Today’s Daily Post Prompt –Trace — gives me the perfect opportunity to plug one of my newest inspirational novels: SLATE. The story of Slate and Vanessa plays out over a second story concerning Vanessa’s brother Ken. A private investigator, Ken traces a young girl from her home in Missouri to the Gulf coast of Florida, but then Ken himself suddenly disappears without a trace. That event causes Vanessa to head to Florida to look for him, and from the day she arrives and meets Slate, her life is changed forever. So is Slate’s.
Inspirational Fiction: Digital or Paperback at Amazon.
HERE’S 2 EXCERPTS:
From Chapter 1:
He hopped out of the metallic-blue corvette convertible, tossing his cigarette down and extinguishing it with his boot, then set off down the sidewalk toward Katy’s Koffee Korner. He walked with a definite swagger, and it was hard to tell if it was because of or in spite of the almost skin-tight blue jeans that covered his long legs. His light blue sleeveless, knit shirt exposed brown, sinewy arms and hugged a tight stomach before being swallowed up by the leather belted waistline that sported a gold buckle shaped like a pirate ship.
His hair was such a dark brown it looked black in certain light, and although he didn’t wear it long, any activity on his part, or the slightest of breezes, kept throwing one thick lock across his forehead. In spite of the fact that he brushed his hand through it periodically, that one lock just seemed to have a mind of its own.
As he passed a bench on the sidewalk where two older men sat chatting over Styrofoam cups of coffee, one of the men called to him, chuckling.
“Hear you spent the night in the clink again last Friday, Slate.”
The man he’d addressed stopped long enough to grin at him and then wink. “Trying to save on my electric bills, Chet.” Both of the old boys laughed, enjoying the little joke, as they did almost any little bit of conversation throughout the day as they sat on their favorite bench, trying to ease the tedium of their otherwise empty lives.
“Coffee’s especially good this morning,” Chet replied now, holding up his half-empty cup and motioning toward the café behind where he and his friend sat.
“I’m just on my way in to try it,” Slate answered and, giving them a thumbs-up sign, turned in to the doorway and opened the door to the Koffee Korner. …
This morning, though, Hally was on duty, and she always kept an eye out for Slate. She liked to wait on him … and flirt with him. Actually, she liked to flirt with him … and she tolerated having to work as a waitress in order to get the chance to do some serious flirting. Of course she didn’t save all of her attention for Slate. She shared it with several of the other men in town, but Slate was one of her favorites. He had taken her out two different times several months ago, and both times had proved to be the kind of night she liked … the kind that didn’t end until the following morning. …
While he ate, stopping every now and then to say something to one of the other patrons who passed his booth on the way to the restroom or back, Slate glanced over at the woman across from him. She had raised her head now and was sipping her coffee, her eyes closed. Her hair was a warm light brown shade, with just a tinge of highlights from the sun here and there. It barely skimmed her shoulders in soft waves. Her features weren’t classically beautiful, but she was really pleasant to look at. Her complexion was unblemished, and her eyes and eyebrows seemed to be etched in at exactly the right angles to highlight her whole face. Her mouth was rather wide, and her lips looked as if an artist had sculptured them. Yes, all in all, the sight was something he took pleasure in this morning.
He’d evidently taken just a little too much pleasure, because he’d been staring. Suddenly, she looked up and right at him, a question in her large, brown eyes. Almost exactly the color of a copper penny, Slate thought to himself as his attention focused on those eyes. He was caught off guard by the vulnerable look on her face, and instinctively he smiled his most genuine smile at her and then went back to concentrating on his food. A minute later, he heard her conversation with the waitress who had come back to bring her a fresh carafe of coffee.
“Can you give me exact directions from here to the Sandstone Motel?” she asked.
“Sure, Hon. It isn’t hard. I’ll write it down for you and be right back.”
“Thank you,” she answered, smiling and lighting up her face for just a moment, but when the waitress left, she went back to rubbing her temples and then her eyes. She finally leaned her head back against the high divider of her booth and closed her eyes, but Slate, glancing sideways at her, noticed a couple of tears trickling down her cheeks. After a minute more, she took a deep breath and opened her eyes, wiping the tears from her face with her hands, and by that time the waitress was back with her directions.
“Thank you so much,” she said and handed the waitress some bills. “This is for you.”
“Thanks, and you come and see us again, Okay?”
