Friday, September 10, 2010

Preview of Rainey Days by R.E. Bradshaw

Preview Chapter 1 of the new lesbian fiction novel

by R.E. Bradshaw

Copyright © 2010 by R. E. Bradshaw


      Rainey heard the key turning in the ancient lock, the bolt finally receding with the familiar clacking sound, after much key jangling. The old front door creaked open and closed again, reaching a higher pitch on the return. She heard the sound of the Open/Closed sign, hanging in the front window, as it flipped over and slapped against the glass. Small feet, in heels, clicked across the concrete slab floor. Rainey continued to lie face down on the old, leather couch, her back turned to the new occupant of the room. Instead of rolling over, she took several deep breaths, taking in the scent of her father’s cologne that still lingered on the worn leather.

     The aroma of fresh brewing coffee roused Rainey from her morning haze. She rolled over, blinking against the morning sun streaming through the east windows, casting rays through the small dust particles dancing in front of her. She groped for the sunglasses she left on the coffee table, in the wee hours of the morning. Once found, the black Ray Bans were hurriedly placed over the area where she was sure her eyes used to be, before the hot stinging coals, located there now, replaced them. Sitting up, she tried to focus her blood shot green eyes on the small gray-haired woman standing by the coffee pot. That was her first mistake of the day, because once eye contact had been made, Rainey became a target.

     “It seems the good Lord did not see fit to delay the sunrise today, so that means the office is open at its regular time,” the older woman drawled. “Of course, if you had gone to sleep in your own bed, in that adorable cottage next door, this would not be a problem. But, since you saw fit to crash on the office couch in your clothes again, it appears you are here and ready to go to work.”
     Ernestine Womble had been behind the front desk of the office, as long as Rainey could remember, and showed no signs of retiring anytime soon. Ernie, that is what everyone called her, came to work for Rainey’s father before Rainey even knew who he was. At sixty-seven, Ernie had not lost a step or her looks. Her once free-flowing, blonde hair was now pulled back tightly into a gray bun, but her petite figure had never changed. She dressed that figure immaculately, rain or shine, and her makeup always looked professionally done. Today, she was wearing her favorite lavender power suit with the mood to match. Ernie was one of those women who just got better with age, even though her attitude was a little less than pleasant this morning.

     Rainey only grunted in reply. Her vocal chords were not ready to go to work yet and her head felt like it would burst any minute. She slowly untwined her 5’ 10” lanky body and stood on shaky legs. Standing may not have been the thing to do, because it added to the pounding in her head. She placed her hands on both sides of her skull, pressing hard against her chestnut waves, in case the contents did decide to explode.

     “Good Lord, child. Sit down before you fall down,” Ernie said, placing a hand on Rainey’s elbow and easing her back down on the couch. “I’ll get you some coffee. You just sit there.” Ernie’s heels clicked across the floor while she muttered under her breath, “She’s going to kill herself, if this keeps up. She is a grown woman. If her daddy were alive, he’d straighten her out, no doubt about it...”

     Rainey heard Ernie’s comments, as she was meant to. Ernie was not trying to conceal her disappointment. Rainey had to admit Ernie might be right, because at the moment, she felt as though she might die any second. Too much tequila and not enough sleep were taking their toll on her recently turned forty-year-old body. Rainey felt her stomach roll over as Ernie approached with the coffee. She was up from the couch and out the front door in a flash. She rounded the corner of the building before the contents of her stomach abruptly left her. She bent over, hands on her knees, retching, then the dry heaves set in.

     Rainey did not move when gentle hands pulled her hair back. She had not heard Ernie approach, but knew it must be her. She was startled when the deep voice spoke behind her.

     “Go on, get it out. You'll feel better.”

     “Damn Mackie, you scared the shit out of me,” Rainey said, standing and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

     The extremely large, very dark, black man produced a handkerchief from the front pocket of his Hawaiian print shirt. Mackie had a large collection of Hawaiian shirts that took the place of the ever present black leather trench coat he wore in the cooler months.

     He handed the soft white cloth to Rainey, as he spoke, “I see you had another rough night. You got to get a handle on your demons, Rainey. You can’t go on like this.”

     Rainey retched again then wiped her mouth with the handkerchief and stared up at the large man. She knew he understood demons. He had his own. Miles Cecil McKinney, or Mackie as his friends knew him, had served with her father in Vietnam. His demons came from deep in a far off jungle.
     Mackie was a giant of a man. At six feet six inches, he was built like a defensive end, which he had been for the New England Patriots, before he got in a little trouble and had to join the Army. He ended up in Special Forces, where he met Rainey’s father and they became lifelong best friends. Mackie worked with her father until he died a little over a year ago. Her father left Mackie forty-nine percent of the business and he stayed on to help Rainey run the place, as her partner.

