Foreshadowing and Backshadowing: Making Our Writing Seem Inexorable

I’m not one of those authors who are so overflowing with ideas that they can sit down and just let the words spew out of their fingers onto the page. I have to think of everything, which is why beginning a novel or creating a new character is so hard. I am faced with a universe of choices where all things are possible.

What am I going to write? How am I going to write it? First person or third? Sassy, sarcastic, serious? Who is going to be the main character? What does she most desire? Who or what is stopping her from fulfilling this desire? What does she look and act like? What are her internal traits, both her admirable ones and less admirable ones? Who are her allies? Who are her mentors?

askingAnd those choices lead to other choices. What does the character need? (As opposed to what she wants.) Is she going to get what she wants or is she going to get what she needs? For example, maybe she wants to be a homebody, to marry the boy next door, but what she and the story need are for her to become a senator and possibly leave the boy behind.

And so the choices continue, each choice narrowing the story’s universe a bit more.

One of the best parts of writing for me is when the weight of those choices become so great that the answer to future choices can be found in past ones. It gives the story a sense of inexorability, as if there were always only one way to tell the story.

For example, yesterday I wrote about creating a new character. Although Lydia was not originally my creation, but instead was an offscreen character created by Lazarus Barnhill in the first book of Rubicon Ranch, the serialization I am writing online with other Second Wind authors, I have adopted her as my own. Even if readers don’t remember who Lydia is, she will still pull the first book into the third, connecting them in a seemingly inexorable way, by making the sheriff confront his past. Ideally, it will seem as if this was our intention all along, with the first book foreshadowing the third when it is actually the third book backshadowing the first.

Lydia being a previously mentioned character narrows my choices, since she already has a name and a past, but there is still plenty of scope for choices. And in the end as in the beginning, writing is about the choices we make.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

Creating a New Character

J J Dare, author of False Positive and False World, delights in creating evil characters. A fellow collaborator in the Second Wind serialization, Rubicon Ranch, J J Dare created the monstrous victim in Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces, the second book of the series, along with a couple of his offspring. She calls her evil characters Bad Wasps.

We’re starting a new book,  Rubicon Ranch: Secrets, and seeing how much fun J J Dare has with her evil characters, I’d considered exchanging my ongoing character for a bad wasp, but my character, Melanie Gray, still has so much to accomplish that I can’t just dump the poor woman. She needs to find out who killed her husband and why, and she needs to resolve her feelings for the misogynistic sheriff.

I considered writing another character in addition to Melanie, and I almost gave up when I couldn’t think of a character I’d be willing to spend the next year with, but then I discovered Lydia Galvin. Or rather rediscovered her.

Lydia was an offscreen character in the first book of the series, Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s story — Sheriff Bryan’s lover. Told from the sheriff’s point of view, she was a grasping woman who wanted him to divorce his wife and marry her, but when he wouldn’t fall in with her schemes, she ended up turning him in to the disciplinary committee.

Here’s the excerpt (written by Lazarus Barnhill):

“Anyway, Lydia Galvin . . . Lieutenant Lydia . . . she and I had an affair. What Lydia wanted was love. And she wanted me. She could not believe I didn’t love her to the extent she loved me. She wanted me to leave Monica. When I wouldn’t, she threatened to tell her. I told Monica first, as a preemptory strike. Lydia had visions of confronting Monica. Boy was she surprised when Monica confronted her. Monica told her to be content with what she had with me, that she was going to mess up all our lives if she kept on.”

Bryan paused for a reaction from Melanie, but her serene face gave no indication of her thoughts.

He took a sip of tea. “Somehow Lydia got the idea that if she came between me and my career, between me and my marriage, I would magically realize how much I cared for her. Once she told the right people on the force what was happening, the disciplinary procedures couldn’t be stopped. And of course discipline issues on the police force become public record. I had been the beloved, fair-haired boy before. It was so totally different to become the pariah. Lydia came to me—even after I had cleaned out my office and watched them paint over my name on my parking space. She came to where I was standing and said, ‘Can’t you understand how much I love you?’”

“What did you say to her?”

“I said, ‘I’m still licensed to carry a sidearm in California and if you come near me again I’m going to shoot you between the eyes.’”

On rereading the passage, I realized how much of a philanderer’s point of view it portrayed. In trying to see the situation from Lydia’Lydias side, I got the impression of a woman, perhaps a bit lost, perhaps hard used by the sheriff who obviously wanted only one thing from her, and it wasn’t the love she so desperately craved. It must have hurt her deeply to try one last time to connect to the man she loved, and to have him threaten to kill her. Might this (and whatever in her background that made her so desperate for love in the first place) have turned her into a stonehearted woman willing to kill to serve her ends?

I’ll find out in the coming months as I develop the character. It should be fun to discover if she’s a bad wasp or merely a woman who’s had too much pain in her life.

f you have not yet checked out Rubicon Ranch, you can do so here: Rubicon Ranch.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Rubicon Ranch: Secrets — The Story Begins!

RRBookThreemidsizeRubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. The very first chapter of the very first book (Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story) was posted on October 24, 2010, and we are still going strong! In fact, we are getting better and better. Seven authors, including me, are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Secrets, which is shaping up to be a psychological thriller.

The  body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of a blow-up figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret someone would kill to protect? There will be suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he will also have to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

Although some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, the first collaboration in the series, and further developed in Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces, Rubicon Ranch: Secrets is a stand-alone novel, so don’t worry if you are new to Rubicon Ranch. A new chapter will be posted every Monday on the Rubicon Ranch blog. I’m posting the first chapter here, but if you don’t want to miss further chapters, please go to the blog and click on “sign me up” on the right sidebar to get notifications of new chapters.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery begin! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

(If the Christmas theme seems unseasonal, well . . . considering how long it takes to write a book at the rate of a chapter a week, in a few months, the season will catch up to us!)

Chapter 1: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram

Sunday, December 22; 7:05pm

Melanie Gray typed THE END, then sat back and studied the words on the computer screen. She’d found no satisfaction in telling the story of famed horror writer Morris Sinclair’s macabre life and death, and she felt no elation now that she’d finished the task. The evil man should have been buried in unhallowed ground and left to rot rather than be immortalized in a book, but she’d needed the money her publisher had offered. With the generous advance, she would be able to devote herself to finding out who killed her husband five months previously and, more importantly, why the murderer wanted Alexander dead. Morris had wooed death his whole life, so it was no surprise that death had come for him, but Alexander’s murder could not be so easily dismissed.

