Normally, Tuesdays are S. W. Vaughn's days to post, but our good friend is off on a much deserved vacation for a few days. In an effort to keep the blog going, I decided to take Aaron up on his suggestion of a couple of weeks ago about posting the excerpt from my debut novel, SILENCED CRY. Although it's a bit longer than our standard posted, here is the first chapter. Look forward to your comments.
The hour-long sessions started at nine in the morning, twice a week, whether narcotics detective, Sam Harper liked it or not. The only good thing about this damp and cold Massachusetts morning was that it marked the midpoint of Harper’s commitment. Internal Affairs had drilled him for three days in a row. Now the police shrink wanted a piece of him. He was sick of her dogged questions. That was his job, to wear the other guy down. Three sessions left, three hours of digging into his past, into the events of that night – that goddamned night.
Neither the mild vanilla scent floating up from a flickering candle on the doctor’s desk nor the subtle gurgle bubbling from a tabletop fountain were doing their job to relax him. Harper rubbed the arms of the leather chair with his thumb as he calculated his next move. He stared at her and finally broke the silence.
“You ever kill a man, Doc?” A subtle twitch of her brow told him he had her attention. “A split second. That’s all it takes, pull the trigger, and whoosh! He’s gone.”
Dr Brannon lowered her gaze and resumed her scribbling. The navy overstuffed chair seemed to swallow her small frame.
“Why did you go there?”
“Mellow was our only link in the case. At least that’s what Gillies thought. He told me every damned thing hinged on getting to Mellow before homicide got their hands on him.”
“And you had reservations?”
Harper looked away as the Chandler Police Department psychiatrist took notes of his crumbling life.
“Does it matter?” His glance swept up to the dark paneled wall behind her desk. Framed certificates hung in an orderly row like crows on a wire. They mapped out her qualification and gave credence to her ego. He didn’t need her to question his motives or to dig into his past and drag the memories of that night to the surface. They were there, frozen in Harper’s mind – the second he got off his round. He’d never forget the blast or the hammering rain beating against his face. The look of Frank Gillies’s lifeless eyes had scorched itself into his memory. Harper leaned forward and dropped his head. Fists jammed against his eyes as if to rub out the intruding images. He had spun the moment any number of ways, but the outcome never changed.
Brannon crossed her legs. She folded her hands and tapped her fingertips. She watched in silence, waiting to analyze his next thoughts.
“You do realize you don’t go back to work without these sessions.” She picked up the notepad again. The sound of her pen striking twice against its surface made dull impatient clicks. “Look, Detective. No one said this was going to be easy, but you have to open up. You are the only one who can do it.”
Harper didn’t buy her attempt to bring him back into the conversation. He didn’t know if he could, as she said, open up. He pursed his lips and glanced out the window.
"Damned wind’s picking up again, Doc.” He buried his mouth in the L of his thumb and index finger touching the outer corner of his eye. He rose and turned his back to hide the familiar burning that blurred his vision. Apprehension had become his unwelcome companion, a reminder of the failings he refused to accept. Anger crept in. It bubbled and seared holes into his sense of reason.
“Should’ve been me.” He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose, and cleared his throat. “I was right in Mellow’s line of fire. The damned piece was inches from me.” The thrust of his fist made a hollow sound against his chest. “You don’t get it, do you?”
“Yes, I do. Let’s start there.”
“What’s the point? You know what happened. We’ve been over it a million times. Don’t you get tired of listening to this crap?”
“It’s the only way.”
“We can talk all you want. Won’t change a damned thing. Won’t bring him back.” He dropped back into his chair and swept a hand across the stubble he hadn’t shaved in three days. “What’re you going to do? Tell me to think happy thoughts? Will that do it? Is that going to stop the dreams?”
“Tell me about them.”
“Not today.” He wrestled between his grief and growing suspicions of Gillies. What really went down five days ago in front of the Roving Dog Saloon? He jabbed a white knuckled fist onto the arm of the chair and looked away. Every sordid detail came rushing back without prodding. “It was past eleven that night when Gillies got the tip that Mellow had violated parole.”
“Come on. Gotta go.” Detective Frank Gillies rushed to Harper’s desk and slammed an opened hand against it on his way to the elevator. “The big guy just answered our prayers.”
Harper caught his partner’s grin and his thumbs up gesture. The gray had gone beyond Gillies’s temples to the mass of short locks that covered his head. Harper’s glance dropped to the new spot that had landed on his partner’s tie six hours before from a greasy burger. One of many meals that had settled around Gillies’s middle.
“Let me guess, Stewart Martin’s leaving.” Harper turned to the next page in the file. He prayed every day that Detective Martin would transfer.
