Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Near Miss...or Something









CHAPTER ONE
       Jewel heard the car coming before she saw it. By the time her feet left the flagstone paving of the sidewalk café, the panicked screams of the other patrons seemed to buoy her mid-air flight, which ended amid scattered tables and overturned chairs. Flat on her back, she blinked up at the face between her eyes and the early afternoon sun.
       “Are you all right?” A voice with a clipped accent definitely distinguishable from the cacophony of others nibbled at the edges of her confusion.
       “I think so.” She curled her toes, then her fingers which no longer clutched her handbag. “My purse.”
       “Here it is.” A teenaged girl pressed the worn leather bag back into Jewel’s hands. “It didn’t even come open.”
       The face above her shifted slightly out of the shadows and gave her a better look. Two deep creases, more like a glare than a frown, formed between dark eyes matching the black hair falling over them. His tight jaw bore traces of a heavy beard already growing back at mid-day.
       “Don’t move. Someone’s calling the paramedics.”
       Jewel glared at him. “I’m not hurt.” Despite the hands which tried to restrain her, she rolled to one side and pushed herself up on an elbow. “Did the car actually hit me?”
       The heavy hands became supportive. “No, I did.”
       “You pushed me out of the way?”
       The girl kneeling beside Jewel struck a dramatic pose. “He tackled you! I’ll bet he was a football star.”          
      “Thank you,” Jewel said, pulling the skirt of her pink cotton shirtdress over her knees. The wail of an ambulance propelled the crowd away from her. “I’m all right,” she repeated to the medic who squatted down and began to assess her.
       “Just let me make sure. What happened?”
       “Someone tried to run her down with his car, and this guy saved her life,” the girl said, shaking her head so her ponytail bounced from side to side.
       Jewel’s mouth went dry. “Is that what happened? The car deliberately tried to hit me?”
       “Looked that way to me,” her rescuer said. “Where are the police?” he asked of no one in particular.
       “Right here,” someone said. Jewel turned her head toward the familiar voice.
       “Hi, Larry.”
       “Hi, yourself.” The officer with a chief’s insignia on his wide-brimmed hat hunkered down beside her. “What happened, honey?”
       “I’m not sure. It sounded like someone lost control of his car, and I happened to be in the way, but…
       “Someone tried to run her down,” the man said.
       Larry’s jaw twitched. “You’re sure about that?”
       “I wasn’t the only one who saw it.”
       “That’s what happened.” The girl’s ponytailed continued to bounce non-stop. “What he said.”
       “That puts a different spin on things.” Larry unbuttoned his shirt pocket and removed a small spiral notebook. “Okay, nobody leave ‘til I get some statements here. Jewel, sugar, you sure you’re okay?”
       “Nothing’s broken,” the older paramedic said, “and everything’s ticking. She should probably come in and get checked out though.”
       “No,” she said. “I don’t need to go to the hospital. I’m fine.”
       The paramedics picked up their bags. “Suit yourself,” the older one said. “You’re probably all right, but if you experience any dizziness, you really should see a doctor.”
       “Thank you,” she said. “I appreciate your coming.”
       She watched Larry working the crowd, jotting down notes without seeming to even look at the little notebook. “He’s a good cop,” she said to the man whom the ponytail—now following Larry at a worshipful distance—had hailed as the person who saved her life. “I’ve known him all my life.”
       He lifted her to her feet with hands oddly delicate considering their strength.  She noticed the dark hair on the backs of his hands was also curly. “All right?”
       “Yes, but I think I’ll sit down for a few minutes.”
       “Let me get you something to drink.”
       “Iced tea will be fine.”
       “Something stronger might be better.”
       “Not at one o’clock in the afternoon.”
       He grinned. “Be right back.”
       She watched him stride toward the door. He wasn’t that tall, under six feet, but he gave the appearance of being a large man. No doubt he’d learned his life-saving tackle on a football field like Miss Pony Tail said—though from the streaks of white at his temples, it had been awhile and not around here. His speech and the way he dressed, more preppy-casual than business, labeled him an outsider.