Tears stung Melanie’s eyes. She scrubbed the tears away, furious at herself for still grieving. She’d always considered herself a strong woman, up to any task, and yet she couldn’t write “the end” to her grief.

Damn you, Alexander! How could you do this to me?

She rose stiffly, stretched to get the worst of the kinks from her body, and tottered to the front closet for her coat. Except for a few hours of fitful sleep each night during the past nine weeks, she’d spent all her time at the computer, and she was sick of it. Sick of Morris Sinclair. Sick of death. Sick of Rubicon Ranch.

She opened the front door and blinked at the shadowy figures gliding through the darkness. Morris’s fans had descended on the neighborhood when news of his demise had hit the airwaves, and they had stayed when they learned that not all of Morris’s body pieces had been recovered. Dressed as vampires and zombies and ghouls of every imaginable—and unimaginable—ilk, they roamed the neighborhood and the nearby desert looking for necropieces in some sort of grisly treasure hunt.

Melanie hesitated, wondering at the wisdom of going out so late in the evening, but the twinkle of Christmas lights adorning a nearby desert willow made her set aside her caution.

Alexander had always loved Christmas, and no matter where in the world they happened to be living, he managed to find a tree and decorate it. If Alexander still lived in her memory, he’d want her to wander through the neighborhood so he could see the lights.

Smiling at the whimsical thought, she locked the door behind her and strolled down the driveway to Delano Road. Even with half the houses lit up with holiday decorations, the neighborhood seemed dark. Too many people had left the area, temporarily abandoning their homes, though the flickering of candlelight through closed curtains hinted that squatters had taken up residence in some of the empty houses.

Melanie stood at the curb, trying to decide whether to go right or left. “It’s your fault, Alexander,” she murmured. “Until you died, I never had a problem making decisions.” But now, it didn’t make any difference whether she went north or south, whether she left Rubicon Ranch or stayed. Without Alexander, everything seemed uniformly bleak.

A house across the street all at once came ablaze with thousands of small white lights. Melanie cut across the road and headed for the brightness, wishing Alexander could see the decorations for real. Lights outlined the driveway, every bush, every rock, and dripped from the eaves like dazzling falls of lace.

She walked leisurely, savoring the radiant display on Alexander’s behalf, then hurried past the next dwelling, which was dark, and slowed again at the following house to look at the whimsical blow-up figure of Santa on a motorcycle.

After the brilliance of the lights at the first domicile, she had to wait a moment to let her eyes adjust to the relative dimness of this scene. And then she wished she hadn’t hung around to get a better look. Santa, with a wide grin and an upraised hand, seemed to be gleefully running over the prone body of a woman. A mannequin, it looked like.

Melanie drew in a sharp breath. Who would create such a morbid tableau for Christmas? But then, seeing a vampire with glowing teeth run past her, she sighed. Anyone in this insane neighborhood could have done it. After Morris Sinclair’s demise, Rubicon Ranch had become a bacchanalia of death, a celebration of the worst in humanity.

A car moved along the street behind her. The headlights illuminated the scene as clearly as if it were day, and suddenly something seemed wrong. So very wrong.

The woman being run over by the cheery Santa looked stiff in the way of death, not stiff like a mannequin.

Melanie told herself to continue on, to forget the gruesome sight and enjoy the rest of the decorations, but her leaden feet refused to do her bidding. Finally, wishing she were anywhere but here, she crept closer to the scene.

She caught a faint whiff of death—like meat just beginning to go bad—and her heart beat faster.

No. No. She’d had enough of death. Alexander. Poor kidnapped little Riley Peterson. Morris Sinclair. How could so much death be associated with a community as small as Rubicon Ranch?

Melanie bent over the body and touched a finger to the side of the woman’s neck to check for a pulse, though she already knew the truth.

She fumbled in her coat pocket for her cell phone and wondered if the sheriff would continue to believe in her innocence. Hell, she didn’t believe it herself. Maybe she was some sort of Typhoid Mary when it came to death. She’d been the one who found Riley Peterson’s body out in the desert, stuffed in a television console. She’d been the one to lead the sheriff to the desert where they’d found the body of Riley’s birth father. She’d been the first one to come across a necropiece—a dismembered foot—after Morris was killed. And now once again she had found death.

She punched in 999, but when the call didn’t connect, she realized she’d used the emergency number for Britain. She cleared the number, then punched 119. Crap. Wrong again. That was the emergency number for Mozambique. Where was she? She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

Rubicon Ranch. Rojo Duro County. Mojave Desert. California. USA. Ah, yes. 911.

Melanie made the call, gave the information to the dispatcher, then pulled her coat more firmly around her to protect her from the chill of the high desert winter night.

She’d expected to wait a half an hour or more until the sheriff or his deputies could make the thirty-mile trip from Rojo Duro, but only ten minutes had gone by when a dark SUV pulled up to the curb, and Deputy Kelvin Midget slid out from behind the wheel more nimbly than seemed possible for such a massive man.

The SUV didn’t have official county plates, so Melanie supposed the vehicle was the deputy’s private ride. She felt a spasm of guilt at cutting into the man’s personal time, but then she remembered what Deputy Midget had once told her—that he’d lost his wife to pancreatic cancer about three year and a half years ago, and had come out west to start over so he could heal. Maybe, like Melanie, he had no real life but was just going through the motions of living.

“What seems to be the trouble, Ms. Gray?”

Shivering, Melanie pointed to the body.

Midget picked his way through the xeriscaping, got down on his haunches to check the woman’s neck as Melanie had, then rose to his feet without using his hands to shove himself upright.

“Did you see what happened?”

“No. Just found her lying here is all. Checked her pulse. Called it in.”

Midget walked around to the other side of the body, scanning the ground, his dark brow furrowed. “Did you find her purse?”

“No, but I didn’t look for it.” Melanie wondered about the deputy’s concern for the woman. It seemed more than simply a law enforcement officer’s professional interest in a crime scene. “Did you know her?” she asked.

“Didn’t you?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t know many people in the neighborhood.”

“Seth—Sheriff Bryan—thinks you notice everything.”

“Well, the sheriff thinks a lot of things that aren’t true.”

Midget made a small sound that might have been a chuckle. “Hit a nerve, did I?”

More to get away from the uncomfortable topic of the Sheriff than because she wanted to identify the woman, Melanie circled the body so she could get a better look. The woman did appear familiar at that. Aquiline nose, close set eyes, coiffed hair, manicured fingernails with a shimmering design painted atop the polish, high heels, tailored business suit.

