I’m editing Book 2 of the Flashback series, Flashback To The Mosquito, here’s a sample; Let me know what you think.
Puget Sound, One Evening in Early May
The evening sun will soon be a memory like the after-image on the inside of the eyelid when someone takes a flash photograph before you have a chance to blink. This is my favorite time of day, when the sun is lower in the sky softening the edges of the fiery ball, blending the colors of the day into the ocean with hues of red, pink, and gold. When the last of its light reaches toward the water, turning the black to white where the two elements merge. When work is done, people have gone home, and I am alone to pursue my favorite hobby.
A salty evening breeze gently probes with chilly fingers, yet never manages to reach my body beneath the yellow McIntosh as I stand on the bridge of The Mosquito, legs apart to balance. The name of the boat is a nod to the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet, a collection of steamers and sternwheelers that plied the waterways from the early 1800s to the mid 1950s.
A little before nine o’clock the last of the golden rose fades, turning the twilight into shades of blue and gray. I imagine that the boat I’m piloting belongs to me and, if I so desired, I could sail away into that beautiful sunset never to return. The gentle waves slap against the Hatteras Sport Fisher as the Cummins diesel engines rumble and churn the craft further out into Puget Sound toward Port Townsend and the Admiralty Inlet.
I reach for the throttle and pull back, shutting down the twin turbo engines. With a finger, I flip to On a switch near the steering wheel, muted light surrounds me. I prepare to anchor with the low growl of the diesels fading to allow the rhythmic slap of waves hitting the bow to take over as background music. Tonight is an exceptional night for trolling and with the familiar smell of diesel and salt water in the air, I move toward the stern of the forty-one-foot boat where my catch lies on the netting. Using the running lights and what’s left of daylight to see I move around the familiar space performing the practiced motions of preparing to clean and fillet today’s catch.
Flipping up the metal table so it hangs over the side of the boat, I lift tonight’s prize and holding it by the head I hose it down with cold saltwater, bringing a little life into the previously lifeless form. It starts to flop around atop the metal surface. I turn clockwise the outer ring of the nozzle connected to a pump that feeds into the ocean and watch the water slow to a trickle and then stop.
Studying the selection of sharp instruments from which to choose, I pick up a cleaver and very carefully heft the heavy instrument before firmly swinging down to chop off the head. I am rewarded with a satisfying kerchunk. Laying aside both the broad blade and the head, I select the boning knife. Inserting it, I make swift work of running upward through the stomach cavity, removing entrails with my bare hands and casting the lot into the waters below.
The sounds surrounding me send a feeling of strength through my body, igniting a powerful thrumming inside my chest.
I rinse the disemboweled stomach cavity, sending water and bits of flesh cascading over the edge of the table and into Puget Sound. The quiet ocean awakes to teem with feeding fish, ripples breaking the surface, a fin here, a flash of silver scales there when caught in the beam of the underwater running lights. Marine life gathers around the boat to fight over the morsels.
Tilting my head I listen to the social sounds of Humpback whales rising on the evening breeze, wondering what they are communicating with their grunts, snorts and barks. I listen to the melodic tune, enjoying the boat’s cradle rock.
When I’m done with the task at hand I reach down for the head which has been patiently waiting until now. Curling my fingers into long blonde hair, I lift, bringing it up to the metal table, letting it drop the last few inches to thump onto the flat surface.
She’s a beauty. I met her on yesterday’s charter-fishing cruise. She was part of the morning group that included her sister and brother-in-law, her nephews, and an older gentleman and his grandson, who were not part of her family but were signed up to round out the number of people that the boat could accommodate on a four-hour excursion.
From Michigan, she was visiting here in the Seattle area to do a little sightseeing and to hang out with family. Yesterday, she confided to me that she had insisted on staying in a hotel downtown rather than in the part-time den, part-time guest room at her sister’s place.
