I don’t know if I’ll ever release my mystery novels. It’s not that they’re bad; in fact, I like them more than all the other books put together. It’s just that the process of publishing sucks (insert polite word that means shit). Writing is a ball. Editing is tolerable. Interacting with (most) readers is a delight. The rest of it blows. I’m thinking I’d rather just hope people trip over my books somewhere and start demanding I resume writing.
I made myself spit on the keyboard. Anyway, here’s an excerpt from the unnamed Eddie Daley novel that started out as Skip Tracer. Here, Eddie meets Mina’s mom for the first time, wholly unaware that everything his new girlfriend does is part of a well-thought-out plan.
Chapter 4 – Somewhere, North of the Rainbow
“Man, what is this place?” We were in a town, of sorts, that looked as if it’d been caught in a time vortex. It was small, even by small town standards, with the only movement surrounding a couple of liquor stores that lined the street. A beer delivery truck, way too large for such a small population, rumbled ahead of us. Further up the street, there was another, larger truck, and past that, a group of protesters prostrate in the street. Police stood nearby watching, but not interfering. We drove around the group, while Mina scowled.
“This seems like a lot of drama to be out in the middle of nowhere like this. Reminds me of the year I lived in Washington, D.C.”
“This isn’t ‘nowhere’, it’s Whiteclay, Nebraska. You can tell because if you look closely, you can see my people’s shattered dreams spilt here in the street, drowned in the river of alcohol your people continue to supply.”
“Um …” My attempted subject change was interrupted by her pointing across my seat toward the opposite side of the street. Slumped among a dozen or so beer cans was a sleepy drunk in a John Deere hat.
“These fuckers are supposed to keep liquor at least 10 miles from our tribal borders. Alcohol isn’t allowed on the tribal lands, so they come here to be poisoned. You Americans …”
“Aren’t you American?” I stupidly asked.
“We were Americans for about 10,000 years before you were …”
“Fucker,” I finished for her. I got a grin in response.
“Stop making me like you. I’m trying to blame your Yankee ass for the ruination of my people.”
“Actually, one of my grandmothers is Hawaiian. And where I come from, you can get shot for calling someone a Yankee.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
That was woman-speak for 1) Shut up, and 2) I win the argument because I’m the woman. I resigned myself to silence for the last few miles of the trip. We continued up the road, quickly entering South Dakota. The town Mina’s family lived in was little more than a series of one-story houses in the open plain. The property wasn’t on the Pine Ridge Reservation proper, according to her, but it bordered the tribal land. We turned up a long driveway that consisted mostly of grass, which bifurcated two one-story houses, one blue and one beige. The blue house was the smaller of the two, a simple rectangular structure that couldn’t have housed more than two bedrooms. The beige house was larger, an L-shaped rancher that would have looked at home back in Arizona.
“My grandpa built that house,” Mina said, beaming, her eyes scanning the beige house’s front door. She leaned over and blared the horn, scaring the dog and waking up the baby, who gasped to a start and began to cry. Seconds later, emerging not when the horn sounded, but when the baby cried, came a lovely woman who looked to be in her late thirties. She had Mina’s high cheekbones and perfect skin, sans the freckles, with light brown hair that spilled past her shoulders. She was tall and shapely, dressed in jeans and a white blouse. “Mommy!” Mina was out the door and embracing her mother before I’d even cut the motor.
They stood there, hugging, crying, kissing, and embracing some more, while I let Apache out and struggled with the car seat. Fortunately, my ten-thumbedness seemed to amuse the baby, who rewarded me with a gurgling smile. I was, in truth, less being a gentleman than I was stalling, suddenly wondering why I was meeting the mother of a woman who’d just declared we should maybe be only friends.
“Here, give her to me before you break her.” The voice was deep and rich, like Mina’s would be if she’d had Marlene Dietrich lessons. It startled me just enough that I slammed my head on the ceiling of the truck.
“This is my mom, Katherine,” Mina said, touching her back and acting for the world like a little girl. “Mom, this is Eddie.”
“Hi Eddie.” The greeting was almost in passing as she took Nona from me. She flooded the baby with kisses, accompanied by the usual endearments. That was followed up with, “Lord, child, you stink!”
“She’s been in the truck for hours, mom.” Mina took her daughter and started rifling through the cyclone the back of the cab had become, searching for the diaper bag.
“Yeah, Nona’s an awesome traveler,” I offered. “Never fussed at all.”
Katherine looked me in the eyes, essentially for the first time. “Oh Mary, he’s cute.”
I looked around, wondering whom she was talking to.
“Is he a good kisser?” She gave me a wink and turned to grin at her daughter.
“Not funny, Mom,” Mina said, carrying stinky-butt Nona and the diaper bag toward the house.
“Who’s joking?” Katherine asked. She was still grinning at Mina. Before I could protest, Katherine grabbed my face in both hands and planted one right on my lips. It was soft, just-a-barely-brush your lips sort of kiss, but I was caught off-guard enough that I automatically kissed her back. In my defense, until meeting Mina, I’d rarely needed to practice resisting kisses from beautiful women. I heard Katherine offer a surprised, “Oh!” and then she kissed me for real. Next thing I knew, my eyes rolled shut and my knees were buckling. But then, my … um … resolve hardened, and I pushed her away.
Those damned lips run in the family.
“Man, you are a good kisser!” Katherine stepped back, laughing and fanning herself. I managed to look over her shoulder to her daughter, who was standing on the porch, watching. There were no signs of amusement. Mina scowled lightning at us, spun, and entered the house, letting the screen door thunder shut behind her.
“Mina!” I called, fruitlessly.
Katherine looked at me open mouthed. “She told you her name was Mina?”
Now my mouth was open. “Mina’s not her name?”