Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Inspiration 7

As I mentioned yesterday, this book deals with surviving child abuse and addiction. Just before Ray meets his son, he begins an investigation into the murder of Robert (Row-Bear) LaFontaine--the other possible candidate to have been Parker's father. Robert's heart was removed. Chris has told Ray that there were other murders around the state in which the victims' hearts were removed: A foster family, the Byrds; Judge Salus; and a social worker, Ms. Vaughn. There were already a list of suspects in Robert's death. Now, Ray has two more. See all suspects' pics at the end.

"You do realize you're on the short list of suspects who might've wanted Robert LaFontaine dead, don't you?"
"No." Ray laughed hard until he realized Lawrence was serious. "There was no bad blood between us anymore," he said soberly. "Since Robert hit Washington, we haven't even argued. I actually attended his wedding and a couple of parties at his house in Baton Rouge. Damn! I'm his twins' godfather. Why would I be a suspect?"
"Ray, you've threatened to kill him on more than one occasion. Let's see: One—at Larkin's house; two—in the hospital; three—in Raif's car; four—sitting at your desk talking to me; and, oh, five—you beat the hell out of him in public."
"That was thirteen years ago. Lawrence, are you serious?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Oh, give me a break!" Ray jerked his head to the side. "I didn't even know any of the other victims."
Dantzler shrugged. "It could be argued that they were just to throw us off track and that Robert was your intended target."
"Lawrence, do you believe that?"
"No, but you need to know the gossip. Some could question if you and Raif were disposing of the murder weapon. You didn't help yourself by telling a certain newswoman that the last reporter who followed you ended up dead."
"Is that what this is about?" Ray fisted his hand. "I hate reporters."
"Just stick around." Dantzler gave him a lopsided smirk.
Ray clenched his teeth. "Chris, what is this bullshit? Is this why you snorted earlier?"
She nodded. "Ray, it gets worse. I think they've hooked Lawrence up with the dumbest agents ever."
"Me, too, if you'd like to know," Dantzler said with an impish grin on his face.
"How could it get worse?" asked Ray, rubbing his head as a migraine attempted to come on.
Chris laughed. "Larkin's on the suspect list, too."
"You can't be serious!" Ray said, his hand coming down on his desk in a hard slap. "Larkin wouldn't hurt a fly."
"That's what I said," assured Lawrence. "But my little team argues that she has the capacity to kill to protect you. After all, she did once. She killed Latrice."
"Self-defense!" Ray's nostrils flared.
"Bullshit, I know, but she did teach the young woman with Robert."
"Yep. One semester of lit."
Ray rolled his eyes.
Lawrence held up his hand. "However, the third suspect holds a little merit. It's Deanna LaFontaine."
Ray shook his head. "No, she didn't kill him. She's been covering his tracks for him from the beginning. She wanted to be First Lady. Moreover, what reason would she have had for killing the other people?"
"She got tired of her husband's philandering. The missing hearts were to show how heartless he was, and his mistress might as well go, too. Who knows? Maybe Robert was into men, too. Maybe all the vics were former lovers."
Ray cackled. "Robert was a fool, a womanizer"—and, maybe, bisexual—"but he did not bed dogs or cows. Did you see the Byrd woman? Woof, woof. She looked like a pug. Her eyes even bulged. And the DHS woman! She weighed more than you and was a foot and a half shorter."
"Yeah, Ray. I've looked at the file pictures. I can't imagine Robert touching them either." Dantzler sniggered.
Ray fiddled with a pen on his desk. "No. There's definitely a connection somewhere between Robert and the other murders. I think Miss Horn just got in the way. No. None of your suspects hold water, and you know it."
"Yes, I do, Ray. So, help me come up with some others." Lawrence raised blond brows