Melanie backed away from the body. “I think she might be a real estate agent. I’ve seen her around the neighborhood.”

“Nancy Garcetti,” Deputy Midget said. “She sold me my house. Poor woman. She was such a terrible judge of character. Looked at the superficial and assumed she knew what the person was about. Kept notes of everything. You sure you didn’t find her purse?”

“Maybe the person who murdered her took it.”

“What makes you think she was murdered?”

“What else could it be? Nancy got tired, so she decided to take a nap by the wheels of Santa’s motorcycle and froze to death?” Regretting her caustic tone, Melanie huddled deeper into her coat. Had she become so used to murder that all death seemed so unnatural? But death was unnatural. A deletion of life. A void.

“People die from many causes,” Deputy Midget said. “It’s possible she had a heart attack. A stroke. Some sort of accident. A mugging gone wrong. Could be anything. We won’t know until the ME gets here.”

A tan Navigator parked behind Midget’s SUV, and Lieutenant Rosaria Frio stepped out of the vehicle.

The lieutenant looked even more like an Hispanic Barbie doll than when Melanie first met her. No emotion showed on the law enforcement officer’s beautiful face, and the dim light made her skin look plastically perfect. Only the glitter of the lieutenant’s dark eyes and her easy stride confirmed her humanity.

She greeted Deputy Midget with a nod. “You got here fast.”

“I just bought a house here in Rubicon Ranch over on Adobe Pobre Court. I told you about it. Got an awesome deal from a couple who could hardly wait to get away from the area. They said there was too much crime.”

“Imagine that.” Lieutenant Frio turned to stare at Melanie. “And here is our one-woman crime spree herself. Or maybe cadaver dog would be a better description.”

Melanie returned the Lieutenant’s gaze, but refrained from answering in kind. Lieutenant Frio seemed to have taken her in dislike when they met after Riley’s murder and her manner had only grown colder with the passage of the months. Melanie didn’t entirely blame her. If their places were reversed, she’d probably be just as skeptical as the lieutenant about her penchant for finding corpses.

Lieutenant Frio walked to body and stood over it for a moment, then slanted a glance toward Melanie. “Sheriff Bryan will be here shortly. He and his wife were dining out, and he needs to take her home first.”

Melanie remained impassive. She already knew the sheriff and his wife were back together. Melanie had talked to him a couple of times to get details for her book, and he had told her his wife had decided the celebrity-ridden area might not be such a backwater after all. He’d sounded apologetic, but other than behavior that bordered on unprofessionalism, he had nothing to apologize for. They hadn’t had an affair, not even a fling. Just a little bit of flirtation and a lot of anger.

“Can I go?” she asked.

“I’ve questioned Ms. Gray,” Deputy Midget said. “If we need her again, we know where to find her.”

Lieutenant Frio turned her implacable gaze toward Melanie. “Don’t leave the county.”

If anyone else had deadpanned such a remark, Melanie would have assumed it was either a friendly suggestion or possibly a joke, but coming from the lieutenant, the command sounded like a jail cell slamming shut.

Melanie wanted to run back to her place, but she forced herself to walk since she was sure the lieutenant would see haste as a sign of guilt. She tried not to look at the houses she passed. The joyful decorations suddenly seemed obscene.

She didn’t believe Deputy Midget’s suggestion that Nancy had died of natural causes. The missing purse hinted that something grimmer was going on. What secrets Nancy had kept in her purse? Everyone in Rubicon Ranch seemed to have something to hide. And someone—perhaps someone in one of these very houses—might have a secret they would kill to protect.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

Writing a Collaborative Mystery Serial

I’m collaborating with several other Second Wind Publishing authors to write a series of mystery novels online. We are posting the chapters on a blog so everyone who wants to can follow the serial as we write it. Actually, collaboration is a bit of an over-statement. Rubicon Ranch is more of a cross between a role-playing game and round robin or campfire tale, with each of us authors taking turns adding to the story without knowing where we are going except toward the solution of the murder. We each create and control a POV character, show who s/he is, what relationship s/he has with the deceased, and why s/he might want the victim dead.

I have it easy — my character, Melanie Gray, is a photographer/writer who wanders the desert taking photos for the coffee table books she used to write with her dead husband. (He wasn’t dead when they were working together, of course.) He died in a one-car accident while texting his mistress, though there are suspicious circumstances leading investigators to think that perhaps he was killed. Melanie has a talent for finding strange things in the desert, such as the child’s body stuffed in an abandoned television console in the first book, Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, and the scattered body parts that were found in the second book, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces. Her presence at these crime scenes is all that leads the sheriff to suspect her, though I do try to add a bit of intrigue to make it seem as if she could be guilty.

The other authors, however, have to simultaneously prove that their characters are the murderer, yet also have a plausible explanation for why the characters acted guilty if they weren’t the murderer. (That’s because we don’t know whodunit until all the end of the book. So not only do readers of the ongoing story not know who the villain is, neither do we.)

In the first book, the authors solved the problem of simultaneously setting their characters up to be murderers while allowing for the possibility that they were innocent by giving their characters strange characteristics, such as sleepwalking, to keep the characters themselves from knowing if they were the killer.

In the second book, there was no way the killer could be unaware of having killed the victim. Even if by chance the character killed in some sort of fugue state, the character was still faced with a dead body, which he or she cut in small pieces and distributed around the area. The authors created some wonderfully devious characters with strong motives for killing the evil man who damaged them for no reason other than because he could. Any of them could be the murderer. And any of them could simply be innocent (or not so innocent) red herrings.

We are through with the second book and are in the process of organizing the third installment of the series. In this one, Melanie won’t find a body in the desert since understandably she’s a bit leery of walking in such a deadly place, so she will have to find it elsewhere, perhaps beneath the wheels of a blow up figure of a Santa Claus on a motorcycle.

We have a victim — a real estate agent, the same one who found the disembodied head of the victim of the second book inside the house where the victim of the first book once lived. Apparently she likes to snoop, and since so many residents of Rubicon Ranch have a secret they are willing to kill to protect, it sounds like the potential for a lot of mayhem!

I’m looking forward to seeing what the other authors come up with. I hope you will follow along with us as we continue this innovative crime serial.

Meantime, if you haven’t checked out Rubicon Ranch, and wish do so, click here: Rubicon Ranch.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Rubicon Ranch ~~ Prepare for Mayhem!

