Here’s the first chapter of Riptide. Feel free to read along with the narrator, if you wish! 🙂
The pounding woke me. I felt for the bedside lamp, turned it on, and looked around the unfamiliar room.
The swimsuit flung onto the broken wicker chair told me I was in the right place.
My best friend Jamila and I had rented the condo for a week, a gift to ourselves before pressing flesh at the annual bar association convention in Ocean City, Maryland. I usually bypassed the conference, along with Brussels sprouts and whiny kids, whenever possible. Jamila shamed me into going, since she was slated to speak. The topic was legal ethics.
There wasn’t a room at the convention center big enough to accommodate everyone who should have attended.
We had checked in on Saturday, aka “change day” in the world of beach rentals. Not that I’d know. This was my first vacation in forever.
I’d left my case files, my calendar, my briefcase, and my cares back in my office on Main Street in Laurel. My neighbor Russell was looking after my cat Oscar in my stead. Russell is like the gay father I never had. He’s not a huge cat fan, but he’s a great friend.
More pounding. The noise came from the front door. I glanced at the bedside clock. 1:35 A.M. What the fuck?
The banging resumed. I rolled out of bed, trudged to the door and opened it. Jamila stood in the short hall between our rooms. She held a creamy white bathrobe closed across her sizeable chest.
Jamila looked amazing for someone who’d been startled out of bed in the wee hours. Despite pillow-tousled hair and sleepy eyes, she was a dusky Queen of Sheba in figure-revealing silk to my anemic court jester in striped men’s pajamas.
“Who on earth could that be, Sam?” Jamila hissed.
“I don’t know.” My words were stupid and obvious.
Another round of pounding. I moved to the door and peered through the peephole, before our visitor pounded his knuckles bloody.
On the other side stood a uniformed cop.
Sighing, I opened the door.
“Good evening, ma’am,” the cop said.
“Good morning, you mean.” Wail on my door in the middle of the night and you’re guaranteed an audience with the Wicked Witch of the West.
The cop took a step back then recovered quickly.
“Sorry to wake you at this hour—” he started.
I cut him off. “Please tell me this doesn’t have to do with our friends on the first floor. I thought we had that straightened out.”
“No ma’am. This is far more serious.”
It better be. And quit calling me ma’am.
I heard Jamila shuffle up behind me.
A female officer moved into view. She consulted a notepad. “Are you Stephanie Ann McRae?” she asked.
“Right. What’s this about?”
The woman ignored me. “And you’re Jamila Williams?”
“Yes.” Jamila sounded tired, unsure. She moved closer.
“Is this yours, Ms. Williams?” The man held up a plastic bag containing a decorative tortoise shell comb. The four-pronged, fan-shaped comb was distinctively marbled.
Jamila blinked. “Can I see that?”
He handed it to her for inspection.
“It … looks like one of mine,” she said. “One that I lost. Where did you find this?”
The cops exchanged a look.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but you need to come with us.”
“What?” I said. “What the hell is this?”
“Ms. Williams, we need to take you in for questioning.”
Adrenaline pumped through me, bringing me to full alert. “Questioning?” My voice was shrill. “What’s going on?”
“William Raymond Wesley has been murdered. We just need to ask you a few questions at the station.”
The man droned on. The night had turned surreal. I tried to get more specifics, but Jamila silenced me with a raised hand. Probably didn’t want to look uncooperative. Reluctantly, I backed down.
Everyone seemed to move in slow motion. The woman escorted Jamila to her room so she could get dressed.
Who the hell is William Raymond Wesley?
Then, I remembered.
Jamila emerged in a warm-up suit. With a firm hand on Jamila’s arm, the female cop escorted her while holding onto an evidence bag with her pajamas and robe. Jamila and I exchanged a look that said she, too, recalled how we’d met the victim.
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