A Hard-knock Life
At the third shelter, Ray spotted the old Honda motorcycle Parker had ridden that afternoon. He and Larkin entered the dingy, but warm and dry, facility. With the four days of rain had come much cooler temperatures. As the person at the entrance announced, "We're full," without looking up, Ray flashed his badge.
"I'm Police Chief Raiford Reynolds. I'm looking for Parker Godchaux. I think he already signed in."
The tired-looking elderly man at the door looked at the registry. "Yes, he did about an hour ago. He missed dinner. Is he in some kind of trouble?"
"Go and find him, Chief."
"Thanks." Ray took Larkin's hand protectively as they walked though the crowded shelter. "There," Ray pointed out the youth who was playing spades with three much older men.
"Okay. Get your son out of here," prompted Larkin.
With his heart pounding, Ray tapped Parker on the shoulder. Parker turned around and exclaimed, "Mr. Reynolds!"
Ray commanded gently, "Get your things. I'm taking you home with me."
Parker protested, "We haven't got the test results back yet. I don't want to be a bother."
"Fooyay! You and I both know what those tests are going to confirm."
Larkin slid her hand up Ray’s arm in a calming caress. Parker surveyed the very pretty auburn-haired woman beside Ray, and Larkin smiled softly at the young man who had her husband's eyes. Ray came to his senses and introduced the two. "Larkin, this is Parker Godchaux, the young man I told you about. Parker, this is my wife, Larkin."
"It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Reynolds," said Parker formally as he offered a shaky hand.
Larkin took his hand and felt calluses on seventeen-year-old hands that should have been almost baby soft. "Larkin, please," she said compassionately.
Parker gave a curt nod. "Larkin, you can't seriously want me in your home."
"Why not?"
"Mr. Reynolds said he told you about me."
Ray grunted, "Ray—for now."
"Yes, he did," Larkin responded. "That's precisely why I want you in my home. If you are, indeed, Ray's son, you'll be most welcome. On the other hand, if Robert LaFontaine proves to be your father, well, we were once friends, and you'll still be welcome."
"Mr. LaFontaine is not a nice person," said Parker matter-of-factly. "I hope he's not my father."
Larkin laughed softly. "Yes, he was most definitely a jerk. Now, get your things because Ray isn't a jerk."
"No, he seems nice enough," said Parker as he made eye contact with Larkin. Then, he looked at Ray. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely," Ray replied with a nod.
Parker turned to the older card players who had been listening intently. "Excuse me, guys. You'll need to find another player. I'm gonna sleep in a real bed tonight." Parker disappeared and returned a minute later with a backpack.
"That's it?" asked Ray.
"Yes, sir."
Outside, Ray said, "Get your bike and follow us. Where'd you get it?"
"I stole it, of course."
Ray stopped and looked at the boy with raised eyebrows as he asked, "Really?"
"No, but I had a hard time convincing the cops in Kenner of that. I saved up money from odd jobs and bought her. She didn't even run. I fixed her up. She purrs now." Parker beamed with pride.
"Sounds as if it's in the blood," joked Larkin. "Ray restores old cars," she explained.
"Really?" asked Parker as his face lit up in curiosity and excitement.
"Yes, I'll show you," Ray said, "but I don't think it's in the blood. Raif doesn't tinker with old cars. He would get too dirty."
"Who's Raif?" asked Parker.
Ray answered, "My twin brother."
Larkin said, "Raif builds miniature villages with miniature people and animals—all to scale. He has a Victorian village that he displays in his front yard at Christmas. He even has Christmas carols playing."
"Awesome!" Parker said, showing that he was still very much a little boy on some levels.
His outburst stung Larkin's eyes with tears as she realized this child had not had a good life. She asked gently, "Parker, where's your mother?"
He shrugged. "I last saw her about a year ago just before the judge put me in another foster home."
"Did you run away?" asked Ray.
Parker snorted. "Yes. I've only been in this home a couple of weeks. I just got out of"—He stepped back, unsure of the response he might get—"juvey."
"For what?" asked Ray.
"This time?" Parker asked.
Ray arched an eyebrow. "Just how many times have you been to juvey?"
"Several." Can't lie to him. He's a cop and could find out anyway. He shrugged, hands held out to his sides. "Usually just overnight or a week in a nothing environment, but this last time was six months in maximum juvey, you know, reform school." He raised his eyebrows for emphasis. "I'm sure I'll be headed back after this family reports me missing, if they do. I don't think they really care. I only have six months until I turn eighteen. They'll probably just keep quiet, get their check, and let me pass out of the system and their hair."
Ray's eyes stretched wide open and his brows shot to his hairline, but he asked, "What exactly did you do to get six months in reform school?"
"I hit my foster father, and I'm not sorry, and I'd do it again." Defiance permeated Parker's declaration as his every muscle tensed.
Not a topic for the street, Ray determined.
Parker said a little bitterly, "Now, I'll just go back inside because I'm sure you don’t want me to go with you."
"Follow us," Ray said. "You have a lot to learn about this family."
"Umm…" Parker hesitated.
Ray shook his head. "No discussion." There was no threat in his voice, but his tone brooked no argument.
In the car, Ray looked at Larkin, his jaw clenching and unclenching. "Chill," she said, rubbing her husband's arm. "There's a long story ahead of us tonight."

