Sneak Peek: Inappropriate by Sherry Morris

Posted by Sherry Morris | 11:24 AM | 1 comments »


A work-in-progress by Sherry Morris

Chapter One

I hate discovering dead bodies.

I shook my head and slammed on the brakes. Stepping out of the golf cart and onto the smooth flesh colored sand of Cocoa Beach, I wiggled my fingers into a pair of exam gloves and crept toward the corpse. A shiver convulsed up my spine as a fishy dead human stench wafted through the dawn. The sun rose pink on the horizon. Red sky was good luck for sailors or something like that. Not for this guy.

This is so not the way I want to begin my last shift before vacation.

A flock of seagulls screeched and flopped down around the body. I cringed as I tiptoed up to the bloated young man face up in a dress blue United States Navy uniform.

“Sir, do you need some assistance?” Please roll over and puke or something.

I gave him a little nudge in the ribs with my sneaker. He felt squishy. I shuddered. “Hey, buddy, you okay?” Nothing.

I unfastened the gold button on his wet wool collar and placed two of my fingers on his carotid artery. No pulse. He stared past me, brown eyes frozen in a peaceful expression. No, not peaceful. The curl of his lips looked as though he had been up to something mischievous. I lowered my face and put my ear to his nose to listen for breathing as I studied his chest. I didn’t see or feel respirations. Up close, he smelled like bleach.

I struggled to peel open more buttons on the overcoat, loosened his tie and then unbuttoned his white shirt. I exposed his hairy chest and a gold Star of David necklace. I didn’t find the dog tags I was searching for.

“Rest in peace, unknown sailor.”

I said a little prayer for him and pulled off the gloves as I hurried back to the vehicle. Slipping them in the black plastic trash bag, I exhaled, flipped open my cell phone and punched nine on speed dial. I glanced at my watch.

The grouchy voice of Dan the dispatcher answered, “Cocoa Beach Department of Public Works, what is your complaint?”

“It’s Sandra Faire. I’ve got a military floater washed up in front of The Copacabana. He’s dead.”

Within ten minutes, I was surrounded by three hotel security guys in gray trousers and blue blazers; Andres the perpetually hung over Euro-blond lifeguard; Eagle, the hotshot beach patrolman who always startled the sunbathers tearing around the sand in his ATV; old lady Fletcher in the yellow polka dot bikini and matching support hose; six uniformed City of Cocoa Beach cops. And Lt. Hottie DiMattina, homicide.

Okay, so his first name was Frank, and not that he was my type…anymore…but my temperature sure soared whenever he met my gaze. I needed to figure out how to reroute those errant hormones. I was through with hot uber good-looking alpha males. Especially this one. No man of mine answered his phone during a romantic interlude. Just because there was a category five hurricane looming, it was no excuse for him to run off to work and leave me panting on the kitchen table. Well, yeah, there were some other issues. Frank and I weren’t compatible except when we were making out. His kisses sent me to nirvana. Perhaps it’s just as well the hurricane interrupted us. I had nothing to regret.

We didn’t have anything in common. I was 23, he was 40. Nearly a generation apart. I didn’t like cops. They were all paranoid, manipulative drama kings. Well, the ones in my family tree were. I guess my preconceived notions of the whole profession had put a damper on my seeing him in a brighter light.

Hottie was dressed in a black tee shirt, way too tight. I could see his abs and the ripple of his deltoids. He wore a badge on a chain around his neck, a service weapon and handcuffs tucked into the rear of his form fitting Levis.

He swaggered down and looked over the deceased as the tide lapped the sailor’s mucky dress shoes. Frank paced off an area for the uniforms to seal the crime scene. Hotel security assisted, offering hot pink umbrellas to shove into the sand to wrap the yellow police tape around.

Forensics and the coroner arrived and got to work. Frank had a long conversation with the lifeguard then shook his head, scribbled on a notepad, ducked under the police tape and made a beeline for me.

I leaned casually against the lifeguard stand, twisting an errant strand of pale hair around my finger, determined not to let his deep testosterone voice move me.

He rubbed his clean shaven chin. “You discover this one?”

I sucked in a deep breath, trying not to remember his erotic whispers.

“Did you discover the body?” he repeated.

I nodded.

“Anyone in the area at the time?”

I looked into his smoldering brown eyes and shook my head.

“How long ago?”

I checked my watch. “About forty-five minutes now. I called in the find at six-thirteen.”

