Saturday, January 6, 2018

Excerpt from a new novel

 Excerpt: Untitled Serial Killer Story

A couple years ago, I wrote a story about a serial killer and the investigation as told by the police as well as a forensic psychologist. The story is set in Denver and a fictional town in Northern Colorado, on the Colorado/Wyoming boarder. It has a much different feel from anything I've previously published. It's written in the third person, which I very much enjoy. Third person POV gives me the opportunity to bounce from character to character, scene to scene, and to different places in the timeline. It's a wonderful freedom, and every time I choose third person, I think I don't use it enough.

The pace is also a bit slower. The full novel is quite long, much more akin to crime and mystery novels published in the nineties or early two-thousdands, before the boom of electronic reading devices and the demand for instant entertainment. I also very much enjoy this, because it allows me much more time to develop the characters, their relationships, and their problems, as well as the central conflict, or story arc. The trick is always to keep things interesting enough the reader will stick with the story while unraveling things slowly enough it's not over in a few rapid-fire scenes. Essentially, it's the difference between a magnificent slow seduction and an intense quickie.

This story is also interesting because it is one of the only serial killer murder mysteries I've ever written, at least in which the serial killings are the central focus. Over the years, I've done a great deal of research into the criminal mind, especially as it pertains to serial or habitual offenders. It's fascinating, in the most terrible, terrifying way. This is the first story in which I've been able to really utilize a great deal of that information, and that was immensely satisfying. A close second is a story I'm still working on that focuses on a serial rapist. That story takes place in Fort Collins, Colorado, and rape is a far more common crime here than murder. We have had more than one serial rapist on the loose that I can recall just off the top of my head.

In addition to the serial killer story arc, which is central, the story follows the forensic psychologist and his ex-girlfriend, a crime novelist, who was also involved in the case. Romance writing is not my forte; honestly, I can't even read the stuff. And as a general rule, I typically keep romantic conflict out of the story, at least between my primary characters. Romantic and relationship strife is a common source of conflict in modern storytelling (books and TV) and I hate it. Not only is it small-minded and lacking in creativity, it's also setting a very bad example for those who consume those stories.

In our microwave, instant society, we throw away anything and anyone who becomes too much bother, and the bottom line is that relationships are work. They take effort. Divorce is at an all time high, and we've got more couples living together unmarried than living together married. We, society, in no small part media through books and TV, have taught our younger generations there is little or no value in marriage and that relationships are disposable. Regardless of your religious beliefs, long-standing economic data shows quite clearly the value of marriage, and long-running psychological studies show the benefit of strong, healthy relationships. We are doing our young people a significant disservice here, and I don't like to participate. I typically avoid using relationships between primary characters as sources for central conflict because I want to set a different example.

In this story, the broken relationship between two primary characters is front and center. I still debate about whether or not I want it there, for all the reasons I just outlined. However, I will say it was a new challenge to walk these characters through the emotional fallout of their breakup, and the emotional minefield it created as it pertains to the case they're trying to solve. Both of them are trying to heal and move on, to understand what went wrong and why, and I do think that's relevant to all of us at some point in our lives.

I will post a few excerpts from the story and begin to introduce you to the primary characters and relevant conflicts. As I've said before, I'd love to do about six spin-offs, each featuring one of the primary characters, just for the opportunity to dive deeper and get to know each of them better. I don't love all of the characters I've written over the years, but most of them stick with me long after the time we spend getting to know one another while I put them down on paper. The characters from this story certainly fit that bill, especially Griffin. Any spin-off would probably begin with him. Lt. Ruiz is a close runner-up.

Disclaimer: these sections are unedited. Not only do they likely contain grammatical and spelling mistakes, the details may change after the next round of editing.

Hopefully you enjoy these snippets.


