Today’s one-word prompt fits right in with the theme of the new novelette I’m currently working on. It is book number 2 in The Simon Stone Detective Trilogy. Some of you will remember Simon because I actually wrote the first book in the series (Innocent Until Proven Guilty) right here on this blog. That book will be available as an e-book on Amazon in September, and book # 2 will be out before Christmas. So I thought I’d offer Chapter One of the second book as a teaser — and as my response to the prompt: witness.
(One small note: If you have not read book # 1, what you read here will include information that may spoil the ending of the first book for you. So just be forewarned.)
Stanford Brooks sat at a table in a private study carrel on the second floor of the municipal library, submerged in his favorite historical era. Suddenly he felt a stabbing pain in the back of his neck. Letting out a small grunt, he started to lift his right arm, intending to place his hand on the source of pain to discover the cause. But before he could complete the act, a gloved hand covered his nose and mouth.
Ordinarily, being a big man, he would have used his size to struggle against such an action, but his mind had grown fuzzy and his throat was beginning to constrict. He tried to turn his head and groaned beneath the heavy hand, but it was a weak sound, due to the weakening condition of his whole body. In the next second, everything went gray, then black, and without another conscious thought, he fell forward across his book.
A faint snap sounded behind him, followed within seconds by the merest whisper of wood touching wood at the closing of the carrel door. Silence then reigned in the halls of the library’s second floor, and business as usual continued at the circulation desk downstairs.
On the other side of the city, Detective Simon Stone, deep in thought about the events of his day, walked to his apartment door and slipped his key into the lock as usual. But, suddenly, nothing was “usual” at all, because when he turned the key, there was no resistance. Every nerve came to attention, and he reached inside his jacket for his Glock. He had no doubt he’d locked the door when he’d left for work at 6:00 a.m.
His mind rapidly clicked off the possibilities: petty burglar, ex-con bent on revenge, a hit man under orders from any number of drug lords he’d ticked off over the past several years. As one part of his mind sorted through the options, another part tried to make the best guess as to where inside the apartment he’d most likely find the intruder.
When he’d settled on his plan of action, he eased the door open silently, crouching, and sweeping his gun arm left to right as he panned the entire living room. No one in sight, but immediately, he heard sounds in the kitchen. He tilted his head, listening: the clatter of dishes rang out against the background of running water. He shook his head, confused. He’d never known a burglar or a hit man who cleaned up the kitchen before committing his crime.
Simon took a deep breath and let it out slowly. That sixth sense that made him one of the sharpest detectives on the force told him all was well, but the fact that someone was in his apartment who had not been invited kept him vigilant. He moved on cat feet to the kitchen door, and just before giving the connecting swing door a shove with his foot, he heard the humming. His visitor was humming “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Well, that cleared away all questions. He knew only one person who hummed that stalwart Lutheran hymn as she worked: Aunt Prissy – not a dangerous criminal, but a force to be reckoned with all the same. A hearty sigh of relief rushed through him, only to be shut off by the irritation he felt at his aunt’s irresponsible behavior. He mulled over the possibilities of dealing with the situation.
At seventy-one, Aunt Prissy had lived long enough to think she knew best about most things and to feel brave enough to take on the world. A self-appointed amateur detective in her hometown, she didn’t shy away from practicing her gift for picking locks. However, she did make sure she practiced only on family and friends. He’d lectured and lectured, to no affect, so maybe now was an excellent time for an object lesson. He’d go ahead and kick open the door and yell, “Freeze!”
He didn’t want to point his gun at her, of course, and he quietly eased it back into his shoulder holster. As he did so, he started questioning the plan because he certainly didn’t want to frighten her enough to give her a heart attack or something. But she was in excellent health, so maybe ─
“Simon, for heaven’s sake stop standing outside the kitchen door!” He sucked in a quick breath, noticing at just that moment that the humming had stopped. She spoke again, still from inside the kitchen. “You’re probably thinking you’d like to kick open the door and frighten me half to death to teach me not to break into your apartment, but you’ll be wasting your breath, dear.” On the other side of the door, Simon just threw up his hands and looked straight up, as if to ask a higher power what on earth he could do about such a ridiculous situation. “Get on in here,” his aunt said, now. “I’ve got all your favorites ready to go onto the table.”
Simon gave up. He gently pushed through the swing door and looked at his aunt. She was busy placing bowls and platters of food onto the table, but she looked up and smiled at him. Her still-bright blue eyes – the mirror image of his own – nailed him instantly, and the mischief in them was his undoing. He laughed out loud and crossed the kitchen in two long strides to take her into his arms in a bear hug.
She finally leaned back and looked into his eyes. “Hello, Nephew,” she said, her own eyes twinkling again. Simon stepped away a little, still grinning at her, “Hello, Aunt Prissy. To what do I owe this most unexpected pleasure? You didn’t even hint in your last card or e-mail that you were considering a visit.”
