Monday, April 16, 2018

Working Title - Easy Street - An E. Z. Saddler Mystery

Here's the first draft of my mystery novel's first chapter. I decided to use all new characters instead of reaching back for Kate Dalton. Let me know if you're enjoying it and please be kind. It's just the first draft of my first attempt at writing a mystery! 

C. K.Thomas
 Copyright April 2018

Chapter One

   She had been thinking about it for a very long time.

“There are some people who just need killing.” 

It isn’t hard to shoot someone.  It’s just hard to kill them.  The bullet has to hit them in just the right place.  In the “golden triangle” between the eyes and mouth pretty much guarantees the kill, but anywhere else will probably need more bullets.

“Practice, that’s what it takes,” she mused.  “It just takes practice.”

* * *

Sandy knew she shouldn’t cut through the alley in the dark, but in her mind “quick” outweighed “risk.”  It was raining and the slick soles of her cheap sneakers made the pavement slippery.  She kept her eyes focused on the reassuring glow of the security light at the far end of the alley.

A quarter of the way into the alley, she tripped and fell over a big bag of trash that hadn’t made it into the dumpster.  She pulled out her cell phone and found the phone’s flashlight.  Sitting there in a puddle, she inspected her bleeding knee.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she said as she mopped up the blood with a tissue she pulled from her purse.  “I should have worn jeans tonight instead of this short skirt.”

In answer to her lament came a moan that made the hair on the back of her neck and arms prickle.


Sandy leaped to her feet and turned to see an arm and bloody hand reaching out to her from what she had thought was a bag of trash.

“911, 911, 911,” she repeated as she managed, with trembling fingers, to punch the numbers into the keypad.  “Help, someone has been hurt in the alley off Central and Thomas.”

* * *

“What have we got?” Detective Saddler asked the cop putting up yellow crime-scene tape across the alley entrance.

“Some kid tripped over a stiff.  That’s all I know.  Coroner’s on the way.”

“Hey, E.Z.!  a familiar voice called from the other end of the alley.  “Get on down here, man.”

Everyone on the force called Detective Efrem Zimbalist Saddler E.Z. as a way of getting around the name his mother had hung on him because she liked the TV show 77 Sunset Strip.  Some in the ranks thought his nickname was Easy, and he’d taken so much ribbing about it over the years that it was impossible for anyone to throw a barb at him that he hadn’t already heard a dozen times before.  He figured the whole name thing had kept him sharp.  For instance, he’d learned early on not to introduce himself to a woman with a handshake and the phrase, “Hi, I’m E.Z.” At least not a woman he’d hoped to get horizontal with anyway.

Saddler carefully lifted the corner of the tarp covering the body.  It was a woman with a bullet hole just to the left of the golden triangle.

“Who found her, Al?” he asked.

“A young woman named Sandy Lowe.  She’s in my car at the end of the alley.  Evidently the victim was barely alive when she tripped over her.  The vic’ reached out for her, and the kid lost it. Kelly’s in the car trying to calm her down.”

“Kelly’s back on the job, huh?”

“Yeah, but I’m not sure she’s gonna stay with it.  She’s turned into a real mother.”

“Just wait ‘til she brings in a billfold full of pictures!” Saddler laughed.

“It’s enough to make me stay single for the rest of my natural life!”

Al Gage always had a new woman on his arm when police events came around.  The rest of the guys just shook their heads and moaned about Al’s unfair advantage.  He looked a hell of a lot like Matt Damon, and his broad shoulders, coupled with that baby face of his, could melt hearts like chocolate in the sun.

After the forensics team finished and Abby Burke, the Maricopa County coroner, examined the body, Saddler took a closer look.  The woman looked to be in her mid-forties and if not for the blood and brain matter, she could have turned a few heads walking down the street.  Dressed in casual clothes, she looked like she might have been planning an evening at home.

“Oh, I forgot to mention,” Burke said, “her left hand had a tight grip on a leash.  I removed it when I bagged her hands.”

“Anyone found the dog yet?”

“The collar and tags are still attached to the leash.  You should be able to find out more about it and the owner from the tag number.”

“What about ID?”

“Nothing so far, but forensics hasn’t gone through the dumpsters yet.  She didn’t have a cell phone on her either,” Burke told him.  “You better get some lights set up in here.”

“I think Al’s got that covered.  You got an estimate on time of death?”

“Based on the body’s temperature, I’d say no longer than a half hour before the kid tripped over her.”

“You think she was killed here or dumped?”

“With the position of the body and the amount of blood and brain matter under her head, it looks like she was shot right here.”

“I need to ask the Lowe woman what time she found her.  It’s a wonder she didn’t find herself in the middle of the murder.”

“I’ll know more tomorrow at autopsy.”

“Al, check with Kelly and see if Sandy Lowe is calm enough to answer a couple questions.  I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Anything from the neighbors?” Saddler asked the cop securing the scene.