       She unzipped her purse and checked the contents casually so it didn’t seem she was suspicious of those who had helped her. Holding her compact mirror out of the sun, she used a tissue to wipe a smudge of dirt from one cheek and freshen her lipstick.
       “I need something stronger even if you don’t,” the stranger said as he set two glasses on the table and dropped into the chair opposite her. “They didn’t have my usual, so this will have to do.”
       “What’s your usual?”
       “Planeta Chardonnay. It’s Italian. Sicilian, actually.”
       “Why an Italian wine?”
       “My grandmother introduced me to it. She still lives in Sicily, near Ragusa in the south. It’s her favorite, too.”
       “I see.” Jewel reached for her iced tea with an unsteady hand.
        “You’ve had quite a shock. Take some deep breaths.”
       She took one and closed her fingers firmly around the frosty glass. “Here comes Larry.”
       Larry pulled out the third chair and straddled it. “So, how you doing, sugar?”
       When she extended both of her trembling hands, he enfolded them in a brief squeeze. “Did you see the car?”
       “Not really.”
       “I saw it,” the man said.
       “So did half the people in the café—at least, they saw a car, but they can’t agree on the color and model--and God forbid anybody got a license number.”
       “I did. Part of one anyway.”
       Larry’s eyebrows went up. “Well, don’t hold out on me.”
       “It was a Subaru, late model—maybe the last couple of years—cranberry red, and the license number was…” He fumbled in his pocket and took out a notebook similar to the policeman’s. “…B-something-68-something-Q. I wrote it down while I was inside ordering our drinks.” He tore out the page and handed it to the officer.
       Larry shook his head. “That doesn’t sound like a Mississippi plate.”
       “It could’ve been a rental.”
       Larry tucked the paper into his pocket. “What makes you say that?”
       “I’m not sure. Just a feeling I have. I’m driving a rental myself.”
       “You a cop? P.I.?”
       The man laughed, though Jewel got the feeling he didn’t think the question was funny.
       “No, I’m an investigative reporter. That’s why I pay attention to details.” From the same pocket which had held his notebook, he extracted a business card. “Torr Whittaker. Behind the Story Magazine.”
       Larry took card from Torr’s hand. “What brings you to Diamond Springs, Mr. Whittaker? No mystery here.”
       “I flew into Jackson yesterday and drove over this morning to interview Barrett Ainsleigh, president of the college.”
       Jewel, reaching for her glass as Torr spoke, had to grab for it with both hands to keep it from flying off the table. “Why are you here to talk to him?”
       Before Torr could answer, Larry leaned toward him, his eyes narrowing. “Do you know who this young lady is?”
       “No. Should I?”
       “She’s President Ainsleigh’s daughter, Jewel.” He stood up. “I’m going to ask you to come down to the station with me and give a statement about all this.”
       Torr glanced at Jewel’s face, a study in confusion and suspicion. Her lips, slightly parted, were the only spot of color between her pink dress and the honey-colored hair falling just below her ears.  Her blue-violet eyes appeared slightly unfocused.
       His eyes cut to the uniformed officer who loomed at least three inches above him. “Am I the only one being asked to come to the station for a formal statement?”
       Larry nodded. “For now.”
       “Do you think I had something to do with Miss Ainsleigh’s near miss?”
       “Let’s just say it’s an odd combination of circumstances.”
       “I see. I’d like to telephone my editor and let him know my situation.”
       Larry nodded. “Sure, go ahead.”
       Torr took out his cell phone, punched in a single number and conveyed his message in a few clipped sentences. “All right,” he said, flipping the phone shut, “I’m ready.”
       “You need a lift, Jewel?” Larry asked.
       Her words came out in a whisper. “I have my car, and I’m okay to drive. Really.”
       “Then go on home. I’ll check on you later.”
       “Miss Ainsleigh, I…” Torr began, extending his hand.
       She kept her hands in her lap and looked away. “Thank you for what you did,” she said. As he walked away, she added, “I think.”


 Does this hook you?
Or do I need to go back to the drawing board?
(Remember this is a first draft edited lightly.)

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