November 15, 2012

Double the trouble…double the fun?



     In 1994, I lost my beloved Keeshond, Talbot. He was diabetic, blind and nearly 13 years old, so when he went to the Rainbow Bridge, it wasn’t unexpected, just devastating. Through my sobs of grief, I told my husband I didn’t want any more dogs, it was just too hard to lose them. We’ve all been there so you can image what happened next. I lasted exactly two weeks, and the empty, silent – hairless home became unbearable. We decided to get another dog. Because of the research I’d done on Labrador retriever so my humorous mystery The Colors of Death, we decided to get a Lab. But wait – we’d always had two dogs, why not get two from the same litter? Let me tell you right now – NEVER get two – or more dogs, from the same litter! They are very bonded and hard to train and what’s worse, when one goes, the other is not far behind. But that’s another story.
     We came to love the breed and our two pups, Clark and Molly, even though they were a challenge. With all my previous dogs, I’d just put out dry food and let them eat when they felt like it. I learned quickly, you do not do that with Labs! They tend toward being overweight to begin with, and if you free-feed them, they’ll eat until they blowup or throw up.  By the time they got through that Lab puppy stage at about four (Labs mature WAY later than most dogs) we found we had two HUGE dogs, both over 110 lbs! Yes, they were chubby but also just BIG! I switched to low calorie food, supplemented their grub with fresh veggies, walked and play with them more but….Labs seem to live on air and it’s hard to get them to lose weight.
While all this was going on, I’d started to write another humorous mystery.  I have at least one dog in all my books, so decided to put a chubby Lab in this one. For some reason, he told me he was a big yellow boy and his name was Chauncy. The name of that book is, FINDER 



