Thursday Sampler: A Man of Honor by Lorna Penland
August 13, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Thursday’s Sampler is an excerpt from A Man of Honor, a murder mystery by Lorna Penland.
A Man of Honor was a semi-finalist in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards for Works in Progress.
The First Chapter
“Chief? We got a call from Sarah Hadley, the mail lady out on FM 293.” Janie’s voice squawked on Police Chief Johnson’s patrol car radio. “She says there was a bad odor coming from the Kellum house when she brought mail up to the door. She couldn’t put another letter in the box. It was filled up with over a week’s deliveries.”
“Okay Janie, I’m not far from there. I’ll check it out.” Police Chief, Royce Johnson hung up the microphone, made a quick u-turn and headed for the Kellum place, as he mentally calculated how many times over the last twenty odd years he had to visit Johnny and Clarisse. There were too many to count, but one thing for sure, it was never a social call. There was the time Clarisse accused Johnny of scratching her face so bad, she was bleeding. He was ready to haul Johnny in, until, at Johnny’s insistence, he examined Clarisse’s fingers. There were traces of skin under the nails. Clarisse finally confessed she did it to herself to get Johnny arrested.
They both were pretty drunk, so Royce drove Johnny to his uncle’s house for the night, giving them both time to sober up and work it out, as they always seemed to do.
Most incidents were easily resolved. But there was that night years before when Royce had to remove their boy from the house. Clarisse was stumbling around with a butcher knife, threatening Johnny, after shredding his letterman’s jacket. It was the one possession he still owned, proving he was somebody at one time. The kid was placed temporarily with Johnny’s mother in Tyler, until Clarisse went through anger management.
Chief Johnson pulled up in to the Kellum’s yard. The wood sided old farm house, sitting secluded among the tall post oak and pines, looked deceivingly innocent in the hot July afternoon. As Royce approached the screened front door, badly in need of fresh paint, the smell slapped him in the face like a soured dishrag. Yep, Sarah did the right thing calling this in. The chief had come across that distinctive odor before, when Old Man Jenkins was found dead from what appeared to be a stroke, a couple years back. He had been dead several days before anyone noticed him missing.
Knocking on the door, Royce called out. “Hello, anybody home?” It was common for a door to be unlocked around these parts, but the door was also slightly opened. “Hello, Johnny, Clarisse? Anyone home?” He gingerly, pushed the door open. The front room walls were black and appeared to be moving. It was millions of insects. As his eyes adjusted to the light he saw the origin of the rotten stench. A bloated body lay on the threadbare couch. It was still human enough to identify it as male and there was enough buckshot holes surrounding, to see that he had been shot in the face.
Royce did a quick search for any other bodies. It would take some time to thoroughly cover the premises, but he couldn’t stay another minute without giving up his lunch. In all his years on the force, he had never seen anything like this. He would need to bring in forensic experts for this one.
Chief Johnson headed back to his radio to let Janie know what he discovered. He then taped off the area as a crime scene.
Johnny leaned on the bar trying to hold steady as he continued to drink Theresa off his mind. She was the last remnant of his golden high school memories. Theresa stood by him after the head injury that last game of his senior year, that ended his chances of a college scholarship. All his so called friends dropped him several years ago. Now she was gone.
He was still in good shape physically. His life changing injury didn’t change his good looks and charm. In fact, it hadn’t changed him much at all, except for his confidence and feelings of failure. He now spent way too much time living in the past, afraid to move on.
By day, Johnny worked in construction. At night, he could be found at the closest bar. When he had enough booze in him, he’d find someone to listen, as he relived the glory days of playing quarterback for the Comancheros at Houston’s North Side High School.
Johnny saw her from across the room. She came back. He recognized her petit frame, with shimmery blond hair cascading just below her waist. He slowly walked towards her, trying not to show his drunken state. Just as he came up to her she turned. It wasn’t Theresa.
“Hey Johnny.” Clarisse feigned surprise.
“Hey Clarisse, I thought you were someone else.” It was hard to hide the disappointment in his voice. The only thing Clarisse and Theresa had in common were their petite frames, large blue eyes and long blond hair. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings; even more he didn’t want to spend any time with Clarisse. He knew she had a crush on him in high school. There was that party in their Junior year when she declared her feelings for him, seconds before throwing up beer and tequila all over his shoes. She seemed to always be lingering within a couple yards whenever he was out.
“Who’d you think I was?”
“No one, sorry.”
“Hey that’s okay. Whatcha up to?”
“Nothing, I think I’m gonna head back home.” “You ain’t gonna drive in your condition, are you?”
“I’m fine, I only lived a couple blocks from here.”
“I can’t let you drive. Give me your keys. I’ll get you home.” With that she sidled up close to him and slipped her hand in his front pocket and pulled out his keys. Nose to nose, all he could see was her beautiful blue eyes and he wanted to dive in as if they were a couple of mountain lakes.
“Okay, but how will you get home?’
“We’ll figure that out later.” She slyly smiled.