     “I don’t need a lecture right now, Mackie,” Rainey said, as she walked past the big man and headed back in to the office.

     Mackie shook his head and followed Rainey. “You are as stubborn as your old man,” he said, as he entered.

     “Amen to that,” Ernie called out from behind her desk.

     “I don’t need you two ganging up on me right now,” Rainey countered. “I need a coke. Are there any cold ones in the fridge?”

     “If you didn’t use them all for mixers last night, there should be,” Ernie replied. Rainey did not bother to tell Ernie she did not chase tequila with coke and went to the back room to find one, but she could still hear Mackie and Ernie talking.
     “Mackie, you’ve got to help that girl. She cannot go on like this. It’s been getting worse lately,” Ernie said, with real concern in her voice.
     “I’ll talk to her, but you know this is something she’s got to deal with on her own,” Mackie tried to whisper, but his deep voice carried anyway. “She’s got to come to terms with all that’s happened in her own way. It won’t do any good to fuss at her.”

     “Come to terms with it,” Rainey said to herself. She had been trying to do that for a year now and it only seemed to be getting worse. Most of the time she could handle it, but when the nightmares came back recently, she had begun to spiral downward, as she had right after it happened. The drinking kept the dreams away, but left her in her current state, hung-over and dead tired.

     Rainey leaned back on the refrigerator. She was downing her second coke when she heard the front door open and close, cutting off the conversation in the other room. Ernie’s chair scraped the floor as she stood up.

     “Why Representative Wilson, what brings you to this part of the world?” Ernie was using her best Southern drawl, a sign that this was a “somebody.”

     “Good morning, all. It’s just JW to the home folks. I was looking for Rainey. Is she around?”

     Rainey stepped out of the back room to see JW Wilson, a high school friend, who had become a State Representative and was rumored to be moving up the political ladder at rocket speed. JW was always good looking, but Rainey never thought he would grow into such a handsome man. He had the looks and the old money background to make it big and he seemed to be on his way, from what Rainey had read in the papers.

     “Well, JW Wilson, as I live and breathe,” Rainey said, as she crossed to JW with her hand extended in greeting. “It’s been fifteen years, at least, since I last saw you.”

     “Rainey Day, you look as good as ever,” JW said, as he shook her hand.

     “Wow, nobody’s called me that in years. It’s good to see you,” Rainey smiled, even though her head continued to pound.

     “I spoke to your mother last week.” JW continued, “She’s the one who told me you were out of the FBI and had taken over your dad’s business.”

     “I’ve been back here almost a year now,” Rainey said, as she noticed Ernie and Mackie staring at them.

     “I’m sorry; let me introduce you to Ernestine Womble, our office manager and M. C. McKinney or Mackie, my partner and my father’s oldest friend.”

JW went into politician mode right away. Rainey observed him as he shook both of her office mates’ hands vigorously, looking deep into their eyes as he spoke, “It’s so nice to meet you both.”

     The true politician, like Bill Clinton, could always make you think you were the only one in the room. JW had studied at the feet of the masters and was, from all accounts, a very good student. Rainey could see how he was able to woo his public. She smiled at him as he turned back to her.

      “Rainey, is there somewhere we could talk privately?”

      “Absolutely, let’s step in here,” Rainey said, leading JW to the adjoining room.

     Rainey opened the wooden door that divided the rest of the building from the main office. The two old friends entered what Rainey called home base. In the far corner, stood an old, spindle leg, wooden table that served as her desk. All of the furniture looked as old as the building itself. Beside the desk was another smaller wooden table occupied by Rainey’s computer, monitor and printer. In front of the desk were two worn leather chairs that matched the couch in the other room.
     Rainey’s office was on the backside of the building and faced the water. All along the waterfront wall were large screened in windows, with wooden shutters propped open to reveal a boat dock and canal that led out to Jordan Lake. Along the facing wall were wooden shelves, painted an antique pale green and a short, stainless steel topped counter. The counter had been a hold over, from when the building was a bait shop and small grocery. On the shelves, Rainey had placed pictures of her father; some in combat uniforms from his war days, but mostly pictures of Rainey and her father throughout the years, fishing or visiting some far off place.

     Her father’s combat medals and burial flag hung prominently in the center of the wall, over a stained wooden box containing his ashes. Rainey liked to shake the box, to hear the small pieces of shrapnel that still remained in his body from a long ago war. When she did, she heard his voice telling her the old war stories of how each scar made its mark. On the wall, to the left of the door they entered, hung two dry erase boards with pictures of fugitives taped above their information, hand-written underneath in various colors.

     JW looked around the office, stopping to stare at the boards containing the fugitives’ pictures. He turned to Rainey after a few minutes and she offered him one of the old leather chairs.