“Did you notice any footprints around the body before you approached it?”

Shoot, I’d been through this enough times now to know to check the crime scene. I huffed. “Sorry, I forgot to look…”

He frowned and gave me that you’ve disappointed me again look. “Did you disturb anything?”

“I unbuttoned him with gloves on. He was all buttoned up to his chin. I felt his carotid artery. I couldn’t find his dog tags. Oh…and I kicked him in the ribs.”

“Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary on the beach in the last twenty-four hours?”

I shook my head. This was why I hated discovering dead bodies. It forced me to collide with the most inappropriate man for me in the universe. I didn’t want things to get stirred up again.

“Do you know him from anywhere?” he asked.

I shook again, exaggeratedly slow with a wide-eyed expression.

“Thank you, Miss Faire. I’ll be in touch.”

And with that formal tone, he strutted over to the hotel security kibitzing near my golf cart.

I smoothed my shirt down over my derriere as I passed them. They were discussing the evangelical Christian service held last night in The Copacabana ballroom. Pastor Eugene Donaldson was a modern thinking feel-good preacher, very popular with the locals and tourists alike.

I chimed in, “The sailor was Jewish. There is a Star of David around his neck. He wouldn’t have attended.”

Frank rolled his eyes and glared at me.

I hated when he did that. Just because I wasn’t a cop didn’t mean I couldn’t solve crimes…or figure out which leads were dead ends.

I climbed back into the golf cart and waved to Andres, the lifeguard. He was good looking if you liked suntanned Euro-blonds without muscles. I didn’t. I didn’t like his accent either. Germans always sounded mean. I was through with handsome European accented guys too. Not that I’d actually dated any, but I used to have wicked teen crushes on a couple of British rockers until they had the gall to marry to super models.

I went on about my job, puttering down the beach, stopping to pick up a piece of petrified palm trunk, a glass grape juice bottle and a deflated football. I plucked them with a mechanical snatcher device. I don’t know if it has an official name but I called mine Monkey. After two years at this job, I was pretty efficient. I could do it all from the driver’s seat. Snatch and then drop it into the trash bag and go along my jolly way.

The theme to “The Pink Panther” jazzed from my shorts. I stopped and dug my phone out. Mom’s picture was on the caller ID. I inhaled and answered. “Hi, Mom.”

“Sandra, are you still intending to climb aboard that train of fools?”

“They aren’t fools, Mom. They’re very nice people.”

She sobbed, “You’re being kidnapped by that cult and I’ll never see my baby again.” She launched into one of her motherly speeches about how everything I do is inappropriate.

Mom was so disappointed in me. My four brothers were cops working under my dad, the police commissioner, and me, her youngest child, toiled as a sanitation engineer and public relations specialist for the Department of Public Works. Translation: I picked garbage off the beach and told tourists where the public restrooms were located. At least the uniform was cute. Short red shorts and a nice white tee with a departmental seal on the left boob.

What Mom didn’t know about me was by day I collected garbage but by night I was an infamous cozy mystery author. I wrote under the pen name Dixie London. And I didn’t have a thing published and no prospects. I didn’t even have more than almost a first chapter written. Okay, so I was more like an infamous mystery author wannabee. But I had fun. I belonged to the Global Order of Scribes, pronounced “goose” for short. The international convention was going on in Morocco this week.

Rosemary Donaldson, wife of televangelist Eugene Donaldson, was the president of our local chapter. I couldn’t stand her, the snobby fakey flake. She arranged to have a little conference of sorts aboard three private railcars hooked onto the back of her husband’s crusade train, hooked onto the back of a regular Amtrak passenger train.

Of course, I could set my feelings for her aside and grace the authors with my presence long enough for a two week free vacation aboard the private rail cars. The Donaldson’s were wealthy, so I knew this would be a first class to-do. The Agatha Christie birthday shindigs she hosted at her mansion were always loaded with fat shrimp and a mimosa fountain. Maids and cabbage roses everywhere you turned in her gaudy museum. Even the ceilings were painted with rose murals. Last time I tucked two pieces of her toilet paper into my pocket to show Mom. It was printed in full color, embossed and scented with roses. Mom wasn’t impressed. She told me it would cause bladder infections.

“Mom—Mom—Mom!” I finally got her to stop ranting. “I told you, it’s not a cult. I’m not going as one of the devout followers of Pastor Donaldson. Rosemary invited our mystery readers book club to tag along. We’ll be segregated from the fanatics. We have our own private cars and we’ll be reading and discussing books…and knitting.