Finally at the house, Parker stood in awe as he looked around the massive restored antebellum home. His mouth gaped slightly and his eyes bulged. He blinked several times. Have I died and gone to Heaven?
Larkin took his hand. "Are you hungry?" she asked.
Parker could not help but smell the chicken. He nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
"Come in the kitchen. Ray and I didn't finish dinner. We'll eat together."
In the kitchen dining nook decorated in autumn colors with rust-and-gold-striped wallpaper, Larkin indicated a dark oak ladder-back, cane-bottom chair next to Ray's at the polished table with four placemats of a fall leaf pattern. "Sit down, and I'll get you a plate," she said.
Parker was not sure how to respond to someone's waiting on him. She's serving my plate? I must be dreaming. While he waited, he picked up the baby shoes that remained on the table. "What are these?"
"Baby shoes," replied Larkin.
Ray rubbed his head again as the migraine was being persistent. He reached for the prescription that sat on the table and popped another pill.
"You okay?" asked Parker.
"Yeah. I get 'em, too, but I don't have any pills. I just get sick."
"We'll take care of that," Ray said as he patted Parker's shoulder. "At your age, a healthy diet will make a huge difference. If that doesn’t get rid of the headaches, we’ll try some herbal remedies before we even think about medication. Drugs will be a last resort."
Parker nodded. "Okay." Then he cut his eyes back to the shoes.
"Larkin gave me the baby shoes as her way of telling me we're having another baby," Ray explained.
"Wow!" said Parker. "You've had a full day, finding out about your eldest and your youngest back to back. I saw the pictures on the wall. You have two more?"
Ray nodded as Larkin placed terracotta stoneware plates in front of the two men and sat down to her own.
"Where are they?" asked Parker.
"Spending the night with Raif because I wanted to tell Ray about the baby," Larkin answered.
Drooping one eyelid, Parker voiced his doubt. "So, you didn't send 'em away because of me?"
"No, Parker, I didn't even know about you when I sent them to Raif's."
"Okay." Parker took a bite of the broccoli. He looked down at his plate and up peripherally at the two adults. Suddenly, he picked up the chicken breast and devoured it as if he had not eaten in days.
A hand flying to her throat, Larkin asked, "Parker, when did you last eat?"
Realizing how uncouth he must have seemed, Parker tried to swallow before he answered. "On the thirteenth just after I saw Mr. LaFontaine. I stole the ten bucks that was on his desk."
"Damn it to hell!" shouted Ray as he slammed his hand onto the table. "Did your mother ever take care of you or teach you right from wrong?"
Parker sat far back in the chair, waiting to be hit. "It's all right," Larkin said as she took Parker's grease covered hand.
"No, it's not!" screamed Ray as he stood.
"Ray!" said Larkin. "Sit down and stop it. You're scaring the hell out of the kid."
Ray sat down but still talked loudly. "I'm sorry, but it makes me angry to know my son has to steal to live, to eat. Parker, I swear to God if I had known about you, this would not be happening to you."
"Are you mad at me?" asked Parker, eyes round as saucers, a slight tremor in his voice. "I can go back to the shelter. Honestly, I'm okay there."
"No. No. I'm sorry. I'm not angry with you." He clenched his fist and let it go. "I do want to know what has happened to you. Did Mia ever take care of you?"
"When she wasn't coming off a high." Parker nodded.
"High?" Ray took several breaths. "She was using drugs?"
"Off and on. She was in and out of rehab. The first time the judge took me away from her, I think I was three." Parker took a bite the roll on his plate.
Ray and Larkin tried to eat and encouraged Parker to share his story as he ate in a more reasonable manner. He ate every bite on his plate before he talked. He seemed reluctant to speak.
How much do I tell them? What if Ray turns out not to be my father? Will they really let me stay here in this beautiful place? He looked around the cozy room.
Larkin said, "Talk to us, Parker. You don't have to be afraid."
How does she know I'm scared? "I'm not afraid," he said.
Ray placed his elbows on the table and tented his fingers, putting his index fingers to his lips. "I'd be scared shitless."
"Really?" Parker asked.
"Really." Ray laced his fingers together and rested his chin on them. "You know, I can find out facts from court records, even a minor, but I want to hear about your life from you. We will welcome you into our home, but I want to know a little bit about you. So, it's up to you. Tell us your story, or I can just snoop."
Trapped. Okay. You asked for it. A tiny lopsided grin played around his mouth.
"Mom had this boyfriend for a while. He took pretty good care of me. Then, he disappeared. Mom went to rehab, and I went to a foster home. That was the second one. I've been in seven, no, eight. The last one was only a few days before I took off. Mom would get clean, and I'd go back to live with her. Then, she'd get high, and I'd go to another home."
Parker held tightly to Larkin's hand as if holding on to her would keep him safe. "Her boyfriend came back when I was eleven. His name was Fritz. He used to say he was 'Fritz the Cat.' When he came back, I didn't recognize him. He was cleaned up and clean. He had cut his ponytail and wore decent clothes. He told Mom if she'd get her act together, he'd take us to New York with him. A few days later, he came to my bed."
"He what?" Ray interrupted, his voice an octave higher than normal.
"No, no, not like that." Parker waved his hand. "There was just a curtain separating my cot from the sleeper sofa. The apartment was basically one big room and a bathroom. Mom and Fritz used the sleeper. He came over and sat down on the cot. He mussed my hair the way he always did. He told me he was leaving. He explained that if he stayed, Mom would only pull him back into the heroin. He left me a phone number. I still have it." He pulled a ragged wallet from his pocket and took out a scrap of paper. "He told me to call if things got unbearable and he would come and take me away."
"Why didn't you call?"
"He wasn't my father." His eyes darted to the ceiling. "I always wanted to meet my father."
A half-truth. Why lie now when he's been so honest? Ray closed his eyes to stop unwanted tears. "Go on," he whispered.
"Well, when Fritz left, I checked on Mom. She was high again. That was the fifth time I went to a foster home.
"Not all the foster homes were horrible. Miss Maxi was nice. She had four boys living with her. She took good care of us."
"It’s good to hear some of them were decent," Larkin said.
Parker nodded. "The others were tough, especially the last one, no next to last. The Byrds were awful—Guy and Mitzi. I spent three months with them. I finally hit back and got sent to juvey."
"They hit you?" asked Ray. "Define hit."
"Are you asking if it was spanking?"
Ray nodded.
"No. I got a few paddlings in school. This was not spanking. I can show you if you want."
"There's something to show me?" Ray gripped the edge of the table.
Parker looked at Larkin. He seemed to draw support from her. Weird, ran through his mind.
"Show us," she said with a nod.
Letting go of Larkin's hand, Parker started to slip his t-shirt over his head. "I'm not real comfortable with this."
"Just lift the edges. You don't have to take it all the way off," Larkin said in an encouraging, coaxing tone.
Parker took a deep breath and lifted one side of the shirt. It did not take much to realize he had been beaten with some kind of strap that had broken the skin and left scars on his back and rib cage.
Larkin could read the fury in Ray's face. "Ray, calm down," she warned.
"I'll kill the bastard," muttered Ray through clenched teeth.
"Ray, let Parker finish telling us his story. Parker, honey, what did you do to get sent to juvey the first time?"
How much can I shock them? Do I want to get sent packing? I have nowhere to go, but Ray will search my record. At least if I talk, I can tell my side. "Stealing. It was always stealing. A couple of breaking and enterings."
Ray interrupted, "You weren't armed, were you?"
"No!" Parker shook his head. "Unless you consider the crowbar I used to pry open the window a weapon." He began to fidget. "Mom couldn't keep a job. I had to eat, and I had to help Mom."
"You got money for her drugs?" Larkin asked for clarification.
"Sometimes. Other times, I just raided people's refrigerators."
"Oh, dear, God," moaned Ray, dropping his face into his hands. I'm too tired to deal with this shit.
"But I didn't steal the motorcycle," Parker declared. "I really did buy her, and I really did fix her up. She sort of kept me out of trouble."
"Yeah, a hobby will do that," said Ray, hoping Larkin wasn't reading his mind. I have every intention of tracking down Mia Godchaux and wringing her neck. Ray tried to keep the conversation going. He asked, "Well, Parker, do I have any grandchildren anywhere?"
"No. They don't put boys and girls together in juvey, and, let's face it, I've never been Mr. Popularity."
Larkin had to cover her mouth not to laugh at the response. "Well, obviously you're straight." She winked at Parker. "And drug free," she added.
"You bet. I don't ever wanna be like Mom."
Larkin patted Parker's hand. "Good. Now, we have a nice guest room with its own bath. You're not much bigger than Christopher. I think his pajamas will fit you, even if they're a little short. I'm going to raid his closet."
Parker became very self-conscious again. He raised his arm and sniffed. "Do I stink, Larkin?" he asked.
"Actually, no, but a hot bath and a clean bed will make you feel a whole lot better." She shook her head. "After you get comfy, come back and have some anniversary cake for dessert."
"When was your anniversary?"
"The thirteenth."
"Okay. Thanks. Lead the way."
Parker started to follow Larkin before Ray stopped him. "Parker, wait a sec. Who was that awful foster family?"
"The Byrds."
"And you saw LaFontaine when?"
"The thirteenth—on your anniversary."
"Parker, who was your social worker?"
"Oh, that fat woman. What was her name?" He scratched his head. "Ms. Vaughn. But not this last time. I had a nice young lady, Miss Stamper. She put me with the Taggarts. That's the one I ran away from."
"And who was your judge?"
"Salus, every time." He puffed out a long sigh. "I never got lucky and got the lady judge. Ray, why are you asking me these questions?"
"Don't worry about it." He waved his hand and shook his head. "I just want to know."
"Okay. Can I go take a bath now?"
"Yeah, go ahead. I'll slice us all some cake with a glass of cold milk. See you in a few minutes."
Parker left with Larkin, and Ray prayed. God, please, don't let Parker be the connection. He has had enough of a hard-knock life. Lord, I know he's mine, but even if he's not, let me take care of him now.

