Well, here we are. Whatever that means.
I really like the idea of putting an entire novel up on the site for free, one chapter a week. I started that with Pagan Sex a while back, then decided to make it available exclusively on Amazon–so that didn’t work out. And I’m tempted to do it with Shiver on the Sky, but…well, at some point in the future Shiver will probably be free on all sites. Might be after I have the sequel out, or after I have a couple of sequels out. We’ll see.
What I’d really like to do is write a serial novel just for Wacky Wednesdays. I’d definitely go for that if I had more readers here. Most of my blog posts are read by fewer than 100 people, though, so it’s probably not a great idea. (Yet?)
So…here’s the first chapter of Shiver on the Sky. I’ll keep going with this, with perhaps an occasional dive into something else, until either (a) the book is free anyway, or (b) I get to the end.
Got a better idea, or even a different idea? Suggestions on content are always welcome.
On with the show!
Shadow quit struggling when they got past the boat. Owen set him back down on the dock, nearly tripping himself over somebody’s bait bucket.
He braced on one knee and scratched Leon’s dog behind the ears. Once they were past the worst of it, he figured seventy pounds of muscle and bone, split about equally between Black Lab and Great Dane, ought to be able to walk on its own.
But he didn’t blame Shadow for balking earlier—Owen half-longed to plant himself on the concrete and whimper right alongside him. If he could just get a little more distance first.
The smell ought to have faded by now. He stood, inhaling a warm soup of Texas Gulf Coast humidity, diesel exhaust and the almost-visible stink of rotting fish. Anything beyond that, this far from the boat, had to be a memory…stuck in his nose. He tried breathing through his mouth instead.
It didn’t help. It just reminded him that his mouth still tasted vile, and his teeth felt fuzzy under his tongue.
But the marina was full of people going about their business as if they didn’t notice a thing. Owen practiced forcing himself to breathe normally until he was fairly sure he wouldn’t pass out, then twitched Shadow’s leash. He led the dog down the dock, up the ramp and across the parking lot, unable to meet the eyes of anyone he passed. Shadow bumped into his legs all the way.
He hooked the leash over a post of the Coast Guard’s “Kids Don’t Float!” sign next to the payphone, for once barely registering the slogan’s enthusiastic nonsense. Shadow sat on his feet.
Owen wiped at his face with his T-shirt, but the sweat kept dripping. The shirt was too stiff with dried saltwater to help much. He found the police non-emergency number and dialed. His knees shook and he pulled over a cheap plastic chair.
He almost smiled, and something in his chest opened. He forgot about sitting down. She sounded so bored. Efficient, too. She probably sat at a clean desk, in a cubicle in an air-conditioned building, living in a chill world where phone calls were dull. He wanted to kiss her. “This is Owen, uh, Tremaine. There’s a—”
“T-r-e-maine, like the state. Look, there’s a dead body on my boat.” He closed his eyes, wishing his memory of Leon’s face would subside, and feeling guilty that he wanted it to. “No way it was an accident. Somebody killed him. I’m at—”
“Sir, what is your location?” She sounded more alert. But what did she think he’d been about to tell her? So much for efficiency.
Owen sensed bureaucratic machinery jerking into motion on the other end of the line, and sighed. The official wheels, once started, would grind in their own way, however disconnected they might become from any reality he could grasp. He reached down to pet Shadow, who licked his fingers gratefully. God, he wished he could get back into his kayak and paddle away from all this. Out in the Laguna Madre, he could go for days without talking to anybody.
But Leon deserved more than that. “Ma’am, please just be quiet for a minute and listen to me. I’m at the Corpus Christi City Marina, the new one, on Ocean Drive. Slip 35, on the first finger to the left as you walk out. The dead man is Leon Purvis. He has a—”
“Sir, I have to ask this. Do you feel you are in immediate danger?”
