Now this is where I need your help. I’m putting the final touches to my first serial-killer thriller and would like your opinion as to its believability. As often happens when reading thriller/horror/sci-fi and other make-believe genres, the reader must “suspend his disbelief” by accepting the story and subsequent action as real. The best writers, such as James Patterson, Jodi Picoult and Pat Conroy, are skilled at getting their readers to do this.
My question: Are the prologue and first chapter of my new, unpublished thriller “Dead Women Don’t Talk Back” believable to you? Please leave your comments. I appreciate your help. While reading, keep in mind that in transferring this copy from Words to this program, it loses graph indents :
“DEAD WOMEN DON’T TALK BACK”
by Betty Dravis
The child had grown up, but the soul-eating fury still controlled it with a strangling grip. Choking on the threatening red shadows, it watched itself as a six-year-old … a six-year-old laboring through a fiery, crimson haze in a blue, short-pants suit.
Creeping up on its parents.
Mother was haranguing Father–finally standing up to him–which infuriated the man. The child froze in horror as words escalated to blows, and when Father knocked Mother to the floor and threatened her with an ax, insane thoughts flooded the child’s mind. Then the red fog lifted and it saw things clearly–for the first time.
The child grimaced, squared narrow shoulders, clenched tiny fists, then stormed across the room, taking long, resolute strides. Swinging its stiffened arms at its sides, the wretched little thing resembled a tightly-wound toy soldier … a sadistic toy soldier.
The red fury had exploded into white-hot tongues of burning rage, and someone was going to pay!
GONZO, COOL DETECTIVE
The tinny clatter of the telephone rudely intruded on Lieutenant Patrick Gonzales’s sleep, jarring him awake. Irritated at once again being disturbed in the middle of the night, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, lifted the phone, punched the TALK button, and grumbled, “H’lo.”
He yawned as Police Chief Gerald Strong’s voice came on the line. “Gonzo, we need you!”
Gonzo’s senses heightened; he sprang to attention. Since San Jose P.D. had just been ordered to cut back on overtime, Gonzo knew that for him to be called out in the middle of the night meant only one thing: trouble–double trouble.
A seasoned homicide detective, his instinct told him what had happened even before the Chief heaved a heavy sigh and said, “There’s been another murder. It looks like The Case Killer’s struck again.”
Jesus–not another one! Gonzo thought as he scribbled a Story Road address and hung up the phone.
He glanced at the bedside clock, shivering when he saw it was just after two a.m. My God, only three hours sleep. It wasn’t enough rest, but after buying that new car, he and Casey could sure use the overtime. His grimace was replaced by a smile as he gently straightened the covers around his sleeping wife and slipped out of bed.
Poor Casey hadn’t been sleeping well lately. Last night she had tossed and turned all night. And tonight, she was even more restless. Poor little leprechaun. Her job was a killer. And the county kept adding caseload after caseload. He was glad the phone had not disturbed her and she could sleep till seven that morning.
Thoughts of his wife diminished as Gonzo hurriedly dressed, then headed for the kitchen to perk some coffee. He should not have taken the time, but he wasn’t eager to see another dead body. Besides, he reasoned, nothing but fresh-perked coffee could wake him up; none of that dripped stuff for him. He was glad he had talked Casey into returning that damned Mr. Coffee machine they’d received last Christmas.
While waiting for the coffee, Gonzo opened a fresh jar of red licorice vines. Placing his ball-point pen beside the licorice, he snipped off the tips so each piece would be a pen’s length. Putting a few tips in his shirt pocket and tossing the rest into a cookie jar, he put the longer vines in his pen holder and replaced it in his briefcase. He winced as he gulped the coffee, burning his tongue on the steaming brew. Then checking his revolver, he jammed his arms into his brown leather jacket and hurried out the door.
As Gonzo burned rubber racing to the crime scene, visions of the other two dead women assaulted his outraged senses: Emma Samuels’s crushed, bloody hands and savaged mouth; a lipless Helen James with a sadistic happy-face carved on her left cheek.
What had that sick mind come up with for this poor woman? Oh, Jesus, he didn’t really want to know. With a loud, animal-like groan, Gonzo stomped on the accelerator.
Thirty minutes after receiving the phone call, Gonzo arrived at the crime scene in the run-down Eastside neighborhood. Chomping on a piece of licorice, he nodded to his partner, Bernie Robbins, and Chief Strong. Then he glanced noncommittally at the flustered district attorney. Brushing shoulders with them, Gonzo pushed his way between his superiors. It took a lot to drag that prick D.A. out of his cozy little love nest, he mused darkly, speculating that the media must really be giving him nightmares over the horrific killings.
As though able to read his mind, his partner grinned. Neither had a high opinion of the D.A.–“Dick Ass,” as everyone in the department called him.