Cover by Christopher Chambers.

The suspects: Who do you think did it? Ray, Larkin, Deanna, Parker, Mia? Vote and then read to see if you were right.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Inspiration 6

Time to move on to a new book--Book 2 of the Raiford Chronicles: Heartless

Heartless takes place thirteen years after Lucky Thirteen ends. The Raifords are a little older and a little wiser, but there is another serial killer on the loose.

Ray Reynolds gets a surprise (2 actually). Both in their 40s now, Larkin tells him she's pregnant with their 3rd child on the same day he discovers his first child was not with Larkin and he has not known about the boy until that day.

The story takes a look at surviving child abuse and dealing with addiction.

Chief Raiford Reynolds had a hectic morning. He had dropped his kids at school and almost had an accident when another harried parent ran the red light near the school. Next, he signed expense vouchers for Chris and Baker to go to La Place, Metairie, and Kenner after Chris interrogated him about why Raif, who had never had tattoos, suddenly had two. It took a great deal of persuasion to convince Chris that the whole thing had truly been Raif's idea. Then, the phone calls from the press had started. Ray yelled to his executive assistant, "Tanya, don't put another damned reporter through!"
"Okay, boss. I won't even answer the phone if you say so. What about in person?"
"What do you mean?"
"There's a young man out here asking to see you."
"Is he a reporter?"
Ray heard muffled conversation.
"He says he's not with any kind of media. His name is Parker Godchaux."
After a long moment of dead silence, Ray asked, "Godchaux? Are you sure?"
"Yes, sir."
"How old is he?"
Muffled words echoed through the intercom again.
"He says he's seventeen," Tanya said.
Ray was quiet for a long time before Tanya asked, "What do you want me to do, boss?"
"Send him back."

The young man who entered Ray's office was very polite as he extended his hand across the desk when Ray stood. "Hello, sir. Thank you for seeing me. I'm Parker Godchaux."
Ray simply stared at the boy who looked just like Mia except the eyes that looked back at Ray were reflections of his own. Parker was not much bigger than Mia at around five-foot eight or nine and around a hundred forty pounds according to Ray's estimate. His dark brown hair hung limply like his mother's to his shoulders and was parted on the left side. He needed to shave since the sparse facial hair looked scruffy. He was clean, but the clothes he wore were cheap and a bit shabby. His gray sweatshirt was from a school in Metairie and had obviously been laundered many times, and his jeans were inexpensive, perhaps a Fred's Dollar Store purchase, with tears in both knees. He wore boots which looked to be of a fairly good quality although scuffed and worn. Wonder if he picked those up at a Goodwill. Ray took all this in quickly, but he could not get past the boy's eyes. Finally, Ray shook his hand. "Mia's son?" Ray asked, still stunned.
"Yes, sir. Mia Godchaux is my mother."
The words that came from Ray's mouth next sounded as if someone else was speaking. "Am I your father?"
The answer Ray received was even more shocking. "I don't know, sir. My mother never said for sure, but I would like to know. That's why I've come. I have a few possibilities. I'd like to ask you to do a paternity test."
Ray scowled. "Any chance that Robert LaFontaine is one of your possibilities?"
"Yes, sir. I already asked the Senator if he would take a paternity test, but he refused."
"Of course, he did. That would've been a mighty big skeleton in his closet."
"What about you?"
Shocked by Parker's frankness, Ray gestured to a chair. "Sit down."
Parker took the seat but held his fists in a tight clasp.
Ray responded to his question. "You're definitely a surprise." He sat back down. "I never even knew Mia had a child. If you are my son, I didn't know. If I had…"
"Would you have married my mother?"
Ray was honest. "I don't know. I'm sure we would've ended up divorced, but I would have been a father to my child."
"Thank you for that," Parker said with wisdom far beyond his years. "Does that mean you'll take the test?"
Ray rubbed his head. Well, shit. It's not the boy's fault, no matter what. He nodded. "Yes, Parker. Come with me. We can get the criminology lab to do it right now. It'll take a couple of days to get the results. I'm sorry, Parker. I swear I never knew about you."
Ray stood and Parker followed his example.
"I know you didn't, sir. Nobody knew about me. Thank you for admitting at least the possibility that you could be my father."
Ray took Parker to the lab a few blocks away where both had blood drawn. Then, both walked back to the police station. Ray asked, "Where are you staying?"
"I've got a place."
"With friends here?"
"Not exactly."
"A homeless shelter?" Ray's eyebrows shot to his hair line.
"Yes, sir."
"No. That will never do. Get your things. You're coming home with me."
Parker shook his head. "No, sir. At least not until we know the truth. I'll come by your office in a couple of days but thank you for the offer." Back in front of the police station, Parker got on a motorcycle and left.
Ray turned around in circles a few times, feeling his life was spiraling out of control. He jogged inside the station and spoke to his assistant.
Ray went home.
Larkin had not called him. Obviously, there was nothing seriously wrong, and he needed a few moments in the arms of his guardian angel at that point in time. Oh, my God! How do I tell Larkin? Ray asked himself as he drove.