“We’ve got two patrol cops walking the two blocks on either side of the alley and two more doing the same at the far end.  Most of the buildings with ground-level office and retail space are closed, but there are a few apartments on the upper floors.  The ones interviewed so far didn’t see or hear anything.”

“Any security cameras?”

“There’s one at the “mom and pop” grocery across the street, but it’s down the block from this end of the alley. It’s open 24 hours, so they’re copying the recording now.  The gun store across from the security light has a camera above their front door, but it’s closed up tight.  No tellin’ if the thing is even connected, but we’ll check in when they open in the morning.”

“Okay, let me know when you’ve finished the canvass.  I’ll be down at the other end where Al’s parked.”

“I’ll find you.”

In spite of the 90-degree April weather in Phoenix, Saddler shivered in his light police jacket.  The warm night coupled with the earlier drizzle made him a sweaty mess and what little breeze came through the alley gave him a cold, clammy feeling.  He didn’t know whether to take off the jacket or keep it on.  This time of year he wore a jacket to work in the morning and by noon he was peeling off layers to stay cool.

“Hey, Kelly, welcome back.”

“Gee, thanks E.Z.” I really missed this kind of midnight fun.”

“I know, right?”

“I think your witness can talk with you now.  She’s still tucked in the car, but at least she’s stopped sobbing.”

“Any idea why she cut through the alley at one in the morning?”

“Says she’s working a four-hour night shift from eight to midnight at the piano bar at Arizona Center on Van Buren.  It’s a fairly upscale and closes at midnight.  She rides the Metro over to Central and Thomas, cuts down the alley to one of those small one-story apartment complexes.  She attends several classes at the downtown ASU campus during the day, and works nights at the bar.”

“Okay, thanks.  Al told me he can hardly wait to see pictures of the new baby.”

“Really?  I thought he wasn’t interested.  I’m glad you said something.  I’ve got a ton of photos.”

Saddler sat next to Sandy Lowe in the patrol car.  Her eyes were red, and her face was flushed and pinched.

“I’m Detective Saddler with the Phoenix Police Department.  Your name is Sandy Lowe, right?”


“I understand you work nights at the Piano Bar at the Arizona Center downtown, is that right?”


Simple questions with one word answers seemed to make her less fearful, and Saddler could see her body relaxing a bit as she unclenched her hands.

“Do you mind if I ask how old you are?”

“That’s okay.  I’m twenty-one.”

“How long have you lived in Phoenix?”

“I grew up here, so all my life.”

“So your parents live close by?”

“Yes, they live in Paradise Valley near Camelback Mountain.”

“Tell me what happened tonight.”

“I finished up at the bar, walked over to the Metro station on Central where I caught the train.  I guess I got off the train about 12:40 p.m. at Thomas and Central.  I stopped at the Circle K for a half gallon of milk and a loaf of bread.  It took me a few minutes to get out of there because there was a woman in front of me who couldn’t seem to find enough money to pay for the things she wanted to buy.”

“So you got held up by about five minutes or so?”

“Yeah, that’s about right.”

“So then what?

“I walked west on Thomas, crossed Central at the light and turned right into the alley. I guess I wasn’t thinking about where I was stepping. I was concentrating on the light at the other end of the alley. Next thing I knew I came down hard on my hands and knees. I skinned my right knee and blood was running down my leg. I got out a tissue to wipe it off when I heard a moan behind me. I turned in time to see a woman’s bloody hand and arm reaching out for me.”

Gage knocked on the window.

“Okay that’s good. Now take a minute and think about what happened before you fell over the body. Just take your time. I’ll be right back.”

Saddler stepped out of the car.

“I just talked with the crew doing the door-to-door. They got nuthin.’”

“You and Kelly go on home. We’ll take a look at the CCTV tomorrow. Hopefully that liquor store has an active security camera. Or am I askin’ too much?”

“You’re dreamin’ is what you’re doin’” Gage told him.

“Hey, make sure Kelly’s parents come over to Phoenix to be with her. She’s havin’ a rough time of it. Tell her I’ll finish talking with her in the morning at her place. I don’t think I’m going to get much more out of her tonight. She’s too exhausted.”

“The chief came by a minute ago. He said until Kelly and I are needed elsewhere, we can partner up with you and Sam on this one.”

“Oh God, I should have called Sam by now! I’m in trouble. At 2:00 a.m., I think I’ll just take my lumps in the morning.

“Good choice. The forensic team didn’t find anything in the dumpsters. They’re about to shut it down and Burke’s got the body bagged and on the way to the morgue.”

It looks like we can all go home.”

“Tomorrow, buddy.” Gage said with a slap on E.Z.’s back.

“Yeah, tomorrow.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Kate Dalton Mystery

 Book 3
 Book 1
Book 2
Working Title: 
Back Roads and Dead Ends

      If you’ve read my novels, you’ll remember Kate Dalton, who worked for The Phoenix Daily News, a reflection of my 17 years spent working at The Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix. I didn’t write for the “Republic,” but worked in their retail advertising department and subsequently in the paper’s research library (known in the age of more colorful language as “the morgue”) and also for its “new” (back in the 1990’s) online service, Arizona Central.