Mom loved knitting, so I just threw that in.

“Really, knitting?”

“Un-hunh. A couple of the ladies are involved in the knit-a-scarf-for-a-serviceman charity. We’ll be knitting up a storm for those brave Americans.” I was great at making things up.

“Oh, well why didn’t you tell me? What time do we leave? I’ll need to finish the laundry—“

“No!” I cleared my throat. “No, Mom. You can’t go. The train is already filled to capacity. You needed to reserve a compartment ahead of time.”

“Nonsense. I’ll bunk-in with you.”

“No can do. I have a roommate. Gracie.”

“Oh…Gracie. How is she? Is her father recuperating nicely?”

Gracie was the only friend I had who Mom approved of.

“Gracie and her father are doing just fine. I’ll let them know you asked about them. I gotta go, Mom. Got to finish my shift.”

“Come see me before you leave.”

Yeah, right. So she can jump in the backseat and stow away. “I’ll try. Gotta run. Bye.” I closed my phone.

I drove along the beach. Two guys were knee deep in the surf, fishing. An early jogger trotted by. I smacked my forehead and took my foot off the gas. If Lieutenant Hottie had any follow up questions for me, I wouldn’t be available. I should have told him I’d be leaving on the GOOS Express late this afternoon. Could this be a dilemma? He didn’t tell me not to leave town or anything. And I only discovered the body, I wasn’t technically a witness or suspect or anything. And besides, it was just a routine death investigation. I was confident the autopsy would show he drowned.

The sailor probably was on shore leave, rented a speed boat with his buddies, got drunk and fell overboard. Yeah, that’s it. He seemed really happy by the smirk frozen on his face. I ought to open a detective agency. And I could hire my writing pals as operatives. An all woman force. Nobody would suspect us of spying on them. We’d make a killing. I giggled at my pun.

I looped around and did a U-turn. Time to stop by the dumpster and check in with Dan.

A crowd of tourists had gathered at the crime scene as the police carted off the corpse. I sighed. Great, they were eating donuts and drinking Starbucks. More trash for me to collect later on.

Frank stood down along the shoreline, running his fingers through his short dark hair. Perhaps I should stop off and let him know I’d be leaving town. I slowed down and threw my hand up. He didn’t notice me, so I kept going. I decided to call him from the train.

Part of me was relieved not to have to talk to him face-to-face. If Lieutenant Hottie were to make a late night visit, to discuss the case, I wouldn’t be home to answer the door…inappropriately dressed.

* * *

I checked in at the Orlando Amtrak station and then dragged my huge rolling black duffle outside. Missing one wheel, it fought me the whole way. I set my little hard plastic cooler on top of it and looked around the platform.

The crusaders wore primary and pastel colored leisure suits and dresses. The African and Asian-Americans carried off the style well enough. However, the European-Americans, who had baked thousands of hours in the Florida sun, resembled shriveled dates. I couldn’t help but giggle at the Red Hat ladies swathed in purple. They were positively pruney.

Rosemary Donaldson waved me down to the rear of the train. My tummy jittered with excitement. And hunger. I couldn’t wait to gobble the fancy food. I took a deep breath and plodded through the throng of elderly passengers.

“Hi, Rosemary.” We fake kissed both cheeks.

I tried not to cough from the perfume haze engulfing the raven haired, liposuctioned, botoxed pastor’s wife dressed in white boots, over-the-knee socks and ruffled miniskirt. She had the body for the outfit, but at her age and considering her husband’s holy profession, jail bait tart was not a good look.

In her high-pitched nasally voice, she said, “We can board any minute now. Here’s our itinerary.” She offered me a rose colored pocket folder with a thick stack of papers inside. I let go of my suitcase handle and accepted it. The suitcase plopped down onto the concrete with a resonating thud. I squatted to pick it up.

Rosemary said, “Sandra, I’m so glad you talked your mother into joining us.”

I shut my eyes tight, scrunched up my face and clenched my fists, hoping I hadn’t heard correctly. Before I stood, I asked, “Pardon? What did you say?”

“Your momma stopped by my house this morning, with a footlocker full of yarn and knitting needles. She volunteered to teach the crusaders to knit.”

©2007 Sherry Morris

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  1. Mary Marvella // December 24, 2007 at 12:06 AM  

    Hey, Sherry,
    Sounds like a fun read. Pert of a series, of course?