Ray walked into his house to the scent of his favorite meal. He remembered the first time he had tasted Larkin's rotisserie chicken and how beautiful she had been across the table from him. She had changed very little in the thirteen years they had been married. She was short and slight, and she might have gained five pounds. Moreover, there was not a strand of gray in her auburn hair. She was forty-one, but she didn't look a day over thirty.
Larkin came into the foyer where Ray always left his shoes. "Welcome home," she said brightly as she slipped her arms around her husband.
"Oh, this feels good," sighed Ray. "Where are the kids?"
"Spending the night with Uncle Raif. Come on. I made your favorite meal." Larkin took Ray's hand and led him to the cozy dining area off the kitchen. He sat down quietly as Larkin spread dinner.
"Are you feeling better?" he asked.
"A bit. At least I'm really hungry tonight." She looked Ray over. "You look so tired though," she observed. "What's wrong?"
"I need to talk to you about something that happened today."
"All right, but I have something for you first. Do you mind?"
She's so happy. He could not douse her enthusiasm. "No, I don't mind."
Larkin handed Ray his gift. "Open it."
He opened the box and took out the baby shoes. "What's this?"
"What does it look like?"
"Baby shoes."
"Why do I need baby shoes?"
"You don't."
Blue eyes looked at his wife who had a Cheshire-cat grin on her face. He exhaled, "Oh, my God!"
Larkin came around the table and sat on Ray's lap. "Yes, it seems we forgot something after the masquerade ball. You don't seem as excited as I thought you would be."
"Oh, Larkin, of course, I'm happy. It's just that you don't know what happened today." Ray rubbed his head.
"Are you getting a migraine?"
She went to the kitchen and came back with Ray's prescription. He took a pill as she said, "Maybe you had better tell me what happened today because this is not the reaction I expected from you."
"I don't know how to tell you, especially now."
"Just say it." Her tone was a bit brusque.
"I met a young man today. His name is Parker Godchaux. I'm almost a hundred percent certain it should be Parker Reynolds."
"What?" She sank into her own chair.
"He's Mia's son, and I think mine."
Larkin looked at Ray in total disbelief before she whispered, "Is he the right age?"
Ray nodded.
"And he knows he's not Robert's?"
"No, he doesn't know. Mia might not know. He asked me to take a paternity test, and I did. Robert refused. We'll know for certain in a couple of days."
Her head leaning to one side she asked, "What does he want, Ray?"
"Just to know who his father is. He wouldn't even come home with me. He's staying in a shelter, Larkin."
"Where's Mia?"
"I don't know. I don't think he knows. Please, say something to make me feel better."
"I don't know what to say, Ray. If he's your son, it happened before I ever met you. I can't be angry or jealous about that, but I'm scared Ray."
"I would never leave you and the kids. I love you, Larkin."
"I know that. I also know you and your sense of justice. If he is your son, then you'll want to be his father. And you should. I'm not afraid of Parker. I'm afraid of Mia."
"She has kept this secret from you for nearly eighteen years. Your kid is sleeping in a homeless shelter. I'm sorry, Ray, if this doesn't sound like me, but that woman is a heartless bitch. If I ever meet her, I will give her a real piece of my mind."
Larkin stood. "My husband's child will not sleep at a homeless shelter tonight. Even if that child turns out to be Robert's, he will not sleep in a homeless shelter tonight.
Come on. We're going to find him. It's time for him to know his father."

Cover by Christopher Chambers.

How I see the Raifords in their 40s and one of Ray's surprises--Parker.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Inspiration 5

My antagonist for Lucky Thirteen did not come easy. The majority of serial killers a white males between the ages of 25-45. Be careful what you research on the Internet. I have expected multiple agencies to knock on my door. But that was the information I found. Very few women commit serial murder. However, that's what I wanted: female and stark raving mad, bat-shit crazy. I am having a hard time getting just the right picture in mind for my antagonist. I have four possible pics below, after the excerpts from the book. You have to help me decide. Your votes will choose what Latrice might look like.

