Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Sample chapters from new book
Here are the first 3 chapters of my new book-THE FINAL NOTE:
Prologue: A maid at the Santa Fe, New Mexico Holiday Inn Express watched a tall, darkly handsome man crouch down as if he’d just pushed something under a room door. He stood up and tipped his hat at her like someone in an old movie. His smile sent a chill down her spine as she turned around and headed back to the elevator. Note found slipped under Alexandra Walters' hotel room door: Hope you had a nice swim. I’m having room service bring up some lunch for you and your little girl. Please enjoy this at my expense. You have a long trip to Texas so I won’t keep you.
A secret admirer
Chapter 1- Life on the road stinks, I thought as I hit my head against the wall of the bus while trying to sleep in a tiny bunk that allowed you to feel every bump in the road. I had been on the road for twenty days and somehow it just wasn’t what I remembered it to be traveling as a kid with my family singing gospel music. Sure, it was cool touring the country in a converted Greyhound bus. Except of course for the fact that you seldom saw anything but the inside of the bus as you rambled past the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and most other tourist sights, in the middle of the night. And during the day we usually just saw the inside of a mall for a few hours before arriving late afternoon to set up at the next church for a concert; if we were lucky. Sometimes we spent the night in a hotel, which was my favorite part. I had always loved hotels; would live in them if given the chance. You never had to cook, no housework, no worries except what cable show to watch while lounging on your bed, or what book to read. I sighed. When my family showed up at my doorstep, and said they were hitting the road for a Walters Family reunion tour and would I like to go, it sounded great. Of course I was being stalked by a mysterious stranger, had brought two men to blows over me, and just solved a murder, so going away anywhere would have sounded good. Escape—yes that was what life on the road was really about. That and the music—I’d never get tired of the music. And I had my little girl, Jessica with me. What else did I need? I shook my blond mess of hair and rolled my eyes. Oh, I don’t know, maybe ten minutes of privacy? Or not to have my folks talk to me like I was twelve and decide for me when and where we eat. It wasn’t really that bad, it was nice being with my family again. My brother Jonathon had already won a hundred games of Skip Bo—only to be tied with my dad. But I was ready to go home; well almost. If only I didn’t have to choose between two men. And if only I didn’t have someone stalking me. Unfortunately, I’d been unable to escape the mysterious stranger who was now following me. Every church and hotel had an envelope, package, or flowers waiting for me. It was creepy and my sort of boyfriend, PI Stephen Carlucci, had been unable to find out who it was. Since he was the best PI in California, that was saying something. Whoever this person was they were smart, even if they were crazy. He managed to cover his tracks even when he had room service send breakfast up to our room in Sante Fe. Paying with cash, he managed to stay invisible and unknown. Perhaps I was being stalked by the Invisible Man or a ghost. He had also started sending typewritten notes instead handwritten and I found myself wondering why. Everything else was the same-same blue stationery, same creepy messages. I gave up trying to sleep and headed to the front of the bus. I grabbed a soda from the fridge and went to sit on the step by the driver. My dad turned his head and smiled at me. “Hey, Kid too bumpy back there? These California roads are the worst we’ve been on.” “It’s not so much the roads.” He nodded. “Not ready to face home. Well, we still have a couple more concerts to go so don’t worry about it yet.” I hadn’t told my dad about the stalker but he’d been witness to the fight between Stephen and Detective Wright. Will. “I’ll survive, Daddy. Always have. You see the problem is there just isn’t a man that can compare to you.” His deep, soft baritone laughter made me smile. I’d always loved his laugh. “I don’t know about that, but Pepsi should make things all better.” Our family were Pepsiaholics. Whenever things were bad we reached for one--whenever we needed to relax, we reached for one. We single handedly kept Pepsi in business. Yikes—it was worse than my friend Dorian and coffee. When we started the tour there were probably more Pepsi’s in the bins underneath than CD’s. We sat in silence for several minutes as the dark road sped along underneath the big tires. If only I could figure out who the stalker was—then somehow I’d deal with Stephen and Will. I hadn’t even heard from Will, which was a disappointment. Will had said he would