He hadn’t even thought of that. Should he have? If this had happened to Leon, somebody must have been responsible. Who? Why? Was whoever had done it still here? “Uh, maybe. I mean, I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I’m not on the boat, and from…from the condition of the body I don’t think anything happened today.”
“Sir, I’m dispatching a cruiser and an ambulance.” She sounded doubtful. “They should be there shortly. Please stay on the line. Do you have a driver’s license number or state ID?”
Machinery in motion. The conversation suddenly seemed hazy and meaningless, her now-skeptical voice nothing more than a bland echo. What was the point? He’d have to go through it all again when the cops showed up in person.
He should get himself together before they did. Besides, Shadow really needed to go for a little walk. No telling how long he’d been shut up in there. The poor guy was probably hungry and thirsty too.
So Leon’s dog would trump bureaucratic gibberish, for now at least. “Ma’am, I think we’re done. I’ll be waiting out by my boat. It’s the Fusty Navel, slip 35.”
Owen hung up, feeling a little better. Irritation and defiance had restored his strength. He led Shadow out of the parking lot and down the street, tempted as he went to just keep going and never look back. Who would it hurt?
But…no. The police would probably react badly if he wasn’t there. Not that it would be much better if he stuck around.
Still, he wasn’t staying on the boat tonight even if the police allowed it. Leon’s little cabin cruiser wouldn’t be available this time either. Maybe he could get a hotel room, if he could find a place that didn’t mind dogs.
He thought of Shawna, but she’d moved into an efficiency apartment. He and Shadow wouldn’t be able to breathe. And Shawna had a huge, spoiled, declawed Siamese. Owen didn’t want to strain their relationship just when it had started to work again.
But he needed to call her anyway, to break their date for tonight. She’d understand, under the circumstances. At least he hoped she would.
Shadow took care of some urgent business on the sidewalk. Owen cleaned it up with a baggie he’d grabbed from a dispenser in the parking lot, then turned back toward the payphone.
He raised his eyebrows. A police car had already pulled into the lot. So the waiting was over before it had really begun. They must have been pretty close when they got the call—but then, their headquarters building was only a few blocks away.
Two uniformed officers got out and headed down the ramp to the dock. They looked like kids. Just out of high school, maybe. Though they had to be older than that, didn’t they? Even from fifty yards away, they seemed awkward—out of their element, and a little scared.
Owen pulled Shadow into a jog. Calling Shawna could wait. He didn’t want the police on his boat before he talked to them. He tossed the baggie in some bushes as he ran, promising himself he’d pick it up later.
At the bottom of the ramp Shadow started whining again. Owen knelt to fasten his leash to a post about thirty yards short of the Fusty Navel.
The officers stood next to the boat, looking around nervously. Owen decided to walk the rest of the way, rather than come up to them at a run. They had enough on their minds.
He waved to get their attention.
They started toward him. One of them, the larger, hung back about twenty feet. The other kept coming. His youthful eyeless gaze pinned Owen in place, his mirrored shades reflecting defeat and impotence. “You Tremaine?” the officer asked from ten feet away.
“Yeah. The guy in there is Leon Purvis. He’s a friend of mine.” Owen winced. Part of him apparently still thought it would all be okay, that if he did everything right somebody would somehow push an “undo death” button and reverse the last hour—but it had been longer than that for Leon, hadn’t it. He supposed it came from spending too much time working with computers, solving problems in artificial jurisdictions where anything could be fixed. He tried again. “Was a friend of mine.”
The cop nodded. “You guys get in a little tussle? Been drinking maybe?” He stepped forward, arms up, ready for a fight. “Okay, what I need you to do now is turn around and put your hands on your head. Don’t argue with me, just do it.”
Owen stared, flatfooted. “Hey. Wait a second. I wasn’t even around when it happened. I just got here half an hour ago. I called you guys.”
“Don’t argue!” the cop shouted. “Turn around and put your hands on your head!” His partner drew his gun and moved closer. Suddenly they were both yelling.
