Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Chance Meeting

We here at MURDER BY 4 decided that Saturdays are good days to let our characters come out and play. We never know which characters will want to take center stage so this might make for some interesting reading.

The following is a scene between Aaron Lazar's Gus LeGarde and my Sam Harper. This was a fun challenge for me because I wrote it from Gus LeGarde's point of view instead of Harper's. Those who have read either of these series will hopefully find some familiarities between the ambiance in this piece and those created in the series. Hope you enjoy it!

A Chance Meeting
© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

The rolling two-lane road spread out before me in quiet solitude as it had every day for the past several years. Behind me was my work day—students with questions, forgotten assignments, and more excuses than answers. To my right, the late October sun flickered, emitting its final golden rays over a passing rutted field. I glanced into the rear view mirror; the city was now nothing more than a distance glow against an indigo sky.

I knew home was minutes away when I drove over the crest on the road. I could almost hear Max barking his exuberant greeting the minute he’d hear my car turn into the driveway. I yearned for the smell of that pot roast and apple pie Mrs. Pierces had promised to prepare for my evening meal. As I made my way around the next bend in the road, my headlights swept over a black Jeep Commander parked on the shoulder to my right. Its lights were flashing and steam rolled out from under the hood. I thought for a moment, but no one from these parts drove anything like it. I immediately became suspicious wondering who would drive through this isolated section of back road that was miles away from anything.

My stomach grumbled in protest at the thought of delaying a taste of Mrs. Pierces’ cooking. But guilt set in. How often had I worried about Frederia’s car breaking down along an isolated country road such as this one? Would anyone stop to help her? The predicted drop in the temperature had arrived so I did what I hoped any stranger would do for my child. I parked behind the jeep, grabbed my flashlight, and got out of my old Volvo sedan.

“What seems to be the problem?” A quick glance at the license plate told me this driver was a long way from home.

A pleasant enough looking young man stepped out from under the hood. Except for the short blond hair, he could have been me when I was in my thirties. He was casually dress in jeans, a dark mock turtle neck shirt, light colored jacket, and not a spot of grease on him that I could see.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Are you from around here?”

I studied him for a second or two uncertain if I trusted him enough to say. He must have read my mind though and stretched out his hand.

“Sam Harper.” As soon as we shook, he unzipped his jacket and reached into his breast pocket. “I’m a detective from Chandler, Massachusetts.”

The badge in his hand was as real as the Magnum I noticed hugging his side. “Gus LeGarde,” I said. “Homicide?”

“Where’s the nearest tow service?”

“About fifteen miles back that way, but it won’t do you any good at this hour on a Friday night. Folks close shop early in these parts. Where’re you headed?”

“Silver Lake. Am I anywhere near it?”

“It’s not more than an hour or so driving distance.” I was immediately filled with suspicion and more than a touch of curiosity. Why would a homicide officer from Massachusetts be interested in going to the quite community of Silver Lake?

As I sized him up, my brother-in-law, Siegfried, immediately came to mind and how quickly people had judged him since his accident at such a tender young age. My misgivings about Detective Harper immediately gave way to guilt. It seemed easier to make assumptions than to slip into another man’s shoes. Still, my inquisitive nature took over and against my better judgment I heard myself say: “A hot meal is just down the road if you’re interested.”

He glanced at his watch then back toward his Jeep. The offer seemed to make him nervous. Again I questioned my sanity. I would have hesitated to take the offer too, but we both knew he had no other alternative.

“Look,” I said, “I live a quarter mile down the road and if I know my housekeeper, there’s more than enough food for both of us. All we have around here are small privately owned shops. I guarantee they’re all closed by now. Trust me. You’re not going to get anything done tonight.”

He thanked me with an unmistakable note of apprehension in his voice. By the time Sam and I arrived at the farm though, he seemed more at ease knowing that I was a harmless music professor. He told me about his parents; his hero father, the former city detective, and his late mother, the high school music teacher. We shared our love for music and although I prefer Chopin, to Sam’s BB King, in theory we had more in common than I imagined possible between two strangers.

After enjoying the delicious pot roast Mrs. Pierce cooked with the end of the season vegetables from our garden, Sam grabbed his beer and followed me into the great room in the foyer. I settled into my leather recliner leaving my late wife’s over-stuffed chair across from the woodstove for my guest. To my surprise, Max immediately took to Sam and followed him in on his heels.

“Feels good in here.” Sam took a drink and gazed into the warm glow of the fire. “This is a big home. Do you have a family?”

“My wife’s passed away several years ago – we have one daughter; married.” I tried not to roll my eyes. Except for the joy of having a beautiful child, the union was one that should have been dissolved years ago. Instead, I focused on the positive. “Have a two-year-old grandson, Johnny. He’s my buddy, chubby cheeks and all. What about you? Married?”

Sam swallowed hard; his eyes drifted back to the blue and orange flames dancing along the logs. “Not yet. Maybe one of these days.”

“No special somone in your life?”

He gave me a quick glance and a half-hearted smile. His subsequent silence made it clear his love life was none of my business so I quickly changed the subject. We talked about the house and the gardens and Genesee Valley. I told him of my travels to France, Germany, and Austria which shifted our conversation back to our love of music.

I noticed Max hadn’t left Sam alone all evening. He was at his feet during dinner and now my Husky-Wire-Haired Dachshund mutt rested his head on Sam’s lap and shot guilty glances between the two of us. Sam scratched him behind the ear and smiled. “You and this farm remind me of home.”

“You’re welcome to stay the night if you want. Heaven knows I have the room. I’ll call the tow truck in the morning for you. You could rent a car if you want. Old Mike down at the garage could probably have your car fixed by the time you get back from Silver Lake.”

“Thanks. I’d appreciate that.”

I was beginning to enjoy this young man’s company, but something about him continued to tug at the back of my mind.

“You’re a long way from home. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s in Silver Lake?”

“A witness.” Sam paused as if measuring his words. “I’m working a cold case.”

“A murder in Silver Lake?”

“No, back in Chandler. I’m following a lead to the only living witness in a twenty-year old murder.”

“I see. I can’t imagine it’s easy piecing old evidence together.”

“Sometimes we get lucky.”

“Like finding a witness?”

He nodded again.

For a moment, the only sound in the room was the snap and crackling of the fire. Sam took another drink then scratched at the label on the bottle. I noticed the way he stared at the flames dance across the log in the stove. It struck me that he was far more intense for a man his age than I had seen in a while, and thus I sense this was more than a case to him.

“This murder case – it’s personal, isn’t it?” I asked.

A set of determined, deep blue eyes bore into mine -- for a moment I felt as if I had breached hollow ground. He reached into his wallet and produced a small faded picture of a beautiful blond little girl who appeared to be around ten.

"The murder of an innocent child always is.”

The End


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marta, I still adore this piece. What fun to get our two protags together this way!!! Thanks for posting it - what a delight. ;o)

Marta Stephens said...

I enjoyed several things about this exercise. To begin with, in order to write in your protag's voice, I had to familiarize myself enough with him and his surroundings, lifestyle, etc., to make it seem as if you had written it. I actually felt pretty comfortable getting into Gus’s head. I'd be interested to know if you think I captured your/his voice.

The other neat thing about writing it in Gus's POV, is that it allowed me to look at Sam Harper through another character's eyes. Now THAT was fun! :)

s.w. vaughn said...

Very nice. You did well taking on Gus' voice.

Having read both novels concerned, this was fascinating.

Marta Stephens said...

Thanks SW. It's an exercise I'd recommend other authors try. It rates up there with interviewing the character and writing his or her bio. It's amazing what you'll discover about your character.