Although District Attorney Harold Driscoll put on a tough front to hide his sexual preference–he’d fooled the voters, hadn’t he?–everyone in the law enforcement field knew he was gay. The man could do nothing about his short, small stature or his graceful, feminine movements, but he could definitely counter-balance that with his sharp, witty mind and his big, bold mouth. Not endowed with toughness, through the years he’d cultivated it for the sake of self-protection and his career. But rumors were that behind locked doors with his lovers he became his true self, soft and effeminate.
Law enforcement agencies all over California had become very liberal in the eighties, so no one really cared who slept with whom. Now, in the new millennium, there were gays and lesbians in several departments.
If the D.A. had shown even an inkling of human compassion, that unkind description, Dick Ass, would have died a timely death, but he didn’t, so it didn’t. The description stuck and the D.A. was the brunt of jokes from the court house to the police station to the probation department–even to City Hall. Inevitably, the jail inmates got hold of it. It was a constant source of irritation to the pompous, ambitious man.
As a result, the D.A. relished the perks of his job. One of the perks was grabbing some macho cop’s balls–figuratively speaking, to his frustration–and squeezing until it hurt. More than once Bernie had heckled Gonzo, telling him the balls Driscoll looked forward to squeezing on this case were Gonzo’s.
Annoyed, yet slightly amused at the thought, Gonzo tried to stifle a grin as he ignored the D.A. and turned to the Chief.
“Welcome aboard, Gonzo,” Chief Strong said, firmly clasping Gonzo’s hand. “I’m sorry to get you out of bed, but you need to see this one first-hand. She was found by her husband when he got home after a night on the town. Her name’s Janet Ames. Similar M.O. as the other two: white, female, early thirties, on probation for spousal abuse. Like the others, it happened on a third Friday and the victim suffered severe damage around the mouth. But this one’s much worse. It looks like our killer’s really gone off the deep end, but–well, see for yourself.”
“Has the husband been cleared?” Gonzo asked.
“Definitely! And you know none of these killings are done by the husbands, but we always start there. And this one has a firm alibi … at a Shark’s game with hundreds of witnesses.”
Gonzo grunted. “I figured as much.”
The Chief sucked in his gut, nervously straightening his tie as he led the three men around the yellow crime scene tape, across the dead grass to the old, run-down bungalow.
As they were entering the house, the D.A. grabbed Gonzo’s arm. He glanced at Bernie, then turned his full gaze on the more dominant detective. The sullen look on Gonzo’s face and the stern set of Driscoll’s jaw made it clear there was no love lost between them. Then, like a petulant child, the D.A. slammed his fist against the porch wall. “You’ve got to find that perpetrator, but I’m warning you, Gonzo, none of your Gestapo tactics. When we catch that creepy perp, I need a conviction. I can’t have you fouling the evidence this time. Do you understand?”
Closing in to confront the overbearing man, Gonzo pulled his six feet, three inches erect, towering a full foot over the smaller figure of authority. He wished the arrogant, runty little bastard, would talk like a normal human being. It wasn’t a perp they were after. It was a filthy murderer. Gonzo felt like telling Driscoll to shove it, but he simply said, “Yes, Sir, Mister D.A..” Gonzo felt the pull of his facial muscles as a look of pure scorn creased his big dark brow when he turned away.
But Driscoll wasn’t finished; he ran his smooth fingers over the supple leather of Gonzo’s jacket sleeve. His thick lips drooping in a permanent frown, he said, “Nice leather. It’s not exactly regulation, but nice.”
“You’d know all about leather, wouldn’t you, governor?” Regulation–I’ll show him regulation! In a sudden show of outright mockery, Gonzo raised his pantleg, displaying a full view of his leather cowboy boots.
The D.A. flushed as a guarded look flickered across his face. “Don’t call me governor, cowboy.” He slurred the word cowboy as though it were a dirty word.
Don’t call me cowboy, governor! was on the tip of Gonzo’s tongue, but he knew name-calling was a kid’s game. So, with a heavy note of sarcasm in his voice, he said, “Well, you’re going to use publicity from this case to catapult to greater glory, aren’t you?”
Without waiting for a reply, Gonzo did an about-face, curtly dismissing the D.A., then joined Bernie inside the house. He slugged his friend and partner good-naturedly on the upper arm, then followed him down the hallway to the bedroom where the third murder had taken place. Voicing an earlier thought, Gonzo muttered to Bernie, “That arrogant bastard. His flunkies lost that evidence–not me… Jesus, Big Daddy.”
“Aahh, shee-eet, man, don’t let him get to you. Examining board cleared you, so that’s behind us now. Anyway, his attitude has nothing to do with that lost evidence. He’s jealous of your professional reputation. You’re the best there is–rough, tough, and hard to bluff.” Bernie patted his friend on the back.
In a lighter vein, he added, “Still chewing that red stuff, I see. Really think that’ll break your smoking habit for good? Ain’tcha worried it’ll rot your teeth?”
“It sure as hell tastes better,” Gonzo replied, sticking another licorice bit in his mouth. “And, running around with rotten teeth sure beats the alternative. With California’s new smoking ordinance–or should I say smokeless ordinance?–I wonder what they’ll ban next? Maybe licorice? The day they do that, that’ll be the day I march on City Hall!”
