The Darkling Plane, Chapter One

This is the first chapter of the second draft of a book I finished in January of 2001. This book introduces the characters in my book Our Own Devils which I’ve been reading on my MoPod Podcast .

 

It was the most pleasant December I could recall in a long time. There had been only the slightest hint of snow since November had first arrived and it had fled almost as soon as it had touched the ground. Afterwards, the temperatures went far above the regional average. Now it was almost two weeks until Christmas and I was sitting on my apartment balcony sipping on beers while locally raised beef sizzled on my grill.

While it was my grill I was doing little else than sipping on said beer. My friend, Trey Daniels, had liberated the mat from the restaurant he worked at and was overseeing its proper preparation. Mike Lincoln was sitting beside me in a collapsible canvas chair. He had generously bought the beer we were all drinking. My only contribution was the balcony and the grill.

“You’re awfully quiet,” said Daniels to me as he flipped the steaks over on the grill and added a liberal amount of seasoning to them. He had also brought the seasoning to the grill out but it was his own special blend that had never been inside of the restaurant.

I shrugged. “I guess I just don’t have much to say.”

           Lincoln snorted beside me. “I have a hard time believing that,” he said as he adjusted himself to better see the meat on the grill. A bit of flame licked the bottom of a steak and I swear I heard his breath quicken a little.

“No kidding,” said Trey as he closed the lid and turned to face me, folding his thick arms crossing in front of his barrel chest. Trey Daniels was gentle as a lamb but built like an offensive lineman. “Talk.”

“What about?” I said.

“Whatever is on your mind, buddy,” said Lincoln.

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

“Okay,” I said before finishing off my beer in a long swallow. “Should we talk about this whole, ‘We Feel Sorry for Mac’ party?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” said Trey.

“Oh, come on guys,” I said. “When was the last time you guys decided to just cove over on the fly with food and beer ‘just because’? Tell me this isn’t a bit of charity.”

“My, my, my,” said Trey. “Aren’t we quite the sad sack, sourpuss today? And on such a lovely spring-like afternoon, too.” He made a disapproving ‘tsk-tsk’ sound and shook his head.

“Charity is a rather strong word,” said Mike as he contemplated the contents of his beer bottle. “Charity implies a want to help. Trey made me come.”

“Oh, thank you,” I snickered.

“Calm down, Mac,” scolded Trey as he cracked open the lid to peak at the meat, “we’re your friends and we just wanted to check and make sure you’re ok.”

“Because of the day,” I said, “or just because?”

“Well,” said Mike, “it is the first anniversary of your divorce.”

“I’m aware,” I said as I lit a cigarette.

“I thought you quit smoking,” said Trey.

“I did,” I said as I took in a satisfying lungful of tobacco smoke and carcinogens, “and it was the greatest decision I’ve ever made.”

They both let my joke pass without comment.

“So you’re serious about this whole PI thing,” said Mike after a while.

There it is.

“Yep.”

Neither of my friends said a word. They just stared at the red stained wood that made up the balcony.

“What?” I said. “I’ve got to do something, right? What else am I supposed to do?”

“You could join the sheriff’s department,” offered Mike.

“Somehow I doubt they’d be that willing to take me.”

“Even with a good word from your dad?”

I snorted.

“Fat chance,” I said before sucking down the remainder of my cigarette and flicking the butt over the edge of the balcony. I had an old coffee can on the floor near my feet that the building manager had given me specifically for my cigarette butts. The building manager didn’t understand the dramatic impact of a well timed cigarette flick.

“You haven’t been gone from the department that long,” Mike said. “Maybe if you waited a few months and then tried to get on with the county sheriff… You could even try the state patrol.”

“And do what in the meantime? No thanks.”

“So that’s that then?”

“I can’t very well go and be a mall cop,” I said.

“You could,” said Trey. “Think of all of the window shopping you could do.”

I actually smiled at that.

“I’m assuming you have a business card and everything,” said Mike.