Lieutenant Manny Ruiz walked out of the interrogation room and nodded to the uniformed officer sitting in the chair in the hallway.
“He’s writing now. Sit on him ‘til Griffin gets back. Don’t talk to him. If he says more than three words, have someone come get me.”
The officer, a baby-faced boy who was so young he still had pimples, jumped up and nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Mierda, they started them young these days. Or maybe he was just old.
He made his way down the hallway, his short legs eating up the length in sure, strong strides. He shifted his yellow legal pad and the case file to his left arm and dug his cell phone out of his jacket pocket with his right. He’d had it on silent during the interrogation, and he’d felt it vibrating more than once. Now he saw he’d missed two calls and had twice as many texts waiting.
None of them were from Cal Griffin, though, so he found Griffin’s number and dialed.
Sergeant Cal Griffin was a ten-year veteran of the Denver Police Department. Before that, he’d served in the military, functioning as part of the military police. He’d ascended quickly through the ranks of the PD, and spent most of his time in homicide. He was an exceptional investigator, the kind with a natural aptitude for it, that something that separated the great from the good that couldn’t be taught.
“How’d it go with our boy?” Griffin asked by way of greeting.
“As well as expected,” Ruiz answered. “He’s writing his life story for me now. Confessed to the robbery almost before his ass hit the chair.”
“What’s he got to say about the murder?”
“Sticking to his story. Says he was gone before it went down. Says his girlfriend can vouch.”
The girlfriend who had only a first name and no address or phone number.
They had spent the better part of three days trying to track down the woman without so much as a hint of success. During that time, the physical evidence continued to mount as tests were finished and reports written. Every time Ruiz got a new report in his inbox, he believed the girlfriend was entirely made up in an attempt to get out of a murder charge.
“I’m on my way back now, and I’ve got someone you’ll want to talk to.”
“Unless it’s the mysterious girlfriend, I’m not interested. And even if it is the girlfriend, I don’t care, unless she’s saying this pendejo was with her.”
Griffin just chuckled. “I’ll be there in ten. Believe me, brother, this one’s worth a listen.”
Less than convinced, Ruiz hung up. He went into his office and set the file and legal pad on his desk, the phone beside them. Then he slipped off his jacket and draped it over a hanger he kept on a hook in the corner of the tiny office.
His rank entitled him to an office, but it was little more than a broom closet with no exterior windows and paper-thin walls separating it from the one next to it and the rest of the homicide division. In part because there wasn’t space, and in part because he spent so little time in it, the office contained nothing more than a desk, three chairs total, and a single four-drawer filing cabinet. Everything was battered and used, all of it appropriated from other departments and offices over the years. All of the really good furniture was used by the top brass and the secretaries, which seemed appropriate as far as Ruiz was concerned; they all spent far more time using theirs than he did his.
There was a polite knock on the doorjamb of the open door and a pleasant voice said, “Lieutenant?”
Ruiz looked up as Carman Ward came in carrying a stack of message slips. She plucked one off the top and held it up briefly.
“Thought you’d want to see these.”
He accepted the messages with a nod and murmured thanks, then he looked at them as Ward left the tiny room.
Carman Ward was, by popular vote, the most beautiful woman currently working in the building. Ruiz tried not to notice such things, and usually it didn’t take much effort, but damn if Carman didn’t look like Jennifer Lopez’s little sister. She had the same coloring, the same curves, the same bright eyes and smile, and it was hard not to appreciate her beauty.
Fortunately, she wasn’t just a pretty face; she was also smart. She was good at her job, and she did a damn good job staying on top of the things he thought were important. She never whined or complained when he asked her to do things, and in the rare circumstance when she didn’t have an answer, she dug one up.
He read the message she’d indicated and swore in Spanish as he flung the pile onto the desk and grabbed up the phone. He stabbed the number out in angry jabs then stood there with his free hand on his hip as he listened to the line ring.
What the fuck had they been thinking?
“Rick,” Ruiz said, noticing his voice was tight. He took a breath and tried to relax. “It’s Ruiz.”
“Manny. I guess you’re calling about Bremen.”
Ruiz bit back the first reply that threatened to roll right off his tongue, then tried again. “That’s the only parole hearing I’ve been to recently.”
“Yeah, well, what can I tell you? It was out of my hands.”
Ruiz scoffed. “That line might work on the other idiots you’ve got to explain yourself to, but it won’t work on me. I know as well as you do that this was well within your hands, and that you did nothing.”
Anger came into Johnson’s voice for the first time. “Hey, fuck you, Ruiz. We’ve all got a job to do, and sometimes it fucking sucks, but you do it anyway. You know that better than anyone. Now, I didn’t like it, but I had no choice.”