“If I have time,” she said smiling slightly at the retreating waitress, and then she slid out of her seat and stood up. Before she could take a step, she swayed and reached for the back of the booth to regain her balance. She was sitting in the last booth across from him, and no one else had noticed the unusual action. She sat back down on the edge of the booth, holding her head. Slate had learned better than to interfere in someone else’s business, but something about her just seemed so vulnerable that he couldn’t keep from getting up and walking over to her booth.
“Are you all right, Miss?” he asked, resting one hand on the table and leaning towards her. She looked up at him then, her eyes registering her pain.
“Yes,” she answered in almost a whisper. Then she cleared her throat and tried to speak louder. “It’s just this stupid migraine headache. They often make me woozy. Eating should help, but I guess the food just hasn’t had time to get into my system yet. I’ll just sit here another minute. Thanks,” she added, smiling wanly.
Slate sat down in the other side of the booth. “How about another cup of coffee?”
She turned back into the normal sitting position in the booth and nodded her head as he picked up the carafe and poured some into her cup. She began drinking it immediately, and Slate stepped over to his own booth and retrieved his cup, bringing it back with him. He poured fresh coffee for himself and topped hers off again. She smiled at him, her eyes seeming to show a little relief now.
“My sister often has migraine headaches,” he said. “They make her sick for days.”
She nodded her head. “They do some people. Usually, I’m not ill, but I have to be careful when they make me dizzy.” She took a deep breath. “I’m feeling better now. Thank you for your concern, Mr… .?”
“Slate’s fine,” he answered. “I heard you ask the waitress about the Sandstone. Is this your first visit in this area?”
“Yes, and it really isn’t a visit exactly.”
“Well … I guess there’s no reason to be secretive about it, so I might as well tell you. Anybody I meet around here just might be able to tell me something that will give me a lead.”
His eyebrows rose. “Are you a private detective?”
She chuckled a little. “No … I’m not, but my brother is. And he was on a case that led him to this area. His last call to his wife a week ago was from the Sandstone, and then he just disappeared.”
She nodded. “None of us has heard from him again, not even the family whose daughter he was trailing. She was a runaway, and only seventeen. They had hired him to find her and bring her home, and he had caught up with her in Lakeland. Then she took a bus to Tampa, then hitched a ride out to this little town and on to the Sandstone Motel. He followed her that far, but we don’t have any idea what happened after that.”
“Have you contacted the police?”
“Oh yes. He’d been calling his wife every day, so after the third day without a call from him, we contacted our own sheriff’s department at home. He’s been in touch with the one here, but they don’t seem to have any leads.” She shrugged. “Not that I have any either, but I just couldn’t sit at home and do nothing when Kendall could be in some kind of serious danger or …” She stopped and swallowed hard. “Or worse,” she finished.
He leaned back in his seat. “Well, the sheriff’s department here is usually pretty thorough. I’ll say that for them at least.”
“I need to go talk to them personally, but I’ve been driving all night, and I want to get a room and shower and rest first. Hopefully I can get rid of the last of this headache.” She looked at him more intently then, taking in his manner of dress and his almost lazy way of leaning back in the booth.
“Please don’t let me keep you,” she said then in a tone he’d have attributed to some socialite addressing a lower-class citizen. “Thanks for your concern, but I can take care of myself from here,” she added, lifting her chin a little higher than normal, her voice edged with a bit of frost. Slate felt that he’d been dismissed. Well, so much for trying to help. How many times did he need to learn to mind his own business before he’d pay attention?
He rose from his seat and gave a sketchy salute. “Yes, M’am,” he said, a little frosty himself. He walked to the front and paid his bill. …
On his way down the highway twenty minutes later, headed back to the dock, he was in a foul mood. Most of the supplies he needed were back-ordered, and he was going to be in a bind. He was trying to force himself to stop worrying about it when he spotted what looked like Vanessa’s car up ahead sitting on the side of the road. He slowed as he passed, and recognizing her, he pulled over just in front of her. Part of his mind was telling him to stay out of her business and save himself another snubbing. But the other part was responding to the code he’d lived by all his life about helping anybody that was down. He got out now and walked back to her driver’s side, leaning down to see in the window. “Problems?”
“Yes … I don’t have any idea what’s wrong. A few minutes ago it just sputtered and then died. I barely got it off the road.”
“Are you out of gas?”
She looked daggers at him. “I’m not an idiot! I know a car has to have gas to run. There’s plenty of gas!”