Chapter One
     “I need a good idea on how to kill someone,” Carol Reston said.        
      Her husband, David, fiddled with his wiry beard for a moment a faraway look in his eyes, quiet, thinking.
     “Don’t you have a notebook full of ways, not only on how to kill people but methods for getting rid of the bodies, too?”
     “Right, right.” She looked down once more at the large brown envelope clutched in her sweaty hand resting on her lap. “Okay, I guess what I need more of a story idea, a plot, but something really weird.”
For the first time, David looked at his wife and noticed what she clutched in her hand.
“     Another manuscript rejected by a publisher, honey?”
      “Yes.” Depression clung to Carol like a big wet dog. “I give up.” She blinked to clear her watery vision
.     “It’s no use. I’m going to stop writing.” She worried open the end of the envelope but didn’t have the heart to pull the rejection letter out.
     At the sound of Carol’s voice, Chauncy, the couple’s overweight yellow Labrador retriever moseyed out of the bedroom to join his humans in the family room. He sidled over and leaned against Carol’s thigh. She dropped her hand to his silky head and rubbed.
      “I’ve had it. I write my brains out day after day send out my work and all I get back are rejection letters. Who needs it? I quit.” She wiped the tears from her cheek with the back of her hand and almost put an eye out with the sharp corner of the envelope. “I will never write again!”
     “Okay.” David’s muted reply echoed out from behind the curtain of newsprint.
     “Okay?” The word squeaked out. “I thought you wanted me to be a writer?” Carol nudged Chauncy away. He flopped on his butt then stretched out with a groan. She jumped up, walked to the adjoining kitchen, dropped the envelope on the center island, went directly to a cupboard and pulled out a chocolate candy bar.
     “How do you expect me to succeed when you don’t support me?” With a rip, she tore the wrapper off with her teeth and demolished the bar in four huge bites. Every time another one of her manuscripts was rejected, she ate like a team of Clydesdales. If she kept eating like this, she would be a three-hundred-pound divorced woman...and soon.
     Once more the curtain of newsprint came down. “You know I only want you to do what will make you happy. If you want to write, fine, do it. If you don’t, well, that’s okay too. All this rejection makes you so miserable I can’t imagine why you want to keep it up.”
     “I have to write.” Carol gulped down creamy chocolate along with the emotional tears that threatened to close her throat. “I love it.” Carol felt hot breath on her knee and looked down to find the adoring Lab gazing up at her. “Sorry, Chauncy, I ate it all. You know chocolate is bad for you. It kills dogs. I probably just saved your life.” He didn’t look convinced. “I still think you should help me,” she told her husband, not the dog.
     “Oh no, you’re the writer. Not me.”
     Carol plastered what she hoped was a seductive smile on her face, ran her tongue across her front teeth to remove any traces of chocolate and went to kneel in front of her husband. “It’ll be fun. We’ll write the world’s first romantic-mysterious-science fiction-pornographic novel set in the west.” She plucked a piece of left-over from lunch taco chip from his beard and slipped it to the waiting dog. David barely noticed.
     He reached out and stroked her short blond curls. “What? No horror? No humor?”
     “Sure, what the heck, we’ll put everything into that sucker. It’s bound to sell. What do you say?”
     David tilted his head, tugged at one of the tangled hairs on his beard and grinned. “Okay. But I get to do the research for the pornographic part.”
     Carol made a face at him and smacked him playfully on the knee before she jumped to her feet. David reached up, took her hand and drew her onto his lap. She snuggled her nose into his neck and inhaled his clean, fresh scent. He kissed her cheek as he stroked her hair again.
     “You’re a wonderful writer, honey. I know some day you’ll publish a book.”
      “I know I will.” Carol couldn’t help the well of tears that flooded her eyes again. “It’s so hard. I try and try. I write every damn day. I submit manuscripts and I get nothing but rejections.” She paused for a moment, a thought wandering through her mind. “Perhaps I’ll write another romance. They’re hot right now; fifty percent of the books bought in this country are in the romance genre.” She sat up straighter and her gaze wandered off. “Something with a ghost. What do think?”
     “Seriously?”
     Carol’s head bobbed and she sniffed loudly. “Of course. You know I value your opinion.”
     David reached up and wiped a tear from her cheek with his thumb. “Then I think you should write what you know. Use your own experiences.”
     “But...”
     “Babe, you’ve written what? Six novels?”
     “Seven if you count the sci-fi novella. You know the one with the puce people who have three eyes?”
     “Did I read that one?”
     “You started. That was the one with the Gloto people fighting with the Platusas. Remember? You said you refused to read anything about one sentient people eating another, even if they were from another planet.”
