ETWG First Chapter Book Awards: For the Children’s Sake by N. M. Cedeno

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For the Children’s Sake by N. M. Cedeno is a Finalist in the Mystery/Thriller Category of Published Books for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

The children are quarantined. Their touch is deadly. Their advocate is dead, and they want out . . .

Father Ingall Bryan is already dead, murdered outside his home, when his brother Nate finds his body. The priest had been the single-minded champion of the voiceless Allergen Children, whose inexplicable genetic mutation causes their touch to be deadly. Now that Father Ingall has been murdered, who will speak up for them?

The priest’s enemies were too numerous to count—from the families of those accidentally harmed by the children, to those fearful that the children may wipe out humanity at will. Are they ruthless killing machines, or innocent victims?

It soon becomes clear that Nate will have to find his brother’s killer on his own. Nate’s investigation raises questions that somebody doesn’t want answered. Traps lie around every corner as the killer tries to stop him and any research that could help the Allergen Children.

As the body count increases and the attacks on the researchers escalate, the situation for the quarantined children becomes explosive. Can Nate solve his brother’s murder in time to save the researchers’ lives, defuse a political time bomb, and prevent further injustice? He must, for his brother, and for the children’s sake.

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Award-Winning First Chapter

 

“The message says, ‘Don’t come. You can’t help. I don’t want you blamed if something happens to me.’ That’s the last I heard from him.” Nate handed his phone to the detective, who took it in a gloved hand and dropped it in an evidence bag.

“You ignored the message and came anyway?” said the detective with a raised eyebrow.

“Not immediately, I got the message at eleven p.m. I was waiting to hear from him, but he didn’t respond to any of my calls or texts. As time passed, I started to worry that something was seriously wrong. Then, at 1:26 a.m., I knew he was in trouble. I had to come.”

N. M. Cedeno
N. M. Cedeno

“You left at one-thirty a.m. on a Monday morning and drove from San Marcos to Houston because of a feeling that your brother was in trouble.”

“Yes,” said Nate, hoping the detective believed him.

“Then, you found him dead on the ground outside his residence,” said the detective, not hiding his skepticism.

“We’ve been over this. Ingall was dead when I found him. I pounded on the door until someone inside the building answered. I called 911. That’s it.”

The detective sighed. “No one else was around when you found your brother?”

“No one.”

Detective Janwari stared at Nate, waiting for more information, maybe expecting Nate to tell him who had killed his brother.

An uncomfortable silence filled the space between them and chilled Nate, forcing him to speak again. “Look, I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why Ingall thought something might happen. He didn’t tell me what was going on. Look at my phone. I tried to call, but he didn’t answer. I sent messages, but he didn’t respond. Check his phone. You’ll see.”

The detective stared, his face unmoving, disbelief in his dark, cold eyes. “Did your brother have any enemies?”

Nate stared back and gave a wry grimace, astounded that the detective had bothered asking that question. “Are you asking me if Father Ingall Bryan, voice of the Allergen Children’s Rights Movement, had any enemies? Are you kidding me?”

A red flush filled the detective’s face. “Did he have any personal enemies?”

“He didn’t have time for anything personal. Ingall devoted all of his time to the children. He spent all his waking hours working for them. What you saw on television was Ingall’s life. He was calm, patient, reasonable, and driven to fight for the sake of the children.”

A sneer formed on Detective Janwari’s lips, the gap between his upper front teeth making his mouth look like a lopsided jack-o’-lantern. “Those kids could wipe out eighty percent of the population with a touch, or simply by leaving skin oil on doors or, worse, in the water system. They’re born killers.”

“That’s your opinion. That kind of reasoning fed the fear of HIV-infected people in the 1980s and led to the quarantining of people with leprosy for centuries. You might want to join the rest of us in the twenty-first century.” Nate’s retort dripped with contempt that he knew he should rein in, but the detective’s response was the knee-jerk nonsense spewed by the mainstream media when they wanted to create paranoia and build suspense in order to gain the right number of eyeballs to sell premium advertisements.

Red-hot anger filled the detective’s cheeks, and his hands clenched on the table. “Look, you bastard, I know what those kids can do. They killed my cousin.”