Whew, he thought. I wish I didn’t have enough conscience to bother me if I just left her here. “Well … pull your hood release, and I’ll take a look.”
“Do you know anything about cars?”
He chuckled as he walked toward the front of the car. “No … I just get my kicks stopping by stranded motorists and asking to play under the hood of their cars.”
Vanessa got out and walked closer to him. “You don’t have to be sarcastic. A lot of men don’t know how to repair cars. I was just asking.”
“Well, I don’t know everything about ‘em; that’s for sure. But since I have to keep my boat engines in good running order, I can usually do a thing or two about car engines as well.”
“You have boats?”
He glanced up momentarily. “A few.” Vanessa recognized by his tone of voice that the conversation was at an end for the time being, so she remained quiet.
He checked a couple possible causes of the problem, but came up short of a solution. He was pretty sure he knew what was wrong, but didn’t have the equipment to fix it. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the equipment necessary to fix it out here. We’ll have to get you towed in.” He stepped back and looked at her license plate again. “I’m guessing your name is Vanessa. Am I right?” he asked, grinning.
She seemed a little affronted that he’d asked, but she did answer him. “Yes … Vanessa Hayes.”
“Well, Vanessa Hayes, I can give you a lift to the Sandstone.”
He saw the briefest flash of fear in her eyes before she answered. “Oh … oh well … I don’t want to trouble you Mr. uh …”
“Slate’s good enough.”
“But don’t you have a last name?”
He looked straight at her, his blue eyes piercing hers, but he stood silent for another moment before he spoke again. “I’ll call for a tow truck.”
“I have a cell phone,” she said and started to turn back to the car.
“Never mind, I’ve got it,” he answered, already punching in some numbers. “I’ve given these guys a lot of business, so I think I can talk them into getting to you today.”
“I really don’t want to put you to this trouble, Mr. uh …”
He was talking to the man on the other end of the phone now, but he gave her an exasperated look. When he had finished the call, he snapped his phone shut and clipped it back onto his belt. “They said they’ll try to get here in a couple of hours.”
“Oh … well … I’ll just wait then.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” He slammed down the hood. “There’s no point in you’re waiting out here two hours. By then it will be the hottest part of the day. Let’s get your luggage, and I’ll take you to your motel.”
Vanessa stepped back. “No … no, thank you, Mr. uh …”
“Mr. Slate, thank you for your offer of a ride, but I’m going to stay here with my car.”
“That isn’t necessary. I told them I’d be by their place to check on it this evening, so you can be sure they’ll take good care of it.”
“Do you have that much influence?” she asked, her eyes widening with her obvious surprise. “I would have thought that someone like you wouldn’t …” She stopped in mid-sentence, realizing that what she had started to say would sound pretty rude.
He raised one eyebrow. “You mean you thought that someone like me wouldn’t have any good influence anywhere, right?”
“Well, it was a logical mistake,” she excused herself, in reality hating herself for such a stupid and unkind blunder. Who was she to judge this man by his outward appearance and manner? She could tell she’d made him angry.
“Just get in my car. I’ll get your bags.”
She pulled herself up to her full five and a half feet and stepped in front of her car door. Then she held out her hand to him as if to shake hands. He just looked at her for moment and then extended his hand too, not sure what a handshake right now meant. Vanessa spoke again. “Thank you for stopping, Mr. Slate, but you can be on your way now. I prefer not to ride with you.”
He could feel that she had tried to withdraw her hand after the briefest of contacts, but he had deliberately held on for several more seconds. He realized it discomfited her, but he felt she deserved it for the way she was acting. As soon as he released her hand, she wiped it down the side of her slacks as if to clean something off.
Slate stepped back a step and folded his arms across his chest, staring at her and squinting a little against the sun. “The uppity Miss Priss. Too good to ride with the likes of me. Well … suit yourself, Miss Priss. Sit out here and bake in this sun if you want to, but don’t be surprised if that tow truck doesn’t show up for four or five hours.”
“But you said they told you two!”
He laughed. “They did, and I knew that meant that they’d at least get to it before nightfall. That’s a lot around here, Miss Priss, and you’d best be thankful for that much.”
“Don’t call me that!”
He chuckled. “You’re the prissiest little fox I’ve seen around here in a lifetime, Honey. The name suites you to a ‘T.’” He turned and started back to his car then. Let the prudish snob sit out here by herself, he thought as he reached to open his car door. But then he looked up at her. She was rubbing her temples again, and he remembered that she was suffering with a migraine. He remembered again how his sister wasn’t fit to live with when she had one because they affected her so badly.
