Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Homesdead - Part 3. Maryanne Wells

This is Part 3 of a serial story.  The story began here.

A series of e-mails over the weekend distracted me from case files. Absola, my vampire-slaying mentor, had stumbled over a mystery in Paris. On Sunday, she sent me a long document to read. I had just opened it up and stared to scan the contents when my phone rang.

“Maryanne Wells,” I answered shortly.

“Hello, Miss Wells?”

“Yes.”

“This is Father Blackman, from the church in Pampa.”

A priest was calling me? Odd. “Hi, Father,” I said with more attention. “What can I do for you?”

“I hope you don't mind my calling. I got your number from Father Clive in Amarillo.”

“Father Clive...oh yes. The priest at St. Bernadette's. I've been in there a few times.” I only went in far enough to take the church's holy water for my own purposes, and Father Clive knew it. But he let it slide. “What can I do for you, Father Blackman?”

“It's difficult to explain. If I hadn't seen it for myself, I wouldn't believe it.”

Ah-ha. We were talking about the supernatural. I opened a fresh document on my computer and poised my fingers over the keys. “Vampires, ghost, or other,” I queried.

“Oh. Well, since you asked...ghost.”

“A personal acquaintance of yours, or a member of your flock?”

“Neither. Hank and his wife attended the Presbyterian church.”

Curiouser and curiouser. “How did you come to be involved?

Father Blackman sighed. “It's not to sort of issue Presbyterians address. Their pastor brought the matter to me.”

“Of course,” I said encouragingly.

“And then there's the matter of how Hank died.”

“Oh?”

“He choked to death on the communion bread. In the Presbyterian church, during the service.”

Wow. This case might be a new record. To early to tell what kind of record, but definitely something in the broad surrealism category. “So Hank is our ghost?”

“Yes.”

“And he's haunting the Presbyterian church in Pampa, Texas?”

“Oh no. No. He's haunting his wife. Or their house...it's difficult to say which. That's one of the reasons I'm calling you. We're hoping you can figure out the exact nature of his haunting.”

“Normally people want me to stop the haunting, not categorize it.”

“We do want the haunting stopped,” Father Blackman said quickly; “But the lawyers need to know what or who is being haunted. There's a homestead issue.”

“Okay. I'll need the name of the attorneys involved, and the name of my client. Have you told them that you would be contacting me?”

“It was agreed that I would use my connections in the church to find an attorney specializing in these kinds of matters. Everyone recognizes the need for a specialist, even the judge.”

“Unusual. So, who's my client?”

“Nora Johnson, Hank's widow.”

“And who's the lead attorney on her side of the case?”

“Steven Mackenzie. He's an attorney from Lubbock.”

Aw, crap.

“If you're willing to take the case, a copy of the file can be delivered to you first thing tomorrow.”

“Don't bother sending anything,” I said glumly. I walked over to the stack of case files in the living room and tugged the bottom folder free. “I've already got what I need.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Homesdead - Part 2. Maryanne Wells

This is Part 2 of a serial story.  The story began here.

Alone at last. I leaned against the wall and groaned. My head was pounding and my right leg ached. The former could be fixed with some aspirin, but the leg would take days to heal. I'd checked the injuries in the car. The bruises from where the wolf threw me against a desk overlapped with the second set I'd acquired falling down the stairs. It was a big blue-black mess.

I dragged myself into the living room and collapsed on the sofa. Carefully, I propped my right leg up on the sofa arm.

Might as well get some work done, I thought. The stack of legal folders was in reach. I grabbed the top two and flipped one open.

And it was...an estate case. Wait a minute. It was my estate case. The one I took behind the firm's back; the case that led me to chase down a traveling preacher and his mobile chapel. The firm was never involved in this case. Why did they have a file on it?

A note fluttered out of the file. The handwriting on it was one of the partners, vampire Samuel A. Drake. He'd written, “Find the competition that took this case and eliminate them.”

The hair on the back of my neck started to attention. Competition? Elimination? My law firm had wanted me dead. My interest piqued, I examined every document in the file. Nowhere did it say my name. Interesting. The firm knew there was competition, but hadn't identified who it was.

It was kind of funny, I guess. But I didn't feel like laughing. I felt trapped.

I tossed the dog-eared legal folder back onto the stack. The file landed with a smack. A cloud of dust burst free. My nose twitched reflexively as I watched the dust mores dancing in the morning light.

My greatest desire in that moment was complete unemployment. I came close. With the exception of one person, everyone from my law firm was dead. The firm was, for all intents and purposes, out of business. And since I resigned before everyone bit the dust, I had a good argument for walking away. But I couldn't do it.