His serious brown eyes looked like two chocolate drops floating in whipped cream behind the thick lenses of his horn-rimmed glasses. Carol smiled and thought longingly of her chocolate stash in the kitchen cupboard. The rejection letter remained perched on the island, mocking her. She decided to ignore it a bit longer.
David shifted her weight on his lap and grimaced. “Sheesh, where do you come up with that stuff anyhow?”
     Carol shrugged. “I don’t honestly know. Ideas just come to me.”
     David shifted his position again and Carol took the hint. She got up went and flopped in her chair. She really would have to cut back on the candy or he would never let her back on his lap.
     “That’s what I mean, honey. Write about what you know.” David smiled his encouragement at her. “Isn’t that what the teacher in your writing class said?”
     “Which one?”
     “All of them, I think.” 
     David folded his newspaper, set it on the end table and straightened in his chair.             "You keep writing what you think will sell, instead of what you love.” David leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “Tell me something. Which book did you enjoy writing the most?”
     Carol didn’t have to think about it for a second. Death and Dishonor” my mystery novel. I loved that book. It practically wrote itself.”
      “Then I think you should stick to writing mysteries.” Leaning back, arms across his broad chest, David reached up and started fiddling with his beard again. His eyes were focused somewhere over Carol’s left shoulder. He was going into his professorial mode and her heart nearly burst with the love that filled her for the big goof. “What did the editor say in her rejection?”
     Carol went and snatched up the brown envelope again. Instead of a standard form letter, it was personalized. Well, she’d gotten those before too. Big Deal. Her eyes scanned the test and she read aloud.
     “’While your writing is very good and professional, your story isn’t believable.’ Ha, what does she know?” Carol clumped back and flopped in her chair.
     David continued to play with the wiry hairs of his beard. Without looking at her he said, “Write a mystery but give it a local slant. Make up a small community, like Oakdale. Have the main character do something you’re familiar with.”
     “Like what? Laundry? Grocery shopping? Tutoring adults to read? Cripes, David, I’m a housewife living     in a suburb of San Diego. I never do anything exciting.”
     “Didn’t you tell me last week that one of your students from the Literacy Center disappeared? Maybe you could do something with that.”
    Carol rolled her eyes. “Nothing mysterious there. They go missing all the time. Either they find a job, or discover learning to read is too difficult.” Carol shrugged again and her head turned toward the cabinet with her stash of chocolate. No, she’d better not. She had barely been able to zip up her blue jeans this morning. “I’m glad you mentioned it though. I should call Mrs. Ortega in the morning and see if she has a new student for me yet.”
     “Good idea. You need a new student.” David picked up the newspaper, and turned several pages until he found what he was looking for. “Okay, how about this. There’s an article in the paper today about a young woman from Lakeview who’s been missing for a week. The gal came home from Bible College, to help her sick mother. No boyfriends locally that anyone is aware of. She went to the pharmacy to pick up medicine for her mom and hasn’t been seen since.”
     A local missing girl wasn’t as exciting as a rich woman in New York who’d married a multimillionaire and then disappeared on his private island...
     “Carol? Hello, are you there?
      She bumped back to the present. “Huh?”    
     "What do you think about that idea?
     “Oh, yeah, well it’s an idea.” 
     David put the newspaper back on the end table. Have you checked with your writing friend, Elizabeth?”
     “About what?”
     “About the topics of your books. She still reads and critiques them for you, doesn’t she?”
     “Sure, when she has time.” Elizabeth Sherwood was Carol’s best friend. Even though she only lived a few blocks away, the two hadn’t seen one another for over two weeks, and that was unusual. Elizabeth worked full time at a public relations firm and was on the fast-track to the top, leaving her little time to spare for reading yet another set of Carol’s manuscript pages. Elizabeth and her third husband, Brian, had a volatile relationship that didn’t seem to be working. Carol was worried about her. The last time she’d seen Elizabeth, her friend had a shiner. Carol suspected that Brian had hit her, although Elizabeth denied it. She said she ran into a door. Yeah, right.
     “I haven’t seen her for a couple of weeks. When I called Brian on Tuesday, he said she was back east visiting her mother.” And, Brian had been quite evasive, now that she thought about it.
She hadn’t told David about the suspected abuse. First of all it was only that one time that Carol was aware of. She didn’t want to tell David because he’d go over there and knock Brian’s head off. A burble of uneasiness churned the chocolate in her stomach. It was very strange that Elizabeth would leave town and not tell her.
     David stood up fast, took a step and tripped over the dog. Poor Chauncy leapt up, barked furiously before turning around three times to resume his nap. David took the time to pat the dog’s big head then kept going.
