Sunday, June 23, 2019

Beginnings: Fleeing Beauty






I’m a book junkie. 

There. I’ve said it. 

In my youth, I would read the back cover of a book if it was by an author I’d never read before. If it sounded promising, I’d buy a copy and start reading. Sometimes I would discover that the story just couldn’t hold my interest. Maybe the characters were all weak and interchangeable. Or the conflict was thin. Or the writing was tedious. Many times I would force myself to keep going, thinking ‘it’s going to get better in the next page or two. It’s got to.’

But in my teens I came to the conclusion that life is too short to waste on a book that doesn’t capture my attention quickly. There are so many great stories out there. Why trudge through something you don’t enjoy?

As a writer, it's my goal to draw you into the stories, with characters you will like and conflicts you can relate to.  That’s the idea behind sharing these opening pages.  

So with that in mind, here’s the beginning of “Fleeing Beauty” the third novel in the Jamie Richmond series.  But first, a little background.

I envisioned Jamie with a somewhat whimsical mother who wasn’t always in the picture.  Her father was a successful artist who died when she was just seven-years-old. While I have hinted about him in the past, it was a perfect time to bring the spotlight to bear on him.  This is a chance for Jamie to learn more about her father, his art and his life and herself as well.   

In this story, his old studio is discovered, along with a storeroom packed with crates of his work.  But Jamie isn’t the only one interested in this priceless collection. 

Here are a couple of pictures of what Jamie might look like.
 

 

PROLOGUE



I don’t want to die.

I’m not ready for it. There are too many things I haven’t experienced yet. Places to go, people to meet, adventures waiting to be discovered. I want to gaze at the stars over the Mediterranean Sea while making love with Malone. I want to fly in a sailplane. I want to stand on a beach in Key West and dip my toes in the ocean and the gulf. I want to travel to exotic lands, dine on their cuisine and dance my little ass off to the local music. I want all of that and much more. 

But I don’t think any of that is going to happen.

We’re all going to die.

Once this gang gets what they’re after, there is no reason to leave us behind. They’re not going to lock us in a closet and make a run for it. We’ve all seen their faces. We know their names. We can identify them. There is no way they will let us live. Their leader has a violent streak and it’s only a matter of time before he lashes out again.

My mind is flashing through ways out of this. But nothing makes sense, nothing that will allow me to stop them, to guide us out of here safely.

I don’t want to die.

But there is nothing I can do to prevent it.





 

Chapter One



I should have known better.  Everything had been calm and quiet the last couple of months, which was very unusual for me. But I had been lulled into a false sense of security. The warmth of the late afternoon sunshine could have been to blame. That made perfect sense to me.

     I was in the front yard, kneeling on a thick foam pad, my fingers caked with dirt. This was an unusual activity for me. But Malone had pointed out that it was the perfect spot for some flowers and at his urging I bought a flat of brightly colored flowers that would liven up the space. So on this sun-swept day in early June, I was discovering my abilities as a gardener.   There was about an hour before Linda, my best friend, would arrive. I was enjoying the warmth of the sun on my back and shoulders. Days like this made me want to break out the tanning lotion and sprawl on a blanket in the yard. But no matter my efforts, I could never achieve the golden brown color that Linda was capable of. I just get pink.

As I was tamping the last bit of earth back in place, my cell phone started ringing.  Wiping the excess dirt on my shorts, I pulled it from my back pocket. I answered without even looking at the screen.

     “Jamie, this is Bert. Are you anywhere near a television?” My step-father’s deep voice boomed in my ear. He didn’t sound angry, nervous, or upset. 

     “I’m at home. Let me go turn it on. What’s happening?”

     “Look at Channel Four. This should be one of the lead stories.”

     I ran inside and fired up the television. A commercial was wrapping up and I watched the five o’clock anchor open the broadcast.  As I watched, I lowered the phone from my ear. My eyes flicked to the ticker across the bottom of the screen. In bold letters ran the words “Treasure Trove Discovered”.  The anchor tossed the story to one of the onsite reporters. 