give me my space, but made it clear he expected an answer when I got home. He’d remained true to his word. I had the feeling though he was checking up on me through my little brother Tommy. They’d hit it off really well. “Still a night owl I see,” said Tommy, making me jump. He sat down in the chair behind me and I twisted around to frown at him. “Thanks for the heart attack.” He laughed, sounding a lot like dad. His appearance though looked very little like our father’s. Tommy’s long, wavy hair fell past his shoulders, instead of being tied back in a tidy ponytail like during the day. But he did have the famous Pepsi in hand. I laughed. “I swear this bus must be half filled with Pepsi. I’m surprised this thing can even move. Think of how our gas mileage would improve without that load. Why are you up?” A frown creased his forehead. “Ah, you don’t want to go home either.” “Not so much that—I’ve had my fill of reliving the good old days. No offense, Dad.” “None taken, Son. I’m ready to go back to the easy life in North Carolina myself.” “Unfortunately, I don’t have a home to go back to. I left the band before coming to see you and the lease is up on my apartment in San Francisco. All of my stuff is in a storage unit in Oakland. I have no clue what I’m going to do beyond this week.” “You could move in with me, at least for awhile. Emilio is on tour with his band for about three months so I have a spare room.” I had an old two-story home I rented rooms out in and Emilio was one of many tenants and friends. Besides Jessica, the house was the only good thing my ex had left me. I smiled. “And you did seem to enjoy snooping around with me on that last case. Maybe you should ask Stephen for a job.” He looked at me with blue eyes identical to Dad’s. Wow, did we really become our parents? “That’s a great idea. I need something different. Thanks, Sis.” Tommy got up and headed toward the back. “Able to sleep now?” “No way, I have planning to do for when we get home.” The mischievous twinkle in his eye made me laugh. Wow—this was scary. I didn’t want to become my mom. Not that I didn’t love her, I just wasn’t anything like her. Or at least I didn’t think I was. Now I had one more thing to worry about. The morning sun slipped through the blinds on the window by my bed and woke me way before I wanted to get up. I’d finally managed to sleep but it had been fitful and full of dreams about mysterious strangers and rats—I’d never really recovered from being trapped in a burning barn with rats last year. Dad had stopped hours ago at an RV Park near Sacramento in a small town called Woodland. I lay there on my bed and listened to the quiet of the morning. Not a sole on this bus was a morning person. Not even my little girl Jessica—my Boo Boo Kitty. The quiet was nice. Once the day actually started by nine or ten the bus would be a bustle of activity. Everyone vying for their shot at the tiny shower, mom cooking Dad’s bacon and eggs, Jessica jabbering away at whoever would listen. It saddened me that she’d be going to kindergarten soon—I just wasn’t ready for that. I rolled over and looked at my cell phone sitting on the windowsill. It was only seven-thirty but I knew no more sleep would be coming. I grabbed the phone and quietly rolled out of bed. My clothes retrieved from the drawer under my bunk, I headed for the tiny bathroom. It took awhile for the water to get warm but once it did, I enjoyed the feeling as it washed over me, taking the chill from the morning. Morning clean, I dressed, combed my hair, put on a bit of makeup and headed for the front of the bus. I left a note on the table and headed out the door. Downtown Woodland was just a short walk away and for a change, I allowed myself to enjoy the morning. This had always been a favorite town of mine. Though the modern world was creeping up on it, Woodland retained much of its quaint character. The downtown was filled with little shops, coffee houses and restaurants--one of my favorites being an awesome BBQ place. This was the part of traveling I loved. Seeing and experiencing new places. I did more of that now traveling on my own than we’d ever done as a family. Then it was more about getting from service to service on time and killing time once you got there. I stopped at a corner and felt an odd chill run down my spine. I’d have sworn someone was following me, but I turned around and saw people walking by, but no one who seemed the least bit interested in me. Perhaps it was Tommy practicing to be a PI. No, too early for him too. A little coffee shop caught my eye and I went inside and slid into a corner booth. “May I help you,” asked a red haired waitress who looked to be about twenty. She reminded me of Missy, the waitress at the NoName Café back home in Donlyn, now only about four hours away. “Waffles sound awfully good. And coffee.” “Cream?” “Yes, thanks.” Off she went and I turned to look