Nate took a deep breath, but his anger bubbled up, and his words came faster and louder the more he spoke. “They killed both of my parents, too. Accidentally! No one could predict this mutation. No one went around trying to kill anyone. The kids’ parents didn’t know that their children’s skin oils would cause other people to have allergic reactions. I’m not going to argue this with you. The courts have already decided that you can’t charge an infant with murder, and you can’t charge the parents with negligence or anything else. The problem was unforeseeable! If you want to find my brother’s killer, look for people like you!”

The detective lunged forward across the interrogation table. Another officer standing to the side of the room leaped forward and grabbed Detective Janwari by the shoulders. Nate slid his chair back from the table, putting a few more inches between himself and the heaving, furious man. The second officer, a muscle-bound, dark-skinned man, shoved the shorter, leaner detective out of the interrogation room. Before the door slammed, Nate heard the detective say, “Whoever it was did the world a favor. I’d rather shake his hand than arrest him.” Nate was left alone at the table to regain his composure.

Nate propped his elbows on the table and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms. It was past ten a.m., and he hadn’t slept. He was exhausted, in need of a shower, and almost numb from the overwhelming wave of grief that threatened to eviscerate him. Ingall’s absence left him mutilated in a way he never knew was possible. The ache was beyond anything he’d experienced in his thirty-five years of life. Even his parents’ deaths hadn’t hurt this badly. The image of Ingall lying on the ground, his eyes open, and small, bloody spots on his chest floated before his eyes.

An hour and a half later, as Nate was dozing at the table, Detective Janwari returned. “Mr. Bryan, you’re free to go. Your cell phone GPS places you near your home in San Marcos until one-thirty a.m. Cell tower data and toll records show your car speeding through various checkpoints between two and three this morning. We know you weren’t present at the time of the murder. However, you need to remain available for questioning.”

The detective’s rigidly controlled speech and mask of a face clearly indicated that he would rather arrest Nate than release him. Nate began to rise from his seat, but stopped as the detective spoke again.

“Your brother was trying to help evil people that barely qualify as human. If you ask me, he got what he deserved. Whoever killed him should be rewarded for protecting the rest of humanity. If you withhold information regarding this investigation, I will have you charged with interfering in the investigation, or even as an accessory to murder! All you crazies should be jailed for helping those monsters. I have two other active cases right now. Your brother’s case will get all the attention I think it deserves! Public figure or not, he can wait his turn like everyone else!” The detective slammed Nate’s phone down on the table in front of him.

“You aren’t even going to look for his killer, are you?” said Nate as he glanced at his phone, surprised the screen hadn’t cracked.

“I will investigate this case like any other, because it’s my job. I investigate the deaths of drug dealers and gang bangers, too. Don’t you dare suggest I won’t do what is required. I’ll follow protocol with all due diligence. But, I don’t have to care for your brother’s sorry ass any more than I’d care for a murdered serial killer.

Nate slid his phone into his pocket and refrained from responding, knowing the man was trying to provoke him into attacking, looking for a reason to jail him. He left the room and the police station as quickly as possible.

If the detective hated Ingall’s work, and hated Nate for defending Ingall, Nate doubted that the detective would try very hard to find Ingall’s killer. People had despised Ingall for championing the rights of children whom they saw as a threat to civilization. Nate realized that if he wanted justice, he would have to find out who had killed Ingall by himself. The knots left Nate’s stomach. The bleak sense of emptiness evaporated, replaced by an ember of purpose. Nate was furious at the detective, enraged at the killer, and angry at the unfairness of having lost his brother so soon. He wanted to hit something, anything, more than he’d ever wanted to in his entire life. He’d fought to learn to control his temper, more or less taming himself as an adolescent. Controlled or not, the internal flame had never died out. His parents hadn’t wrongly named him when they had called him Ignatius.

His parents had chosen the names Ingall and Ignatius for the twins before their birth. They had intended for the first born to be Ingall, which meant “messenger of God,” and the second Ignatius, “meaning fiery,” but they had changed their minds when Nate had come first, with a tuft of fiery red hair on his head and a demanding, irate cry. Ingall had been born less than a minute later, with brown hair and a calm, undemanding personality.

Ingall had certainly been the messenger, even when people had not wanted to hear the message. He’d earned more than his share of enemies. One of them had killed him.

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