Author's First
On the other hand, Kate Dalton started at the fictional Phoenix Daily News in the newsroom writing obituaries. During her 17 years Kate worked her way into a reporter’s position and ultimately into an investigative reporter slot. Kate Dalton was the main character in my first novel, Honor Bound, and I liked her enough to make her friends with a character in the Arrowstar Series

Kate Dalton decided to retire and “go freelance” while riding around the U.S. in an RV. Her first stop being the fictional town of Mineral City, Arizona where she met the protagonist of the Arrowstar Series, Star Lance. After a couple weeks, Kate hit the road with her close friend, Susie Jessup from Honor Bound. I think I might like to write them into a mystery novel. While my current Arrowstar Series has elements of mystery, I’ve never attempted to write in that genre. 

Mysteries are my favorite genre to read, and while I found I really enjoyed writing historical fiction when I wrote The Storm Women, I think I’m ready to try my hand at intrigue. Since Kate Dalton finished her career as an investigative reporter, I’m thinking she might drift into investigating mysteries along the highways and byways as she travels in her retirement.

My protagonists thus far make their livings writing, but putting pen to paper as a journalist and cranking out novels exist in very different worlds. Journalists keep their writing tight, informative and up to the minute, while novelists wallow in the luxury of pages and pages of prose straight out of their imaginations with maybe a few factual, real life details thrown in. I prefer writing novels because I don’t find journalism creative enough for my imaginative bent. Reciting on paper about events already concluded feels boring and restrictive to me now that I’ve ventured into novels. 

Also, journalists are “people” people. They interview, research and rush hither and thither with the intent of regurgitating what they’ve found out – news-bites for the print media that usually end up lining bird cages. Not that I don’t respect journalists, I do. They work hard and write on deadline. What’s not to respect?

News writing just isn’t in my ink well to use a post-modern metaphor. My writing tends to be about telling a long, involved story inviting readers to escape to an exciting and heretofore unfamiliar place and situation, while mentally living inside someone else’s skin. Now that could be fun!

Check this space in April for Chapter 1 of Book 1 in the 
Kate Dalton Mystery Series.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Summertime Day circa 1953

It’s a hot, humid summer day in 1953, and I'm an eight-year old girl. A quick bowl of cereal for breakfast (probably Cheerios or Sugar Pops) along with white toast and possibly hot chocolate (the kind you mix up in a pan on the stove top), fixes me up for a day of aimless distractions in the neighborhood.
The first thing I probably do is knock on a neighbor’s front door and ask if a friend can come out to play. Once connected with a friend or two or more, a serious discussion takes place that may result in one or more friends leaving the group. Would it be a morning of bicycles, badminton, balancing on the railroad tracks all the way to the corner store or playing house in the basement? 

 Cowgirl bicycling would often be my choice. Getting ready to play required the delicate business of taking my bicycle out of the one-car garage without scratching the side of Mom’s car.  Next I’d search for the short lengths of rope for reins that I’d used last time I pretended to be a cowgirl on a bicycle horse.  

Probably someone would suggest putting cards on the bicycle spokes, which took even more time during the “getting ready” phase.

I had a cowgirl hat and a set of cap guns complete with a two-gun holster. After riding around the block a couple of times shooting caps at each other, we’d probably decide to play something different like softball. That meant rounding up a ball and bat before walking the six blocks down to the school to play on the grass under the big elm tree or setting up make-shift bases in the street.

If memory serves, we often spent much more time getting ready to do something than actually doing it! The very best fun was sitting on the big fallen tree at the end of the street near the train tracks and making up games. Sometimes we’d play “Mother May I” or “Draw a Magic Circle.” Other days, we’d pretend to ride the tree trunk as if we were on horseback and scream for the caboose trainman to toot the whistle when the train roared past us. 

Lunch would be a sandwich grabbed from the fridge and a can of pop. We’d have a backyard picnic and then go about the ritual of thinking up something to do for the afternoon like playing Monopoly or jacks on the front sidewalk. Sometimes we’d roller skate on the smooth sidewalk around the corner after spending time searching for a skate-key and clamping on our skates. 

Summer days seemed endless, and we didn’t go in for supper until mother yelled for us in a voice that carried across all the backyards in the neighborhood.  After dinner it would be kick-the-can out front of the house under the street light or telling ghost stories in the dark until we scared ourselves inside to television shows like “I Love Lucy” or “Red Skelton” before going reluctantly to bed. The next morning it was more of the same, and we all hoped summer would never end.

But, summer did end and the years rolled by until looking back, I long for those days when summer didn’t run out in a flash and fall, winter, and spring speed by in barely a moment. I’m retired, and I move more slowly now, but time seems to slip away like Superman, “faster than a speeding bullet.” I often dream of those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.” Do you?