     “Thank you, Carmen, and good afternoon. I’m standing outside one of the many converted commercial buildings that serve as art studios populating the area around Wayne State University. It was here today that workmen found what appears to be a trove of previously undiscovered artworks created by local legend Peter Richmond in the months before his death more than twenty years ago. The workers were called in to repair a broken water pipe. During their efforts, they learned that water pressure had punched a hole through a wall. Further inspection revealed a hidden storeroom adjacent to the studio Richmond himself used for years. It is uncertain how many pieces have been discovered or what condition they may be in. 

     “Richmond is known for his dramatic works in a variety of mediums. Many of his larger pieces are prized possessions in museums, including our own Detroit Institute of Arts. Other examples of his work can be found at Meadowbrook Theater in Rochester and on the campus of Wayne State University.  I was able to interview a representative from the DIA, who said that if it can be confirmed these pieces are indeed the work of Peter Richmond, the collection could be priceless. Attorneys for Richmond’s estate were unavailable for comment. Additional police units will be stationed around the site to ensure security is maintained. Reporting live from Detroit, I’m Lauren Podell, Local 4 News.”

     I was staring at the screen dumbfounded. In the distance I could hear someone calling my name. It took me a moment to realize Bert was still on the phone. I silenced the news and managed to get the phone back to my ear.

     “Holy crap, Bert! Did you know about this?”

     He snorted a laugh. “I got a call five minutes ago. The firm that handles your father’s estate has been trying to reach Vera all day. Somewhere in their archives they found a copy of our marriage license and tracked me down. I’m surprised they hadn’t gotten to you.”

     I don’t own any property and don’t even have a landline telephone in my name. While they may know I existed, there was no easy way to find me. I told Bert as much. He agreed.

     “So what did the attorney want?”

     “He’s hoping we’ll come down to their offices in the morning. There’s a lot of paperwork to go over. We can also go to the studio and see what they found. They will need to do an inventory. I understand there were some files and papers found in this storage room as well.” He hesitated before asking the inevitable. “Do you know where Vera is?”

     I wracked my brain for a moment. “The last I heard from her, she was sailing with some friends up from Florida. That was a couple of weeks ago. I think they were bringing somebody’s yacht up to Rhode Island or Maine for the summer.”

     “You should try to contact her. She may need to get back to town.”

I could hear the reluctance in his voice. Bert was Vera’s third husband. Even though they were divorced for more than ten years, she could still make him crazy. It was a feeling I knew well. She has that effect on a lot of people.

     “Do you think I should meet with these attorneys?”

     “I’ll go with you, Jamie. And you may want to bring Malone along too. An extra set of eyes and ears from an objective party would be a good idea.”

     “Are you still at the office?” Bert is a captain with the Michigan State Police. He oversees one of the posts where troopers are stationed. Malone is a sergeant with the MSP. I met him while doing research for a novel. We started dating about nine months ago and have lived together since January.

     “No, I’m at a meeting out in Novi. I was able to step out and take the call from the lawyer and then got to a screen and saw the newscast when you did. Jamie, this could be a fortune in artwork we’re talking about.”

     It took me a minute to voice what was racing through my mind. “It’s even more than that, Bert. It’s a link to my past.”
                                        
****

     After ending the call with Bert, I proceeded to flip through the other local channels to see if there was any more information. The ones I caught were pretty much the same. I was about to check the website for the Detroit Free Press when a shadow appeared at my front door.

     “Jay Kay, what in the world are you doing?”

     Glancing up I saw my best friend, Linda Davis, on the small front stoop. Her sunglasses were pushed back into her thick curly hair. Linda looks like a fashion model. She could make a potato sack look sexy. Today she was wearing a pair of navy blue shorts with a red sleeveless blouse. Her shapely legs were bare and already starting to tan. Her hands were on her hips and she was trying her best to look stern. It didn’t work. She started laughing as she opened the door. When it’s just the two of us, we use the nicknames we’ve carried since childhood. I’m Jay Kay and she’s Algae, a combination of her initials.

     “You’ve got topsoil all over the porch. And it looks like you’ve got some on the couch too. What’s going on?”