“Mr. Tough Guy,” Bernie joked, standing aside as they reached the bedroom, allowing Gonzo to enter first. Bernie had already viewed the corpse and his body language revealed he wasn’t enthusiastic about taking a second look.
“You got that right, partner.”
Now for the mean scene, Gonzo thought. The odor of urine and stale cigarettes billowed out of the room, but he took a deep breath and entered. A seasoned veteran, he was used to man’s inhumanity to man, but nothing prepared him for what lay inside the room:
Flies were swarming around what had once been a lovely woman, but was now a grisly corpse. Janet Ames had died a horrible death. Her throat had been slashed and then some sadistic monster had cut off her left breast and jammed it in her mouth.
Gonzo felt the blood drain from his face. His mouth went dry and he knew he must look as white as the lifeless corpse in front of him. His head spun, but he wanted to get this over with fast, so he called up all reserves of his professionalism to continue the examination, to study details.
As Gonzo worked, it was noisy inside his head: Oh, Jesus … Jesus, what a dreadful way to die. They had a real sicko on their hands, all right.
The sight was not the bloodiest scene Gonzo had ever witnessed, but it was sure the nastiest. He controlled himself until he finished scrutinizing the crime scene, then raced out of the house, gagging as he spit a bit of licorice into a shrub. When he asked Bernie for a cigarette, his partner handed him one without hesitation. Gonzo’s irregular breathing extinguished the match, but after several attempts to light it, he finally succeeded, raggedly inhaling the harsh, calming tobacco.
Tough guys who’ve seen it all–that’s us. Yeah, sure!
Visibly shaken, the partners puffed silently, thin ribbons of noxious smoke drifting upwards to envelop the porch light like toxic smog.
Bernie recovered first, and said, “Aahh, shee-eet, Gonzo, what did you think when you saw that manila folder? It’s just like the ones the killer left before, only this one’s marked with an S. Wonder what the psycho’s trying to tell us, leaving clues like that? Sure hope this victim’s not another one of Casey’s cases. Since the other two were hers, that could make her a suspect.
“You and I both know Casey’s not the killer! I’ll never forget how shy she used to be when we were growing up, and now she’s turned into a strong, outgoing woman. But, if–God forbid–she becomes a suspect, we’ll work side by side to prove her innocence. For your sake, partner, I hope for the best.” Bernie frowned as he removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose
Gonzo, his head still spinning, was thinking along the same lines: Good God, another one of those manila folders, marked with an S this time. Like Bernie, he hoped to hell the victim was not one of Casey’s cases. He doubted she could take losing another one, plus the stress of being a suspect herself. He knew his superiors were already suspicious of everyone in the Probation Department. They had not mentioned Casey yet, but he was certain they’d get around to it.
Both Gonzo and Bernie had heard all the rumors that floated around about Casey: Some said she was too hard on her cases at times, but no one had ever filed a complaint, and she had never been reprimanded. Others countered that could be easily explained; perhaps the women paroled to her were so intimidated by the judicial system they were afraid to report her. Some even said she took advantage of that fact to frighten them into submission.
But it was all unfounded rumor and could have been planted by a jealous coworker or by the real killer to point a finger at Casey.
Gonzo shook his head to clear it, then slammed his fist into his palm. “Damnit, Bernie, those rumors are a bunch of crap and everyone knows it! Casey’s the best worker they’ve ever had in that department. She works her buns off for the best interest of those poor women. I know she could never do anything like this, but if they decide to investigate her, they’ll pull me off the case faster than I can scream ‘innocent!'”
“Yeah, and that’ll only make us bust butt to solve the case, even if we both have to defy orders.”
Jesus, he hoped it didn’t come to that.
Placing his hand in the middle of Gonzo’s back, Bernie urged him forward, saying, “Aw, come on, man, no one will suspect Casey, and she has the best alibi in the world––you!” Bernie grinned.
“Me! I had a meeting last night… Didn’t get home till after ten.” Gonzo halted dead in his tracks, scowling as he turned around and looked Bernie straight in the eyes. “Before the coroner submits his report, what’s your best guess as to time frame?”
“Don’t know anymore about that than you do, but since the husband said he left the house about seven and found her dead around one, it could’ve happened anytime in between, but let’s wait––”
“Jesus, Bernie,” Gonzo muttered as he resumed walking, dragging his feet like a little lost boy.
Gonzo tossed the remainder of his licorice into the bushes. This case was going to drag him through hell and back. He could feel it in his gut. He just hoped he could get through it without dragging Casey through the mud too. – END OF CHAPTER ONE
Betty Dravis is the author of three works of fiction: “Millennium Babe: The Prophery,” “The Toonies Invade Silicon Valley,” “1106 Grand Boulevard,” and one nonfiction, “Dream Reachers” (co-author Chase Von).