“You and your pals have denied parole to nicer guys who’ve proven themselves more worthy of it than this cabron Bremen. You had all the grounds you needed to deny, but you let him out anyway.”
“You think we had any fucking say in any of that?” Johnson shot back. “Wake the fuck up, man! Situation like that, orders came down from the top, and the rest was just for show. Only thing that would have kept the prick inside was if he’d offed someone.”
Ruiz took a breath to respond, but Johnson cut him off.
“On the inside, I mean. As it was, your guy was more or less a model prisoner. Few trips to the infirmary, few citations, only one stay in solitary. Sure, we paroled nicer guys that day, but we also paroled meaner ones.” Johnson heaved a sigh and softened his voice slightly. “For what it’s worth, I did vote against the decision. So did most of the board. But like I said, man, it didn’t matter. Bottom line, the place is over crowded. Personally, I’d like to see every one of these pricks serve every single day of every single sentence and never come up for parole or early release, but this isn’t a perfect world, and it’s never going to happen, because we just don’t have any place to put them.”
The fight sort of seeped out of Ruiz during this, and he slumped down onto his chair, which creaked under him. He rubbed his free hand over his face.
“What a fucking joke,” he said, more to himself than to Johnson.
“Ain’t that the truth.” There was the sound of papers shuffling from Johnson’s end. “Look, I called because I knew you’d want to know. Your guy will be out Monday. Not that it makes it better, but he’ll be on house arrest for the remainder of his sentence—seventeen months. He’ll have an ankle monitor on, and a one-hundred-foot electronic leash. Then he’ll do eighteen months of parole. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best of the bad options.”
“Yeah, ’til he cuts the monitor off.”
“Yeah, until then.” Johnson sighed. After a couple beats he said, “You’ll notify the victim?”
Ruiz couldn’t quite squelch the half chuckle that bubbled up out of his chest. The victim. He knew how much she would hate to be referred to as such.
“Yeah. I’ll tell her. Uh, listen, Rick—”
“Don’t sweat it. Believe me, I understand.”
“Thanks. And thanks for the call.”
“Sure thing.”
Ruiz hung up then leaned back in his chair.
He’d been a cop for sixteen years, sixteen long, hard years. He’d worked the streets, he’d worked narcotics, he’d worked kid crimes, and he’d worked homicide. He’d seen firsthand the inner workings of the underbelly of society. He’d seen up close and personal the depravity of human nature, the selfishness, the greed, the wickedness, the absolute cruelty one person could inflict on another.
And he’d labored all of those long years to fight against it. Through the long nights, the missed sleep and meals, the lost relationships, he’d been working his ass off to try and offset some of the damage, to right some of the wrongs, to balance the scales in whatever ways possible. But the fight was never over. For every case solved, two more hit the blotter the next day.
Not only was it an uphill battle, the fucking system was broken. To be fair, it was probably just overburdened, but it was seriously overtaxed—not enough people, not enough resources. That bred corruption, which filtered down through everything like poison. So for every step Ruiz and others like him struggled forward, the system pushed them back three. It was a fucking miracle any crime was ever solved, any bad guy ever put away.
Maybe I’m too old for this, Ruiz thought to himself. He was too close to his pension to leave the department now, but he could leave homicide. There had been an opening in property crimes not too long ago. Maybe he should find out if it had been filled. The system was just as broken over there, but at least in that department they dealt with material objects and not human beings. It would be a lot different talking to some guy whose car had been vandalize rather than a mother whose son was lying on a slab down at the morgue.
“Someone pee in your Wheaties?”
Ruiz looked up to see Cal Griffin in his doorway, leaning one bulky shoulder against the jamb. Griffin looked like what he was, an ex-solider. He was six two with broad shoulders and strong muscles. More than one woman had said Griffin was a handsome man, but Ruiz had to take their word for it. When Ruiz looked at Griffin, he saw calculating intelligence and dangerous strength. Griffin wasn’t a mean man, but he wasn’t someone to cross lightly, either.
“More or less. You look entirely too smug.”
Griffin grinned wider. “Come meet my witness.”
Ruiz pushed himself up and walked with the taller man back down the hall to the interrogation rooms. Their murder suspect was busy writing on a notepad in room one, so Griffin led Ruiz to room two, then opened the door that led to the observation room. Ruiz looked out through the huge pane of one-way glass and took in the ragged, dirty, ugly woman sitting at the table bouncing her knee and chewing on a fingernail while her eyes darted around the room.
Ruiz knew instantly that this was the girlfriend. He also noticed immediately that she was covered in a very fine spray of blood.
He looked up at Griffin, who was still grinning like a fool.
“You found the girlfriend,” Ruiz said. “And she does have something interesting to say.”
“Oh, yeah,” Griffin said. “She ain’t the alibi, brother; she’s the accessory. And she sings like a canary.”


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