out the window. Not that many people were out on the streets this early, but there were a few here and there. For a second I swore a man in a dark suit was looking right at me, but then he walked away. I had too active an imagination. I jumped when I noticed the waitress was standing there staring out the window too. “That was an odd looking fella, wasn’t it? Friend of yours?” “Uh, no. Why do you ask?” “He was looking right at you.” She poured the coffee and left without another word. Odd. Was she right? Was he my stalker? A chill ran down my spine again. What did he want? What did he plan on doing? I found myself wanting to run back to the bus and keep Jessica safe. But it was time to stop running. I had to find this man and stop him. Chapter 2- I ate my waffles slowly, all the while keeping an eye out the window. But the mysterious man never returned. Surely, I was just being paranoid. By the time I had finished it was a more respectable hour and I headed out to peruse the local shops. When I had finished my shopping, I noticed it was noon and time to meet for lunch. Tommy and I had sworn we’d eat at the wonderful BBQ place. When I entered the restaurant, I felt swept back in time. The place was just as I had remembered. Picnic tables were in the center, with booths on the side. Red and white-checkered table clothes covered each table. The floor was wood and sprinkled with sawdust. It felt more like Texas than California. Tommy waved to me from a back booth and I headed over and slid in across from him. “How was your morning?” he asked, with a broad smile on his face. “Okay, and yours?” “I called Stephen.” He looked at me closely. “Hope you don’t mind my talking about him.” “Of course not, silly. What did you call him about?” “He’s taking me on as an apprentice. I’m going to be a P.I.” I’d seen it coming, yet I still didn’t believe it. “What about your music?” “I can play in a church worship band or something. I need a break from the road. You of all people should understand that.” Indeed I did. “Traveling with the family hasn’t made you hanker to be back on the road?” He laughed. “Not exactly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been fun being with the family again. But I’m sick and tired of being in a different place every night.” He ran a hand through his long curls, then pulled them back with a hair band. “I want to live in one place for awhile. Get to know normal people.” This made me laugh. “I’m not sure there is such a thing. Especially not in Donlyn.” Tommy tossed a napkin at me and I ducked. “Anyone would seem normal compared to the guys in the quartets.” “Speaking of which, did I hear Daddy say we were playing with someone tonight?” “Yeah, the Webers.” Food was set before us and he grabbed a rib and dug in. My heart sank to the floor. “The Webers? They aren’t together anymore, how is that possible?” “Oh, apparently Jerry Weber started the group up again. It’s mostly new people except him. Sounds like they’re doing really well. Should be fun,” he said, apparently oblivious to my distress. And I thought my day couldn’t get any worse. Jerry Web had been my first love; someone I wasn’t sure I’d ever really gotten over. But he’d been married. Over a year ago he’d come back into my life accused of murder. Seeing him had stirred up the old feelings and caused a lot of tension with Stephen. Great one more man around to confuse me. I sighed. What else could happen? As if to answer that question, Jerry walked through the doors right at that moment. He spotted us and headed on over, a big southern grin on his face. “I thought I’d find you guys here.” He reached out a hand and Tommy grabbed a wipe, then took the offered hand. Then he turned to me. I was almost certain I was blushing. “Jerry, how nice to see you under better circumstances.” He reached out both arms, as if expecting a hug. I stood up, deciding not to disappoint. I didn’t really want to. His slender, strong arms felt good around me. Jerry stepped back, still keeping his hands on my shoulders. “You look great, Alex. How are things?” “Ok,” I said, certain he could tell I was lying, but he didn’t press it. “Great. Mind if I join you?” Tommy said yes before I could object, not that I was able to think of a legitimate reason. I was probably worrying for nothing—it had been a long time since we’d been involved. The next several minutes were spent catching up on all of the latest quartet gossip. When we’d traveled as a family we’d often traveled the quartet circuit, hitting auditoriums in most of the major cities, especially in the south. While fun, it had also had its bad side. As a teenager I’d come face to face with the real world of Gospel music that unfortunately had its share of hypocrites and liars just like anywhere else. The worst of it had been the abuse. Old men being way too friendly with innocent young groupies. It had nearly destroyed me. In the process, I’d