“Yeah right. Soon buddy, real soon, but not tonight. Word is Mellow blew a guy’s brains out.” Gillies struggled to slip his arms through the narrow sleeves of his overcoat.
Harper glanced at his watch. It was exactly eleven twenty-five p.m. He grabbed his coat off the back of a chair and motioned to Gillies he would meet him downstairs. His partner was a master at spewing out insults. Harper wondered how he had managed to measure up to the man’s expectations when Di Napoli, the eight-year veteran undercover assigned to work with them, couldn’t. He took the steps two at a time and reached the lobby as the elevator doors opened.
“He’s out, what, four days and breaks parole?” Harper pressed Gillies. “It’s a waste of time. The guys in Homicide aren’t going to let us anywhere near him. Hell, you know what they’re like. Bunch of assholes.”
“No shit. That’s why we’re going someplace else.”
“A dive over on Howard and Third. Just got a tip the fucker’s sitting in a booth there right now.”
Harper pulled his coat collar up and looked out the glass doors. The March rains were pounding down for the fourth consecutive day. The odds on staying dry weren’t adding up in his favor. He swept a glance over to Gillies’s and caught a similar sense of hesitation before the two of them made a run for the car.
Another bolt of lightning lit the sky followed closely by a clap of loud thunder.
“Right. You, me, and that thing.” He motioned toward the tape recorder on the coffee table.
“The hell I don’t. I risk my life every goddamn day. That’s my choice just as much as it was my duty to follow my partner to the dive that night. I didn’t do anything wrong. And there’s not a damned thing you can do to change it.” Heat rushed to his face. “Who do you think you are, anyway? All you do is sit in your office and analyze the hell out of us. Where do you get off ordering me around?”
“You have a problem with authority?”
He hated her self-assurance. He frowned – wished he could run. He glanced at the door then turned to focus his sight on the wet bark of the maple tree in front of the window. “It’s spitting snow.”
“Damn it, Harper. I’m sworn to secrecy. Nothing you say leaves this room.” She paused for a moment. “I am not going to risk your confidence unless you give me reason to think you are capable of hurting yourself or others.” Again, she waited for a response. “Did you hear me?”
“He knew the risks,” she said, without taking her eyes from him. “Let’s talk a minute about you. What have you been doing with yourself?”
“What difference does it make?” He knew the drill. Sure, the shrink time was mandated, but he didn’t want to talk about himself and the baggage he had swung over his shoulder. She remained straight-faced and waiting. There was no way around it that he could see. The doc seemed as determined to make him talk, as he was to remain evasive.
“I finished a fifth of Scotch, and when I was good and drunk, I watched soap operas. Only damned thing I know more depressing than me these days.”
“What’s Mellow doing in a bar?” he asked Gillies. “Is it near the scene?”
“Nah. It’s down in Avondale.” Gillies switched on the siren and cut through traffic. “Hole in the wall place smack in the middle of slum lord row.”
“That’s clear across town. How long ago was the shooting?”
“What the hell’s with ya and the million fucking questions? All we need to do is talk to the guy about Owens before homicide gets to him.”
“Who called in the shooting?”
“Shit, Harper. Here, let me get my crystal ball out.” Gillies sneered. “That’s Homicide’s problem, I could give a rat’s ass about it.” He shook his head. “All right, look, someone in dispatch called up about the shooting. Thought we’d want to know. That’s all. Just following a lead, all right?”
Gillies turned off the headlights and nosed the unmarked patrol car into position across the street from the Roving Dog Saloon. The deserted street and the rain thumping against the car roof gave a false sense of tranquility.
Harper glanced across the way at the tavern door and the red neon lights shaped like a dog just above it. The dog’s legs and tail appeared to move back and forth making him seem to rove for a good mug of beer. The sign’s light cast an eerie red glow and shimmered off the wet objects beneath it. Harper pulled up his collar, cupped his hands around his mouth, and blew warmth into them.
“Cut the jabs.”
“Cut the rookie and college boy bit.”
“That’s it, huh?” Harper leaned his head against the window and watched the rain. “It’s not letting up.”
“No. We always worked together before. That night.” Harper shook his head. “Nothing made sense. One minute we’re just going to talk to the guy. Next thing I know I’ve got two fatalities to answer for and I don’t know what in the hell happened.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“We didn’t need Mellow to get Owens. Gillies knew it as well as I did. He acted as if we were the only ones on the case. There was a whole team of us including some undercover. But Gillies, he was so bent on going after Mellow that night. It was almost as if …”
“That’s what we’re supposed to do, trust each other.” Harper lowered his glance. “That night, after it was over, I checked with dispatch.” He swallowed hard. “There was no shooting reported anywhere on or near the Trenton overpass.”