Shadow jumped up and barked loudly, startling the nearer cop, who backed three quick steps away from Owen and dropped his right hand to his gun. Shadow growled and jumped again, trying to get loose.
“Okay! Fine! I’m turning around!” Owen stumbled over his own feet, trying to watch both Shadow and the cops, and nearly fell. If Shadow backed up instead of pulling forward, the collar might slip right over his head.
Owen raised his hands. “Look,” he said over his shoulder, trying to sound calm for the dog’s sake, “I’m doing what you said. But I called you, and then I waited for you. Why the hell are you acting like this?” It was one thing to be a suspect; he’d expected that. But to have a gun pointed at him just for calling the police . . .?
“Stand still,” the smaller cop said. He frisked Owen quickly, then cuffed his hands behind his back. “Ramirez!” he called. “Take this guy over there a few feet and stay with him. I’ll check out the boat.” He turned and gingerly stepped up onto the houseboat’s aft deck, pulling himself aboard with a stanchion. “Jesus, it’s gotta stink to hell in there, it’s clogging up my throat from here.”
Owen stood on the dock, left wrist pinched by the cuff. His legs shook, a little. What was he missing? Were these guys nuts? Or just young and dumb?
“Sit down over there,” Ramirez said. “We aren’t going anyplace for a while.” He pulled a card out of his pocket and read the Miranda warning. “Do you understand these rights?” When Owen nodded, Ramirez put the card away and jerked a thumb toward the Fusty Navel. “Anything missing inside? Anything you want to tell me about before we find it in there?”
Owen was busy doing his best to sit down without falling over. Funny how much he missed his arms for balance. Normally he didn’t notice using them.
He’d delayed his answer long enough to make Ramirez’s face redden. He spoke up just as Ramirez’s mouth opened again. “I didn’t see anything missing. But I was only inside for a few seconds.” He squirmed on the concrete, trying to get more comfortable. Why bother with these guys? They didn’t seem to speak the same language. “As for the rest, you can just see it for yourselves. I already tried talking to you.”
Come to think of it, they weren’t detectives, and Owen was pretty sure they shouldn’t be messing with the interior of the houseboat. “Let me know when somebody a little brighter shows up.”
A passing woman with a young girl in tow held her close, keeping her well away from Owen as they went by. Ramirez wiped sweat from his forehead and watched them walk toward the ramp. “That your dog down there? He acts like it.”
Shadow had stopped trying to get free, but stared intently at Ramirez, his teeth showing. He let out a low growl. The woman and child gave him an even wider berth.
Owen looked past Ramirez, watching a seagull dive into the water. He didn’t answer. Was Shadow his dog now? If not, whose?
Ramirez nodded. “Better hope he doesn’t bite anybody.”
He hadn’t yet. Owen had never seen Shadow even growl at anyone before, except in play.
Ramirez kept talking. “So, has he had his shots? You got him licensed? I don’t see any tags on him. There’s a law, you know.”
Never mind the dog—Owen’s teeth ached to sink into Ramirez themselves. He looked up. “That’s what’s on your mind right now? Tags?”
Ramirez flushed. Maybe he’d been trying to build pressure, maybe threaten Owen with a fifty-dollar fine if he couldn’t produce the tags? He really was just a kid. Though he couldn’t be more than a few years younger than Owen, in spite of appearances.
If these guys did anything to Shadow, they’d pay for it. One of Owen’s friends was a columnist for the Caller-Times. And he liked dogs.
Owen went back to watching the seagull.
“Jesus fuck!” the other cop yelled from inside Owen’s boat. “He’s got a damn spear through his head!”
Ramirez backed up a step, then remembered to close his mouth. Owen gave him an awkward shrug and tried to make eye contact. “So now what?”
Ramirez shook his head slightly, but said nothing.
Yeah, Owen thought. They teach you about that in cop school last month?
God. Who had done this? And why? He was losing faith that the police would figure it out.
Owen leaned back on a post, trying to relax. Shadow was lying down. Good. They might be in for a long wait.
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