Flirting with me at every opportunity, she challenged me to buy her a drink some night before she left Seattle. I showed up tonight. I could tell by the surprised look on her face that she hadn’t expected her offer to be acted upon. I pretended it was a happy coincidence and offered to buy her that drink. She accepted, telling me she could only have one as she was doing something with her family tonight. A couple hours later, her Thorazine-laden highball brings us to our current positions.
Staring into her now lifeless eyes I think about when she doesn’t show up for dinner or join the family in attending the school play where both boys are performing as Wendy’s brothers in Peter Pan. Disappointment? Anger? Satisfaction bubbles inside me as I ponder the emotions that will be played out tonight, but the show must go on as they say.
The beer can in my hand is icy and I taste the hops as I take a large gulp before putting the can on the metal table beside her pale cheek. Pulling a three-foot high plastic container closer to the table, I turn it over and sit on the make-shift stool so that I am level with her face. Licking my forefinger, I trace a pale path running from her green eye to her chin. I touch my tongue to the tip, tasting the coppery tang of my blood-stained finger mixed with the salty wetness of tears and the perfume of her makeup. I pick up the filet knife to finish my ritual.
Standing and stretching, I reach for her head. Natalie was her name, right? Grabbing Natalie by her blonde tresses, which are now not only professionally highlighted, but streaked with blood, I toss the last of my catch into the ocean waters. The blonde hair pools around in a halo and then disappears beneath the gentle waves.
I clean and store the knives and do a final rinse to the table and deck. After I fold the table back down into its original position, I do a quick swab of the adjacent vinyl seats and the deck with a soft cloth, then bag the cloth and move toward the cabin and the wheel. A yawn forces my jaws to open and my eyes to water.
Stay out here and sleep or head back in?
I should head in. There is a six o’clock group scheduled for some lingcod fishing. I can get a few hours sleep before I need to gas up and get ice for the coolers.
Starting the engines, I turn on the GPS, even though I intuitively know which direction to head. Weighing anchor I steer toward Seattle’s shoreline.
John Carpenter and his mom take a break from their meal to observe the moderate to heavy luncheon crowd filling most of the tables. Muted tones of sage and cream fill the room with draping cream cloth and simple glass vases filled with light pink carnations at each setting. The aroma of Italian herbs and spices compete for attention with the sounds of laughter and the tinkle of glassware. Violin music, piped through the sound system, does not interfere with the exchange of dialogue. The wait staffs, wearing black from head to toe, are thorough and attentive, and arrive at just the right moment and never when his fork is in his mouth.
The menu includes many specialty items and the prices are moderate so as to avoid awkwardness in his paying, yet show how much he cares. John knows the lunch offer, even though a few days early, is the smart move for a Mother’s Day gift seeing the look of joy on his mom’s face as she sits opposite her eldest child.
John lifts his glass to propose a toast, “To the greatest mom in the world, may this gift smooth over the fact that I’m going to miss dinner this Sunday because I’m going to a baseball game with Nate.”
“You tell that Nate that he owes me one.” Mildred clicks her tongue before taking a sip. “Oh this is good, John. You’re going to make sure I get home safely.” Her cheeks flush from the sip of alcohol in her glass.
“I’ll make sure I get you home safe and sound, although a slightly inebriated Mrs. Carpenter.”
John looks up toward the sound of a female voice. A woman stands over their table, looking down at them. Her face, while not ravishing or beautiful, is lit up from within with an expression filled with kindness. Brown eyes framed by long, thick eyelashes do not take attention away from the shadow of a dimple on her right cheek, even though the mystery woman is not smiling as yet.
John’s heart skips a beat and it seems as if a hush comes over the room. The tiny scar above her left eye and the slight gap between her front teeth combine for a look of strength and vulnerability and he decides hers is quite possibly the most beautiful face he has ever seen. The conservatively styled navy blue dress comes to just below her knees, but the fabric pulls and clings to her curves in just enough of a suggestion of sensual possibilities beyond the severe cut.