     “I have the perfect plot for you.” David snatched a huge pair of binoculars off the fireplace mantle, walked over to the sliding patio door and went into the back yard. Carol followed him out, came up beside him and slipped her arm around his waist.
     “Remember how I told you there was something strange about the couple who moved into that house down at the bottom of the hill?”
     “Yes. So?”
“When you were at your tutoring session last month, they had a hell of an argument. I almost called the cops.”
     “And I told you to stop spying on people or you’d be the one hauled off in handcuffs.” Carol took the binoculars from her husband and looked at the blank windows of the stucco house. “It looks deserted, like no one lives there anymore. Are you sure they didn’t move out? Although, I don’t remember seeing any ‘For Sale’ signs posted out front.”
     “He didn’t move, I’ve seen him in the yard, but I haven’t seen her since that night.” A cool breeze blew across the yard, raising gooseflesh on Carol’s arms.
     “It’s like that Hitchcock movie.” David took the glasses back, wiggled the knobs and scanned the property down the hill from theirs.
     “Rear Window,” Carol whispered. “Quick, check the yard. Are there any new flowerbeds? Or a rock garden that wasn’t there before?” She leaned over the fence and stared into the area below them. “I’ll bet they had a fight, he hit her on the head harder than he thought and killed her.” She paced back and forth on the small cement patio in the middle of their grassy yard.
     “Then, in the middle of the night, when everyone was sleeping, he put her in the bathtub, got a hacksaw from the garage and....”
      “Stop! I don’t want to hear any more.” David’s face had taken on a distinct green tinge. “I’m going to take Chauncy for a walk and run him around up in the hills for a while.”
“     Okay, sure. Good idea.” Her mind had already started wandering and her imagination was poised to create.
     “Think about making something for dinner, huh? I’m getting hungry.”
     Carol waved a distracted hand over her head, her mind a whirl of ideas. She picked a scratch pad and pencil off the kitchen counter as she headed down the hall. She had at least six pads of paper in various sizes and colors scattered around the house. She made sure there was paper handy so when good ideas popped into her head she could write them down. At the present time she had two shoeboxes full of paper scraps. Someday, when her novels started to sell, she would hire a secretary to help her go through the mess. There were tons of good story ideas in there.
     Carol’s office had been set up in the spare bedroom, nothing fancy. A card table with her ancient computer, several reams of paper and a printer sat on a TV tray in the middle of the room. She would get a better more up-to-date computer and a desk after she sold her first book; maybe a fax machine and a scanner, too. That would make it easier for her to communicate with her big New York publisher. She chuckled at the thought. Well, it could happen.            
     She turned on her computer and opened a new document.
     “Let’s see, missing woman, missing woman.” Carol stared at the screen but nothing came to mind. She rested her chin on her left palm and drummed the fingers of her right hand on the edge of the desk. “Okay, what if...what if...” Soon her nimble fingers flew across the keys as ideas, names and bloodied bodies flooded her brain.
      She was so lost in her work, that when the front door slammed open forty minutes later, Carol jumped in her chair. She glanced at her watch and hurried toward the living room feeling a bit guilty. She’d forgotten all about starting dinner.
     David stood panting inside the front door his face the color of slate. She could smell his acrid sweat clear across the room. Chancy crouched at his side huffing and drooling, his large pink tongue lolling out the side of his mouth.
     Terror shot through Carol. She knew that rattlesnakes were active in the brown hills around their house. One bite could kill Chauncy. And at forty-two, David was entering heart attack country. “David, honey, are you all right?”
     His head bobbed up and down and he struggled for breath.
     “A body. In the hills. Woman. Dead.”
     “Yeah, that’s pretty good. I can work with that. Okay, you win.”
     “This isn’t about your book, Carol! It’s real!” He bent over, resting his hands on his knees, sucking in air, trying to catch his breath.
     “Nine-one-one. Call nine-one-one. I found a woman’s body up in the hills.” A glaze of moisture filled his eyes. “She didn’t have a face, Carol. The woman didn’t have a face.”

FINDER! is available at www.wildchildpublishing and www.amazon.com

That was a long first chapter, so here’s a short, quick doggy tip. Whenever you go for a walk with your dog(s), be sure to take an umbrella along. If a stray dog attacks, just open the umbrella in front of your dog. An animal won’t attack what it can’t see, so you’ll both be safe.

Till next time. Don’t forget to check out my latest book, How to Write a Mystery, now available at www.amazon.com
Carlene
www.themysterystartshere.com
www.Facebook.com/CarleneraeDater
www.Twitter.com/CarleneRaeDater
www.Manicreaders.com/CarleneRaeDater


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