Hey everyone! Something I’ve discovered in the process of creating stories in prose is that writing is not just writing, writing is REWRITING.
I’ve done a major rewrite of the first chapter in the second Charlotte book. Here it is in full. If you are good enough to give input, I will probably rewrite again!
CHAPTER ONE: Charlotte Harding walks into a bar…
If Beth and I can just get our hands on Reginald Jackson, all of our money problems will be over. But getting our hands on him has proven difficult. Hell, Reginald Jackson isn’t even his real name. I guess it’s the best he could come up with once he found out there’s a bounty on his head.
Right now Beth and I are sitting in a rented Jeep Cherokee freezing our tails off and keeping an eye on a bar called The Mountain Pass. Freddie Fender’s latest hit, Wasted Days and Wasted Nights keeps us company on the radio. There’s a good chance Reginald will show; we hear he comes by often. From our spot beyond the tree line, we use our binoculars to see the face of every guy that walks in and out. Its only 9:00 pm so there are a couple of hours of daylight left. There’s plenty of time to wait but Beth is getting impatient. “One of us should go inside and check the place out.”
I respond while looking through the binoculars. “There’s no need for that. If one of us walks in he may see us before we see him. I don’t want to lose him again like we did in Chicago.”
“He may not even be here. For all we know he’s skipped Alaska, but someone in there might be able to tell us what we want to know.”
We’ve been sitting here for three hours with nothing to show for it. I’m starting to get a little impatient myself. “Okay, but I’ll be the one to go in; you create too much of a ruckus.”
“Whatever you say sugar.”
After a short march through the snow, I’m at the swinging saloon doors of the bar’s front entrance. A hundred years ago it was a trading post but now it’s a place where Alaskan men go to get a burger and a beer. By all accounts, not many women stop by so I figure my southern charm can get some info out of the bartender. I walk in and notice the lighting is barely enough to make out faces of patrons in the back. From the look and smell of the place, it’s probably a good thing not to get a close look at your food either. I take a seat on a stool about halfway down the bar. I’m not there two seconds when a bulky and pungent man takes the stool on my left. “Hey babe, you lookin’ for a man?”
I turn to make contact with a pair of beady brown eyes in the middle of a hairy face. “Yeah, but I haven’t seen one yet.” Most of the women that come to the Mountain Pass are “working girls”. I want to make it clear to the guy that I’m not his type, but Mr. Hairy doesn’t take the hint.
“C’mon babe, its payday and I’m lookin’ for some fun.”
I try the direct approach. “Get lost.”
“You heard her Harry, get lost.”
What do you know; the hairy guy’s name is Harry. The voice coming from my right belongs to the man who must be the bartender. He’s on the other side of the bar and walking in my direction. The barkeep makes motions with his hands like he’s shooing away a fly and speaks to Harry again. “Find someone else to pester man. Can’t you see she’s not interested?”
“Okay, okay. I was just playing around.” Harry gets off the stool and blows me a kiss before heading to the back. “See you around girl.”
The bartender is a lean strawberry blonde who has the air of someone in charge of his surroundings. I would guess him to be about my age but I’ve heard the harsh winters up north can add years to a person’s face. As if to satisfy a stereotype, he picks up a bar rag wipes down the area in front of me. “Don’t mind Harry. He’s harmless but sometimes hard to handle on payday.” He puts the rag away and offers his right hand. “My name’s Jack and this is my place.”
I smile and shake his hand, “Charlotte.”
“What’ll you have Charlotte?”
“Beer and information.”
If the answer surprised him, he didn’t show it. He grabs a glass mug and begins to fill it from the beer tap, “What do you want to know?”
“It’s kind of personal but here goes; I’m looking for my ex-husband. He owes me for years of child support and I got word that he might be in Alaska hiding out. My source said he might be in this area and he can’t go too long without having a drink. He goes by Reg, and he would have gotten here around six or seven months ago. That sound like anyone you know?”
Jack shakes his head, “I’m sorry but your story’s moose shit.”
I’m stunned, “Excuse me?”