One thing came between me and the bliss of job separation. Ethics. I still had clients with the firm, and no one to take over their cases. The other attorneys left clients behind, and those people deserved proper representation too. It wasn't their fault the attorneys turned out to be vampires. I needed to either take over the cases, or find attorneys who would.

First case file was a bust, because I'd already closed the case. On to file number two.

I opened the file, read the name of the lead attorney, and screamed.

“What? What happened?” Charlotte shouted, running into the living room.

I held the open legal file up to her face. “Look,” I said, pointing to the name.

“Steven A. Mackenzie,” Charlotte read aloud. She cocked her head to one side and frowned. “The name is familiar,” she murmured. Then realization came. Charlotte gasped and slapped a hand over her mouth.

I threw the file onto the coffee table, grabbed the rest of the file, and dumped the whole stack on top of the reject. “That case just earned itself last priority,” I pronounced. “I was interested in it at first, since the house is in Pampa, but if Steve is involved then forget it.”

“I don't understand. Why is his name listed on one of your firm's cases?”

“From the little bit I read, he was trying to hire the law firm as co-counsel.”

“Why?”

“Don't know. Don't care.” I walked into the kitchen and pulled a glass from the cupboard. Pouring myself some water from the filtering pitcher, I noticed my hand was shaking.

“What are you going to do?” Charlotte asked.

“Nothing. Steve's lead attorney on the case. That means there's already representation. I don't need to get involved.”

“Do you think he knew you worked for the firm when he tried to hire them as co-counsel?”

I laughed bitterly. “No,” I said; “Steve wouldn't have anything to do with someone crazy enough to hire a Wells.”

Charlotte looked at me sympathetically. “You are having a hard day,” she said.

“I've had worse.”

“Yes, but you're mother's family getting dragged into it is a new twist.”

“First I've heard any of them named in years,” I agreed.

The Wells – Mackenzie feud was alive and well, a decade after its murky beginnings. I say murky because I never really knew what happened. My mom's family, the Mackenzie's, turned on my mom and dad without warning. There was yelling (Dad and Uncle John), crying (Mom and Aunt Jamie), and loud vows that no Wells would every speak to a Mackenzie and vice versa, ever, ever again (all of them).

In the wake of the adults' turmoil, my cousin Steve and I floundered. No one explained to us what was happening. It wasn't our fight, but it seemed like we should take sides. So we stopped talking to each other, too.

I thought that was the extent of things, until I spent a summer break from law school in Dallas. Steve clerked for a judge in Dallas at the time, and I saw him occasionally when I ran errands for the firm that employed me. I tried to be friendly and was rebuffed. Actually, that's putting it mildly. Steve ignored me, looked past me, and once tried to walk through me.

And so, I learned to loath Steven Austin Mackenzie. It had nothing to do with the feud, at least not on my end. I loathed him because he was an a-hole.

Charlotte sighed. “It's so sad, when fighting tears families apart.”

I shrugged. In a world populated with vampires, zombies, and werewolves, who cared about a family fight?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Homesdead - Part 1. Maryanne Wells

This is Part 1 of a serial story.


On a chilly day in early October, I stumbled up the steps to the apartment with my arms full of files. Home at last. I thrust the door open with my hip and dropped the legal files on the floor. “I am never going to that hell-hole of a law firm again,” I declared aloud. “I am putting death and decay behind me. Once I'm done with these cases, I'll put my sad history with Deitrick, Egbert & Drake behind me forever.” I stepped over the pile of files and dropped into the nearest chair.

My roommate Charlotte came out of the kitchen. “Are you going to leave those files on the floor? They're blocking the door,” she pointed out.

Groaning, I left the chair and scooped up the files. I dropped them unceremoniously on the coffee table.

“There. Satisfied?”

Charlotte shook her head. “Here, let me help you stack them. They're all messy.”

“Leave them alone, Charlotte.”

“It's no trouble.” Charlotte grabbed some of the files before I could stop her.

“Please don't,” I said.

“These files are bloody,” Charlotte realized. She dropped the folders and edged away, looking pale.

“I told you to leave things alone.” I pulled off my denim jacket and tossed it into the corner near the door. “Anyway, it's not my blood,” I said comfortingly; “It's not blood from anyone you know.”

Charlotte shrieked and pointed at my shirt. I looked down and saw splashes of rusty red on the white oxford.

“It's not my blood,” I shouted.

“Then whose blood is it,” Charlotte shouted back.

I ran into my bedroom, stripping of the shirt on the way. “Don't worry about it, Charlotte.”

But she did. She followed me into the bedroom and demanded an explanation.

“There was an incident when I got to the law firm,” I said reluctantly. “That's all you need to know.”

“But I thought all the vampires died. Like, dead-dead.”

“They left a guard dog.” 

“You killed a dog,” Charlotte shrieked.

