Story ideas seem to bubble up all the time. I sketch them out in my notebook, and when time permits, I flesh out a chapter or two to get a feel for the voice of the story. If I like it, I keep going and turn it into a novel. If not, I just put it aside in case I can use all or part of it later. If the character captures my imagination, I know it’s worth turning into a novel. Needless to say, I have quite a few first chapters that are still lingering in my files. Here’s one I just fleshed out. The working title is Killing Thomas. Not everything is as it seems.
His eyes stared at me insistent in their surprise, pleading really. I watched as his pupils widened, suggesting he understood what we had come to. His mouth froze agape demonstrating his fleeting state of mind. His dark hair floated in his wake beneath the surface of the crystal blue, Caribbean lagoon. His hands grasped mine, not in the loving way that I had imagined in my heart of hearts but in a way that suggested resistance as people are prone to do when they are being murdered.
The last of his breaths bubbled to the surface after the thrashing of his feet subsided. He had caught me a good one in my right side after I had submerged him and he realized that I wasn’t being my usual kindred, playful self. Something had changed, and he had sensed it; although, he arrived at his conclusion too late to change his fate.
I let him float a minute, lifeless and still in shock, in the sparkling water. I wanted to look at him through clear eyes after my pulse had settled down. The thumping in my chest slowly receded like the gentle waves that lapped the lagoon. The fading sun licked my face as salty drops ran down the side of my head. Whether it was sweat or seawater, I wasn’t sure.
I looked at Thomas again. His beautiful eyes pleaded to the heavens to no avail. I gave him a grim smile and sucked in some of the humid air that had engulfed both of us just a short time earlier. That had been harder than I had expected. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go.
I turned and kicked the water to pull myself from its waist-high depth. I trudged to the shore and glanced back only once before I broke into a trot across the cool, white sand. It felt good to my feet like powdered sugar with just a little bit of grit. I couldn’t remember ever putting my feet in powdered sugar, but had I ever done it, that’s what it would have felt like.
I reached my moped still tilted away from the cracked road where we had left it an hour ago. An hour. I checked my watch. It had taken longer than I had expected. Courage in planning rarely translated into swift execution.
The moped puttered and whined as I crested the hill leading away from the lagoon. Soon someone would find the body. They’d call the police, and there’d be an investigation. I trusted my plan. Meredith had promised it’d work. I wasn’t sure I trusted Meredith, but I needed to be rid of Thomas.
Water streamed down and away from my legs as I picked up speed along the narrow road back to civilization. My swim trunks swished in the seat making me feel like I was still sitting in the warm water, and every hair on my bare body waved in the wind. I felt like I was in a vast wind tunnel being blown dry in the generous Caribbean sun. The smell of saltwater mixed with the musty odor of that lifejacket Thomas had worn still clung to my body. I wrinkled my nose in the wind as if I could flick the smell away.
The exasperated moped bounced along the dilapidated old road and jarred me for a moment. I almost lost control of the damned thing before a sharp curve, but I released the accelerator just a little and wobbled into the turn before I regained control. My teeth clanked together rattling my brain, another shock to my system. I felt stunned and disoriented. It had all happened so fast. I shook my head and throttled forward. I couldn’t get away fast enough.
The 15-minute drive from the remotest point of the island seemed to take forever as if the wheels of my little motorbike were trudging through molasses. My wrist ached from twisting the accelerator to its limit, but I didn’t care. I had to get away from Thomas. He had caused enough damage already.
I crested one last hill above the tiny Caribbean village and the glaring white walls of my hotel came into view. The hotel was the largest building by far in the village. It had once belonged to royalty on the island but had been converted to a hotel when the last push for independence sent the royal family scurrying to a more civilized country. I felt sorry for the family for a brief moment as I descended the hill into the main street of the village. Such a beautiful place, however remote, deserved to be enjoyed. I doubted they had ever returned once they left. Such a shame. Then, I remembered, that I could never return either. Once I stepped onto that boat to leave the island, I would never see this place again.
I zipped through the roundabout at the center of town narrowly missing a few circling cars that promptly honked at me. I ignored them and continued on my way toward the hotel. I couldn’t get there fast enough and the moped resisted the whole way as if it knew it had become an accessory to a crime.
Meredith sat on the stone bench under the canopy on the left side of the hotel entrance reading her book when I pulled the moped into a parking space near the front of the building. She didn’t even look up at me or acknowledge that I had arrived until I was standing over her. She looked so calm and normal as if I had just gone kayaking in the sea rather than drowning someone with my bare hands.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked when she looked up from her book.
“What do you think?” I asked. I tried to be emphatic and commanding, but my hands shook uncontrollably and my voice was just as shaky.
“You should change into some dry clothes. I put some in the bag for you.”
I looked at the two suitcases next to the bench and saw a white bag with the word “Hilton” on it. I grabbed the bag and walked quickly back into the hotel. I struggled to change clothes as fast as I could. I thought I heard sirens nearing the hotel, and my heart jumped in my chest. I almost fell face first into the toilet in the stall where I changed out of my swim trunks. I didn’t bother drying myself off because the wind had mostly taken care of that for me, but the dry clothes clung uncomfortably to my body as I pulled them on. I stepped back into my sandy shoes and left my trunks hanging on the back of the bathroom stall door. I had not been careful in my planning so another piece of evidence left behind didn’t matter. If I was lucky, I’d be long gone before the cops put the pieces together.
“Try to look calm,” Meredith admonished as I walked toward her. I hunched over slightly and glanced around hoping no one heard her. What a strange thing to say. It would surely raise suspicions, but no one was close enough to hear her.
“I am calm,” I whispered when I stood right over her. She looked up at me and shook her head. I faked a smile and she turned her attention to the dark, old man dressed in a hotel uniform. She asked for a taxi.
“Where are you going?” the old man asked. It almost seemed accusatory.
“To the dock.” Meredith replied.
The old man blew a whistle, and after a moment, an unassuming and unmarked vehicle ambled up the stone driveway and stopped before us. This painfully skinny black man slid out of the driver’s seat and said hello as he helped us load the luggage into his trunk. He smelled of coconuts and had an easy smile about him that made me relax for a moment. I had forgotten about Thomas by the time I sat down in the cushy backseat of the man’s car. He was chatty and Meredith was more than happy to oblige with idle conversation. I just stared out the half-open window enjoying the breeze that massaged my face.
The dock was three or four miles from our hotel, but somehow, I had lost myself in the smell of saltwater and the warm breeze that blew away my worries. It seemed to take only a minute or two to navigate the narrow, crowded streets leading to the dock, but I knew it took much longer. I had been here too many times before to believe otherwise. Nevertheless, the skinny man pulled our luggage from the giant maw of a trunk and sat them before us at the dock. Meredith paid him handsomely as usual and we turned and walked toward the boat waiting at the end of the pier without a word between us.
I looked back one last time before we stepped onto the boat as if I expected Thomas to be there. He wasn’t. For a moment I saw the look in his eyes as he took his last breath, and I must have winced because Meredith asked me if I was okay. I shook my head to say that I was, but the trembling had returned by the time I sat in my seat next to her. She looked at my hands and then back at my face. She said nothing as she turned toward the window.
The boat roared to life and pulled away from the dock. I looked down the long pier. No one ran toward the boat. My escape was almost complete. Thomas was no more, or so I hoped.