As the public health facility closed, Ray Gautier loitered on the street, hood shielding his face, but eyes alert. He waited until the tall, muscular woman with short dark hair came out. She saw him and vigorously walked over. "What's wrong?" she demanded. "What are you doing here?"
"She wants a bath," Ray babbled. "She won't stop bugging me for a bath. She's giving me such a headache."
"A bath?" The woman held her hands in the air and shook her head.  "I don't want her grimy, moron. She has to be spotless, clean, pure. You haven't touched her or anything, have you?"
He knitted his eyebrows together. "What do you mean?"
"You're a man, a pitiful excuse, but a man. You know what I mean."
"Oh." Ray shook his head. "Momma's voice wouldn't allow me to do that."
 "Be a good boy." A half smile crossed her face. "Listen to your momma."
"Oh, I do."
"I hope so. Mommas give good advice. Let me clarify one thing. When's your birthday?"
"January 13th."
Latrice shook her head. "Not a Gemini. Mommas usually give good advice, just like me. You didn't listen to me very well with the Dupree kid. He's crazier than you. You should've picked someone less volatile."
"Are you still mad at me?" Ray looked at the ground and shuffled his feet.
"No, you got me what I wanted. In addition, the little thug is off the streets. How's Larkin's cut?"
"Healed, and only a tiny scar. I snipped the stitches just like you said to. I'm sorry." He bit his lip like a little boy. "Don't be mad at me. You're the only person who cares about me."
"I'm not mad. Do you need more money?"
"Yeah. She really likes Mexican food. Oh, did I tell you she wants a bath?"
"Yes," she hissed. She took out her wallet and handed Ray three crisp one-hundred-dollar bills. "I only have three hundred on me. Go get a big washtub and some bath gel that smells really good. Connect a hose to the faucet in the bathroom. And pick her up something clean, but cheap, to wear. I have a special garment for her day. And take a bath yourself. You stink." The woman started to turn away.
"Huh?" She whipped back toward the hooded vagrant.
"When is her day? Why is it so special?"
"I already told you why. She'll culminate the purification process. She'll bring forth he who will stop the chaos."
"And the voices?"
"Yes, Ray. I promise your voices will stop."
"How? Will you give me some new medicine?"
"Something even better. Trust in me, Ray." For a moment Ray thought he could see a forked tongue and he envisioned Kaa, the snake from The Jungle Book.
Latrice's voice went on in its hissing fashion. "The voices will stop forever. I promise. I'll take care of you just as soon as Larkin has fulfilled her purpose." Latrice, her dark maroon scrubs swishing, stalked away.
The vapors from her voice hung like ice shards in the fall air. Ray shivered.
He crumpled the money in his fist as he realized the voice of insanity had just spoken to him. He did not want anything Latrice had touched. As he walked down the street, he handed the cash to a homeless bum who wondered why someone as bad off as he was would give him three hundred dollars...


Looking Death in the Eye

Wearing a long inky robe, the figure that stood before Ray and Larkin looked like a ghost from the Spanish Inquisition. The very comparison terrified Larkin. She shuddered, her face blanched, her eyes stretched wide.
Latrice, in a smooth, even voice, said, "What's wrong, my little lamb? Are you afraid? I promise tonight you'll help bring the world to where it should be. You must feel honored to have been chosen."
"Chosen for what?" squeaked Larkin.
"Ah, relax, my dear. I have something for you that'll relieve all your concerns. Now, you must get dressed."
From a hanging travel bag, Latrice removed a medieval patterned wedding dress. Brocade flowers outlined the rounded neckline and the deep V waist. Long flowing tippets draped delicately over tight-fitting sleeves beneath.
"I'm not getting married," said Larkin defiantly.
Latrice scowled. "No, no, you're not, dear," she agreed. "Just put it on. Unlock her wrist, Ray. If you choose to be uncooperative, I can have Ray dress you. Would you like him to see you naked, dear?" Latrice said condescendingly.
Ray unlocked the cuff and gently, discreetly rubbed Larkin's wrist in assurance. If you only knew what I would like from Ray, she thought. Her jaw clenched.
Larkin slipped behind the curtain and put on the dress. It was an exquisite article of clothing, made of the finest linen and silk. If she were donning it for another reason, she would have been ecstatic. The dress would have been exactly what she would have chosen for her wedding.
Larkin stepped out, Ray drew a sharp breath, and Latrice cooed, "Oh, my! You are perfect. Come now." She motioned with her fingers. "I have something for you." She thumped a syringe.
Larkin backed away. "I think not!"
"Come now. Everything's fine. This is just a little artificial relaxation."
"You are not sticking me with that needle. I have been locked up and chained up, but I refuse to be doped up."
Latrice's demeanor changed abruptly as she commanded, "Ray, hold her."
"No. I won't hurt her."
 "Hold her. Now!" Latrice snapped. Ray stood still.
Latrice grabbed Larkin's wrist, but Larkin squirmed away. It took several minutes for the former Marine to subdue the smaller woman. During the struggle, Larkin saw Ray's hand at his back, but she managed to shake her head.
Shit! Shit! Shit! raced through Ray's mind. God, I'm really praying. Please don't let that kill Larkin. This is my fault. I'm an idiot. Please help me keep her safe.
With a sharp movement, Latrice twisted Larkin's arm, pinning her against her body, forcing the other arm straight. With her free hand, the nurse injected something directly into Larkin's median cubital vein located in the crook of her elbow on the straightened arm. It took over a minute to inject the liquid. The solution was not enough to render her unconsciousness; but becoming like a rag doll, Larkin slumped onto the bed.
That done, Latrice glared at Ray. "You useless, crazy bastard! Bring her with us and don't argue."
He lifted Larkin gently in his arms. "Be brave," he whispered. "I'll take care of you."
 "I know, but be careful," Larkin whimpered, her words slurring. "She'sh shtark raving mad." Unable to fight for herself, her head drooped onto Ray's shoulder.
Well, that explains why the victims didn't struggle, he thought. It has to be some form of tranquilizer. With all the blood drained, a tox screen was near impossible on the victims...

