A Better Class of Angels was my second published novel. It was written to a writing technique known as the provable premise. In this case, the "provable premise" was this: You can fall in love with someone you've never actually met.
ABCOA was inspired by all the stories I'd heard over the years of couples who met via the 'net. I secretly wondered how anyone could possibly trust someone you couldn't see, hear or touch in real time. Today, things are different but what about the time before high-speed internet and good-quality webcams? What about a few years ago? So many of the things we use to judge someone's truthfullness--tone of voice, body language, micro-expressions . . . those weren't possible with dial-up internet, grainy digital photos and jumpy webcams.
In ABCOA, Sheriff Jack Talburt investigates a bungled kidnapping and ends up seeing himself in the victim's unfinished book. He becomes fixated on the idea that the woman who wrote it has some secret insight into who he really is. Of course, she doesn't but . . . well, if he understood that, the book wouldn't be very interesting, would it?
Wednesday, November 2nd, Walker Road
Locke County Sheriff Jack Talburt saw the pulsing blue lights of his deputy’s patrol car long before he rounded the hairpin curve on the narrow county road that ran along the old bayou. As he pulled his patrol car in behind a sleek black Lincoln he saw his department’s only female deputy walking briskly toward him.
“Whatda’ we got, Bev?” he called as he lowered the window of the white patrol car and inhaled the dank bayou air.
Beverly Stutt was a forty-five year old fireball who had somehow found her way to Locke County after more than twenty years in New York City’s police department. Exactly how she wound up in Jack’s jurisdiction was the speculation of much gossip among the working-class residents of the rural county but Jack didn’t care. He appreciated the attention to detail Beverly paid to her work and the deliberateness she brought to every one of her cases. “There are no petty crimes,” she would tell the younger deputies, “there are only petty criminals.”
“OK, Jack,” she said as she watched him work his hands into the pair of yellow latex gloves
she handed him. “The Lincoln belongs to a Paige Bennett. She lives out near the old pump station in Cypress Bayou.”
Jack interrupted her. “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about her. She’s the one who bought the old strawberry farm last year, right?”
“Um, yeah,” said Beverly as she glanced down at her notepad. “Anyway, apparently she’s some kind of book writer because she missed a meeting this morning with her agent.” Beverly jerked her head in the direction of the white Cadillac parked across the road. “The agent claims she got worried when Bennett wouldn't answer the phone so she came out, found the house empty and then found the car sitting here like this. She called it in as a missing persons about an hour ago.”
“A missing persons,” mused Jack. He studied the immaculately groomed woman who was leaning against the white car and picking invisible lint from her shoulders. “How long has our supposed vic been missing?”
Beverly rolled her brown eyes and said in a low voice, “Two hours.”
Jack furrowed his brow and glanced at the woman standing beside the Cadillac. She was now picking at her nails and examining the backs of her hands in the early morning sunlight. She was obviously annoyed and wanted Jack to know it, too, he saw.
“Yeah,” said Beverly, following is gaze. “She’s a real piece of work. Threatened to call the governor’s office if I didn’t get you out here ASAP.” Beverly glanced at him and shrugged. “But, hey, I was working the school zone anyway so at least I was close.” She flashed him a wry
A Better Class of Angels
smile and continued, “And there was no way I was turning her over to Zach. That woman would’ve eaten him alive.”
“OK,” said Jack. “I take it you’ve got a full statement from her already.”
“Yeah.” Beverly hesitated then went on. “Look, Jack, I’m sorry. I probably should have held off before I called you but . . . well, this one just doesn’t feel good. I got a brand new laptop and a leather briefcase full of credit cards sitting right there on the front seat and the keys are still in the ignition. And when I first got here that coffee cup was still warm to the touch.”
“You do prints yet?” Jack already knew the answer but he asked anyway because he knew Beverly expected him to.
“Yep. Won’t know for sure until we get a set of hers to compare to but right now it looks like all the prints belong to the same person. I got prints off the steering wheel and both sides of the driver’s door.”