Rubicon Ranch: NecropiecesI enjoy finding out how other writers approach their craft, and especially how they develop their characters. J J Dare, author of False Positive and False World, delights in creating evil characters. As a fellow collaborator in the Second Wind serialization, Rubicon Ranch, J J Dare created the monstrous victim in Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces, the second book of the series, along with a couple of his offspring.  In her blog post Bad Wasps, J J Dare said of her two POV characters:

They’re bad. Bad to the bone. Bad in ninety-five percent of their molecular makeup. If an ice-cream flavor was named after them, it would be “Vinegar and Vinegar” and it would taste just as sour as it sounds.

They are evil, narcissistic, self-centered, selfish and plain mean. Both characters think nothing of climbing over the living and dying bodies of anyone in their way. They are Bad Wasps.

So, why did I write them this way? It’s not a reflection of me. I’m fairly mild, with only a bit of flair once in a while. And I’ve never wanted to murder my parents.

I’m glad she added those last two sentences. Someday J J and I will meet, and I’d hate to have to go to the meeting prepared for mayhem.

Seeing how much fun J J Dare has with her evil characters, I’d considered exchanging my character for a bad wasp (or perhaps revealing a waspish side, which I might someday do), but my character, Melanie Gray still has so much work to do that I can’t just dump the poor woman. She needs to find out who killed her husband and why, and she needs to resolve her feelings for the misogynist sheriff.

J J’s characters might not reflect her, but Melanie Gray is a lot like me. She’s a writer dealing with grief, she wanders in the desert, she’s fairly calm and passive though she can be riled. Even though she started as an alter ego (but younger) she turned out to be a world traveler, which I am not, and she has a penchant for finding dead bodies, which I don’t. Thank heavens for that! Being some sort of human cadaver dog has never been an aspiration of mine.

If you have not yet checked out Rubicon Ranch, now would be a good time. You can download the first book free in the ebook format of your choice here: Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story and you can follow the second book as we finish writing it here:  Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces. And you will have to prepare for mayhem!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces — The Story Continues

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. Seven authors, including me, are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces.

Residents of Rubicon Ranch are finding body parts scattered all over the desert. Who was the victim and why did someone want him so very dead? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Although some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, a previous collaboration, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces is a stand-alone novel.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery continue! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

Chapter 34: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram

Sheriff Bryan turned off the highway onto Tehachapi Road and wound through Rubicon Ranch. Melanie gazed out the Navigator’s window at the beautiful houses. Although the buildings were typical California housing development architecture—stucco with tile roofs—many of the dwellings were custom-built, so none of the houses looked exactly like any other. Spanish, Moorish, and Mediterranean styles dominated, but Cape Cod designs, Greek revival porticos, and ranch-style houses were also prevalent.

It seemed strange, Melanie thought, that the lovely facades hid such horror—death, murder, dismemberment.

“When I took this job,” the sheriff said, “I figured Rubicon Ranch would be the least of my troubles. It seemed such a quiet place.” He shot a glance at her. “You find that funny?”

It had been so long since Melanie had smiled that it took a moment for her to realize her lips had quirked up in acknowledgment of their synchronized thoughts.

“Not funny, no. It’s just that the area does seem quiet and innocent, as if nothing bad could happen here. And from what I can tell, nothing bad happened until I came. First Alexander was killed, then Riley, then her father and her kidnappers, and now Morris. I know it’s foolish, but I can’t help feeling as if it’s all my fault.”

“Is it?” Bryan asked without a trace of friendliness.

“Note to self,” Melanie muttered. “Never confide in a cop.”

“What about if the cop confides in you? All hell is breaking loose in Rubicon Ranch, and I’d like to tell you what’s going on if that’s okay.”

“Ah, back to the nice cop. It’s amazing how you can do the good cop/bad cop routine all by yourself.”

“Bad cop?” He flashed a smile that could only be called a leer, but then he seemed to think better of it, and straightened his mouth into its normally stern lines. “Have you met Eyana Saleh? Egypt Hayes?”

“Haven’t met either of them.”

“It’s the same person. Petit woman, mixed heritage, new to Rubicon Ranch.”

“Oh! I’ve seen her. She’s always wandering around taking photos of the neighborhood. She’s beautiful and has such lovely skin. Eyana Saleh? That’s her name? It fits her. What has she done?”

“Right at the moment she’s in the hospital. Been beaten pretty bad. She’s not saying much, but one of her assistants found her and described the man she saw running from the house, and the description fits Jake Sinclair.”

“Have you arrested him yet?”

“He’s not going anywhere. He’s in the hospital too, just down the hall from Eyana. His arm was chewed almost to the bone.”

Melanie gaped at the sheriff. “Eyana ate him?”

“A coyote did, or so he says. Apparently, after he beat up Eyana, he ran off to the desert. That’s where the medivac helicopter picked him up. He’s not saying anything, either, though maybe when he finds out how unpleasant those rabies shots are, he’ll come clean. The doctor says it’s definitely a canine bite though he guesses it’s a domesticated creature. The only dog in the area that I know of that’s big enough to do so much damage so quickly is the bull mastiff Tara Windsor owns, but she’s keeping mum, too.”

“Tara Windsor is in Cabo with her pool boy.”

“What? How do you know?”

“My agent. She’s a celebrity hound.”

Sheriff Bryan tapped a long, well-shaped finger on the steering wheel. “So, a woman comes to town looking like Tara, telling everyone her name is Leia Menendez, wink, wink, leading everyone to believe that she’s the actress but is really Leia? Whoa. If Tara could act that good, she’d be a shoo-in for an Oscar. Playing Lizzy Borden, maybe. An axe was found in the Sinclair house under Jake’s bed. We think Leia put it there, but our witness is a bit unreliable since she was having hysterics at the time.”

“And here I thought the life of a cop was boring,” Melanie said. “All routine and paperwork.”

“Not boring enough. The witness is Nancy Garcetti, a real estate agent. She found Morris’s head in the Peterson house and went flying down the street, screaming all the way. She says while she waited for my deputies to arrive, she saw Tara Windsor sneaking around the side of the Sinclair’s house, and Tara was carrying something that looked like an axe. We can’t find any other witnesses, and Tara or Leia or whatever her name is, isn’t admitting anything.”

“Is it the axe that killed Morris?”

Bryan shook his head. “The ME says not. He says it’s animal blood, thin blood, like from a roast. Then, as if this isn’t enough of a circus, we have electric boy. Ward Preminger.”

“I know who you mean,” Melanie said. “He’s also new to the neighborhood. Seems to crackle with static electricity. Has a fixation with the Morris house.”

