Thursday, December 3, 2009
A quick look at The Surest Poison
Since this is mystery excerpt week, I'll share a snippet of my latest book, The Surest Poison, first in my new Sid Chance series from Night Shadows Press. The following excerpt introduces the two main characters.
It was still dark when Sid Chance pulled off I-40 at the Old Hickory Boulevard exit. He turned his vintage brown pickup toward Madison, a rambling middle-class suburb on the northeast side of Nashville. A big man, every bit of six-six, he had a headful of black hair and a short beard to match, both laced with threads of silver. The last time he had glanced in a mirror, the glower he saw made him think of a troll. He recalled an old admirer saying he looked like a Hollywood hero when he smiled. He wasn’t so sure. He hadn’t done all that much smiling in recent times.
Though most of the area’s workers remained asleep or just getting started on breakfast, traffic moved at a moderate pace on the circumferential highway. After crossing the Cumberland River, Sid took the cutoff north to Gallatin Pike, Madison’s Main Street. His office, a grudging requirement of his new life, occupied a corner in a glass and stone building near RiverGate Mall, anchor for the community’s primary shopping area. One strip center after another lined both sides of the street, deserted mini-cities at this time of day.
He glanced at his muddy boots and smudged jeans as he ambled toward the front of the building. He needed a shower and clean clothes, but that could wait. He figured his chances of encountering someone now little better than those of holding a winning lottery ticket. Nobody was fool enough to come in at this time of day except a habitual early riser, something he’d been since service with Army Special Forces in Vietnam. That’s where he learned to exist on a minimal amount of sleep. Inside, he turned toward his office and glanced at the “Sidney Chance Investigations” sign on the door. It brought one of his infrequent grins. How cool would it have been if they had named him Random instead of Sidney.
The answering machine chirped its practiced greeting as he walked in. Welcome back to what most people would call the real world, he thought. Maybe a few more months of civilization would rekindle his appreciation for the marvels of modern technology. Right now they seemed more an annoyance. A computer glitch that had gobbled up three days of painstaking work was the kicker that sent him back to the cabin for a cooling off period.
He found six messages on the machine. Two from Jaz LeMieux wanting him to return her calls, two from guys he didn’t know and doubted he wanted to, one from a process server, and one from a lawyer seeking his help. He played that one again.
“This is Arnie Bailey, with the law firm of Bailey, Riddle and Smith. Jasmine LeMieux highly recommended you for a job I need done. She said you were good at finding missing persons. This is a little different, however. It’s a missing company. My client faces a major financial disaster if we can’t find the organization involved. It’s a chemical pollution case around Ashland City. I’d appreciate your calling me as soon as you can.”
He glanced at his watch. It was way too early to call a lawyer, even somebody who sounded as anxious as this one. He decided to go home and shower, eat breakfast, then come back and have another go at it. No doubt the calls from Jaz related to Bailey’s problem.
Sid lived in the ranch-style brick house his mother had called home for twenty-five years. She died around the time his career as a small town police chief crashed and burned. The house stood near the river at the end of a quiet street in a neighborhood of mostly young couples and a few retirees. The sky had begun to brighten by the time he pulled into his driveway, though dirty gray clouds seemed to hang within arm’s reach.
He reveled in the soothing spray of the shower. It drummed against his back like a masseur’s fingers, easing some of the troubled thoughts that had knotted up his mind on the drive back from his hillside retreat. Despite a lot of jury-rigging, he had never come up with a reliable way to get a hot shower in the backwoods. He dressed and settled into the compact kitchen for breakfast. As he poured milk onto his cereal, the phone rang.
“Glad you finally decided to answer.” Jaz LeMieux’s voice had an edge.
“I just got home a little while ago.”
“Don’t you answer your cell phone?”
“When it’s turned on.”
There was a pause. “I think you’re reverting to your mountain man persona, Sid.”
He said nothing.
“Have all my efforts been wasted?”
“I did a lot of pondering last night,” he said. “But I came back.”
At first he had credited his financial mentor, Mike Rich, with the responsibility for luring him out of self-imposed exile. Lately he had begun to lean toward Jaz.
“Have you talked to Arnie Bailey?” she asked.
“I went by the office around 5:30 and got his message off the answering machine. What’s the story?”
“You’ll have to get the details from Arnie.”
“He a friend?”
“He’s a good guy. He’s done legal work for us.”
At forty-five, she served as chairman of the board of Welcome Traveler Stores, a lucrative chain of truck stops her father had founded. She was also a sharp, attractive, persuasive woman who knew how to get what she wanted. Sid wondered how much pressure she had put on the lawyer.
He settled back in his chair. “Bailey says you told him I was good at finding people.”
“You are. You’ve navigated those databases like an old pro.”
“Fine, if the computer would quit eating the results.”
“I told you I could fix that.” Jaz held a computer science degree as well as an MBA. She knew the inner workings of the machines as well as arcane methods of mining the Internet’s secrets. “Is that why you went traipsing back up the mountainside?”
“Partly. There were other issues.” Sid rumpled his brow. “Bailey mentioned a pollution case.”
“There was a story in the paper, but I didn’t get a chance to read it. Do you plan to call him?”
“Yes. But I doubt he’d be around this time of day.”
“I know he gets to his office early. Maybe not this early, but he likes to be well prepared before court opens.”
“Okay, Jaz, I’ll talk to him. That’s a promise.”
“Good. Let me know what he says.”
The pollution case led to the book's title, The Surest Poison. It's available from any bookstore, all the online sites, including for the Kindle, and at my website, ChesterDCammpbell.com. Crimespree Magazine called it "a top rate mystery by a gem of a writer."