“Have a seat,” she said, rounding the counter and digging into the old cooler that remained from the bait shop. “Can I offer you a coke or coffee?”

     “Coke’s fine,” JW said, perching on the edge of the seat, in the old leather chair.

     “I was sorry to hear about your father’s murder. Billy Bell was a great man.”

     “Yes, he was,” Rainey, answered quietly. “I’m glad they caught the guy. I understand you had a hand in that.”

     “No, really that was all Mackie. He’s very good at hunting people down and he was extra motivated, because he loved my father,” Rainey said, finally retrieving the cokes and wiping the cans off with a towel.

“So you’ve taken over your father’s bail bondsman business. I guess bounty hunting isn’t too far from what you did at the FBI.”

“The training has been useful, I must admit.” Rainey sat in the other chair and handed him his coke. “When dad died, I was already thinking about leaving the bureau, so opportunity knocked and now I am the proprietor of Billy Bell’s Bail and Bait. We don’t sell much bait, but dad was a great fisherman and always kept the bait box full, so the name stuck.”

     “It looks like business is booming,” JW said, indicating the fugitive pictures. “I thought life would slow down after leaving the Bureau, but I must say we keep pretty busy,” Rainey answered, then took another swig of coke. Her brain was starting to make a comeback from hung-over land. She began to wonder what would bring JW to her door, after all these years.

     “Now, what can I do for you?” Rainey asked. “I know you didn’t come all the way out here for a social call.”

JW shifted uncomfortably in his seat before he answered, “I’m in a delicate situation and I need someone I can trust to handle it.”
     Rainey laughed, “I guess if you can trust me not to go to the papers about some of the crazy, and might I add illegal, things we did in high school, you can trust me with just about anything.”
     “That’s why I came to you,” JW said, laughing along with her. “You’ve kept my secrets all these years.”
     They laughed for a moment then JW turned serious, “I have been trying to deal with this on my own, but when your mother told me you were here and what you were doing, I thought it was a God send.”

     Rainey was intrigued, “I hope I can help.”

“I do to,” JW said, looking away at the water before he spoke again. “It’s my wife. Someone is stalking her.”

     “Have you been to the police?” Rainey sat up taller in the chair, becoming more attentive.

     “Yes, we went to the police when it first started. You know they can’t do anything until we know who it is and catch him doing something illegal. So far, he has only sent pictures and notes. I have copies with me, if you’d like to see them.”

     “Yes, I would,” Rainey, said reaching for the envelope JW took out of his breast pocket. She began looking through the envelope, while JW continued his story.

     “This all started six months ago, right after we had the accident and lost the baby.” Rainey looked up from the pictures, “I’m sorry for your loss.” She had said that so many times in the past fifteen years, it had become automatic.

     JW took a deep breath and continued, “Thank you, we had been trying so long, we thought we were finally going to succeed. Anyway, a week after Katie came home from the hospital, that’s my wife’s name, Katie, we received the first picture. The dates are on the back,” he indicated the pictures in Rainey’s hands.

     Rainey flipped the pictures over, examining the dates, then studying the pictures again. “Your wife is very beautiful,” she said, still looking at the woman in the photos. The pictures showed a blonde woman involved in daily activities. Some were close ups, showing her big blue eyes and stunning smile. She was a natural beauty, thin and tanned, the perfect wife for a good-looking politician, Rainey surmised. Rainey looked up from the pictures, “I agree, you do have a problem, one that usually doesn’t go away on its own.”

     JW stood up and began to pace while he spoke, “That’s what worries me. I tried to take steps to keep Katie safe. I hired a bodyguard to pick her up and take her wherever she needed to go. She hated it and refused to cooperate.”

     “Sounds like she doesn’t want to let this guy interrupt her everyday life. Can she take care of herself?” Rainey asked.

      “She thinks she can, but I’m not so sure. There’s no telling what this guy will do,” JW said, pacing even faster.

     Rainey put the photos back in the envelope, as she said, “Well, as long as she’s careful, she should be safe until the stalker makes his move and you can identify him. Then it’s just a matter of follow through with the courts.”

     JW stopped pacing and stared down at her, “I want this guy caught, before he makes his move. I can’t take the chance that he gets to her.”

     Rainey could see he was desperate, “I understand your anxiety, but I’m not sure what it is you want me to do.”

      JW sat down again, “Follow her, stalk her yourself. See who else is following her. Whatever it takes to find this guy.”

     Rainey stood up and crossed behind her desk. “JW, I’m not really set up to handle a full time surveillance job and my plate is a little full right now, but I can recommend a good...”

  JW cut her off, “No, it has to be someone I can trust. This can’t get out to the media.”

     Rainey was surprised, “Why? You’ve done nothing wrong.”

