Thursday, September 19, 2013

Excerpt from SUNSET HILL

My next Grant Starr thriller, SUNSET HILL, is with the beta readers. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 8.

Grant and Detective Ira Utter of the Seattle Police Department are in Utter’s car heading for a woman’s prison in Gig Harbor where they will interview a convicted killer. Grant is going to try and get the killer to give them the name of her accomplice, who’s started killing again.

Utter is a new character, naturally because he’s in Seattle, Washington, and the other two Grant Starr novels were set in Central California. I didn’t like him much at first because he’s so straight-laced and kind of boring. And, frankly, I didn’t like typing out his name much. But he grew on me and I came to appreciate him, and understand him. His character is in large part his attempt to separate himself from what he was: a drunk.

Grant’s sure the killer they’re looking for is Mindy, who escaped an intense police dragnet after the failed attempt to blow up the Don Pedro Dam in La Grange.

Utter and Grant got into Utter’s department-issued Chevy Impala, and Grant asked Utter, “An Impala, huh? How’d Seattle PD end up with Impalas? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cop driving one.”
“It’s a long story. The short of it is, Chief Dunston’s brother owns a Chevy dealership. They’re not bad cars.”
“I heard they suck.”
“Well ... okay. They do suck. Fortunately, there’s little call for a Seattle detective to engage a suspect in a high-speed chase. We have highway patrol Dodge Chargers for that.”
Grant laughed. “You call in the HP for all car chases?”
“Not all, just the ones where you suspect you might need to go more than eighty. The Impala starts to shimmy at eighty.”
Grant laughed again and said, “How’d the media thing go?”
“Okay. I remembered not to frown.”
“Kept a poker face?”
“Well, it wasn’t like I was being grilled by Mike Wallace or anything. Keely Wolfe asked about you and the others, who you were and why you were here. I said you were consulting because there might a tie-in with a cold case of yours. I hope you don’t mind.”
“I don’t see any harm in it. If you didn’t tell them who we were, they’d think we were feds. That I would’ve been pissed about.”
They swapped stories for thirty minutes until Utter said, “I Googled you this morning. 1970 Ferrari Daytona, huh? From trading stocks?”
“Nah. Short-selling stocks. But I’m out of the game now.”
“Sounds like it was lucrative. And a lot safer than hunting killers. Why not retire and do the stock thing?”
“Because I’d go nuts. Short-selling gave me something to do at night while I dried up. I’d wake up at two or three and flip the computer on, run the numbers instead of reaching for a beer.”
“How long did you drink?”
“Started in high school and didn’t quit until I was twenty-six. Too long, but I know guys who still drink like they did in college, and they’re fifty now.”
“Why’d you quit? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I don’t mind. I had a woman walk out on me. I thought she was the one, but ... turns out she didn’t like angry drunks. Who can blame her? Hell, I don’t like angry drunks.”
“You in AA?”
“Nope.” Grant turned to look at Utter. “Her leaving was enough of a shock that I just quit. Didn’t feel like I needed any help. You sound like you have a story. You in AA?”
Utter nodded and said, “I’m an alcoholic. A recovering alcoholic, as they teach us to say. Unlike you, I can’t touch a drop. Just smelling a beer makes me break out in a sweat.”
“How long you been sober?”
“Five years, sixty-two days.”
“Still go to meetings?”
“Oh yeah. Probably will the rest of my life, or until I’m too old to drive myself there.”
“I guess your marriage survived. Or is this wife number two?”
“No, Lacey hung in there. Probably for the kids’ sake. I think she’ll leave after they move out.”
“Why do you say that? The worst is over, man.”
“The damage has been done, you know? Say you tell someone you hate them and suggest they jump off the Space Needle. You can apologize the next day, but you can’t take the words back. They’ll always be there, floating somewhere in time and space. Some things can’t be undone.”
“Ah, time can heal most wounds, Ira. She’s stuck with you this long, she’s probably gonna hang in for the long haul.”
Utter was quiet for a few moments, then he said, “I think she’s having an affair. In fact, I’m almost positive she is.”
“Ah man, sorry to hear that. You think it’s a revenge thing? Getting back at you for the years of drinking?”
“Could be. I’m thinking about confronting her about it. What do you think?”
Grant blew out a breath, and thought through his answer. “I hate to think I’ll ever have to deal with that, but if I do, I’ll confront her for sure. There are few things worse than someone you love sneaking around behind your back.”
They were quiet for a while, then Utter said, “Did I tell you she wears makeup to Zumba? Who wears makeup to Zumba?”
“Women care about their appearance more than men, even at the gym. In fact, when I used to go to a public gym, most of the women there had makeup on.”
“Zumba lasts an hour, but she’s usually gone two hours. Sometimes three.”
“Ah man...”

The Washington Corrections Center for Women was tucked into a corner of McCormick Forest Park, off Washington State Route 16. Utter exited at the Burnham Interchange, wound down Sehmel Drive, then hooked a left on Bujacich Drive, which cut through the park as it led to the prison.
“Sure is pretty country,” Grant said. “Is it always this green?”
“It’s why we’re called the Evergreen State,” Utter said. “This side of the Cascades is always like this. It turns white when it snows, but otherwise is green year round. I assume you’ve got a plan for interviewing Sorrentino? Is there anything you want me to do? Keep my trap shut? Play good-cop bad-cop with you?” He smiled.
“I’ve got a plan, but nothing elaborate. Feel free to jump in if you think you have something to add.”
When they pulled into the prison parking lot, Utter said, “Is there anything you want to ask me about Sorrentino before we go in?”
“I think I got all I need from the files.”