Raiford Gautier hunched over his drawing table reviewing his latest blueprint. He rubbed his arms with his hands to warm them as the room had become cold. Pounding on his door brought a scowl to his brow. "Stop banging! I'm coming!" he said as he bounced down the stairs and headed for the door. "That had better be Chris coming to babysit me early."
Raif jerked the door open and tried to slam it closed just as fast as he stared at the muzzle of a hand gun in the grasp of Latrice Descartes. Before he could shut the door, the barrel exploded in his face. The bullet caught the edge of the door and then the right side of Raif's head. He fell backward with a thud.
A faint scream came from the townhouse next door. "What was that?" Carol Johnson asked her husband as they lay in bed.
Lieutenant Terry Johnson jumped up. "A gunshot. Get Sheena and stay in the bathroom." He reached atop the highboy, snagged a black case and spun a combination, grabbed his nine millimeter, and popped in the clip. He raced to his front door.
"Terry, be careful!" Carol cried.
"Dial 9-1-1."
Latrice stood over Raif and gloated, "I'm finally rid of you. Now, I can finish what I started." As she started to fire another bullet, this one into Raif's chest, the Johnsons' door flew open and Terry trained a gun at the escaped prisoner...

Larkin fluffed her wet hair with a towel and shuddered in the cold air. She heard a racket at the front door. Cyclops arched his back, his hair standing on end. Warily she dropped the towel and listened. Hearing nothing else, she descended the stairs cautiously. She pulled her robe more tightly about her when she saw her front door wide open, the lock shattered. She looked beyond the door to see Raif's car pulled onto the lawn, leaving deep ruts in the pristine landscaping.
Larkin called, "Raif?" as she reached the door. Her breath hung in the frosty air.
"You wish," answered a menacing voice behind her.
Larkin started to run for the yard, but Latrice grabbed her hair and yanked her backward. Latrice pinned the much smaller woman to the floor and brandished Larkin's own butcher knife. "You don't get to die as fast as that weasel of a traitor, Gautier," Latrice hissed. "No. You're the final offering. I suppose your white terrycloth robe will have to do as a sacrificial gown."
Larkin struggled fiercely beneath Latrice's weight. A piercing yowl stabbed the air as a large one-eyed black ball of fur landed on Latrice's face. The woman flung Cyclops from her, but his attack gave Larkin enough leverage to get free.
She stumbled to the fireplace and grabbed the fire poker. Latrice, blood streaming from her face, advanced on Larkin. Larkin swung the poker with all her might. She caught Latrice across the left arm, but the former Marine wrenched the poker from Larkin's grasp.
As Latrice hurled the fire tool across the room into a lamp, Ray's Mustang screeched to a halt beside Raif's Nissan. Larkin screamed. Latrice punched her in the face. Larkin fell to the floor, stunned and dazed.
Latrice sprinted to hide behind the open kitchen door as Ray entered, weapon drawn. Larkin watched the scene in a blur.
Seeing Larkin on the floor, Ray momentarily let down his guard, starting toward her. Latrice sprang from behind the door. She plunged the butcher knife into Ray's side and abdomen again and again.
Larkin roused and screamed. Ray toppled to the floor. His gun slid across the wood. Latrice bragged, "And I got the twin, too, Momma. Now, the sacrifice."
Like a slow-motion movie sequence, Latrice started toward Larkin again. As if by reflex, Larkin inched to Ray's fallen weapon, clutching it in desperation. She pointed the gun at Latrice who cackled like a classic cinematic witch.
You are the one who will end this echoed in the frigid air, along with the sound of large fluttering wings.
Larkin closed her eyes. She pulled the trigger until the gun made no more sound.
All was silence; the air, comfortable. When she opened her eyes, Latrice Descartes lay dead only inches from her.
Larkin dropped the gun and crawled to where Ray lay still as death. She gathered the man into her arms and sobbed, "Ray, don't leave me. Please, don't leave me."
Larkin did not hear the sirens or see the police or rescue personnel burst into her house.
All went black.

Cover by Christopher Chambers.

The candidates:

Inspiration 4

There are a host of minor characters that complete Lucky Thirteen, but today and tomorrow, I will give you the last two major characters: the fly in the ointment and the real antagonist.

Our fly: Have you ever felt betrayed by your best friend, stabbed in the back? Well, that's where I found my inspiration for Robert (pronounced Row-Bear) LaFontaine, the prosecutor in this story. He is sexy, charming, and deceitful. Oh, yeah, he's an excellent barrister, but what he did to Ray Reynolds ALMOST cost Ray true love. 