“I know, dear,” she said, at the same time setting the salt and pepper shakers on the table and motioning to one of the chairs. “Sit down, and I’ll say grace, and then we can talk while we eat.”
They both sat, and once Priscilla had blessed the food with prayer, she started passing him bowls and platters. “I just felt I wanted to see how you’re doing,” she said now.
“You’ve e-mailed me and asked that question at least three times in the past several months – and I’ve e-mailed you back that I was fine.”
“E-mail? Phooey! I can’t see your eyes and your expressions on an e-mail. So I decided I’d like to make another visit, and that would tell me a lot more than any computer letter.”
Simon chuckled. “There just isn’t much of anything to tell, Aunt Prissy.”
“Simon, how are you really doing?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “About as well as normal, I guess.”
“Now, what kind of answer is that, for heaven’s sake? What’s normal? There’s absolutely nothing normal about a detective falling in love with a murder suspect who’s under his investigation!”
He looked sideways at her but kept cutting his meat. “Thanks for rubbing it in.”
“You know better than that. I’m not rubbing anything in. I’m merely pointing out that you have nothing to gauge what’s’ normal in this situation. And that being the case, you should be free to allow yourself to feel any number of things that might seem weird to an average person.”
“So you’re saying I’m not average either, huh?” he asked, but there was a hint of a smile on his lips.
“Well, in my humble opinion, you’ve always been above average – ever since you were a child – but that’s beside the point. Have you heard from her since she went to prison?”
Simon shook his head, and stopped chewing long enough to answer. “No. I can’t imagine anything to be gained by continuing to communicate with her.”
“Do you still have strong feelings for her?’
Simon sat back in his chair, thinking, weighing his words. “It may sound surprising, after only eight months, but I don’t seem to have any feelings for her one way or the other.” He shrugged. “I’m at least smart enough to know that the person I thought I was in love with didn’t really exist. She was a figment of my own imagination, based on pretense and deception, both of which Deanna was a master at.”
“No question there.”
He got up to refill his coffee cup and came back to the table with the pot, adding a little to his aunt’s cup as well. As he sat back down, he said, “And I have to admit that it’s something of a relief to feel nothing for a while. All that emotion is wearing on a person, you know.” He managed a grin as he spoke the last words, and his aunt grinned back.
“Yes, having been very much in love with your uncle I can testify to the energy required to love and be loved in return. And, of course, my feelings for Mitch are not at that level just yet, but even in that relationship, there’s a huge investment of the inner man necessary to make and keep it healthy and happy.”
“How is your favorite police chief?”
“Oh, pretty much the way you remember him: calm, collected, and easy-going – well, except when I’m working on a case that is.” She shook her head a little. “He does get a little steamed up and un-relaxed when he starts worrying about me. But I keep telling him that I’m a grown woman who had to take care of herself for ten years before meeting him, and he’s just going to have to face the fact that I’m not going to become a meek little garden club member who stays at home pampering plants when life’s going on outside in the real world. And he might as well give up worrying because it won’t do him or me either one any good.”
Simon laughed. “I bet you give him that speech about once a month.”
She smiled. “Well I do try to change the words around a little from time to time, but, yes, I do manage to say it often. Bless his heart; eventually, it will sink in, and he’ll get used to letting me live my life my own way.”
As she spoke, she got up from the table, taking her plate and Simon’s to the sink, and as she returned with two servings of German chocolate cake, the phone rang.
Simon got up and walked over to the wall phone. “Hello.”
“Simon, I’m probably interrupting your dinner,” the voice said on the other end of the line.
“Oh hi, Mac. No matter about dinner. What’s up?”
“We’ve just taken a call from the city library director. She found a man dead, slumped over a table in one of the study carrels on the second floor. No obvious reason for death, but natural causes seem questionable since the man’s known for running in local marathons and seemed to be in great health. There’s an ugly red swelling and some bruising on one side of his neck. Sounded suspicious enough that I sent Peterson over. I know you’re off duty for twenty-four hours, and I wouldn’t have bothered you tonight except for the fact that the librarian identified the man as Stanford Brooks.”
“That’s right, and since he’s the primary witness in the case you’ve worked so hard on, I thought you’d want to stick your nose in on this investigation.”
“You thought right, Mac. And I’m grateful. Will Peterson have any objections?”
“I told him I felt you needed to be kept in the loop on this one. The fact that the trial starts next week makes this more suspicious than usual. We need to put some extra effort into making sure we don’t have some loose ends out there we didn’t know about. Peterson agreed.”
“Thanks, Mac. I’ll get right over there.” …………..
To participate in today’s prompt, visit the Daily Post site and get the details.