Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Counting Down - Another excerpt

What I'm reading: The Ever-Running Man, by Marcia Muller

What I'm writing: Chapter 9, scene 2

Here's another taste of Starting Over. This is Graham's first POV scene. If you want to catch up, the prologue is on my website in the Free Reads section, and the start of Chapter 1 is here.

Deputy Graham Harrigan sat at his computer in the sheriff’s office, the normal sounds of office activity fading to white noise as he hunted and pecked his way through the report he needed to file. As he’d told himself countless times, he needed to take a keyboarding class so he could get through the drudgery faster. The smell of stale, burned coffee permeated the room and he wished he’d taken a few minutes to stop at Starbucks.


Graham looked up at the sound of his name and saw Jerry Clarke’s midsection precede him into the room.

“Heard you got stuck with a patrol call. Thought you were looking for a promotion, not a step backward.”

Graham’s jaw clenched. “Some of us don’t run for the john when the office needs extra help.” Heat rose in his face and he refused to turn to meet Clarke’s eyes.

“Next opening in Criminal Investigations will be mine, Harrigan. Get used to it. If they thought you could cut it, they wouldn’t keep sending you on wild goose chases.”

“It’s not your decision,” Graham said. “We’re both at the top of the list and you know it.”

He watched Clarke leave and admonished himself for letting the man get to him. Still, Graham knew if Clarke got the CID slot, it was unlikely another would open in time and he’d have to requalify.

Clarke had unlocked that place inside where Graham kept his doubts. He’d been promoted three years ago, qualified for CID, but until there was an opening in the Criminal Investigations Division, all he could do was wait. He turned his attention back to the screen. Finally satisfied, he hit “Save” and “Print”.

Being a team player had to count. Or so he’d thought when he’d volunteered to cover the check on well-being call. He dug through the papers scattered on the desk, found the number he needed and dialed the phone.

“Mrs. Simon? Deputy Graham Harrigan. I’m the officer assigned to look into your father.”

“What did you find?” There was an unexpected edge to her voice.

“Ma’am, there’s no sign of anything out of the ordinary. Maybe he isn’t checking his answering machine.”

“I don’t know why he wouldn’t return my calls. Billy’s birthday is coming up. He’ll be eight and I know Daddy promised him something special.”

“I asked at the guesthouse, but the tenant said she didn’t know your father.”

“My aunt Doris lives in the guesthouse. She has for years and she sure as hell knows Daddy.”

“Well, Mrs. Simon, there’s someone else living there now.”

After a brief silence, Mrs. Simon spoke again, more quietly. “I do remember Daddy said he was thinking about putting the old witch in an assisted living place. Said she was starting to forget things. You know, leaving the stove on, not bringing her purse to the grocery store. Maybe he decided to let her live in the main house where he could keep an eye on her.”

“It was early when I stopped by. Maybe they were asleep and didn’t hear me. I’ll try again.”

Her tone regained that edge. “Well, far be it from me to tell you how to do your job, but I think you’d be wise to check out this new tenant as well.”

Graham held the phone away from his ear against the woman’s shrill exhortations. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll do that.”

“I would think so. My father could be missing and there’s a stranger living on his property. I expect to hear from you right quick.”

He gritted his teeth before he replied. “I’ll be in touch.” He hung up the phone as gently as his irritation allowed. Right quick, she’d said. Like hell. If he turned this over to the detectives, it could be weeks. No foul play, nothing out of place. This would sit at the bottom of their piles. Maybe he’d see what he could do on his own first. Besides, almost anything beat pointing a radar gun at tourists. He started clicking through databases.

The house and cottage were owned by Jeffrey Walters. No mention of a Doris. Property taxes were paid in full. No record, wants or warrants on either of them. Jeffrey seemed to be self-employed. A land developer, so travel wouldn’t be unusual.

DMV records showed a Buick Park Avenue registered in Jeffrey Walters’ name, the one he’d seen when he’d peeked in the garage window earlier. Graham bounced it around his brain for a minute or two. If the guy was missing, why was his car in the garage? No, still too many possibilities that didn’t mean anything. Walters might have taken a cab to the airport, or someone drove him. Hell, the jerk was probably away trying to buy up some property so he could build a bunch of condos or time-shares.

Everything hush-hush, get in before anyone else found out, like Walt Disney had all those years ago.

He shook his head, told himself to keep an open mind. He’d never get assigned to the Criminal Investigations Division by jumping to conclusions. Start with the basics. The man was single. Probably off for a bit of R and R with a woman and they took her car. Look for a woman.

A woman. What about Colleen McDonald? He found himself smiling involuntarily as he thought of her. He’d like to find a reason to talk to her again. The way she’d looked, bundled in that plaid robe, almost standing at attention when she spoke to him, yet with an air of defiance. Her fair skin sported a light sprinkling of freckles and he’d bet when her hair dried, she was a glorious redhead. A natural redhead. Especially with her bright green eyes. Tall, about five-eight in her bare feet, but making allowances for the dark circles and haunted weariness in those eyes, he’d say mid- to late-twenties.

Graham shook his head. He wasn’t used to being rebuffed. Quite the opposite in fact. Women usually went for the uniform and if that wasn’t enough, he’d turn on the Irish charm. He’d discovered most people, especially innocent ones, tended to babble when they spoke to the cops. Colleen had given him no more than absolutely necessary. Experience with the law, perhaps? He’d check her out. As he went to enter her name in the database, he realized he wouldn’t have to make up excuses to see her. He had a name, but hell, he hadn’t even asked her how she spelled it. Okay, there were only two choices, but any excuse worked for him.

Graham pushed away from the desk and went in search of Sergeant Briggs.

Briggs looked up from the pile of papers on his desk. His bald head always made Graham think of a dark chocolate truffle. “What can I do for you, Harrigan?” The sergeant’s deep voice filled his office. “This got something to do with that patrol call you took this morning?”

“Yes, sir. Everything looked fine—only today’s paper in the driveway, no mail backup, grass is cut. No answer at the door. The guesthouse had a new tenant and the daughter who requested the well-being check didn’t know anything about it. I thought I might give a few speeders a break this afternoon and go back. The daughter seemed upset.”

Briggs steepled his fingers and stared at Graham. “You’re still waiting for a CID slot, aren’t you? You and Clarke?”

“Yes, sir, but this won’t interfere with my Motors duties. If you prefer, I’ll look for Mrs. Walters on my own time.”

Briggs gave a noncommittal grunt. He inhaled, stared at the ceiling and then exhaled loudly. “Finish your morning Motors route. You can take half an hour after lunch.”

“Thank you, sir,” Graham said. After speeder duty, he’d grab a quick bite at First Watch, which would put him minutes away from the Walters’ house. Melinda might be working the lunch shift. But instead of Melinda’s face, he saw Colleen’s, with those haunted green eyes.

Laughter erupted from the squad room. The sound of his name, coupled with Clarke’s guffaws, eradicated Colleen’s image like windblown storm clouds. Damn it. It had been five years. He was a damn good cop and he was going to beat Clarke into CID no matter how many times the man tried to dredge up his past.

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