Mesmerized by this mystery woman, John completely forgets that his mother sits opposite him, or that there is anyone else in the room.
“Susan!” Mildred exclaims, “How nice to see you.”
Susan smiles, confirming John’s assessment of the dimple, “I thought it was you, so I wanted to stop by to say hello.”
Mildred hurriedly says, “Oh dear, where are my manners. Susan, this is my son, John. John, Susan Bishop works at the craft store in that little shopping mall near my neighborhood.”
The smile that had frozen on his lips when he first saw her slips slightly as he realizes that the woman standing before him is the same one who had accepted an invitation to dinner at his parent’s house a little over a year ago specifically to meet him. John, not interested in being set up by his mother, had feigned flu-like symptoms to get out of the dinner plans at the last-minute.
He reaches out a hand to shake hers in greeting. Susan’s grip is firm and warm and strangely pleasant. When their hands part the slight tingling feeling in his fingers make it seem as if their hands are still entwined.
“John, so nice to finally meet you.” The silky greeting has his scalp quivering right behind the ears with the prickling sensation traveling up to the top of his head. John decides right then and there that he could listen to her for hours. Susan could sit in front of him reading a phone book and he would not find it boring.
John blushes, unsure of why.
“Nice to meet you,” he mumbles in reply, then clearing his throat to say something witty so that this woman will not leave thinking he is a complete dolt, “Do you come here often?”
The words are out of his mouth. Not something smart and intriguing but rather a weak proposition you might say to someone at a singles mixer at a local bar. No, he thinks miserably.
She smiles as if he said something warm and intelligent.
“Only on special occasions; today is my father’s birthday and I invited him here to treat him to his favorite dish, veal scaloppini. It’s the only time he lets me buy,” she confides to Mildred and John. “Here he is now.”
She waves at a silver-haired man standing in the lobby between the entrance door of the restaurant and the maitre de podium. He walks toward them, smiling and nodding, an older, male version of Susan with the brown eyes and dimple, just one in the right cheek.
“I’d like you to meet Steven Bishop, my father. Father, this is Mildred Carpenter and her son John. Mildred and I know each other from the craft store.”
“My pleasure,” Mr. Bishop says as he tilts his head in their direction and smiles, flashing his dimple, “So nice to meet you both.”
Mildred flutters and with a smile coos the pleasure is all hers. John looks at his mother’s face and then at her empty glass and decides she has reached her limit and that there will not be another glass of wine in her immediate future.
“Shall we take our table,” Susan asks her father and he nods agreement, turning to tell Mildred and John that he is happy to meet them. Susan makes her goodbyes as well.
“So nice to run into you again Mrs. Carpenter, we will have to get together soon; and nice to meet you John.”
She smiles one last time before turning and heading across the room with her father. John makes an attempt to stand and bow getting halfway up and into position, grabbing his napkin before it slips to the floor. When he realizes the opportunity for chivalry has passed he sits back down and stares at his plate.
“Nice girl, Susan Bishop,” his mother says, watching John out of the corner of her eye.
“What? Oh, yeah, nice,” John shakes his head and straightens up in his seat, looking at his mother, “So you know her from the craft store?”
Mildred chuckles, “I’ll bet you are wishing right now that you had come to dinner when I invited you over a year ago.”
“Whatever do you mean mother? You know you are the only woman for me, although I thought for a moment that I’d have to pull you off her father when you met him.”
“Whatever do you mean now?” Mildred denies, “I was only being friendly.”
She looks at him sternly but cannot hold the expression for long and starts laughing.
“Besides, a lot has happened since that botched dinner date.” John reminds her as he pats the top of her hand, “Care for dessert?”
“Oh, I couldn’t … I really shouldn’t, should I? Well, maybe just a bite of something chocolate and sinful. Don’t tell your father.”