He let out a heavy sigh and started back toward Vanessa. “Look,” he said as he got within a couple feet, “I’ll call the sheriff’s office. They know me. I give them a lot of business too. You can talk to the officer on duty, and I’ll tell them that I’m taking you to the Sandstone. That way, you know I’ll not abduct you into some isolated field and rape and kill you. How’s that?”
“Thank you,” she said in what was almost a whisper now. Then she turned and opened her door. “I’ll get the keys and open the trunk.”
From Chapter 4:
About twelve miles down the highway from the Sandstone Motel, a poorly paved road turned West and wound several miles out into the countryside. A half dozen old houses dotted the area, each one at least two or three miles away from its neighbor in any direction. But a little over five miles out on the paved road, there was a gravel turnoff, almost hidden by overgrown bushes, that led another four miles out to a house that sat on an inlet with its own worn out boat dock.
Inside that house, in an empty back bedroom, two people sat on the floor, their backs propped against the wall, their hands and feet tied securely enough to make sure they couldn’t leave their accommodations at will. The man was tall and muscular, with golden brown hair that matched that of his younger sister so much that people often thought they were twins. He wore thin, gold-rimmed glasses, and ordinarily made a handsome picture to most observers. Right now, though, his face was marred by an ugly scratch and a couple of bruises, and his clothes were wrinkled and stained.
His companion was a young girl with stringy, blond hair … which at one time had probably been thick and shiny enough to attract a second and third look from most men. Right now, she was sitting beside him, sick with fear and wishing she’d never seen most of the men she’d ever known in her seventeen years. The one exception to that wish was her companion in this make-shift prison.
The only reason he was here at all was because he had tried to come to her rescue when she had tried to get away from what had turned out to be a group of drug dealers, and had been losing the battle for her freedom. He hadn’t succeeded in his attempt to help her. And now they were both facing whatever unknown horrors were being planned for them by the thugs that had tied them up while they carried out their own ugly business.
Kendall Hayes leaned his head back against the wall, his eyes closed, and prayed for the umpteenth time that day … as he had done for the last six days sitting in this room. The one drug dealer of the bunch who interacted with him and Sarah, his cell-mate, was Gary – Sarah’s boyfriend until his true identity and occupation had come to light. Gary came in twice a day with food and water, and led them away, one at a time, to the bathroom, standing guard just outside the door. That was the only precaution necessary, since the bathroom didn’t have even one window, and there was certainly no chance of escape from that cubbyhole. If they made enough fuss, he came and escorted one of them to the bathroom at other times, but it was a chore to convince him he needed to heed their urgency.
After the first four days of incarceration, Sarah had talked Gary into allowing her and Kendall a change of clothes from the suitcases they’d had with them. But other than those concessions, the plight of the inhabitants of this back bedroom seemed to be of no interest to anybody else on the premises.
“You prayin’ again?” Sarah asked her companion now as she saw he had his eyes closed and his lips moving.
He opened his eyes and smiled at her slightly. “Yeah … gotta stay at it.”
“You really believe your God’s gonna get us outta here?”
He sighed. “You ask me that every day, Sarah. And the answer is still the same. Yes … I really believe that.”
Tears welled up in the girl’s eyes, as they had several times during the last several days. “I sure wish I could believe.”
She had said that at least a dozen times in the days they’d shared this room, and Kendall had always given her the same answer. “You can, Sarah. Just ask Jesus to make Himself real to you, and you’ll be able to believe.” She hadn’t been able to bring herself to do that yet, but Kendall could tell she was closer than she had been the first couple of days. He closed his eyes again now.
“Please, Lord Jesus,” he whispered just loud enough for the girl to hear him too, “please make Yourself real to Sarah. She can’t ask You for herself, Lord, so I’m asking for her. Just help her a little more, Lord to recognize that You’re here and that You love her and want to help her. And please, Lord … send your angels to open up this prison and lead both of us out of here. I’m trusting you, Lord. I’m trusting you with all the faith I have.”
He’d prayed those same words, or some very similar, so many times his rational mind told him that it was no use to pray them again. But he had belonged to Jesus Christ for most of his life, and he’d always found Jesus faithful in times of trouble. Kendall was determined even now that he would not give up his faith in God’s love and delivering power.