“Oh, don’t mistake me. It’s a pretty good lie. I especially like the child support angle, an effort to gain sympathy right? It might have worked on one of the guys but you don’t tend bar for 35 years without being able to sniff out moose shit.”
I’m not quite ready to concede, “What makes you think I’m lying?”
Jack gives me a studious look, “Well for one thing, only a cop would say something like ‘my source said…’, that sounds more like a cop than a woman chasing her ex. Yeah, you’re definitely some kind of cop; some wear regular clothes like you, and some wear clothes that give themselves away, like those two guys coming in.”
Jack nods his head toward the front, and I quickly turn to see two men in parkas standing just inside the swinging doors. They’re wearing Foster Grants and satisfied grins on their faces. Unfortunately, these are two guys Beth and I have seen before. I don’t know how long they’ve been chasing Reg but Beth and I have been tripping over them since Chicago. The short guy waves at me, “Hi, Charlotte. If you’re here then Jackson can’t be far away.”
He’s barely gotten the words out of his mouth when he and his partner are shoved forward and dumped onto the floor by someone slamming into the swinging doors behind them. It’s Beth! The two men are in a heap, moaning and groaning as she gives me the rundown, “Let’s go, Reg spotted these clowns and he took off. Hurry, before we lose him!”
In a sprint, I run for the door after Beth. I glance back at the bar for a split second and see Jack smiling at me. Two seconds later we’re back in the Jeep. Beth peels out sending snow and dirt flying behind us. We’re heading to the trees behind The Mountain Pass but I can’t see a vehicle.
“Where is he? Where’d he go?”
Beth’s eyesight must be better than mine, “He’s right in front of us, about a hundred yards in. Hold on, this’ll be bumpy.”
In what seems like reckless abandon, Beth heads full-speed past the tree line and into the forest. The chase is taking us down a mountainside which adds to our speed. The pines seem to be a lot closer together when you shoot past them at sixty miles an hour.
“Don’t hit that tree! Beth, you’re going to get us both killed!”
As I bounce around on the passenger-side of the Jeep, my partner Beth is in the driver’s seat with a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. Local scenery whizzes past us at terrifying speed. Beth has the expression and determination of a cowboy riding a bucking bronco, but the new layer of snow on the ground makes driving tricky at best. Just before we slam into a pine tree, she jerks the wheel to the left enough to avoid collision but not roll the vehicle. Beth spares a few seconds to address my panic-filled statement.
“Don’t complain about my driving! Don’t worry either, we won’t lose him.”
As we’re barreling down the mountainside risking life and limb, I see a blue Range Rover thirty yards ahead of us. Reg is desperate but he’s no match for Beth when it comes to wild driving, we’ve been gaining ground steadily. On an impulse, I look out the rear window and see the Foster Grant twins giving chase. We have to get to Reg first to get that bounty, but none of that will matter if we end up a ball of twisted metal in the valley. Beth notices that I’m looking behind us. “Are we being followed?”
“Yeah, they’re about forty yards back.” I can almost see the faces of the guys behind us. Their forest green Jeep is throwing up a snow cloud behind them. “Did we lose the guy in front?”
She dodges trees and squints through the windshield at the same time. “I can’t see the car but I can make out his tracks. I think he took a turn, hang on!”
Like I have a choice, right? We hit a bump and go airborne for a couple of seconds. After we land, Beth makes a hard right onto what almost looks like a road. We’re now heading slightly uphill.
Beth puts on a stern expression that tells me she’s going to take a chance. “We can make up some distance on this trail. I’m gonna punch it!”
Beth floors the gas. When we hit the top of the rise, we immediately notice the trail ends twenty yards ahead in the form of a cliff! In that split-second Beth and I look at each other. How did I let her get me in this mess?
15 MONTHS EARLIER
“Charlotte, darlin’… Wake up. Charlotte, wake up!”
There’s a middle area of life where you’re still dreaming but reality is mounting its invasion. That’s where I am right now. The voice dragging me back to real life belongs to my husband Beau. We’ve been married for almost twenty five years and his voice is usually like music to me but his interruption seems harsh and I resist the inevitable. One last jolt brings me all the way back.