     “I’m a public figure. I am about to run for Senator. If the media gets wind of this, it will be front-page news. It could send the guy over the edge,” JW gushed out.

     “If you went to the police, there’s already a public record,” Rainey said. “Any good reporter could dig this up.”

     JW looked sheepish. “I didn’t exactly go to the police. I had one of the State Troopers, at the capital, run the photos and envelopes for prints, but no prints were found. I can’t go to the local police because I don’t want strangers poking around in our private lives, not during a Senate campaign.”

     Rainey sat down behind the desk, “So, no one is working this case?”

     “No.” JW paused before pleading, “I really need your help Rainey.”

     “I’m a bounty hunter. You need a private investigator,” Rainey explained.

     JW countered, “Then I’ll pay you a bounty for catching this guy. How about twenty thousand dollars plus expenses?”

     She looked across the desk at her old friend. They had been best buddies long ago and kept each other’s childhood secrets. She really wanted to help him, but something told her he was not being completely honest with her. Maybe it was the fact he was a politician that made her not trust him. Whatever it was, he did need help and his wife could be in danger. The money did not hurt either. Rainey sighed and picked up a pad and pencil, handing it across the desk to JW.

     “Okay, I’ll help you. I need you to write down some information.”

      JW visibly relaxed. He took the pad, prepared to write. “What do you need to know?”

      Rainey went immediately into agent mode, “I need Katie’s full name and your home address. Does she work?”

JW shook his head, yes.

     Rainey continued, leaning back in her chair, “Work address and any other places she goes frequently. Also a description of her vehicle and tag number, names of her closest friends and associates, anything you think could be relevant to the investigation.”

     JW began to write vigorously, as Rainey went on, “I’ll need to see the original photos and the envelopes they came in. Didn’t you say there were notes? I didn’t see them in the envelope.”

      JW answered without looking up, “They’re at my office. I’ll get them to you this afternoon.”

     “Will your wife be aware that I’m following her?” Rainey asked.

     JW stopped writing and looked up. “I think it’s best if she doesn’t. She might act differently and tip him off.”

     “Okay, that’s fine. She won’t know I’m there,” Rainey assured him. “You know I have to tell Ernie and Mackie what’s going on, but since I trust them both with my life, you’ll have to trust them too.”

     “Yes, of course. I’m sure you’ll need help anyway. Katie is a very busy person,” JW said, before going back to his writing.

     Rainey stopped asking questions and busied herself behind the desk. She checked her calendar and made notes to give to Mackie later. They had a full board of skippers this week, which was going to mean hiring extra help. Over the years, her father and Mackie had put together a small posse of part-time bondsmen they used when the job called for more work forces. Mackie would definitely need to contact them, because Rainey was not going to be around to help. She knew from experience surveillance jobs can eat up many hours.

     Although she still had her doubts about JW’s full disclosure of the facts, Rainey was glad to have an investigation to occupy her thoughts. Maybe this would keep the dreams away. It had to be better than drinking herself into a stupor every night. That plan was not working out so well. She was brought out of her thoughts by JW’s voice.

     “I put down everything I could think of,” he said, standing and placing the pencil and pad back on the desk.

     Rainey stood up, crossing to stand in front of JW. She handed him one of her business cards, “If you think of anything else, just email it.”

     “Rainey, I can’t tell you how much this means to me. I feel better already,” JW, sighed in relief.  “There’s one more thing, though. I want you to call me, not the police, if you identify the person. I’ll know if he’s dangerous or not.”

“What if you don’t know him?” Rainey asked, a little hesitantly.

“Then I’ll leave it up to you as to what to do with the information,” JW answered.

“Okay, I’ll call you first,” Rainey agreed then shook his hand and began leading him to the door. “I’ll get started this afternoon. Do you know where your wife will be around three o’clock?”

     “Katie is an elementary school teacher. She leaves school around four every day. I wrote the address down for you,” JW was saying, as they entered the main office.

     Once through the threshold, Rainey noticed an immediate difference in JW’s persona. He visibly changed into the smiling politician, turning to her and shaking her hand again.

     “Thank you again for visiting with me. We have to stay in touch more often,” JW said, more as a cover for their real conversation than an actual invitation to strike up their old friendship. Before he left, he made sure to speak to Ernie and Mackie, leaving cards with them, should they ever need to discuss legislation.

     Rainey marveled at the transformation he made into Representative Wilson, from the anxious husband to whom she was just speaking. She had to wonder if that was all an act as well. After all, she knew a teenage boy all those years ago, not the grown man who just walked out the door. Something began to nag at her, but she set it aside. Twenty thousand dollars plus expenses was a lot of money. Hopefully, it would be easy money. As soon as that thought crossed her mind, she heard her father’s words echo in her head, “Rainey, nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.”

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