fallen deeply in love with Jerry. Only God protected me from ruining my life. But that was long ago. Accountability groups had formed over the last several years that I prayed were making a difference. It was hard to be away from one’s family most of the year and fight the loneliness without giving in to temptation. But as soon as I was old enough I’d run as fast as I could from that life. I kept singing on my own in churches, but that was as close as I’d gotten until the Gospel Music Convention in Donlyn last year. That had been hard, yet fun at the same time. Life was never easy. That was something I had learned to accept long ago. “Guess we’ll see you tonight then,” I said as I slipped out of the booth. He too stood up, a proper southern gentleman. Now I was forced to truly look at him. His light brown wavy hair, dark blue eyes and slender frame had barely changed in the past twenty years. Only a few lines betrayed his actual age. My heart melted at his mischievous smile, and yet no old familiar flutter. Perhaps I truly had moved on and could just enjoy the close friendship we’d once shared. “I hope to have a chance to catch up yet tonight.” “Perhaps,” I said then turned and left. I was sure he watched me until I was out of view. The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. I’d retreated to the bus, found Jessica playing games with her uncle Jonathon, so hid in my bunk and read. I was able to escape blissfully into an Ian Rankin novel set in Scotland. Maybe I should move there, I thought. Just forget all American men and start over. It was very tempting. Maybe my stalker would even leave me alone. Before I knew it, my daydreams were interrupted by the bus engine rumbling to life. We were headed for the Woodland Community Church, which held roughly a thousand people. Thanks to the Weber’s it would be packed. As I put on my black Converse, I scolded myself for not paying more attention to who would be singing with us tonight. My stomach filled with butterflies at the thought. I had enough men trouble already, I didn’t need this. But surely it was past now, there hadn’t been that flutter in my heart. I took a deep breath. “God, please let me not be in love with this man anymore—two men are plenty,” I prayed. I felt a bit better. We pulled up in front of the church to unload our CD’s and such. The church looked more like a gym on the outside than a sanctuary. Jessica followed at my heels as I got out of the bus. I took a deep breath and headed for the now open bin, and grabbed some boxes. “Can I help, Mommy?” asked Jess. “You can get the tablecloth if it’s not too big for you.” She grabbed the red velvet tablecloth. I couldn’t see anything but her feet. “It’s not too big,” she said as she made her way for the door of the church. This girl was far too much like her mom; independent and too grown up for her own good. My heart swelled with love for her—she and God were all I really needed. Forget men, I thought as I headed inside with my load. The church foyer was long and circled around the back of the church. Gray indoor/outdoor carpet covered the floor. Three long tables were set up along the wall. The Webers had already claimed two—they had far more to set out then we did. We hadn’t toured together in years but we still had copies of our final CD, I had some of my solo CD’s and Tommy had brought some of the CD’s from the River Rats; the jazz band he’d been with for a few years. I was thankful I didn’t recognize a single person setting up the Weber table; but then Jerry had always been in charge of the sound so he’d be inside. I’d have to face him again eventually. Jessica helped me set our CD’s on the table, then I arranged them in what I hoped to be an aesthetically pleasing way as I’d done so many times in the past. We both stepped back and with hands on hips looked over our work. “Looks fine, Kid.” I jumped at the voice behind me and spun around. “Stephen!” yelled Jess as she ran to fling herself into his arms. He spun her around before setting her back down. “Do I get a welcome from you too?” he asked, with a twinkle in his grey eyes as he flicked an unruly lock of blond hair out of the way. Had he known about the Webers, or did he have info about the stalker at last? “Of course you do. But why are you here?” I walked up and gave him a hug and a light kiss. “I just couldn’t stay away. I’m having no luck with the stalker thing back in Donlyn so thought maybe if I was on the scene I’d learn something. Don’t know why I didn’t come sooner really since he seems to be following you.” But I knew why I thought, he had promised to give me space. “Ssh. My family doesn’t know except Tommy. Are you sure you’re not here because you found out Jerry was going to be here?” He shrugged. He had known. “No pressure, okay. Just here to do a job and spend some time with my favorite ladies, whom I’ve missed.” Jess tugged on his tan sport