While they wait for the chocolate mousse, Mildred prattles on about bridge club and the latest book she is reading. John lets the words flow into his ears forming a cottony veil over his thoughts as he recalls April of last year and the car crash that put him in a coma. When he woke three weeks later he was released from the hospital. The first unsettling experience happened while convalescing at his parent’s home. Unsolicited, he was flung into the eighteen-hundreds. The flashback in itself was disquieting as he found himself in a familiar place but an unfamiliar time, but the discovery that he now had the ability to go backwards in time to view the past completely stunned him at first.
This power, this ability to flashback in time, wasn’t even in his realm of supernatural possibilities. As a kid, he imagined being a superhero with abilities related to strength, speed, or flying. Going backward in time didn’t seem very sexy at all, but he was learning to turn it to his advantage.
Lately, however, are the headaches and they seemed to be getting worse. Blaming them on sinuses he ignores the pain, but more than once niggling doubt creeps its way into his thoughts and he wonders if the headaches have something to do with the car accident and his head injury, or the flashbacks themselves. Because the headaches are increasing in intensity and frequency, he plans to talk to the doctor about them during the next routine follow-up. So he has to suffer a few more months.
Their desserts arrive, bringing John out of his reverie, and Mildred changes the topic to John’s father who recently joined a cribbage league.
“Howard hasn’t won any money to speak of, but he is having such a good time. The league meets once a week, Wednesday night. And your sister has joined a local theatre group. You will have to go see one of Brandy’s plays. Although, I’ve not heard of the one she is rehearsing right now.” Mildred ponders the thought for a moment longer, and then shrugs her shoulders, “Oh well.”
John laughs, “Ok, I’ll go. I’ll talk to her about it. Does she even know how to act? And how did dad get hooked up with cribbage?”
Mildred joins in the laughter before starting on a new topic, a garden project she is planning this month allowing John’s thoughts to wander again. This time he thinks about Susan Bishop and how to casually find himself in the neighborhood of the craft store and casually stop by to see her without her realizing he was being anything but casual.
Chapter 2May 10th
The Sea Mistress, a commercial fishing vessel hailing from the Seattle area, is off the coast of Whidbey Island hoping to bring in a full load of lingcod, a good-eating bottom fish that lives in northwest waters and is open for fishing in Puget Sound from May 1st to June 15th. The meat is a cross between true cod and halibut. It’s a firm white meat good for fish and chips, and the vendors buy it. The Sea Mistress uses a technique of selective fishing, incorporating special equipment and fishing nets designed to catch targeted species of fish. The unwanted or off-season fish are kept alive and tossed back.
The nets are set for the final haul, and the Sea Mistress begins trolling the Puget Sound waters on one more run before turning and heading back in for the day. Bells peal, men shout, and machinery clangs as the last load is hauled up from the bottom. Steering the net over the deck, one fisherman releases the edges to allow the catch to fall to the deck surface. Other crew members waded in with gloves and rubber boots up to their mid-thighs to sort through the haul, tossing the errant log, boot, or tire into one pile, and throwing back anything but the lingcod.
Halfway through the pile the largest crew member stops and cries out. He leans over the side of the boat and vomits.
The captain comes over to see what the commotion is all about and there, amid the flopping fins and scales, is a lump of seaweed. As he gets closer he can see it is not all seaweed. Some of it was once blonde hair, and the rest, although gnawed on by the marine life of Puget Sound and covered in kelp and sea plants is a person’s face.
A crab scurries out of the slightly open mouth and across the deck and the nauseous crew member again leans over the side of the boat only to dry-heave.
Captain Fenton feels his gorge rise and clamps his teeth together. He breathes deep, allowing the tang of the water’s brine and the wild scent of the sea life flopping on the deck to settle his seafarer’s stomach.