Jack studied Beverly’s caramel face. She was genuinely concerned and that worry was etching itself into the furrows of her forehead. “You go into the woods yet?”
“And leave Queen Prissy Pants alone with the car? Not a chance,” Beverly said, smiling again. “But I did pop the trunk. Nothing.”
Jack drew in a long breath and said, “OK, Bev, thanks. Why don’t you call Zach and have him run out as soon as he’s finished with that break-in at the vet’s office? Stay with the agent until he gets here and then come find me. I’m gonna’ take a quick look around.”
Jack watched his deputy steel herself for what they both knew would probably be another
confrontation with the agent. As his deputy turned to walk away he shifted his attention to the abandoned Lincoln and then looked at the leaves that were littering the cold November ground and thought about what his deputy had said. She was right--this one didn’t feel good. In his twenty years in law enforcement Jack had worked a handful of investigations in which a massive search for someone ultimately turned up a case where the “victim” simply got into his car one day and never looked back but this didn’t feel like that at all. This Bennett woman had apparently just pulled off to the side of a rural road for some reason, gotten out of her car and simply vanished.
Looking down at his feet with every step Jack began to walk into the wooded area that he knew separated the county road from the shallow bayou that lay just over the small levee.
Then he saw it. Staring up at him from a still-green fallen leaf of a sweet gum tree was a tiny red drop of drying blood. He immediately scanned the leaf-covered ground for more and, a few feet away, saw a second drop. Then he saw a third and a fourth.
“Bev,” he said into his shoulder mic, “I’ve got a trail.”
“OK,” came her reply. “Danny just left with the agent so stay where you are and I’ll grab my kit.”
Jack was torn between looking for more blood and fearing not being able to find the first droplets again if he took his eyes off the ground. Fortunately he didn’t have to wait long. In only a few moments Beverly arrived carrying two investigative kits and a canvas camera bag.
A Better Class of Angels
She put the plastic kits on the ground, unfastened their lids and began to pull out various tools.
“Show me,” she said.
It took fewer than ten minutes for the two investigators to find and follow a lengthening trail of drying blood running more than six hundred feet back into the deepening woods. Jack worked quickly, identifying the individual blood droplets and marking them with small yellow flags while Beverly lagged behind, taking time to photograph and then collect each droplet while documenting its exact location using her handheld GPS unit.
Finally, seeing no more blood, Jack stopped and looked back at the road with a sinking feeling in his stomach. As he studied his location he saw that the top of his patrol car was now only barely visible behind the small rise he had just navigated. The black Lincoln was completely hidden in the dark shadows of the trees, he realized. If this blood belonged to the Bennett woman and she had come this far into the forest for some reason she could easily have become lost just a little further into the woods.
Then Jack’s eyes fixed on something he couldn’t quite make out but as he stared at the spot and tried to make sense of what he was seeing he realized that no more than two hundred feet away, fully exposed to the crisp November air, was a bare human arm draped over a decaying moss-covered log.
“Beverly!” Jack began to run toward the arm and found it attached to a small, unconscious woman in a dark red wool suit. One of her black leather shoes was missing and her white silk
blouse and red jacket were so badly torn that she was nearly naked from the waist up. Drying blood was splattered from her head to her feet and much of it, Jack realized, had likely come from the oozing wound on the side of her head.
He knelt beside the woman and smoothed the blood-soaked hair away from her pale face. For a long moment Jack didn’t breathe. Then the hint of a faint and irregular heartbeat pulsed under his middle finger. Jumping up, Jack began to pull off his jacket and screamed at his deputy.
“Bev! I got her! She’s alive. She’s just barely alive.” He watched his deputy, still hundreds of feet away, pull a mobile phone from her pocket and knew she was calling for an ambulance. He knelt back down beside the still woman and covered her with his jacket.
“Ma’am? Ma’am, can you hear me? We’re getting you some help. You just hang in there for me. We’re getting you some help.”