The week slipped by so fast that I wasn’t sure today was Friday. It is, of course, because I have a post to write. Or, better yet, a hint of what I’ve been up to during the March break. Do you want a snippet? Okay, here goes:
Title: Blackened Rose
Description: Desperate people with secrets to protect call in the man who deals with problems no one else can or will. He’s the shady negotiator, the Black, whose price may be more than the weight of a soul.
Against his better judgement, Black takes on the case for Liana Benit, who wants to clear her father’s name, but when a friend calls on him for help with a life and death matter, Black manipulates Ms Benit to work for him even though she’s dangerous, especially to Black – she has the gift, and she could get inside his head, learn his deepest, blackest secrets.
Chapter One (excerpt of about 1300 words)
Dull light struggled through the thick glass of the four double-height panes behind Black, and lights in sconces on the wall that didn’t shine on his face. Black presented himself as a shade within the darkness, a shadow. Something to fear.
A reminder. Black liked to show them what they were dealing with. But this time, the lack of light annoyed him and revealed only the shape and size of his visitor.
Petite. A touch of belligerence in the stiff neck and clenched hands. Cotton gloves. A skin condition?
What she wanted was a little thing, specific. Find who ratted on her dad. Which was not what Black did. People called Black in to fix problems, not investigate. He was the last stage in the game. Not a player, an end-game move to wipe the board clean.
The voice intrigued Black. It held the allure of secrets. Black loved secrets. The person, though, he could do without. The way she paid attention reminded Black of a rat-dog on guard at a hole, ready to bite any who dared get too close. It was unlikely Ms Liana Benit could afford to do business with him, but she’d got this far, so he’d hear her out and let her down easy.
Why he’d let her get the interview was beyond him. Even the way she dressed was out of place. Well-worn jeans, cracked full-face helmet, and a chip on the shoulder. She didn’t belong in the rarefied air of Kooyong, Melbourne’s most elite suburb, where Black met his clients at night, standard business hours in his trade. The deep cellars wafted cold air into the large room through hidden vents. As cold as death. Just how Black liked it.
What would this young woman know of Black’s world, the underbelly of society?
Black nodded as she spoke, observed her with all his senses. He created a gentle probe, an unseen representation of an open-palmed hand to caress the edges of her energy field, and floated it toward her. It ground to a halt at the outer shell, a long way from the physical outline.
She presented like a real person, but the lack of affect was an anomaly. The external presentation of a warm and sensual being was less substantial than the shadows from the play of deepening sunset as the daylight faded. And a block as solid as his double-steel office door.
She stopped speaking.
Black tapped his notes. “You could do far better for much less outlay if you went to the usual investigators.” He slid three business cards across the wide mahogany desk and inhaled the rich aroma of the non-standard bike leathers she wore like armour.
Not colourful, not for visibility. Black, brown, muddied yellows. Like her hair, like her eyes. Ms Benit sat so still she almost faded into the back of the large visitor’s chair. A chameleon whose boot oil tingled at the back of Black’s throat.
“Robertson the Rogue, Reggie the Rotten, and Powers the Ponce?” She flicked the cards back and sneered as she spoke the names and personalities.
The description was apt. That was them to a capital T, no need for dots.
The surrounding air hazed, diluted the outline until the effect of the light shimmered her edges. If Black wasn’t sure she sat in his chair, he’d question whether it was real. The external streetlight bloomed, hit her, splintered. A refraction like multiple mirrors slanted at various angles. It messed with how he saw her shape and colours. Camo? Maybe, but if it was, it was new to Black. His ability to see into the depths of people didn’t always work as expected, and maybe he was working too hard on the election business to get a good read.
The eyes held him. Eyes the colour of bush-honey, skin like a good single malt scotch. Black bit his lip to deny the urge to smile.
The determination was applaudable, but Black had other business waiting for his attention. Toast and Vegemite. Bread and lead.
“How did they not suit your purpose?” He loomed over the desk. Would she shrink back? Everyone had a tell, a point where they’d get up and go. What was hers?
“They did the bare minimum.” She leaned forward and placed her hands on the table, mirroring his stance. “Checked the databases, did the documentary search. Found nothing. Not even the original case file number, which I have. Which got me further than they did. The court record is there, and I have a copy of the tape, or I would, if the last half wasn’t missing. Deleted. The only reference labelled him Witness A, but he wasn’t on the recording.”
“Let me get this straight.” Black leaned back and tapped his fingers on the blotter. “Your father was charged and convicted in the rape and murder of Karen Goodman. She was the young woman who left a show in her honour, alone, and was found by an off-duty cop who arrested a suspect at the scene.” It was in the news for months. A local girl who made it to the big-time, newly minted as the face and body for Chanel or Gucci or Prada or some big international name.
“That’s the case, but my father didn’t do it. He left the house at the same time every day. Rode his bike to the fishing co-op to stock up for the restaurant, and …” Ms Benit sputtered to a stop.
The first falter. Or a manipulation. Black watched for micro-expressions. She stared back, her eyes flickered, and a subtle penetration wormed under his skin. A shudder ran up his spine, sharp points pricked his skull. He put his hand to his head, massaged the scar over his third eye, and blocked the attempted intrusion. This little lady was trouble, despite her innocuous façade.
“Ms Benit, what result do you want?” Why did he say that?
“I want justice. I want to clear my father’s name. I want the truth.” Her breathing increased. “The police stonewall me. Stuff goes missing, either lost, tossed, or otherwise disposed of.” Her hand gripped the bike jacket as if she wanted to strangle someone.
Black rubbed his neck, flattened the hairs.
“How old were you when it happened?”
The eyebrow twitched. The first tell.
“It was fifteen years ago. I was fourteen.”
It was worth digging to see why that made her uncomfortable. “Were you there?” he asked. “Did you see your father leave that day?”
The quiver spread to both temples.
“I was at boarding school. In Perth.”
“So how do you know what time he left?”
A tremor in the throat muscles.
“My mother gave a statement. It wasn’t in the case notes, but the date and time of lodgement is in the file.”
Black’s head weighed heavily on his shoulders. He wanted to rest it on the desk. Why the reluctance to speak about this?
“Where is your mother now?”
There, in the eyes. A rapid change from passionate. From wide pupils, to cold and still, the centre black shrinking to a dot. The outer shell was the calmness of thick ice over a lump of granite.
Wow. Talk about a woman of two words. She’d been eloquent when talking about her father, but her mother gets an ice-pick response.
Down to one word.
“When and why might help.” This was a sore point, a scab. Black had to pick at it to see what it hid.
“Why I might consider taking your case. Consider, mind, because I don’t do this type of case unless the … let’s just say the stakes aren’t usually a historical truth.” Others did that. People contacted Black when they wanted a nasty problem dealt with fast and silent, no consequences or mess. Black’s business wasn’t for the ordinary Bill or Mac or Joe. His hours fitted his clients. Night people, shadows. This woman wasn’t one of them.
… to be continued.
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