Beau’s head crashes back onto his pillow. A sleepy, irked voice reaches me from the other side of the bed. “You were doing it again.”
For the past few months my sleep has been fitful and restless at times. Whenever my mind takes me to this uneasy dreamscape, the tossing and turning wakes my Beau. I take a look at the electric alarm clock and see that it’s just past three in the morning. We both have to get up in a few hours. My dear husband sets aside his irritation and rolls over to talk to me.
“Wanna talk about it?”
We’ve talked through this dream a half dozen times by now. Understanding eludes us but we can’t escape the dream’s regular visits. “No darlin’. You just go back to sleep.”
Beau rolls back over. “Same to you. It’s a big day tomorrow.”
He’s right. Tomorrow I’ll be an official licensed private investigator for several states including North Carolina. It’s a goal I’ve been working towards ever since I had a hand in bringing the murderer of my best friend to justice. In that adventure, I was abducted and almost killed. At least now if that happens, I’ll be getting paid. It sounds strange but I’ve been anticipating and dreading the day I’ll be a bona fide PI. Did I make the right decision?
I manage to get a couple of hours of sleep after recovering from the dream. When I wake up, the new day is full of possibilities and I’m surprisingly well-rested. Beau, however, is grumpy and zombie-like. I guess I can’t blame him, that dream has been coming to me two or three times a month. They say dreams are your sub-conscious trying to tell you something. If that’s the case, I wish my sub-conscious would speak more plainly so the dream will stop.
Anyway, at around eight-thirty Beau is about to leave for work when Beth arrives. They both meet at the front door. I’m in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on my toast but I can still hear their conversation.
“Goodness Beau, you look like a ‘Night of the Living Dead’ extra that didn’t make the cut.”
“Thanks. I’m the poster boy for sleep deprivation.”
Beth’s voice was sympathetic “The dream again?”
Beth pats Beau on the shoulder and kisses him on the cheek as he passes through the doorway. “You get to that office of yours, close the door and get some sleep. I’ll take over from here.”
While Beau is sleepwalking to his car, Beth shuts the door and saunters into the living room like a runway model. She’s in full fashion mode as her dark flowing hair accentuates her flowered blouse and Vanderbilt jeans. Beth Finelli is the other half of our little detective agency and is quickly becoming my closest friend next to Beau. The best way to describe Beth is that she’s both a noun and a verb. She’s the gas, I’m the brake. Beth is also one of the reasons I made it through my first adventure alive, but that’s another story. She insisted we go down to the training agency together and pick up my PI license.
“Well, Charlotte, how does it feel to be a true to life private investigator?”
I swallow a mouthful of toast, “It’s not official until I have the license in hand.”
“A mere formality.” She rushes over to me and hooks her arm in mine pulling me to the door. I drop my breakfast on the kitchen counter. “C’mon, let’s go get that license.”
Beth drives a jet black 1972 Mercedes 280SL Roadster convertible and yes, the car is as impressive in real life as the description sounds. The car’s only a couple of years old but Beth claims she’s getting tired of it; not flamboyant enough. I don’t know how she gets away with it, but the only speed limits Beth recognizes are governed by the laws of physics. We’re a couple of miles down the road before she starts off the conversation. The wind is whistling by so she shouts to be heard.
“What are we gonna call ourselves?”
“The agency, what are we gonna call it?”
“I don’t know. You and my Dad put so much money into it, you two should name it.”
Beth gives her head a shake, but keeps her eyes on the road. “Don’t be like that. You put in a little money and all the hard work of getting the license. The only way to be partners is fifty-fifty so we’ll both think up a name.”
“Okay then, how about ‘Beth Finelli and Associate Investigations’?”
“We’ll work on it.”
After I get over the fright of her speeding up to pass a delivery van, I ask Beth a question. “Why are we so focused on a name right now?”