coat. “Can you take me home? I’m sick of living on a bus.” I laughed. “So much for her being my kid. Stephen can’t take you home right now, Honey but we’ll be home soon.” She exhibited her famous pout, then ran off to find someone else to pout at. “Fine,” she said as she stomped away. A gray haired woman strode up to me before I could say anything more to Stephen. Short hair framed a face that had once been beautiful, but a frown took away from any beauty remaining. She wore a navy blue shirt and light blue blouse. “Are you Alexandra Walters?” “Uh, yes.” She shoved an oversized manila envelope at me. “This came in the mail a few days ago.” With this proclamation, she walked away. Stephen grabbed the envelope from my hand. “Is it the stalker?” “No return address so I imagine so. But there’s never been anything dangerous and I’m sure any prints are pointless after it traveling through the mail.” I took the envelope back and ripped open the end. Inside was a miniature box of chocolates and an engraved invitation. My hand shook as I opened the invitation—this was something new. You are invited to dinner at the Sherlock Holmes Cafe in Ayr Date: Monday, March 19 Time: 8 p.m. It is time we met. It is time for you to choose The invitation slipped to the floor just as Jerry walked in. He grabbed it and looked at me with concern. “Alex, what’s wrong?” His strong arms were supporting me before I could find my voice, and it felt so safe. Safer than I’d felt in ages. Stephen frowned. Chapter 3- “Long story,” I finally managed to squeak out. He kept an arm around me and looked up at Stephen who was a few inches taller than his five ten. “You tell me.” “This is none of your business.” He grabbed my arm and drew me away from Jerry with a little effort. “I’ve got it covered.” “It doesn’t look like it. Alex, talk to me.” Before I could speak, Jerry brought a chair over for me. I eased myself down into and was thankful the service didn’t start for another hour. Jerry squatted next to me and took my hand. Stephen glared at him. I looked up at Stephen. “Where is Ayr?” “Near Santa Cruz. The next stop on your tour which obviously he knew.” “We need to do the sound check for the Walters Family,” said a young man who peeked through the swinging doors from the sanctuary. Jerry looked at me. “Can you do this now? We can always wing it.” “I can do it.” I stood up. “We can talk later.” I handed the invitation to Stephen. “What do you think this means?” He shook his head. “I don’t know, but you can’t go.” This was enough to give me the strength I needed. I never liked being told what to do. “Yes I can.” With this, I headed into the sanctuary with Jerry at my heels. After the sound check, I went to the bus get ready. In the old days, I would have worn a floor length dress that looked somewhat like a modest prom dress—but not anymore. I hated dresses! After all the years I’d had to wear them because my parents insisted I had finally rebelled. It was almost funny to think of now. Even my mom wore pants a lot during the days now. Times change. But of course on stage she’d still be in a dress or a skirt and nice blouse. But not me. Only once in awhile did I feel the need to wear a dress—those rare times I wanted to feel really feminine. I put on nice black dress slacks and a long sleeve, black cotton shirt with red satin trim. I finished the outfit off with black heels, a Celtic cross necklace with a red stone, my red WWJD bracelet and a ONE bracelet on the other arm. My blonde hair fell down around my shoulders with the slightest bit of wave. I took a deep breath, satisfied but always just a bit nervous before going on stage. Once up there I’d be fine. The door to the bunkroom swung open with a bit too much force and banged against the sides of the bunks with a clank. “Mommy, can we go inside?” There was my little girl all grown up at five years old—at least in her mind. She had become just as bossy as my siblings said I had been. Maybe she was too much like me for her own good. “You know you’re supposed to knock first.” She frowned, then flung her long, dirty blonde hair back over her shoulders and smiled at me. “Sorry. Can we go now, please?” “Sure. Do you remember Jerry Webb? An old friend of Mommy’s?” “The cute guy with the blue eyes?” I laughed. Yes, she was her mommy’s daughter. “Now how do you know what’s cute?” Jessica frowned. “Yes, honey, the cute one with the blue eyes. He’s here tonight.” “Cool.” At seven P.M. the pastor introduced us and we came on stage to applause. It felt good. But the applause for the Webers would be even greater; they had been singing since the fifties and had won more Grammies than any other Traditional Gospel Singing Group in history. After thirty minutes of singing old favorites from our touring days, and a few new ones we’d learned for the trip, it was time for the Webers to come on stage. I stood in the back of the sanctuary and