The sheriff turned onto Delano Road. “As near as we can figure it, Ward blamed Morris for his condition, though apparently his brain got rewired when he was zapped by lightning while trapped in a tornado. He—” The chirping of a cell phone interrupted him. Bryan pulled the device out of a sheath on his belt and held it up to his ear. “Yes,” he said. “Yes . . . Okay . . . Sure . . . Thanks . . . Be right there.”

He sheathed his phone. “I have to go. We got the preliminary autopsy reports.” He made a quick u-turn and pulled up in front of Melanie’s rented house.

Melanie climbed out of the vehicle and stood on the curb until the Navigator sped out of sight, then she trudged to her front door, unlocked it, and entered the silent house.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces — The Story Continues

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. Seven authors, including me, are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces.

Residents of Rubicon Ranch are finding body parts scattered all over the desert. Who was the victim and why did someone want him so very dead? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Although some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, a previous collaboration, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces is a stand-alone novel. The first chapter will be posted on Monday, June 11, and one chapter will be posted every Monday after that.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery continue! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

Chapter 33: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram

Morris. Melanie shuddered, remembering her encounter with the famous author and his request for photos of necropieces. Well, now the evil old man was just a bunch of dead body parts himself.

The sheriff seemed to be focused on his driving, but a bird-like tilt of his head gave her the impression he was trying to hear her thoughts. Well, whatever other abilities Seth Bryan might have, she doubted he was clairvoyant. He never seemed to understand her or her point of view.

“I don’t know anything about Morris,” Melanie said. “And I’m not sure there’s much to know. Of all the people I’ve encountered in Rubicon Ranch, he seems the least opaque.”

The sheriff made a small noise that could have been a choke of laughter or a grunt of derision, but other than that, he remained silent.

“I mean, he is a despicable human being,” Melanie continued, “and whoever killed him should probably be given a medal for something . . . saving the earth, perhaps. But Morris doesn’t really hide what he is. He might have feigned Alzheimer’s, but that was simply because he felt like it. All that matters to him are his wants, and since he has the money to indulge himself in his evil fantasies, there is nothing to stop him.”

“Nothing?” Sheriff Bryan said quietly.

Was nothing to stop him.” Melanie stole a look at the sheriff. Did her simple error in syntax make her seem guilty to him? She had no idea how his mind worked, and his eyes hidden behind those silly mirrored sunglasses gave her no clue.

She considered asking him if he knew who killed Morris, but he’d probably use that as an excuse to interrogate her about her neighbors, and she had nothing to say. She didn’t want to tell him about seeing the supposedly decrepit and curmudgeonly old Eloy Franklin laughing and frolicking with his dog as if he were a man half the age he pretended to be. Nor did she want to talk about the new people she’d seen wandering around the neighborhood as if it were a theme park—Murder World, or some such.

And she certainly didn’t want to talk about herself. She wouldn’t like to give the sheriff any hint of her true strength or deadliness, or he might decide to use the knowledge against her.

She stared out the window at the empty desert they were passing and wondered what he would think if she were to tell him about wrestling a boa constrictor in Costa Rica. The pale tan snake with its brown markings had been almost invisible hidden in the undergrowth, and she had tripped over it. Boas were tree-dwellers, so she wasn’t on the lookout for such a creature on the ground. She had since learned to be aware of everything in her surroundings, but back then, she was still unused to seeing danger lurking in innocent places. She figured out later the boa must have been sick or old or weak, otherwise she’d have been squeezed to death before she could unwrap the beast from around her torso. Still, it had taken all her considerable strength to save herself. And Alexander hadn’t lifted a hand to help. He had simply photographed the episode. Not exactly a knight in shining armor.

What would the sheriff have done in that situation? Kill the poor creature in an attempt to rescue the damsel in distress?

A low rumble that Melanie interpreted as a chuckle came from the man beside her. “I can hear your mental wheels spinning,” Bryan said. “Care to share what you’re thinking?”

“What are you, the thought police?” Realizing that perhaps she’d sounded too harsh for what could conceivably have been a guileless query on his part, she softened her tone. “I was just wondering if you were the knight in shining armor type, is all.”

Seth Bryan tapped the badge pinned to his left shirt pocket. “This is all the armor I need.” Then he smiled at her—a real smile that showed dazzling white teeth and a hint of a dimple. “Well, this badge and a bullet-proof vest.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces — The Story Continues

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. Seven authors, including me, are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces.

Residents of Rubicon Ranch are finding body parts scattered all over the desert. Who was the victim and why did someone want him so very dead? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Although some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, a previous collaboration, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces is a stand-alone novel. The first chapter will be posted on Monday, June 11, and one chapter will be posted every Monday after that.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery continue! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

Chapter 32: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram

Melanie trudged along the left side of the highway, facing traffic, the blister on her heel burning with every step. The sun had come out, and the road was now dry, but her shoes and socks remained wet from slogging through the flooded gutters back in Rojo Duro.

After Sheriff Bryan dropped his bombshell—Why did you do it, Melanie?—he had been called away, leaving the question hanging in the air. Two hours later, he still hadn’t returned, but a kid who looked as if he were straight out of the police academy brought her coffee. She had demanded the use of a toilet, and the young deputy ushered her to the lavatory. He wasn’t waiting for her when she finished, so she had simply walked out of the sheriff’s department. No one stopped her.

She’d now been walking for hours, but was still far from Rubicon Ranch. Maybe she should have returned to the interrogation room and waited for the sheriff, but if he still wanted her, he knew where to find her—at home in about seven more hours.

“See what you’ve done to me, Alexander,” she murmured, tears stinging her eyes. “Not only have you left me alone with only a ghost to talk to, you’ve turned me into an escaped prisoner.” Wearily, she scrubbed away the tears. She was sick of crying, sick of Alexander being gone, sick of the way her life was turning out. Once she’d felt strong, like a warrior, capable of anything. And now? Just a tired widow, at the mercy of her emotions.

A vehicle veered off the right lane, and pulled up alongside her.

“Get in,” Sheriff Bryan commanded.

Melanie wanted to refuse, but oncoming traffic gave her little opportunity to assess the matter, and besides, her blistered heel was throbbing with pain.

She scurried around the tan Navigator and slipped into the front seat. The sheriff stomped on the accelerator. The vehicle shot back into the right lane, narrowly averting a head-on collision with a white Subaru.

“Are you always so reckless?” Melanie asked.

“Are you always so reckless? What do you think you’re doing, walking along the highway like that?”

