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Monday, December 11, 2017

Excerpt from a work-in-progress: Slings and Arrows

I've started work on the seventh in the Snowe Agency mystery series, entitled Slings and Arrows.  All of the Snowe mysteries have started with the agents -- a client comes in to talk to them about a murder.  This one starts differently.

With the murder itself.

Here's the first bit.  See what you think.

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A clear October night.  Stars glittering in the frosty air, their cold light casting no illumination on the trees that lined Garwood Avenue.  There was no traffic, no headlights—it was an out-of-the-way cul-de-sac, and was ten past midnight on a Tuesday night, when most of the middle class working stiffs who lived in this part of Colville, New York were sound asleep.

So no one saw the disheveled man staggering his way down the sidewalk.  His face wore a petulant scowl, and he was muttering to himself.  "Goddamn bartender… lotta nerve.  My car keys, no right to take 'em… I'm fine to drive, done it before, never had a damn problem… Tomorrow gonna go raise hell with the owner, get the bitch fired…"

An anemic streetlight's livid glare set his shadow turning underneath his feet as he moved past it.  He looked down at it, watching his silhouette swing from behind him to in front of him, then stretch out, longer and longer.  Something about its silent movement was nauseating.  He hoped he wouldn't puke.  It'd been a while since he'd had enough alcohol to start him puking, and it was worse than the inevitable headache he'd have tomorrow.

His scowl deepened.  And of course Kathy would be up waiting for him.  She always was.  She'd have that disapproving frown that struck a crease in the middle of her forehead, and tell him how he needed to stop going out with his buddies, especially on a work night, one day his boss in the construction company would get sick of him showing up to work hung over, and then he'd get fired.

It was the same lecture every damn time.  He hated that lecture worse than he hated puking.

But there were no lights on in the windows of his house.  He stopped and squinted up at the living room window, wondering for a moment if maybe he'd turned into the wrong driveway.  But there it was, that stupid stained-glass window hanging of a hummingbird that Kathy had gotten at a craft fair.  Maybe when he got inside, he'd take down that ugly-ass thing, find a hammer, and smash it to bits.

He stumbled down the sidewalk, almost losing his balance and falling into the front garden when he had to negotiate a single step up.  He looked at the set of eight steps that led up to his front door, and wondered how, exactly, he was going to manage them.

It was the last thought he ever had.

The sound of the baseball bat connecting with the back of his head loud enough that the man who swung it stepped back, startled, and slipped into the shadow of the hedge where he'd been hiding. He waited for lights to come on, for the neighbors to come and investigate.  The ruinous noise of his victim's skull caving in had been nothing short of horrifying.

But five minutes passed, and no lights came on, there were no shouts of "Who's there?"

He stepped out from the shadows still holding the bat, now swinging loosely from his right hand.  He gave a quick, furtive gesture with his left, and a woman came out from behind a clump of birch trees across the street, and crossed to him.

"Done?" she said in a low whisper.

"Done."  He pointed at the victim's body, sprawled on the sidewalk.  There wasn't enough light here to see him clearly, and the woman went up and knelt next to him, placing two fingers underneath the rough line of his jaw.

After a moment, she stood, and gave a tight, jerky nod.  "Dead."  She pulled out a cloth bag that had been tucked underneath her belt, and held it out open to him.  He dropped the bat in, and she twisted the top of it and tied it shut.

The man said, "Good."  He pulled out his cellphone, tapped the Text app, and after a moment, typed in a name.  In the text box he wrote three letters:

"SPW."

The response came in seconds.  It was a thumbs-up sign.

"Okay," he whispered.  "Let's get out of here."

The woman caught his sleeve.  "You gonna be okay?"

He swallowed, nodded.  "Yeah.  I'll be okay.  You?"

She returned his nod.  "See you in a couple of days."

Minutes later, the shadowed driveway was empty.