“We’re in business now. We’re official. There are business cards to print, stationery to buy, office space to rent. We can’t do any of that as ‘No Name Investigations’.”
“Hey, that’s it! ‘No Name Investigations’!”
Beth tilts her head and thinks it over. “Hmm. Almost, but not quite. How about: ‘No Names Investigations’? Our slogan could be, ‘Our Discretion is Your Protection’.”
“That could work. Let’s sleep on it.” In one bold maneuver, Beth quickly changes lanes to cut off a Caddie and make a right turn. “Hey, take it easy. Let’s get there alive!”
“Don’t worry sugar; I drive even better than I shoot.”
A half-hour later Beth and I are sitting down to a table in Marco’s for lunch. Marco’s is the place to go for lunch if you want to impress business clients or give yourself an over-priced treat. Every once in a while it’s good to have real silverware and linen napkins around you to help you feel civilized. Marble floors and chandeliers complete the air of upper class dining. After we’ve settled in, the waiter arrives. Beth jumps the gun and orders for the both of us.
“We’ll have the swordfish and a bottle of your Dom sixty-four please. Oh, and leave us that dessert menu.”
For a moment, the waiter and I are both speechless but then he manages a, “Very good madam.” I try to recover and mentally prepare to eat a lunch that costs more than my monthly mortgage payment. When the waiter is out of earshot I lean over the table slightly to give Beth a loud whisper.
“Good God Beth, do you know how much this lunch will cost?”
“Relax, it’s on me. We’re celebrating.”
“But it’s only a license.”
“Oh, but we’re celebrating two events sugar; your license and our first client!”
I’m stunned again. “What? When did this happen?”
Beth is still looking over the desserts. “Yesterday. Some guy came by Paul’s office in need of PI services. Paul’s got a lot going on right now so he suggested us. We have a meeting with the client Friday.”
“What does he want us to do exactly?”
I could tell Beth is getting a little miffed with my desire for facts and detail. She puts down the dessert menu and gathers her patience. “I don’t know exactly. That’s what the meeting is for. In the meantime, let’s just go with the flow. You can enjoy your PI status for a whole day before we really have to get to work.”
In that, Beth is right. After all the training and testing to get my license I deserve one stress-free day. Completing the course at TransCom Security Agency required taking classes in criminal justice, sociology, criminology, and psychology. There were even classes on business and advertising. I don’t even want to think about the obstacle course and self-defense training. But the fact is that I did finish. Maybe I should relax and enjoy the moment. It’s then that the Dom arrives. After the waiter opens it, Beth tastes a sample and nodds her approval. The waiter pours the champagne and I raise my flute in a toast, “To No Names Investigations!” Beth raises her flute and clinks it with mine. I don’t drink much but the Dom is absolutely the best. It’s like having all your new years’ celebrations in one glass. It’s the high point of lunch until the swordfish comes. We were half-way through lunch when Beth picks another subject.
“How’s things at the women’s shelter? Are you still getting cases from that social worker?”
“Yes. We have three ladies staying there now and we’ve re-located six women in the past year.” At about the same time I started my PI training I also established a women’s shelter. I say “I” but the shelter wouldn’t exist without a lot of people’s generosity with time, money and property, including my Dad and Beth. I’m just the fire starter and organizer. When my best friend Carol Ann was murdered two years ago by her abusive husband, that was all the motivation I needed to get the project off the ground.
Beth looks up from her plate with a sad look. “I didn’t realize there was such a need.”
I stop eating for a moment too. “You know it’s strange, something about being a victim of abuse makes them feel like they’re the only ones going through it and it’s their fault.”
Beth gets a far-off look, “I know that feeling.”
I had almost forgotten about Beth’s history. “Well, I’m just glad to help in some way.” I try to move on to something else. “Maybe we should do some office hunting tomorrow.”
The far-away look is gone and forgotten. “Great idea. What time?”
“Let’s make it early afternoon; I think I’ll sleep in. Call me at around one.”
Beth raises her glass again. “You got it sugar.”
It turns out I didn’t sleep in the next morning, but it wasn’t my fault.