“Going home, where I would have been all day if your thugs hadn’t arrested me.”

“You weren’t under arrest. I just needed to talk to you, and I couldn’t get away.”

She gave him a narrow-eyed look. “So I’m not a suspect? Then why did you tell my publisher I was?”

He grinned. “It got you a bigger advance, didn’t it?”

She slumped in the seat as much as she could against the restraints of the seat belt, and folded her arms across her chest.

“You have to admit,” Sheriff Bryan said in a softer tone than any she had yet heard issuing from his mouth, “you need help.”

Melanie sat up straight and glared at him. “Help? Help? Who says I need help? Is that why you arrested me? To help me?”

“Now that’s the Melanie I know and love.” He must have sensed the indignant response she was about to hurl at him, because he added quickly, “It’s just an expression.”

Melanie dropped her head into her hands. Why did this man keep her so off balance? Was it that her grief made her vulnerable and any attention would send her reeling, or was there something more going on? Either way, she had to get a grip on her emotions. Warrior, she reminded herself.

She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “Why did I do . . . what?”

As cryptic as her comment sounded, he didn’t pretend to misunderstand her reference to the question he had asked in the interrogation room.

He sighed as he had done then. “Why did you shut me out when I poured out my heart to you? I was more open to you than I’ve ever been to any other woman. You could have at least told me you understood, even if you weren’t interested.”

She stared at him in total non-comprehension, and though he glanced at her, she couldn’t pick up any clues as to what he was thinking. She could only see herself in the mirrors of his sunglasses. And then all at once she understood.

During the investigation into little Riley’s murder, the sheriff had taken her to lunch and told her his story. How he’d been the fair-haired boy. President of his class in high school. Pledged the best fraternity in college. Dated a cheerleader and married her after graduation. Went into law enforcement. Hired on at the Greene City Police Department. Became a detective. Got his masters. Went up through the ranks like a shot. Became the youngest captain in the history of the force. Was on the fast track to becoming Chief of Police when he had an affair with a junior officer on the force.

He’d said that his wife knew about the other woman, that she stayed with him because he was the favorite son of Greene City, but when the affair came to light, he lost his job, his status, and his wife—at least temporarily. He claimed that though he was through with her, she wouldn’t give him a divorce because she still believed that one day he was going to be a major police chief, maybe in LA, and she was waiting to get a piece of that large salary in alimony payments.

What Melanie had taken to be a come-on—his letting her know that even though he was married, he was available—he’d apparently meant as a way of opening up to her. And she had run out on him.

But not because of the supposed come-on. Because of Alexander.

“You lied to me,” she said. “You told me you went to the scene where my husband died and came to the conclusion that it had not been an accident. The cops told me it was a hit and run, that someone had rear-ended the car with such force that Alexander crashed head-on into a concrete abutment, but when I went out the scene right afterwards, I didn’t see anything to indicate that another car was involved, so how could you have seen anything weeks later? It’s possible someone had tampered with the car as Riley said, but the only way to find that out was to investigate the vehicle itself. And you didn’t care enough to check it out.”

“Repeat that.”

“You lied to me,” Melanie said.

The sheriff held up a hand. “Not that. Riley.”

“It’s hearsay.”

“This isn’t a court of law. Just tell me.”

“Supposedly, Riley told Moody that she’d seen someone messing with our car.”

“Did she say who?”

“No. Morris accused me of killing Alexander. He said that Riley told Moody she’d seen me messing with our car. When I asked Moody about it, she told me Riley hadn’t mentioned any name, just that she had seen someone. Moody said she didn’t believe that Riley really saw anyone. But she believed it enough to mention it to her father.”

Melanie waited for the sheriff to say, “Aha! So you’re the one who murdered Morris!” But he didn’t say anything. Just rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“And since we’re talking about Alexander,” Melanie said, “You never returned his cameras to me. I want them back.”

The sheriff turned his mirrored stare toward Melanie. “Cameras?”

“Yes. All of his cameras were in the car. Six of them. I want them back.”

“There were no cameras.”

“Where are they? They were in the car when he left that day. I put them there myself.”

“Ms. Gray, no matter what else you might think of me, I am a great law officer. I know my job. There was no indication in the report of any officers seeing cameras in the vehicle. And the report does not state that Alexander was rear-ended. It was a merely a surmise by one of the state troopers, and he had no business telling you that. Riley was right. Someone did tamper with your car. Someone very knowledgeable and very skillful. The brake lines were cut and the steering wheel loosened. I suspected that when I checked out the scene of the accident and found no skid marks. The car simply plowed into the abutment at a high speed.”

“Maybe the flex lines were worn through. That happened to me once.”

“The car was new. We sent the vehicle to a lab down the hill since we don’t have an automotive lab up here in the high desert, and I just got the results, which is why I wanted to talk to you today. All four metal brake lines were cut so precisely that when Alexander slammed on the brakes, he instantly lost hydraulic pressure in both the front and rear brakes at the same time. With today’s vehicles, cutting the brakes like that is almost impossible for a professional to do, and completely impossible for an amateur.

Melanie clutched her stomach, feeling the same sort of visceral grief as when she heard that Alexander was dead. Alexander . . . murdered? By a professional killer? An assassin?

“It’s not possible,” she said aloud.

“Alexander must have traveled a long way after his brakes failed—the closest brake fluid stain I found was about a mile and a half from where Alexander went off the road.”

“But supposedly when he died, he was texting a woman he was having an affair with. How could he have been texting her if his brakes broke more than a mile away from where he crashed? Wouldn’t he have dropped the phone and tried to control the car?”

“Yeah. I’m having a problem with that scenario, too. We need to talk to the woman, but the number Alexander was texting is out of service. It feels to me as if the phone with the texts was a plant to make everyone think exactly what the official report said—that Alexander lost control because he was texting while driving.”

Melanie put her hands on her head, trying to still the roiling thoughts. “I can’t deal with this right now. Take me home. Please.”

“I’m sorry,” the sheriff said in a soothing tone that might have been practiced but still managed to sound sincere.

For just a second Melanie wished he would stop the vehicle, put his arms around her, and hold her. “There’s just so much death. Alexander. Riley. Riley’s father. The Petersons. Morris.”

“That’s the other thing I need to talk to you about,” Sheriff Bryan said in his official voice. “Morris.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces — The Story Continues

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime serial set in the desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. Seven authors, including me, are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces.

