Below is the second chapter of my latest novel, An Unassigned Life. If you enjoy it, please take the time to tweet it or Facebook it so that your friends have a chance to find me too! Thank you in advance for your support.(If you missed the beginning of the book, read the prologue here and the first chapter here.)
Melissa Strentham sighed heavily as she entered Tim’s empty home. Just what I need, she thought as she did a quick inventory of the run-down house. Then again, it’s no more than I should have expected from him. He always was inconsiderate of others. She ran a finger across the top of his desk, coming up with a finger full of dust. Some writer.
“Mrs. Strentham, we need you to identify the body.”
“Really?” She pulled a hard copy of one of Tim’s books out of her oversized purse and asked, “Can’t you just compare it to this picture?”
“No, ma’am, I’m afraid not. We really need you to confirm that the body is Mr. Chase’s.”
She pursed her lips and pushed her white-rimmed sunglasses up and into her perfectly coiffed and bleached hair. “Very well. Let’s get this over with.”
She followed the buff and burly fireman out to the garage, where they had laid Tim and covered him up. The young EMT pulled back the sheet and she saw the puffy, purple face that had once belonged to her brother. She held the book out and compared the two images: one of a marginally handsome young man, the other a decaying corpse. “I suppose I understand why you might have had trouble recognizing him from this photo,” she said. The fireman was looking at her oddly. “That’s him.” She pulled the shades back down over her eyes.
“Detective Ramirez has a few questions for you,” the fireman said, pointing toward a young Hispanic woman in a tan blazer.
“Thank you,” Melissa said, smiling flirtatiously. She made sure to wiggle her hips as she walked away from the men.
“Mrs. Strentham, I’m Detective Ramirez.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Detective. Would you like to come inside?”
The two women went into the sparsely furnished house and settled into the only chairs – Detective Ramirez in the desk chair and Melissa in the ancient recliner Tim had lugged with him since college.
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” Ramirez said as she pulled a small notebook from her back pants pocket.
“We weren’t close. In fact, this is only the second time I’ve been in the house.”
“Can you think of anyone who might have wanted to hurt your brother?”
“As I’ve said, we weren’t close. The suicide note was the only communication we’ve had in more than a year.”
“Let’s talk about the note. Did you bring it with you?”
Melissa pulled off her sunglasses so that the detective could see her frustration. “He emailed it to me on Friday.”
“And you waited until today to check on him?”
“I was out of town. I don’t check my email when I’m out of town. Arthur doesn’t like it.”
“My husband, Arthur Strentham.”
Detective Ramirez’s eyes widened; Melissa smiled, knowing that the name was recognized. “Was the note sent to anyone else?”
“His agent’s name was on it – Ellen James.”
“I’ll need to speak with Ms. James as well. Do you have any contact information for her?”
Melissa gestured at the computer on the desk behind the detective. “She’s probably in his address book.”
The detective rotated the swivel chair to face the computer and noted that it was already on. “Mrs. Strentham, have you been using your brother’s computer today?”
“Of course not.”
Ramirez moved the mouse and the screen popped to life. A Word document was open. She scanned the screen quickly and said, “Your brother was a novelist, correct?”
“He thought so.”
“This document appears to be an outline for a new book.”
Melissa, curious, walked to the desk and looked over her shoulder. “That’s odd…he’d been blocked for a couple of years. That was his excuse, anyway.”
“It’s too bad he died. Judging by the outline, this would have been an amazing story.”
“I don’t understand it. Why now?” Melissa sighed. “He finally has a decent idea, and then he decides to end it all.” She felt a slight sting of oncoming tears and backed away from the computer, resuming her former position of unconcern. “He was like a petulant little boy. Something must have set him off. You should read his suicide note.”
Ramirez opened Outlook and found Tim’s last sent item. “Short and to the point.”
“Those are probably the two simplest sentences he’s written since he graduated from college.”
Ramirez spun around to face her and Melissa backed up again. “Do you believe your brother committed suicide?”
“Yes,” she answered simply. “I have no reason to think otherwise.”
The detective narrowed her eyes, and Melissa squirmed slightly under her gaze. “Fine. We’ll need to take the computer for evidence. When we’ve concluded our investigation, we’ll return it to you.”
“Don’t bother,” she sniffed. “It’s practically running on Stone Age technology. Send it to Goodwill when you’re through.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that.”
“Bring it back here then. I’ll sell it with the house.”