I said that I did and pulled out several from my wallet and gave them to him and Trey. They looked at them, looked at each other, and then burst out laughing.

“What?”

“Where did you get these?” said Trey as he wiped a tear form his face with the back of his hand.

“I ordered them off of the internet,” I said. “I got five hundred for five bucks. Why?”

“And how many of these have you handed out so far?”

“Only a few. Why?”

“Your slogan sounds like it’s for an escort service!” Mike guffawed as he nearly doubled over in his chair.

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Yeah it does!”

“No, it doesn’t,” I insisted. “Trey?”

Daniels grinned. “It kinda does, Mac.”

“No, it doesn’t!” I said. “Check it out: ‘Connally Investigations: Willing to Serve.’ What’s so bad about that? I’m playing off of ‘Serve and Protect’.”

“What about the bit below it?” said Mike as he gasped for air and struggled to get his breathing back under control.

“What about it?” I said.

“‘Prices Negotiable’?” quoted Trey with a snigger.

“Oh, fuck you guys,” I said.

The cordless phone rang. Mike practically leapt from his chair as he raced to beat me to the balcony railing where the phone sat. HE answered the phone with one hand and stiff armed me with the other. He was smiling like a kid expecting a call from Santa Claus.

“Connally Investigations,” he said, the words coming out heavy and breathily, “we’re willing to serve.” His whole face because pinched as he fought his own laughter. His face turned so red I thought his head might burst. He was quiet while he nodded and listened to the person on the other end. Tears were running down his cheeks.

“Ju8st one moment,” he said, his voice strained as he struggled. He handed me the phone. “It’s for you.”

“No shit,” I snapped as I snatched the phone form him and rushed inside of my apartment. My two closest friends burst out in raucous laughter the moment the sliding glass door closed behind me. “Hello?” I barked into it.

“I’m sorry,” gasped a woman’s voice on the other end, “did I call at a bad time?”

“No, not at all,” I backpedaled as I glared at my friends through the plate glass partition. “This is Malcolm Connally, how can I help you?”

“I’m not really sure,” she said with a nervous chuckle. “I’ve never done this before.”

“It’s ok, neither have I,” I said and then cringed. That probably wasn’t a good way to instill confidence in a prospective client.

She laughed and a butterfly burst out of a cocoon in my stomach. Suddenly I felt like a kid talking to his junior high crush on the phone for the first time.

“What’s your name?”

“Alex, Alex Pine.”

“What can I do for you, Alex Pine?”

“Well, it’s not for me exactly,” she said. “It’s for a friend of mine. A friend of a friend, to be honest.”

“Can you tell me about it?”

She took in a sharp breath of air.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I feel kind of silly talking about it on the phone. I probably shouldn’t have called in the first place. I’m sorry for bothering you.”

“No, wait!” I shouted into the phone.

“What?”

I swallowed hard. “Would you feel better if we met somewhere?” I offered. “Tomorrow, perhaps?”

The girl was quiet while she mulled it over in her head.

“I suppose we could do that,” she said.

She told me she worked near the Old Market and we agreed to meet at a café in the heart of it. She asked how she would know me and I told her.

“Alright,” I said, “it’s a date then.” I grimaced and groaned at my choice of words. She didn’t seem to mind, though. She laughed again and the sound made me warm all over.

“Sounds good,” she said. I could her smile through the phone.

“Eleven o’clock then, Miss Pine?”

“Eleven sounds fine,” she said, “and please call me Alex.”

“Okay,” I said.

“If there isn’t anything else I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Sure,” she said. “I guess there is one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Did you know that your slogan sounds like an ad for an escort service?”

“It’s been brought to my attention,” I said.

We broke the call and I returned to the patio with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step.

I enjoyed my steak and my beer and ignored my friends for the rest of the day.

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1 Comment

  1. Sounds good Mo! Excited to add this to my Connally series when you post it to Amazon. There is a rougue 8 added to a word – FYI.


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