Residents of Rubicon Ranch are finding body parts scattered all over the desert. Who was the victim and why did someone want him so very dead? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Although some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, a previous collaboration, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces is a stand-alone novel. A new chapter is posted every Monday.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

Chapter 25: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram

Melanie paced her rented house, wandering through the great room to the bedroom, then up the stairs to her loft office to stare out the window. The clouds that had skirted Rubicon Ranch all day yesterday had settled over the town in the early morning hours. The rainstorm had now weakened to a soft drizzle, but floodwaters were swirling out of the desert and down the middle of the street like dirty bath water in search of a drain.

Melanie half expected to see body parts floating by, but it had been forty-eight hours since she had found the ravens breakfasting on the disembodied foot, so perhaps by now all the necropieces had been discovered. Shivering, she turned from the window, trudged down the steps to the great room and then into the bedroom. She’d spent most of the fifteen weeks since Alexander’s death roaming the desert, and she found it almost impossible to relax during this enforced incarceration. If she were any kind of photographer instead of an amateur shutterbug, she’d be out in the desert despite the rain, chronicling the way the runoff was recreating the desert floor, but her tiny camera wouldn’t stand up to the moisture, and then where would she be?

She plodded back through the great room and up the stairs again. Her cell phone rang, and for just a second, her spirits rose. Alexander! He was finally calling to tell her he was coming back. Just as abruptly, the realization that he was dead hit her like a physical blow, and tears spilled down her cheeks. Why couldn’t she remember that he would never come home? His body had been cremated and the ashes stored in a square brass urn sitting atop the dresser until she could take them high up into the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and scatter them.

By the time she reached her bedroom where she’d left her cell phone on the nightstand, the phone had stopped ringing. The tiny screen showed the number for her agent, and when the phone rang again, she considered not answering. What could the woman say that hadn’t been said a dozen times before? Melanie already knew her deadline had passed. She already knew she owed the publisher either the book or the return of the advance. She already knew . . . Oh, crap. It would be better to talk to Dottie and get it over with.

“Yes?” she said, hating the hesitancy she heard in her voice.

“Dahling!” Dottie chirped. “I’ve been calling and calling. Have I got good news for you! I’ve been talking to Jack, and he says you can have all the time you need to finish the desert book. He’ll even hire a photographer for you. And he’ll send you five hundred thousand dollars, though I’m sure I can get him up to a million.”

“What does he want from me? A kidney?” Jack Nolan, her publisher, had a reputation for wringing every last bit of creative effort from his authors while paying the least possible advance. He got away with it because, despite his miserly ways, he was scrupulously honest, remitting every penny of the royalties his authors earned.

Dottie chuckled. “So cynical, dahling. It’s perfect, really. You’re there. You know the people and the place. And from what I understand, you live next door to the Sinclairs.”

“No,” Melanie said, without a hint of uncertainty in her tone.

“You don’t live next door to them? My sources—”

“I mean, no. I will not write whatever book Jack wants me to write. I’m going to finish the desert book and then . . .”

“And then what? Knowing Alexander, he probably left you not only broke but also in debt. Someone is going to write the book about Morris Sinclair. It might as well be you.”

“Wait a minute,” Melanie said. “How do you know what’s going on here?”

Dottie laughed. “The whole world knows. It’s everywhere. On television, Facebook, Twitter. It’s such a delicious story. The author of the infamous ‘Necropieces’ series has himself become a series of necropieces. His fans don’t believe he’s permanently dead. They are holding vigils, waiting for him to come back to life. And his head was found in the house where that little girl died. Riley? Is that her name? The girl that was kidnapped as an infant and then killed by her biological father? How can you not want to write the story of Rubicon Ranch? It’s going to be huge. Humongous.”

“Not interested.”

“Wait! There’s more!” Dottie said. “You gotta love this stuff. One of the suspects in Morris’s murder is Tara Windsor.”

“Who?” Melanie asked.

“You had to be living out in the boonies somewhere not to have heard of Tara. Oh, right—you’ve been out of the country for the past umpteen years. Tara is an actress. She was in that movie with that actor, you know, the one with the gorgeous abs? No, I guess you don’t know. Anyway, it turns out the suspect isn’t Tara at all. Tara is in Cabo with her pool boy. Don’t you just love it?”

Melanie sank down onto the bed, suddenly weary. “No.”

“And then there’s you,” Dottie said slyly.

Melanie sat up straight. “Me? What about me?”

“The cops say you’re a suspect. You knew that, right? Jack says if you killed Morris and tell all the gory details, he’ll up your advance to two million.”

A suspect. Melanie had presumed the Sheriff’s insinuation that he considered her a suspect was his way of manipulating her and keeping her off balance, but if he or someone in the Sheriff’s department had given out her name, then she really had a problem. She heard the echo of herself screaming at Morris, “You leave me alone, Sinclair, or I’ll be shooting your dead body parts.” Could she have been more foolish?

“Do you know a good lawyer?” She gave a small laugh, wanting Dottie to think the question a joke, but fear clutched at her belly with clammy fingers. Maybe she’d have to write Morris’s story in order to pay for a defense attorney.

“You might not be a celebrity on a par with Morris or Tara,” Dottie said, “but you and Alexander have quite a following. Since there’s been mention of your involvement in Alexander’s death—”

“Who told you I was involved in Alexander’s death?” Melanie demanded.

“Just a guess.” Dottie voice sounded smug, as if she’d caught Melanie out in a secret. But there was no secret when it came to Alexander’s death. Just shoddy police work. “So many important deaths in such a small place make for a good story,” Dottie added.

“All the deaths are unrelated,” Melanie pointed out.

“Perhaps, but it’s more likely they are connected somehow. After all, Morris had autopsy photos of that little girl, and Alexander took some photos of necropieces for Morris.”

“You knew about that?”

“Alexander accidentally included a couple of the pictures when he sent Jack a batch of desert photos.”

Melanie sighed. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe Alexander’s death had something to do with Morris and the evil that this place seems to bring out in people.”

“So can I tell Jack you’ll write the book if he gives you an advance of a million dollars?”

“No. But you can tell him I’ll consider it.”

“Good girl. I’ll see what I can do about finding you a lawyer.”

Melanie set the phone on the nightstand, and put her head in her hands. Oh, Alexander. Look what you’ve done to me. She took a few deep breaths, determined not to cry, but when the tears spilled over anyway, she jumped to her feet, ran up the stairs, and plopped in front of the computer. Immersing herself in research always helped take her mind off herself, and she needed to know more about Morris before she could give Dottie her decision.

