Sunday, June 16, 2019

Beginnings: Why 319?

I’m continuing with the theme of sharing the first segments of each story. Today it’s time to shift gears a little and introduce you to Jefferson Chene and the major case detective squad.  

Chene actually makes his first appearance in print in “Vanishing Act” which is the second Jamie Richmond mystery.  

While working on that book I had already done a few early drafts on “Why 319?”.  Chene was starting to take shape and when I needed a character to make a cameo appearance to help out with Jamie’s story, it made perfect sense to ‘borrow’ him for the role.  This has been done numerous times by other authors, such as Virgil Flowers in the Lucas Davenport series by John Sandford or Mickey Haller in the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly.

For me a good character is always on my mind. Which may explain why Jamie makes a similar appearance in Chene’s second novel.  Chances are I can see them crossing paths in each other’s stories for some time to come.

 As is often the case, what a character really looks like can be dramatically different from the author's intention and what the reader imagines.  Here's a possibility of a guy who could play Chene in the movies, should it ever come to that.

So here’s the opening segment of “Why 319?”


It was almost becoming too easy. They were everywhere. One plain Jane after another kept crossing my radar screen. Some nights it was like shopping for bananas, and they were visible in bunches. 

Tonight was one of those nights. It was as if someone were holding up a sign, steering them in my direction. Like right now. Off to the left at one of those elevated stations, where you had to sit on a barstool in order to reach the table, were two perfect physical examples of the ideal target. Four women, each in their early to mid-twenties were crowded around the postage stamp-sized table. I ruled two out immediately. They were chunky, flashing lots of cleavage with large breasts. For a nanosecond, I wondered if the flesh was real or the results of surgical enhancement. It didn’t matter. They were unworthy of any further consideration. 

But it was the other two who caught my eye. The one on the right was a bottle blonde, which was obvious by the dark roots showing and the dark eyebrows. The other was a brassy redhead. She was tiny, almost doll like. I was in a perfect position to observe her. She was wearing high-heeled red boots that came up over her knee, sassy-looking things that accentuated her legs. Her black skirt barely touched the middle of her thighs, but it might have been longer if she was standing up. She wore a heavy ivory-colored wool sweater that covered her from the throat to the waist. It was loose enough to keep the goodies beneath it a well-guarded secret. With the boots and the short skirt, she was almost too good to be true. And upon reflection, I realized she was. 

Her attitude was a turn off. This was a girl who flaunted the little bits she had. As she sat on the stool, swaying to the background music, she kept crossing and uncrossing her legs, putting on a floorshow of her own. Her hands were constantly in motion. Now they were slowly, seductively sliding down her arms, dropping below the table into her lap. They lingered for a moment, then skittered down her legs to tug at the bottom of the skirt. This was no timid child. She was well aware of her body. By the way she was moving, she knew how to use it. 

My focus returned to the bottle blonde. This one had potential. Her wardrobe was the polar opposite of the redhead. Loose-fitting slacks, with low heeled shoes that would have been rejected by a nun with an orthopedic condition, she wore a blouse buttoned to the neck and a jacket to help conceal her. The only thing that broke the mold for this plain Jane was the hair color. Upon a closer look, it was blonde highlights swirled in with the natural brown, a shade best described as mousy brown. Perhaps she was letting it grow out after getting it dyed for the holidays. What would she look like, sprawled naked on a bed, unable to resist, unable to stop, unable to do anything at all? 

My body began to respond. 

My heart rate kicked up a notch. A warm glow started in the pit of my stomach and eased out in every direction. I basked in the tremors of anticipation. My cheeks flushed with beads of perspiration. 

Yes, she could very easily be the next one. 

But first the stage had to be set. And it was a time for patience. The plans were perfection, which was evident by the lack of awareness of the public or any progress by the police. Those bumblers in blue would never put it together because of the meticulous planning. If by chance they somehow managed to get a clue, the misdirection was already in place. So there could be no deviation from the plan. It had taken weeks of study, of strategizing each and every move. Every step was plotted out. Every move was a smooth, choreographed motion. Every action triggered the next in a series of reactions. Just reflecting on the past efforts was enough to make me smile. The memory of my last victim, her limp body slowly cooling as the life force ebbed away was enough to bring a smile of triumph to my lips. 

“What the hell are you grinning at?” The band’s drummer, Malcolm, asked as he stepped up.

 “Just thinking about how good a night this will be,” I said.

 “I don’t want a bumpy ride tonight.” 

I turned and looked him right in the eye. “You got nothing to worry about, man. Everything will be smooth.” 

Malcolm hesitated a moment as he studied me, then nodded in agreement. “We can’t ever be too smooth.” 

My smile widened. “That’s me, man, I’m too smooth.” 

 I am elusive. I’m a cold, calculating, efficient machine. No computer can analyze my moves and predict when and where the next victim will be found. No one can determine the motive that lay beneath the actions. Only someone who has lived in my body, had the same experiences, the same influences, the same events coursing through their veins would have even the slightest glimmer of a possibility of figuring this out. 

“I’m too smooth,” I said softly, closely studying the reflection in the mirror. “That’s smooth spelled with seventeen Os.” 