Growling at the crew as they stand gawking, he orders one of them to bring a trash bag and the rest of them to finish sorting and cleaning up the deck. When the trash bag arrives, he stoops and gently covers the head with the bag and rolls it up in the plastic before putting it in one of the empty coolers used for cold beverages. Then he gathers up the cooler, nods to his men, and carries it toward the cabin. He gently places it on the floor by a built-in bench, and takes his hat off to offer a silent prayer for the unfortunate soul. He jots down the coordinates to mark the location of the find. Captain Fenton wonders what happened to her, but not wanting to think about it too deeply he turns and leaves the cooler in the cabin.
When we dock, I’ll turn over the cooler and its contents to the proper authorities and give them the coordinates. They can take care of finding out.
Chapter 3May 13th
“Hey Sweet Cheeks, what’s cooking?” Nate exaggerates a lisp as he bats his eyes at the man standing in the empty examination room beside a metal table.
Detective Nate Cliffton fills the doorway at six-feet-three inches. A homicide detective for the Seattle police department, Nate works out of the West Precinct which covers the downtown business area, the waterfront, and surrounding districts. Slender, with a faultless sense of style, Nate avoids taunts about his Hollywood looks by being a serious investigator, a good detective, and never one to complain about covering on the holidays for one of his co-workers, who need to be home with their family. Since he could have his pick of women both single and married who were clearly in love with him, there were many in the building that question why he’s not in a relationship or even interested in anyone. His friend standing in the sterile room knows Nate’s secret.
“That line works for you; really? If that’s the best you can do you will die alone and miserable.”
Tom Bates barely looks up from his notepad in acknowledgement, only raising an eyebrow and continuing to write on the chart clipped to the pad.
“Hey, I feel good, the sun is shining, unusual I know, and for the past couple months no murders. Why not be in a good mood? Hey, went to a baseball game this weekend and we won.” Nate grins at Tom’s bowed head.
“Season’s still early yet,” was the reply.
Bates, a much sought after expert used frequently by the Seattle PD, is thirty-three and one of the youngest forensic medical examiners in the state. He is successful in helping to close cases by preserving the evidence for trial. The friendship between Tom and Nate make a working relationship successful. Nate believes Tom is the best medical examiner in the city, maybe even the country and Tom always calls Nate first whenever anything suspicious surfaces, which today brings Nate down to The Vault, a nickname for the forensic lab located in the basement of the same building Nate’s desk is located.
“Well, not so sure you’ll be able to sit around eating donuts and swapping jokes at your desk much longer. I received a call from a coroner over at the Coast Guard facility. Seems a commercial fishing vessel pulled something out of the water besides lingcod and turned it in yesterday. Coroner was going to rule it accidental death until she started examining the wounds. The package arrived this morning.”
Nate pulls a cotton face mask off the table of linens and joins Tom at the autopsy table.
“Package?” He looks down as Tom unfolds the sheet arranged around the small bundle.
“Well, that’s not much to go on,” Nate stares at the severed head of what he assumes by the long hair is a woman. The salt and marine life had taken a toll on the eyes and the flesh around the nose and lips. One side of the face is damaged, and a row of teeth shows through the cheek.
“Any other pieces recovered?”
“This is it.”
Tom leans toward the table, examining the skin tissue.
“Could it have been a boat motor gone wild or Jaws?”
Tom straightens up. “Look here.” He points to the neck area. “The incision that separated the head from the body is too clean and straight. It was done with an extremely sharp object.”
“Like a boat motor.”
“It’s possible, but with the angle I just don’t see how probable. The one thing I can definitely rule out, it wasn’t Jaws.” He hears the sarcasm in Tom’s voice and laughs.
“Also look here,” Tom rolls the head slightly so that the damaged side of the face is pointing up. Nate follows Tom’s rubber-encased finger. He is looking at a grisly nub of flesh and bone.
“Her ear is gone.” Nate states the obvious. “Could it have been, you know, eaten by fish?”
“It appears it is sliced off a little too cleanly for it to be considered natural or part of a boating accident.”