Things that Go Bump in the Dark

Upon leaving the courthouse, the unlikely quintet comprised of Detective Raiford Reynolds, Agent Christine Milovich, Prosecutor Robert LaFontaine, Raiford Gautier, and Larkin Sloan went to dinner to celebrate the resolution to a very trying time. The other agents and Brian Baker, along with Olivia, his wife, joined them for a short time before the agents prepared to head back to FBI headquarters. Chris had made arrangements to stay longer to ensure Latrice was properly incarcerated.
Dinner consisted of never-ending pasta at the nearest Olive Garden, along with numerous glasses of champagne, prompting Raif to declare, "I guess we all know why we brought my car. I'm the DD."
Nobody differed with Raif's statement. The agents ate, toasted victory, and left. Baker and his wife departed shortly afterward. However, after a couple of hours, Ray finally snarled at LaFontaine, "For God's sake! Get your hands off the woman!" when Robert took Larkin's hand in his.
"Ray! Mind your own business," Larkin hissed.
"I am," Ray argued.
"No, you're not. You're minding mine. I think we've celebrated long enough." She calmly placed her napkin on the table.
With the check paid, the group left the restaurant. Raif whispered to Chris, "Sit in the back with Robert and Larkin please. I'd like to avoid bloodshed in my car."
Chris nodded and whispered, "Just don't put me between Ray and Robert."
Raif delivered everyone safely home beginning with Larkin. He dropped Robert at his apartment and Chris at her hotel. He scowled at Ray, whom he intended to take home with him. He passed Ray's turnoff.
"What are you doing?" Ray groused.
"Being your big brother. What the hell is wrong with you? If you want Larkin, go for her, but stop making a fool of yourself."
"Hasn't she made it clear that she doesn't want me?"
"No, but she has made it quite plain she doesn't want to be with a jerk."
"Ha!" Ray laughed sardonically. "Then why is she letting LaFontaine fondle her?"
"Jeez! Ray, what is it with you and Robert?"
"Nothing. I don't like him." He grunted. "That's all."
"No, it's not." Twin intuition kicked in. "It's Mia, isn't it? Your former fiancée went to Robert when you and she broke up. He's Rob, that so-called best friend you mentioned." He glanced at his brother. "Am I right?"
"Yeah! You're right!" shouted Ray. "Then he went to a hundred more women, and Mia was too self-absorbed to realize she threw away someone who loved her. Larkin is doing the same thing, and he'll break her heart."
Raif pulled onto the shoulder of the road and stopped the car. "Talk to me, Ray. What really happened? You know everything about me. You know all about Abigail. Why can't you share this with me?"
Ray laughed bitterly. "Raif, you don't even know all about you and your ex, and I don't want to lose my brother now that I've found him."
"What are you babbling about?" Passing headlights illuminated Raif's confused frown.
"What happened to you in New Orleans is at least partly my fault."
"How do you figure that? What the hell are you talking about?" Irritation began to edge the brother's tone though his volume remained low.
"Robert…Your mugging…If I hadn't stayed with him to get a tattoo, I could've stopped it. I know who did it. I was there at Mardi Gras. They were my fraternity brothers. Maybe being associated with me is the problem. Maybe I'm the monster that goes bump in the dark."
"Fooyay! Fooyay! Fooyay! You are so full of bullshit." Raif hit the steering wheel in frustration. "Or maybe it's just booze tonight. Are you trying to drive me away? Is that what you want so you can wallow in self-pity? Ray, absolutely nothing that has happened to me is your fault. Nothing, Ray. Absolutely nothing that happened to Larkin before you met her is your fault. What happens to her from here on out might be your fault if you don't get over what happened with Mia and Robert. One of the best things you can do is talk about it. Stop keeping everything bottled up inside."
Ray drew back his fist all the way to his shoulder for maximum force and started to punch the windshield.
"Whoa!" Raif barked. "If you break my windshield, you will pay for it, brother or not. Now, stop acting like such a damned idiot and talk to me."
Ray grunted, slouched back into the seat, and folded his arms over his chest, looking like a petulant child.
Raif unsnapped his seatbelt and pivoted in the driver's seat to look squarely at his brother. "We are not budging from this spot until you talk to me."
Ray released a deep, heavy, almost tearful sigh. "Four years ago, I was still a patrolman. It wasn't long before I became a detective. Brian Baker was my partner. We responded to a domestic disturbance call. The woman's drugged-out husband was holding a gun to the head of her child, a boy about thirteen or fourteen. The man had his arm around the boy's throat, dragging him backwards. Boy and Mom were screaming. The guy turned his gun on us." Ray dropped his arms and stiffened his back.
"Then what?" Raif prompted.
"The kid was gutsy. He jostled the jerk's arm, and we were able to disarm the low-life." He paused.
Raif encouraged, "Go on."
"Yeah, yeah. But not before the gun discharged and struck me in the shoulder. It's ironic," Ray continued. "The kid was Dupree Parks. I recognized him in lockup, but he didn't recognize me out of uniform. He came between his mother and her slug of a husband and almost got killed for it. Dwight Funchess, that was the slug's name. He had used her for a punching bag for a long time. The poor woman was covered in scars. Her eye was almost swollen shut and her lip was encrusted with blood." Ray clenched and unclenched his fists. "I got shot, not life threatening, but Mia completely freaked out." Recounting the event had taken him back to the place and time. He hit his shoulder where his scar was located.
"Freaked out how?"
"We had only been engaged a month. I wasn't even out of the hospital when she walked into my room and announced she couldn't handle being a cop's wife." Ray snorted. "She handed me her engagement ring right in front of a damned nurse. When I was discharged, I went to talk to her." He held up two fingers. "Two days. That's all it took. Robert was there, shirt unbuttoned, hair tousled; and she was wearing lingerie. I'm not a fool. I put two and two together. It was going on before I got shot." Ray ran his fingers through his hair.
Raif listened with little interruption. With a low whistle, he said, "Finish, Ray."
After a great sigh, Ray continued. "Two months later, Mia caught Robert cheating on her. She wanted to get back together. All I could do was to ask her how it felt. I just couldn't do it. Not only had she betrayed me, but with my best friend. Robert and I were fraternity brothers and roommates at LSU. We had been friends since we were six. I think his actions hurt more than hers. I'm sorry, Raif, I just can't get past it.
"And, now, he's after Larkin." Ray shook his head as if trying to shake the thought from his mind. "Raif, she's a virgin. He'll hurt her in more ways than one. God! When I think about him and her, I get nauseous. I could kill him."
"Ray, Larkin is not a fool," Raif consoled. "She will not sleep with him. Give her some credit."
 "He's as charismatic and persuasive as Latrice." Ray continued to sulk. "That's why he's such a damned good lawyer. I'll give him his credit where it's due."
Raif stared at his mirror image. "Tell the woman you love her for Pete's sake."
"You're a fine one to talk! Now, take me home. I wanna wake up with a hangover in my own toilet. And don't you say a damned thing to Larkin."
Raif didn't argue but drove his brother home. Back at his place, he called Chris. "I just wanted to tell you good night," he said when she answered.
"Is everything all right?"
"It is now."
"Well, good night then," Chris said, confusion weighting her words.
"Good night."
"Sweet dreams."
"Yeah, finally."

Cover by Christopher Chambers.
How I picture Robert: