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Wacky Wednesday IX (free fiction)

Um. I thought about calling this Wacky Thursday for those of you who will assume I simply forgot, but of course the fact is I’ve just been living a day behind lately. Sometimes even more. So it’s not my fault.

(But thanks for the emails, Brian and Toni!)

Ahem. So here we are with Chapter 5 of Shiver on the Sky. This would be a weird place to begin reading (better here, maybe?), and I’d think people would have asked for the whole book during a recent giveaway I did, but apparently I’m at least slightly wrong. Thus, this:

Chapter Five

(Monday Morning—Owen)

Owen woke, tangled in his sheets. The window air-conditioning unit had finally kicked in sometime during the early morning. The sheets, damp from his sweat, were now also cold.

He rarely slept well in a strange bed, but this had been worse than usual. He’d woken repeatedly from a nightmare that had seemed to return every time he closed his eyes.

He walked on the beach and saw Leon’s body washing out to sea, with gulls swooping and crying out overhead. He dove in to pull the corpse back to shore and found Shawna under the surface, her lower body replaced by a scaly green mermaid’s tail, trailing seaweed, tugging on the spear that was still, horribly, poking through Leon’s head. Leon’s eyes rolled in Owen’s direction, and their lack of expression showed, illogically but absolutely, Leon’s full awareness of what was happening to him. Shawna towed Leon farther out into the Gulf, and Owen could do nothing to stop it.

Owen surfaced and yelled for help, but the beach was deserted. Except sometimes the Hermit was there, leaning on his own spear, much larger than the one stuck through Leon; the dream named it a harpoon.

The Hermit thundered out advice, exhorting Owen to straighten out his life. “Commit yourself to something! Be something! You must make a choice, boy!” The old man had a seagull on each shoulder, and behind him Owen caught occasional glimpses of a black dog, probably Shadow, digging up old bones in the dunes. The bones were dry and brittle, but Owen knew if they ever reached the water they might begin to move on their own.

He hadn’t managed to shake the dream and get any real sleep until well past three o’clock. It wasn’t until sometime around nine that he pried his eyes open and looked blearily around the hotel room.

He peeled the sheets off his body and staggered around a small dining table to the window, stepping over Shadow’s sleeping body on the way. The dog’s front legs twitched.

He didn’t want to think about the bit with Shawna and Leon’s body. It was just a nightmare, and he figured he was entitled to one under the circumstances. And as for the Hermit, he’d had enough of that sermon yesterday.

Coastal Bend mornings in September, or any other month, were frequently gray and wet. This one had turned out to be sunny. When Owen put his hand to the window, warmth sank into his fingers. He turned off the air conditioner, which had lowered the temperature in the room to that of a meat locker once it got going, and resolved to get a different room if he ended up staying in the hotel.

He shook himself. Might as well get moving. He dialed Detective Gordon’s number to let him know about the missing Jeep, but hung up before the first ring.

Maybe it was time to stop reacting and start thinking.

Gordon had felt like a good guy, even if somewhat tricky—but Shawna’s welfare wasn’t going to be his first priority. And Owen had a feeling the Jeep was important. So far, if he was going to help Shawna, the Jeep was the only card he had to play. He ought to look at it a bit more carefully before giving it away.

He padded into the bathroom and took a shower. He’d cleaned up the night before, immediately after getting into the room, but had bathed since in clammy sweat. Even when he got out, he didn’t feel quite clean.

Clothed, and as alert as he figured he could get, he picked up the phone and dialed a different number.

It was picked up right away. “Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Carl LaMott speaking.”

Hey, Carl. Had breakfast yet?” God, he was hungry. He’d forgotten to eat last night.

Holy shit, you’re alive and free. Yeah, I had doughnuts two hours ago. Where the hell are you?”

Off the record? The Wave Inn on South Padre Island Drive. Though I’m thinking I might like to wave goodbye to it.”

Yeah, yeah, off the record, whatever. For now. You’re a computer guy, you don’t even know what that means. Jesus, man, what’s been going on? I hear somebody got killed out at your boat, Shawna’s gone, your ex-boss is gone, and now you’re calling me from a hotel and saying shit like ‘off the record.‘”

Want to watch me eat breakfast?”

Hell yeah, I’ll even buy. How about the Cracker Barrel over near you on SPID?”

Works for me.” Owen thought about it. The restaurant and the hotel were both on South Padre Island Drive, but it would still be a long walk. “Can you pick me up? I’m having a little transportation problem this morning.”

Jeep’s not running? Why not, everything else around you is screwed up. You ought to buy a real car anyway. Maybe even one with working air conditioning.”

Carl . . .”

Not my fault you’re so damned cheap. Okay, okay, be there in twenty. Meet you outside.” He hung up.

It was closer to thirty minutes before Carl showed up. He held his cell phone against an ear, carelessly listening, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. Owen grinned and put Shadow in the back seat. He got in the front and watched Carl drive, wondering who could silence him so effectively.

My editor,” Carl explained when he eventually got off the phone. He pulled into the Cracker Barrel parking lot. “He has these great ideas every once in a while, and he has to tell me about ‘em. If I’d argued, it would have taken longer.” He shrugged. “Sorry.”

They left Shadow in the car with the windows cracked. Owen ordered pecan pancakes and sweet tea. Carl, insisting he was on a doughnuts-only diet, sneered at the menu and ordered coffee.

Carl spoke first when the waitress left. “Okay, Owen. What’s going on? And what’s with the dog?”

What do you know?”

Not a lot. I’ve got calls in to a couple of people. If they get back to me I’ll let you know what I find out. Junior’s missing, presumed dead. Shawna’s missing, status unknown.”

Owen held up a hand, swallowed. “How do the cops figure she was at Junior’s? She didn’t even have a car last weekend, it’s in the shop getting a new transmission.”

Appointment calendar, plus a neighbor saw somebody matching her description. And prints. All over the place, apparently…but also on a fireplace poker. It’s got Junior’s blood and hair on it, too. Or at least they think it’s Junior’s. Don’t tell anybody you know about that, because I’m not supposed to know either.”

How’d they ID her prints? I don’t think she’s ever been arrested.”

Carl looked up from shredding the napkin that had been wrapped around his silverware. “Beats me, man. Maybe they went by her place, or stopped by wherever she works. I don’t think it’d be too hard. Or maybe she’s got a record you don’t know about.”

Carl, you have to know Shawna would never . . .”

Carl shook his head. “Look, I only met her a couple of times. And I don’t know what the circumstances were, over there.”

Owen tried to speak, but Carl rode over him. “Neither do you. Maybe Junior threatened her. Maybe he even hit her. Or maybe someone else staged the whole thing. But forget that for now. Who got killed on your boat, Owen? I couldn’t get any info on that. I thought it was you until you called me this morning.”

Leon Purvis,” Owen said. “He was a friend. Shadow—the dog—is his. Or was. I think you met Leon once, a couple of months ago out at the boat. We were having a fish fry.”

Carl shrugged, looking down at the napkin again. “I might have. I don’t always remember things like that, especially if there’s beer involved, and there would have been for a fish fry at your place. Hell of a trait for a reporter, but there it is. Lucky I’ve got a column now, so I can write about my feelings instead of facts.”

You know, Carl, that’d be a lot more convincing if I didn’t know you drink maybe once every six months or so. And I think three beers is about your limit.”

Carl laughed. “Okay, okay. But I really don’t remember him. Uh…anyway, maybe I shouldn’t be playing around. I’m sorry about your friend, and I’m sorry I don’t know more about what happened, but…right now I’m just glad it wasn’t you.”

Me too.” Owen met Carl’s eyes for a moment. But Leon hadn’t deserved it either.

So why are you out on the loose? You have a good alibi or something?”

Not really, no. I was out in my kayak most of the weekend. I guess I have an alibi for yesterday afternoon if I need it, but I’ll have to check with the Hermit before I mention it. On the record, anyway.”

You didn’t tell the cops you were with him? Jesus, Owen.”

I told you, it was only yesterday afternoon. And you’ve met him. How do you think he’d react to cops showing up? And what about after he found out I’d sent them?”

Carl shook his head. “Maybe somebody ought to show up. I mean, it looks like the guy’s barely getting by out there. And he’s not getting any younger. Could be he’d be better off if he got locked up.”

Owen laughed, wincing at the thought. “I think he’s getting by okay,” he told Carl. The Hermit could probably buy the mortgage on that new house Carl was so proud of out of his profits from this year alone. The Hermit had a doctorate in English Literature from Yale, had once taught at the University of Texas, and had been a professional bridge player in what he called his misspent youth. He still made a substantial income from rental properties he’d bought with his card-playing profits. He just lived out on the water because he was, in his own words, a geriatric delinquent.

He’s a wing nut,” Carl said with an air of finality. “And so are you, if you don’t see it.”

Yeah. But if he gets mad at me, and he knows you through me, he probably won’t tell you where the fish are biting anymore.”

Carl laughed, then pointed his fork at Owen. “Whatever, man. If they fry you I’ll write it up real nice for the paper. Anyway, what’s with the Jeep? You need a ride someplace?”

The Jeep? I figure whoever killed Leon has it, or Shawna has it. Don’t know which yet.” If that wasn’t just two ways of saying the same thing…but it couldn’t be. Nobody who really knew her could think so.

What do the police think?”

Good question. “Far as I know, they don’t think anything. I forgot to tell them about it last night.”

Carl groaned and grabbed the top of his head. “You are going to tell them, right?”

Owen looked at him, then away. “I don’t know. I need to see if my keys are still in my boat. If they are, maybe Shawna’s using the Jeep. It would have to be some sort of emergency before she borrowed it, because she hates driving a stick shift, but she has her own keys. If she has the Jeep I don’t necessarily want to send the cops after her.”

Jesus Christ, Owen. What if whoever killed Leon and Junior has Shawna in the Jeep?”

Owen shook his head. “You mean, what if he just happened to kidnap or kill Junior and Shawna, then go to my place and kill Leon, and steal my Jeep? What was he, on foot before that? Or what if he walked to my boat, killed Leon, stole my Jeep, and then drove across town to grab Shawna and Junior, and Shawna had taken a cab or something to get there? The whole thing is nuts either way. I think Shawna borrowed the Jeep to go to Junior’s, and if anybody’s using it it’s probably her.”

Owen. That makes her sound pretty fuckin’ guilty. I mean, if Junior and Leon are both dead, and Shawna was in both places…I don’t believe in coincidences.”

Neither do I. And yeah, it looks bad. But I’m not going to help the police catch her just yet.”

What are you gonna do, find her yourself?” He looked at Owen more closely. “Holy shit. You are, aren’t you?”

Off the record, Carl.”

Jesus.” Carl shook his head. “I’m not sure any of this makes sense. But it’s your show. So okay, how ‘bout if you drop me off and borrow my car for the day? If you still need it later I’ll get a ride home from somebody. I can just use my truck tomorrow. Deal?”

Yeah.” Owen met Carl’s eyes again. “Thanks. I really appreciate all this.”

No problemo, buddy. Just try to keep us both out of jail.” Carl got up, pulling out his wallet to pay the bill. “And Shawna too, if you can. I kinda like her.”

Owen nodded.

—————————————————————

The first chapter of the book can be found here, and if you want to read the whole thing at once you can find buy-now links here.

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