     “It’s a long story. You’d better come in.”

     “Why don’t we put away your gardening tools first?”

     Together we cleaned up the mess I’d made out front. Realizing I was covered with dirt and sweat, I took a quick cool shower and changed into khaki shorts and a white tank top. By the time I was dressed, Linda was putting the vacuum away. She had taken care of the dirt on the Jewish Aunt, my overstuffed sofa.  Linda was sprawled at one end. Logan, her golden retriever who went practically everywhere with her, had his head in her lap, enjoying a vigorous massage. I flopped on the other end of the sofa and filled her in.

     “Jay Kay, did you ever go to your father’s studio?”

     I nodded. “Vera used to take me there occasionally. But the last time must have been when I was five or six years old. All I remember was a huge room with big windows. And there were special lights, like spotlights.”

“So you haven’t been down there since he died?” Linda nudged Logan aside and sat up. This is no easy feat since the ‘aunt’ has a tendency to push two people together, usually in a horizontal position. 

      I shook my head, feeling a little spray from my damp red hair.  “I had no idea the studio was still there.  Vera has always dealt with the attorneys. This is a complete surprise.”

“Do you have any idea what kinds of work might be there? Or how many?”

“Not a clue. Bert’s going to pick me up in the morning. We have an appointment with the attorneys who handle the estate at ten.”

“Do you still want to go out for dinner?”

As if on cue, my stomach growled. It was loud enough for Linda to hear it. “Sure, I could use a good meal. What did you have in mind?”

She mentioned a barbecue joint not far from the house. We decided to grab some carryout chicken and ribs and have dinner on the picnic table in the backyard. It was too nice an evening to be sitting in a noisy restaurant.  While we were eating, Linda told me about her day. She’s a history teacher at the high school in Northville, one of the nearby suburbs. Classes were winding down. There were just two more days of grading exams and preparing her classroom for the summer.  Because she missed a lot of time earlier in the year, Linda decided to teach summer school. It wouldn’t be a full load like during the regular year, but it would keep her busy. We were wrapping up the extra food when my phone rang. It was Malone.

“Hey, Jamie, have you seen the news about your dad?”

“Yes, Bert called me just before five. I know how busy you can be, so I figured we’d talk when you got home. How did you hear?”

“One of the guys from the day shift saw it and recognized your name. I checked the website during a lull here.” His deep voice calmed my nerves. “Are the reporters camping out on the lawn?” 

“Not yet. But I have a feeling they will be soon.”

“Remember, Jay, you can always say ‘no comment’ and refer them to the lawyers.”

The comment about the attorneys reminded me of tomorrow’s meeting. I explained it to Malone. He quickly agreed to accompany me. Somehow knowing both he and Bert would be with me gave me some immediate peace of mind.

“I’ve got to run, Jamie. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“Bye, Malone.”

Shortly after that Linda left. She was meeting Vince, her sweetheart, for a nightcap. On the Internet I did a Google search on my father. That sounds so weird. You’d think a kid would know everything there was about their own father. But Peter Richmond died when I was seven years old. He was in the midst of a big project, assembling a large outdoor sculpture at Cranbrook Museum out in Oakland County, when he fell from a scaffold. He was pronounced dead at the scene.  Other than a few old photographs that I’ve always kept in my room, he faded quickly from my life. Part of that may have been due to Vera’s reactions. Within six months of his death, Vera remarried. Five years later she divorced that husband. A year later she married Bert. I was starting college when that marriage ended. Since then Vera has been like a gypsy, traveling the world, having affairs and marriages as she saw fit. She never talked much about my father. I suspected there was money when he died, but never really wondered how much.

Now on the Internet I looked at pictures of some of his work. I was surprised to find an official website. This included a biography, photos of Peter working, of him receiving awards and dedications of his sculptures. There were reviews from famous critics, calling him masterful and inspired and gifted beyond comparison.  I read them all.  Then I read the biography.


Here are some links where you can find "Fleeing Beauty"


Music this week is from Blues Traveler.  

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