Everything was moving forward according to plan. The next victim was being developed, that timid one with the blonde highlights from the bar last week. She was so uncertain of herself, it was as if a strong wind could change the direction of her focus. Her name was Melissa. She was a preschool teacher, helping four- and five-year-olds learn their colors and the alphabet. For a moment, I wondered if that had been the extent of Janet’s own knowledge. She certainly hadn’t appeared to be experienced in the ways of the world when it came to dating. Of course, she needn’t worry about dating any longer, now that she was dead. 

It had almost been too easy to cut her from her small group of friends at the bar. With the crowd noise, the interactions of both men and women reveling in the music, the booze, the pheromones, and the physical contact, it was only a matter of paying attention, of waiting for the right moment to pick her off. Each of her three friends was drawn to the dance floor, where the press of bodies was intense. 

“Melissa, my dear, you are about to discover the world of excitement. The world of romance, of passion, of intensity that you could never imagine is waiting for you. And I intend to be the one to introduce you to it.” 

I spun from the mirror and snapped off the lights. Game on.

Chapter One

          You never really get used to the smell of a dead body. It’s that thick, ghastly odor that attacks the nasal passages and stubbornly clogs the back of your throat and just hangs there. It lingers, waiting, like some sadistic culinary delight that you really don’t want to sample. The temperature in the room was hot, which would expedite the decomposition process. The gases inside the body were already starting the decay. That was the stench that assaulted me the second I crossed the threshold of the motel room. 

Two crime-scene technicians were already at work. One was busy with a video camera, filming the details. The other was making notes and dusting surfaces for fingerprints. Standing in the outer hallway were two uniformed police officers and a detective in a gray flannel suit. As I was taking in the details of the room, I felt a finger prod my spine, just below the shoulder blades.

“Hey, Koz,” I said, without flinching.

 There was a chuckle in the deep voice behind me. “Damn, Chene, you must be a great detective. You never even turned around.” 

I inclined my head toward the small oval mirror on the opposite wall. “Sometimes you make it too easy. Anyone else get the call?” 

“Nah. You figure it’s the same guy?” 

 “Hard to say. But it’s got the right feel to it. They haven’t given the media the specifics yet, so we can rule out a copycat.” 

Koz nodded as the guy in the gray flannel appeared in the doorway. The suit was badly wrinkled. The guy was in dire need of a shave. He was about five foot ten, with curly black hair framing his head. We followed him across the hall to another room and waited while he closed the door behind us. Koz slumped into one of the upholstered chairs. I leaned against the wall. 

“Name’s Costello. I was just going off duty when we got the call from the hotel manager. I’ve got two detectives on a stakeout, one on vacation, and another out with appendicitis. This just isn’t going to be my day.” 

We did the business card exchange. His had the Bloomfield logo in the background. Sergeant Norman Costello. I doubted that the State of Michigan shield on our cards impressed him. I didn’t really care. He gave the cards a quick once-over, then looked up quickly. 

“Jefferson Chene. Isn’t that an intersection downtown?” 

Reluctantly, I nodded. “I’m Chene. That’s Kozlowski. Koz is easier on the tongue. What made you think to call us?” 

Costello pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and looked at us briefly. Koz raised his hands palms up. I merely nodded. It took him three tries to get a match lit. He took a deep drag before answering. 

“Saw the notice from the top yesterday. There have been two other killings in the Metro area in the last two months. Both fit the same description. Young females, slender build, with no evidence of drug use. Both found nude, spread-eagled on the bed. Sexual activity evident, but it’s uncertain as to whether it was pre- or postmortem, or both. Cause of death appears to be suffocation.” Costello rubbed his left hand across his face. “It looks like he used the pillow. No apparent struggle. No signs of forced entry.” 

“How long you been here?” Koz asked. 

Costello checked his watch. “About forty-five minutes. We’re lucky that the room is on the end of the hallway. I put one uniform on the door, another at the end of the corridor to keep any guests out. Called for the evidence techs, then called you guys.” 

“Who’s the top?” I asked. 

“That would be Chief of Police Ryun. Him and the lady mayor notified us yesterday. She wanted to make it abundantly clear that we contact the state police immediately. It’s almost like she expected us to be involved.” 

“This scumbag has committed two other murders, one each in Wayne and Macomb counties. Stands to reason Oakland was due,” I said. 

“Yeah, but why couldn’t he pick something like Troy or Southfield? Or even Royal Oak where all the trendsetters are,” Costello grumbled. 

“Just lucky I guess,” Koz said. 

“No offense, but we’ll have our forensic team join the party. We’ll need copies of whatever reports you generate from this investigation.” 

An inch of ash teetered on the tip of Costello’s cigarette. He looked around the motel room for an ashtray, then gave up and cupped his palm beneath it. He took another long drag and walked into the bathroom. I could hear the hiss of the ember hitting the water, then the toilet flushed as he got rid of it. He came back in the room, brushing ashes off his hands. 

“You smoke much?” Koz asked as he rose from the chair. 

“I gave it up three years ago, used to do two packs a day without even thinking about it.” 

“So what’s with today?” 

Costello gave a reluctant shrug. “First homicide I’ve seen in years. Most of what we get is home invasions. Maybe some snatch and grabs, DUI, that kind of stuff. To make matters worse, she looks like a girl that works as a babysitter in our neighborhood. We don’t get homicides out here in the suburbs.”

 Koz gave him a single nod of understanding. “You do now.”

Here are some links where you can find "Why 319?"


Music today comes from an old favorite by Rod Stewart.  

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