“No!” I grabbed the first clean-ish top I saw, pulled it on, and turned around to face my roommate.

“You have to tell me what's going on,” Charlotte said pathetically. And was she starting to cry? Dang it.

“You don't need to be involved,” I insisted.

“Why? Because I'm not a lawyer, like your friends from school; or because I'm not an undead slayer like Absola and Robert?”

I hid a smile. “Slayer of the undead,” I corrected.

“That's what I said.”

“No, you said undead slayer.”

“What's the difference?” Charlotte cried. “No, don't tell me. I don't care. All I care about is that I'm your roommate and best friend, but you shut me out of things. It's not fair.”

“Charlotte, you freak out when you see a harmless ghost. You can't handle this stuff.”

“That's not true. I'm tougher than I look. And I've learned to live with Anthony the ghost, more or less.”

“You want to be included in Undead Bar Association discussions? Fine. But you're not allowed out on cases, and if I say something is none of your business then it's none of your business.”

“Fine.”

“Good.”

We stood there, glaring at each other. Charlotte broke eye contact first. She bent down and picked up my bloody shirt, holding it with her fingertips at arms length.

“I'm starting a load of laundry, and I'll be happy to wash this,” Charlotte offered. “Will you tell me what kind of blood it is?”

I sighed and said, “Technically it's werewolf blood.”

Charlotte's mouth dropped open. “Oh...ugh...um. Okay,” she said weakly. “How should I wash it?”

“Bleach and wolfsbane. The latter is in a plastic container labeled 'WB', on the shelf over the washing machine.”

“Right. Okay.” Charlotte walked off in the direction of the washing machine, holding the shirt as far away from herself as she could.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wrap-up of Doubled Jeopardy

The inspiration to write Doubled Jeopardy came from character development in the previous story, No Fracking Way. The animosity between Bradley Obsert and Joe Capri in the prior story was so pronounced, it fired my imagination.

I called Joe Capri (yes, the character is based on a real life person. The real Joe chose his character name) and asked him one question: what's the backstory? We ended up having a good, long brainstorming session. I came away with the outline for Doubled Jeopardy.

As always, the story and the characters took on a life of their own. I reined in everyone just enough to achieve the goals of the bigger plot-line. First, I introduced Dawn to the readers. The real Joe's wife is an incredibly intelligent and gutsy woman (Joe would add stunning beauty to the description, I'm sure). The world of the Undead Bar Association would be sadly lacking without Dawn, so I'm gradually pulling her in.

The second goal I wanted to achieve with this story was to set up the next story. Goal over achievement. Doubled Jeopardy set up the next 7 stories. Remember early on when Maryanne said a case literally slapped her in the face? You'll read all about it in “Homesdead”, the very next story. Did you notice everyone's concern for Absola at the end of the story? Absola's adventures in Paris will follow “Homesdead.”

After that, we'll get into more Origin Stories / Case Files of the UBA. Each of the founding members has at least one story to share. Naomi met the right witch at the wrong time. Nick found out why he's a ghost magnet. Tanya and Charles had a very...unique...honeymoon. The ghost they expected, but the kidnappings...not so much. Joe spent some time chasing the impossible, only to find more than he bargained for. And Maryanne? There's a good reason she left Dallas and moved back to the Texas Panhandle. Sometimes a genius can know too much.

The third and final goal of the story was to give the reader a change. All the e-mails and messages I've received about the stories so far have been very encouraging, but with one caveat. No one wants to hear everything from the heroine's perspective every time. I appreciate everyone being honest on that point. It's better for me as a writer, to write from different perspectives. Doubled Jeopardy let me do that for the first time. It won't be the last time I write as a different character, though I do hope it's the last time I write from Stanley Obsert's perspective. Walking around inside that character's head was beyond uncomfortable. But I learned a lot from the experience. I wrote up psychological profiles for Stanley and Bradley before I began the story. Special attention had to be paid to the co-dependent nature of the relationship between the brothers; without that, the twist at the end couldn't happen. It wasn't an easy exercise, but I'm pleased with the results. I could credit my parents for all the training they gave me on profiling, but they'd probably prefer I leave them out it. So I won't say a word.

On another topic, what do you think of Kimberly? She surprised me. Every so often I have a minor character step out of the shadows and command the spotlight. Usually, I let them have it...for a little while, at least. Kimberly is a great character, dark and vivid in the same breath. You'll be seeing her again.

Effective today, the blog is on semi break through November 27. Mutant of the Week will continue to post on Fridays, and Tasty Tidbits will post sporadically. The purpose of the semi-break is to give me time to write. I learned during Doubled Jeopardy that things go smoother if I write out at least half the story before I start posting. So that's the goal for the next story, too.

Look for Part 1 of Homesdead on November 28, 2011!