him.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friday Fiction for August 6, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Sharlyn, over at Dancin’ on Rainbows, where you’ll find the Linky tool for the first collection of stories for August.

I’m coming in a little late this week. We were out of town for the night, followed immediately by almost five and a half hours at work. Since some folks were actually waiting for the next chapter of Precocious by Consent, it would be ingracious to disappoint.

I’m still a bit unsure about this chapter. It may end up getting a major reworking sometime in a future revision pass, but for now, there is an important element in this scene that needs to remain. (Note: Katya's cover name on her passport is Yesfir)

Chapter 20

Wednesday late morning

School was an interesting experience. Katya’s previous education had been what her mother could teach her in the restricted environment of the compound in Belarus, followed by the things she had gleaned from various sources during her life as a performer, and since. While many of her classmates acted bored, she was enthralled.

They were studying genetics, and it was all she could do to keep from telling the teacher that what he speculated about had already been proven by Russian scientists working in Belarus. When he postulated on creating puppies with specific traits, she raised her hand.

“Yes, Cathy?” he asked.

“So, it would be possible to create a puppy that would always look like a puppy, no matter how old it was?” she said.

He looked at her with a satisfied smile. “I suppose it would be possible, and I expect it would be a shrewd business idea to do so.”

One of the office runners popped into the classroom and handed him a note. He read it, thanked the student, and looked at Katya again. “Cathy, they’d like to see you in the office after this class is over.”

A chorus of jeers declaring she was in trouble sounded from her classmates. She blushed, and wondered what she might have done.

“That’s enough, class,” the teacher said. “Cathy, you’re not in trouble. If you were, they would have asked you to report to the office immediately.” He leaned against the corner of his desk, and crossed his arms across his chest. “It’s more likely they just lost some of the paperwork for your enrollment, and need you to help them recreate it.”

She had trouble concentrating for the remainder of the class period, despite having a particular interest in the subject. “Playing the role” hadn’t seemed all that difficult when she’d finally agreed to do so, but the reality of maintaining a constant ad-lib performance against a steady barrage of unexpected twists was taking its toll. When the bell sounded to mark the end of the period, she gathered her things into her backpack, and made her way to the office.

Mrs. Rawlings was waiting when she walked in. “Oh, good, Cathy; you’re here. I have someone here who would like to see you.”

“Who?” she asked.

“She’s waiting in my office,” Mrs. Rawlings said, ushering Katya through the door. “Cathy, this is Sister Tatiana from the Russian Orthodox Church. She works with children recently emigrated from Russia.”

The woman stood and smiled at her. She was dressed in a long, black dress that covered her from the neck to the ankles, and her head was similarly covered by a black hat, leaving only her face and hands showing. “You are Yesfir Katina Petrova?” the nun asked, in Russian.

Katya looked at Mrs. Rawlings, who gave her an encouraging smile. “It’s okay, Cathy. I’ll leave you two to chat.”

“Thank you,” Sister Tatiana said. “Come and sit, child; this is a friendly visit, and you have nothing to be afraid of from me.

Katya took the indicated chair, holding her backpack against her chest. “I am called Cathy Adamson now. I have taken the name of my new parents.” She glanced towards the now-closed door. “Why are we speaking Russian if you speak English as well?”

“I wish you to feel you may speak freely with me, without concerns over what might be overheard, Yesfir.” The nun settled into Mrs. Rawlings chair and folder her hands in her lap. “This is the reason that I have come to your school as well, rather than meet with you at the home of your adoptive parents. We have learned over the years of cases where Russian orphans, adopted by American couples, have been abused or mistreated, and so we purpose to make contact with any new adopted children in our region soon after they arrive.”

“I have not been abused or mistreated. The Adamsons have been more than wonderful to me.”

“I’m happy to hear that, and please do not think that I was accusing them. With most of the children we visit, this is also the case, but it would be tragic if we assumed things were well, when they were not, no?”

“I guess.”

“We know, also, that it can sometimes be difficult to adjust to a new life in a new country, and I want you to know that you may call on me anytime you feel the need to ask questions or even to just talk about what you’re going through. Your new parents may be wonderful, but America isn’t always wonderful when you still think like a Russian.” She reached into a tote bag on the floor by the chair. “May I give you something?”

“What is it?”

From a small box, she removed a necklace. “It is a Saint Olga Cross. Are you familiar with the Russian Orthodox crosses?”

She shook her head. “My parents were not members of the church, and did not teach me anything of it.”

“Within this cross is the cross of St. Andrew, one of the patron saints of Russia, and on the back the words ‘save and protect’ are engraved. Would you wear it if I give it to you?” She held the cross close for Katya to see.

Katya touched the cross, and turned it around in her fingers. “It is beautiful, but I could not accept such a gift.”

“It is a gift from God, child, through the Church. Would you deny a gift from God?” She opened the clasp on the chain, and held the two ends apart with both hands. “May I put it on you, Yesfir?”

Leaning forward, she accepted the offer. “Please.”

Sister Tatiana fastened the clasp behind her neck, and then placed a kiss on both cheeks. “May God watch over you, child, and keep you safe. Wear this cross, and always remember that you are a child of God, and a daughter of Russia. However much you may come to love America, never feel as though you must denounce or be ashamed of your heritage. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sister.”

“Keep this card with you as well. The number where I may be reached is on it, and I want you to call me anytime that you feel the need to talk, or if you are having difficulty understanding something about American culture.”

Katya accepted the card from her. The text was in English on one side, and Russian Cyrillic script on the other. “Thank you, Sister Tatiana. I will.”

“Yesfir, one more thing. I know there is much pressure to conform to American culture, and an English name can make it easier for Americans to accept you, but please do not be too quick to discard your name. Yesfir is a good name with a rich history, and I believe it fits you.”