Today, I’m posting an excerpt from my short story MOTEL NOIR from the anthology Lesbians on the Loose, here in my blog. I hope you enjoy it. The book launch for the anthology is coming up in Portland, Oregon on June 18th, but the book is already available online if you can’t wait to buy it. I’ve ready several stories already, and I can’t blame you if you don’t want to wait!
MOTEL NOIR by Sandra de Helen
Sunlight bounced off every bright surface in the motel parking lot. Even with sunglasses on, my throbbing migraine made me feel like something was piercing my right eye. I managed to unlock Room 202 and stumble into the dimness, grateful for relief from the light.
In an alcove next to the motel door and under a clothes pole full of bent wire hangers sat one of those fold-open luggage racks. I tossed my overnight bag toward it, flipped up the back of my trench coat like I do when I don’t want to get anything on my coat. Call me cheap, but it costs more to clean my coat than it does to wash my pants. I sat heavily on the side of the six-inch deep queen-size mattress that made this room cost five dollars more than the economy rate.
I sat for a long while, waiting for my head to calm down. Now the light wasn’t my primary irritant, I noticed the smells. The room was funky–cleaning spray over an odor I couldn’t identify. What did I expect? The place was a dive and always had been.
Once my head could bear movement, I stood up, removed my coat, and reached for the bifold doors of the closet. I hadn’t got it open more than a few inches when a Hulk arm fell out and grabbed my booted ankle.
I damned near pissed my pants, if you’ll pardon the expression. They call me a tough dame, but I might have leaked a drop or two. Okay, he didn’t actually grab me, because he was dead. But he touched me. I jumped straight up and clear across the room. I had a gun in my hand before my feet hit the floor. I didn’t scream, but I did choke out some blue words. That Hulk arm is lucky I didn’t shoot it, I can tell you that.
I have a license for my Sig Sauer. I’m a private eye. Helen Black is my name. Go ahead, make the joke, I’ve heard it all my life. “You look like Helen Black. And not so great in white either. Har har har.” So guess what color I wear every day. And guess how many kids got a black eye courtesy of Helen Black when I was in school? Then I told them they didn’t look so good in black either. Har har har.
I didn’t pull the Hulk out of the closet — that would have been tampering with evidence. I opened the bifold doors all the way, put on a pair of non-latex gloves and felt for a pulse. None. Then I got out my LED flashlight, got down on my knees and took a good look. The arm that had touched me was still attached. To a black man, about six foot, give or take a couple of inches, two hundred pounds or so, maybe thirty years old — hard to tell from this position — wearing jeans, hoodie, sneakers. Given the amount of blood on his shirt, it looked like he maybe died close to where he was lying. I guessed the maid had skipped the closet. Good job cleaning up the room, guys. Yuck.
Did I want to deal with this? I could just pick up my bag, go back to the front desk and say I didn’t like the view. Give me a different room, or my money back, and I’d go on down the road. Let some other sucker deal with Mr. Hulk. After all, I already had a migraine. I didn’t know this dude, or the motel owner, or anyone involved. I didn’t owe anyone my time or energy.
Why oh why did I study ethics in college?
I picked up my bag, walked down to the front desk and told the clerk we had a problem. I let him dial the police and get me a new room on the opposite end of the building. I stashed my bag and went back to the room to see if I could be of any help to the Oceanside Police Department.
Chief Andi Whitehall herself showed up. Her only deputy was off duty, seeing as it was Christmas Eve. Yeah, that’s why I was at the Oregon coast, it’s what I always did. No family of my own, no partner for the past five years. I got a cheap room, watched the waves, and waited for the day to be over. This year I happened to have the added benefit of a headache, which began to lift a couple of minutes after I met Andi.
Andi reminded me of a darker, fuller-figured Halle Berry. She had short natural hair, a muscular build, a great smile, and looked like the kind of person you’d want to lie next to. Maybe. We’d have to see what she thought when she looked at me. Really looked at Helen Black, PI, not just me as a witness. While we waited for the medical examiner to arrive, I told her I was a private investigator from Portland in town for the holidays, and would like to tag along on this case. I assured her I knew how to stay out of her way, and how not to trample or otherwise mess up the evidence. There was no reason in the world she had to let me get involved. The only involvement I ever had in Portland was to go on a ride-along with a uniformed officer.
After she heard my plea, she decided to let me come along, so long as I behaved professionally. I promised, and didn’t even cross my fingers behind my back. This was a woman whose respect I craved from the first moment I saw her.
We made a good team collecting evidence, getting the pictures, waiting for the medical examiner. Basically she did all the work and I held stuff when she asked me to. When the medical guy got there, Andi took a few more pictures for the record, then the medical examiner did what he needed to do before moving the body.
Once the body was gone, Andi put up the yellow tape and sealed off the door. Then she had to leave, and she asked me to follow her back to her office to make my official statement. I jumped to do so. Once I’d written out my account, she poured us some coffee and we went over our notes as if we were partners instead of newly met friends. I acted as though this type of relationship happened to me all the time in the big city of Portland. She had on her professional face as well. We both knew what we were doing was not usual, but who was watching? And what could it hurt for her to have my help? Unless of course I was the killer, but I wasn’t even a suspect.
No one had rented the room for more than a week, so no maybe this was an inside job. Andi was going to have to call in all the workers for interviews. The clerk was waiting in the other room. He’d be the first. I wasn’t allowed to sit in, but the walls were thin, so I loitered in the hall as she did her interrogation.
“So, Jason, who was this dude under the bed up in Room 202?”
“I dunno, Chief, who?”
“Don’t be a wise ass. Your records show no one checked into that room for eight days until today. This guy was shot today. Did you know him?”
“You didn’t let me up there to see him and he was covered up when the people brought him out, so I don’t even know what the guy looked like, okay?”
“Here, look at this picture.”
“Shit, man. This guy is dead.”
Lori L. Lake – In addition to writing books, Lori teaches fiction writing courses and workshops, most recently for The Oregon Writers Colony and The Golden Crown Literary Society. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is currently at work on a romance, the fifth Gun Series book, an historical anthology, and the first book in a writing guide series called SPARKING CREATIVITY: WORDS OF WISDOM TO INSPIRE YOUR WRITING CRAFT. For more information, see her website at http://www.LoriLLake.com.
Jessie Chandler is the award-winning author of the Shay O’Hanlon Caper series. Her debut novel, Bingo Barge Murder, was a finalist for a Goldie and won the Golden Crown Ann Bannon Popular Choice Award. Hide and Snake Murder, the second novel in the series, won a Golden Crown Goldie Award, and an IPPY–Independent Publisher Book Award for LGBT fiction. Hide and Snake Murder and the third in the series, Pickle in the Middle Murder, were both finalists, and Chip Off the Ice Block Murder, the fourth Shay O’Hanlon book, won the LGBT fiction category of the 2014 USA Book Awards. Chip Off the Ice Block Murder was also a finalist in the mystery category of the 2014 Rainbow Book Awards. Chandler lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her wife and two mutts, Fozzy Bear and Ollie. In the fall and winter, Jessie writes, and spends her summers selling T-shirts and other assorted trinkets to unsuspecting conference and festival goers.
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