watched as people stood to their feet. A feeling of nostalgia almost overwhelmed me. The second man from the right made me smile and old feelings washed over me like a waterfall. His lead tenor voice was as strong and delightful as ever. Jess was indeed right, after all these years he was still cute. I shook my head. This man was married so it didn’t matter. I wasn’t about to go down that deadly path again. Besides, I already had too many men in my life. I walked out into the lobby. I could still hear the tight harmony of the four male voices. They were perfect. I was glad it was a different group than it had been three years ago—I wasn’t prepared to face that many old ghosts. What was I going to do about the stalker? Who was he? After all these months, we didn’t have a single clue. I had to meet him. I had to get my life back so I could go back home. Home. I missed my white two-story home with its big front porch and swing. I missed my roomers and friends. I missed my small town and the NoName Coffee Shop downtown. Donlyn. I wanted to go home. But I didn’t want to have to choose between Stephen and Will. I still didn’t have a clue how I was going to do that. I cared for them both. And now I was wondering just what my feelings for Jerry were? What a great big mess I’d made of my life. I sat down in a folding chair behind our table and closed my eyes. God, please help me know what to do, I whispered. After the crowd was gone and everything was put away securely in the buses, Jerry came up behind me and slipped his arms around my waist. Odd, I didn’t even jump—I had known immediately it was him. Of course the smell of English Leather gave him away but it was more than that. “So when are you going to tell me what’s going on?” he whispered in my ear. I turned around and disengaged myself from his arms. It was not a safe place to be. “I have a stalker.” I’d found simple and to the point was usually the best way to go when evasive no longer works. “Can’t your PI guy find out who’s doing it?” he asked with a touch of sarcasm. “He’s tried. Not a single clue has been found. But that note tonight was an invitation to meet him so maybe we can settle this all. Maybe he’s not a psycho.” For the first time I noticed the slight wrinkles in his brow. “There’s no way you’re going to that meeting.” “Oh yes I am.” “Then I’m going with you.” A long ragged sigh escaped my lips. Men. “He won’t show if you do. Stephen will be around somewhere watching over me. I’ll be fine. Don’t you need to leave?” He frowned and tiny age lines now showed around his lips. Maybe he actually had aged. Maybe we both had. Suddenly I knew I was no longer in love with him—that was past and would always be special. Jerry was my first love and I did still care for him deeply though. “I don’t like this. I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you.” His blue eyes softened. “Wouldn’t Kate be upset to hear you say that?” Jerry leaned his slender frame against the bus. “She realizes there’s nothing going on here. And she has accepted that I’ll always care for you—like a brother.” He grinned. We both laughed. “Well maybe not quite like a brother, but things have changed since I last saw you—our marriage is better than it’s ever been and I think she does accept that I care about you.” He straightened up and put his hands on my shoulders. “If I’m not mistaken I think things have changed for you too. There’s someone else you really love, isn’t there?” I looked down at my shoes. “Do I?” A strong hand lifted my chin up to where our eyes met. “I don’t think I’m wrong in saying I know you better than anyone. In your heart you’re still that same young girl I so admired and loved. I can see it—there’s someone you love though I’m not quite sure if it’s Stephen. Is it?” “I honestly don’t know.” I sat down on the curb and poured out to my dearest friend the insanity of my life over the last several months. Then we stood up and he gave me a big hug. “Follow your heart, Hon. You’ll make the right choice.” I sighed. He had always known me better than anyone—it was like he could see inside my heart. Jerry had been there for me when Jessica’s dad Mike walked out on us, and when my grandparents had died. He’d never failed me no matter how much time and space separated us. He was always there at my roughest points. I felt a little bit of the weight drop off my shoulders. “Thanks.” “Anytime.” The familiar twinkle returned to his blue eyes. “Alex, time to hit the road,” yelled Tommy from the bus. We hugged again and he whispered in my ear. “Be careful. I’ve missed you and wouldn’t want to see anything happen to you.” I forced myself to leave him. Smiled, then rushed for the bus. Once in the bus, my dad started up the engine and we were on our way to Ayr. If only I’d known what awaited me there I’d have grabbed the steering wheel and headed us in the other direction as far away from Ayr as I could get.