Typing “Morris Sinclair” into her search engine resulted in over two hundred million hits. Morris’s website. Book and movie sites. Thousands of fan sites and cult groups. Blogs. Articles. She narrowed her search to “Morris Sinclair biography” and managed to piece together the story of a highly narcissistic and anti-social man in his late sixties who had started out as a normal kid, turned into a troubled and rebellious teenager, and grew into a sadistic beast during his tour of duty in Vietnam.

After Vietnam, Morris married a woman he’d only known for a few weeks. He worked as a roughneck on an oilrig and wrote tales of terror on the side. When the stories were published, they found an immediate readership. He quit work to write fulltime.

Morris and his wife had three children, two boys and a girl. His wife committed suicide while the children were very young. Or perhaps Morris had killed her? That made more sense to Melanie—what mother would kill herself and leave her children to be raised by the devil incarnate?

Although the thought of a million dollars and the freedom it could buy tempted her, Melanie did not want to spend the next few months of her life immersed in the evil that was Morris. She was all set to call her agent and turn down the deal, when the doorbell rang.

She opened the door to find Lieutenant Frio and Deputy Midget standing on her doorstep, their faces set as if in stone.

“Ms. Gray,” Lieutenant Frio said, “we’d like for you to come with us. Sheriff Bryan wants to talk to you.”

Melanie held out her hands, wrists together, but Deputy Midget shook his head. “Sheriff Bryan says not to cuff you unless you give us trouble.”

“Can I get my coat?”

Lieutenant Frio threw Melanie a stern look. “You’re not going to try anything?”

“No.” Melanie darted into the bedroom, grabbed a trench coat from the closet and tucked her phone in the pocket.

Sandwiched between the two law officers, Melanie marched out to the tan Navigator parked at the curb in front of her house. Deputy Midget opened the back door of the vehicle, put a hand on her head to guide her through the opening as if she were a common criminal, then lowered himself into the front passenger seat. The right side of the Navigator sank, and the tires seemed to scream out for relief.

Lieutenant Frio peeled away from the curb. The tires sent up huge plumes of floodwaters that broke over the vehicle, and made it seem as if they were driving through a car wash.

Melanie stared out the window, though she couldn’t see anything but the backwash of water. If she strained her ears, she felt sure she could hear Alexander’s ghostly laughter. During all their years of living in countries with no civil liberties, they had never had a single problem with the authorities, and yet now, not even four months after his death, she found herself at odds with the law.

Maybe this arrest was just another of the sheriff’s games? She had never known what he wanted from her, though when they met after she’d found Riley’s body, he had focused his attention on her, and made her feel . . . seen. No one but Alexander had ever looked at her that closely, and even Alexander had stopped paying attention to her years before. Or maybe what had seemed like manipulation—the sheriff concentrating his attention on her and then ignoring her—had all been in her head, a widow’s cry to be noticed.

Once they hit the dry road of the highway, the thirty miles to Rojo Duro seemed to slip past in an instant. Deputy Midget ushered Melanie to a small room with two chairs and a metal table bolted to the floor, and left her alone.

A mirror on one wall had to be a one-way window, but Melanie put a finger against the glass to be sure. Finger touching finger without any space told her the truth—anyone could be watching her from the other side, and she would never know. She resisted the urge to stick out her tongue in a childish show of temper. Instead, she sat tall in a chair, hands folded on the table, and tried not to think of where she was. Tried not to think of her pathetic life. Tried not to think of her uncertain future.

Nine minutes later, Sheriff Bryan entered the room and locked the door behind him. He perched one hip on the table, and stared at her, no friendliness in his eyes.

After a long moment, he heaved a sigh and said, “Why did you do it, Melanie?”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

The Next Big Thing

A couple of months ago, Malcolm R. Campbell, author of “The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande”, invited me to participate in a blog chain, where everyone who is tagged answers a few questions about their work in progess, their next big thing. Since then, I have been asked to participate by Sheila Deeth and Dellani Oakes, and I was tagged by Emma McCoy  and Rami Ungar.

I’m not really working on anything of my own right now. I have a half-finished novel in hiatus, disjointed chapters of another novel (my attempt at doing NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago), and a short story I intended to finish this month but keep forgetting about. So, I’ve chosen to talk about Rubicon Ranch, a serial I’m writing with several other Second Wind authors. The first book in the series, Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story is available online or as a free download in the format of your choice. Currently, we are working on the second book in the series, and when this book is finished, we will continue with the serial in the hopes that one day it really will be the next big thing.

What is your working title of your book?

Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is a continuation of the Rubicon Ranch serial. It was conceived as a blog promotion, and it captured the imagination of several Second Wind authors. We each created a character and have sole creative control of that character, which makes the serial seem like a cross between a novel and a role playing game.

What genre does your book fall under?

Mystery, suspense, thriller. Take your pick.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My character is a forty-something widow, five feet five inches tall, grey eyes, brown hair, fit, oval face, flawless skin. Does that sound like anyone you know? If not, I’d choose any famous actress to play the part to make sure the movie was a success.

What is a brief synopsis of your book?

Residents of Rubicon Ranch are finding body parts scattered all over the desert. Who was the victim and why did someone want him so very dead? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published by Second Wind Publishing since they are the ones sponsoring the project.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

We’ve been working on the current Rubicon Ranch story about eight months, and it’s not yet finished. You can find the work in progress here: Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t know of any other book like this. It’s written by eight different authors, each taking a turn to write their chapter. We are writing blind — no outline, no idea of who is the killer, and we won’t know until the end. The authors are all presenting their character as a villain, and at the end, we will decide which one did it.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I did a round robin with a writers group, where someone started a story, and each writer took a turn at continuing the story. So many of the authors seemed to sabotage the story and other characters by introducing ridiculous elements, that I wondered what would happen if there was a bit more control, where one author could not sabotage another’s efforts. And so Rubicon Ranch was born.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

You can sign up on the Rubicon Ranch blog to receive notification of new chapters of Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces as they are posted, or you can check back every week. Things are heating up, and each character’s secrets are being revealed. I hope you will stop by Rubicon Ranch and join the fun! Several wonderful Second Wind authors are involved in the project: Dellani Oakes, Deborah J Ledford, Lazarus Barnhill, Mickey Hoffman, JJ Dare, Claire Collins. And me, of course.

Several gallant bloggers have agreed to continue with this blog chain. During the week of December 3rd, look for The Next Big Thing blog posts by Joylene Nowell Butler, A.F. Stewart, Sherri Hansen, Jerold Last, and A. J. Race.  It should be interesting to find out what everyone is working on!

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Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+