“Just the right ear?”
“Just the right.”
Nate flicks his eyes toward Tom and quietly speaks one word, “Souvenir?”
The other man nods, “Could be. That’s for you to find out.”
“Can you tell me anything more? Like toxicology? Or DNA or something, anything? This is someone who’s been missing for a while; someone must be looking for her. And how long was she in the water before they found her? Will you be able to give me something on time of death?”
“I’ll run the usual tests on the remaining tissue, see if there are any traces of chemicals, but there’s no guarantee I’ll find anything. I’ll put the DNA in our database to see if anything comes up to help identify her, and I’ll make a record of her dental work. That probably won’t help identify her, but we can verify or confirm with it. As far as how long she’s been in the water, I’ll do the best I can. An immersed body will have a wrinkled appearance after one or two hours. For longer periods of time in water, the skin will start to separate. I’ll send the information to you as soon as I have it; let you work your magic on your lieutenant, get the case assigned to you.”
“I can work with Missing Persons,” Nate volunteers, “but it will be hard to match her to any pictures they may have.”
“I’ll call a forensic sculptor I know. She can reconstruct the face, help us identify this woman. You’ll be able to take a photo, show it around. You’ll want to get an image out to the public to see if anyone is missing her.”
Tom pulls off his facial mask and examination gloves and tosses them in the disposal bin near his desk. Sitting down in a chair in front of a computer, he slides a cap off his head which he uses to keep his hair out of the examination area. Each year there were fewer strands to worry about and the task light on the desk shines on Tom’s already thinning pate. Nate follows, standing behind and to the right of him and peering over his shoulder. After clicking a few keys Tom turns to him.
“I’ll let you know what I come up with. I’ve ordered the tox on the remaining tissue, and will continue testing for time of death; look at hair samples, skin condition, brain cavity, tissue, and test for decomposition. With so little to go on the report may be a little thin. If she doesn’t show up in the system by morning I’ll contact the forensics sculptor. She’s competent and will work quickly on a case such as this.”
“Okay thanks Tom, anything else?”
“Based on my initial examination of the tissue and the level of deterioration of the flesh, I would say our Jane Doe was in the water between one to fourteen days. That will give you a timeframe to work with when you go to the Missing Persons unit. The head is relatively whole minus the side of the face, the ear and the eye area …I’ll let you know for sure once I’ve run my tests.”
Nate looks back at the forlorn head staring back at him, or rather turned in his direction since the eyeballs no longer reside in their sockets. It appears the victim has blonde hair, but exact age is hard to tell.
“Will you or your forensics person be able to tell how old our victim was?”
“Should be able to get real close; it shouldn’t take long to come up with something you can use.”
“Can you get fingerprints off the skin?”
“I’ll run the head through the vapor, see what I find before starting any of the other tests, but it’s a long shot.”
“Was Harbor Patrol involved?” Nate wonders aloud, pondering the jurisdictional red tape.
“I’ll work directly with you, and I’ll have to send a report to the Coast Guard where the body part was first taken. I’ll let you inform Harbor Patrol and keep them in the loop during any investigation. I believe the head was originally found outside of their jurisdiction. The Coast Guard only got involved because the head was turned in to them. I’m not sure where the crime occurred, but I’ll let you do your thing.
“Ok, let me know as soon as you know anything. Hey, how are Jackie and Michele?” Nate switches from detective mode to friend mode asking Tom about his family.
“Doing well. Shelly’s been asking when her uncle Nate is coming for a visit and Jackie has been hinting at a date night. You would sure help me out if you would agree to a babysitting night in the next week or so.”
“Count me in daddy-o. I think I’ll head over to Missing Persons to look at their recent disappearances.” Nate slouches his shoulders and points the fingers of his right hand down gangsta-style as if he is part of a gang from the streets, “Holla back at me later, dawg.”
Tom rolls his eyes and turns back to the computer.