••• The International Writers Magazine - An Extract from the crime novel 'The Book of Ashes'
Losing the Plot
The Search for a missing writer begins ...
The rain was easing as they pulled up at 1239 Melbury. Asha stared with confusion at an empty lot, a mailbox leaning at an angle in the garbage-strewn driveway.
Delaney shrugged. “Not only missing, but he’s taken the whole damn house with him. You have to say he’s thorough.”
Rufus was agitating to get out of the vehicle.
“Wait, dog. Ash, check the mailbox. I’ll see if the people across the road have anything to say.”
“Be careful. This is not exactly a friendly neighborhood.”
Delaney climbed out and Rufus practically jumped over him in his rush to flee.
“I guess someone needs to poop.”
Delaney surveyed the tumbledown shack across the way, a rusted Chevy on blocks out front on the drive. He ignored the dog turning in circles looking for the best spot and made his way towards a front door that showed many signs of having been kicked in more than once. He knocked and stood well back and to one side in case they were armed.
The door opened a crack. “Yeah? Who is it?”
“Delaney. City Investigations. Looking for your neighbor, Wolfie Sigurdsson.”
The door opened wider. A professional beer gut emerged first, the rifle next, Delaney was staring at a massive ginger beard before noticing the torn vest and baggy underwear.
“If he owes money, kiss it goodbye Mister. He drove his motorhome out of here about a month ago. Didn’t say goodbye.”
Delaney nodded. The rifle wasn’t pointing at anything in particular, he wasn’t worried.
“I don’t suppose you have any idea of where he might go?”
The guy laughed revealing several missing teeth. A woman was calling him from inside.
‘Vern? Who is it, Vern?”
Vern rolled his eyes, irritated. “Got to go. Don’t bother looking for Wolfie. Right now, he’ll be conning some other mark out of their money. You have to give him some respect. He’s fucking ace at parting people from their money.”
With that Vern retreated and slammed the door.
Delaney looked down and saw a steaming pile of shit had been left dead center of the yard. Rufus was looking all yippy skippy it was out of his system. Delaney was sorely tempted to leave it but knew his civic duty and withdrew a biodegradable shitbag.
“You had to do it right there, didn’t you. What have I said about using the curb?”
He scooped, then dumped it in the guy’s stinky bin. He wasn’t going to notice any.
Asha was standing by the vehicle with his mail in her hands.
“Lot of red ink – last chance mail.”
Delaney nodded. “Figures. Don’t open them. Put them back. The law is very clear on other peoples’ mail.”
Asha did as instructed. Delaney opened the door for the dog and Rufus jumped inside. “Wipe your paws.”
Rufus ignored him, of course.
Asha stared at the empty lot. “He just took the money and ran? Doesn’t make much sense. Ten thousand dollars would have been good money for a guy living in a motorhome. All he had to do was write the book. I mean, that’s his job.”
Delaney shrugged. “We don’t know his circumstances. Might have owed at lot of money to someone and didn’t want to hand it over. We do know he’s getting final notices though. It’s a good incentive to get out of town and hope it all goes away. Never underestimate the capacity for a person to fuck up.”
“You think he owns the lot?”
“Maybe, but you can bet he hasn’t paid taxes on it. Let’s go Ash. At least now we know we’re looking for a guy in a motorhome. He’s got to park it up somewhere. I have someone who can get us his license number. Drop me in town. I’ll Uber back.”
Asha belted up and drove away. She thought about her own fuck ups in her first year at university, all because of a stupid, inconsiderate boy. She took a deep breath, nope, she wasn’t going there again. Not thinking about that at all. She glanced at Delaney who seemed deep in thought. Funny how things turned out. She’d taken that job he’d offered her and hadn’t crossed her mind back then that she’d fall for him and now they’d been together for over two years. “You think you’ll ever get a beer gut like Vern, Delaney?”
Delaney glanced down at his stomach and laughed. “Feel free to shoot me if that ever happens. Jeez, he couldn’t have been more than thirty.”
Asha nodded. “No going back from that."
Delaney pointed out a stopping point. “Drop me there. "
Delaney entered Bookbank and was happy to see it was busy. Being the last surviving bookshop in the city it was quite a feat. He went up to the first floor where the boss reigned supreme. He seemed happy to see him.
“Mr Delaney, you’ve been avoiding us I think.”
Delaney stared at Mr Abrams astonished to see him standing and looking remarkably well. They shook hands and then sanitized. It was hard to give up on that now.
“I owe you everything, Mr Delaney. That woman you recommended works miracles.”
Delaney smiled. “Jasmina is the genuine article, Mr Abrams. I hope you were generous with her.”
“Did exactly as you suggested. Had a new front door fitted. She was very hard to persuade to accept it, but I insisted. I have my life back. No pain for a year now.”
“Same for me. I keep expecting it will come back but so far, I’m clear.”
“It restored my faith in everything. I send her flowers every chance I get. Coffee? Come, we’ll walk there. Imagine that. I can walk the floors again. The staff are much more alert now I think.”
“Thank God. Sales are up. We are having a good Christmas so far. Is this a social visit or are you investigating another scam?”
“You ever hear of a local writer called Wolfie Sigurdsson?”
Mr Abrams pinched his nose like he’d discovered a bad smell. “Terrible writer, awful person. How he ever got published I’ll never know.”
Delaney accepted his coffee and moved to one side to let a customer through.
“Seems he specializes in writing paid-for biographies.”
Mr Abrams shook his head in sorrow as he took his tea to a tall table near the window.
“I heard about that. Sad fact of life. There really is a sucker born every minute. I blame social media. Everyone with the slightest following thinks they’re so important everyone wants to read about their sad little lives.”
Delaney sipped his coffee. “He’s been doing this a good while. I’ve got a client who paid ten grand up front. Seems Wolfie took the money and vanished, took his home with him too.”
Mr Abrams held a hand over his steaming cup to ease his joints. “You know how many writers actually make ten thousand in a year? You could probably count them on your fingers. I suspect he’s quite the salesman.”
“I think so.”
“I take it your client didn’t like the finished product?”
Delaney shook his head. “There’s no product. Client’s highly aggrieved.”
Mr Abrams nodded. “I should say so. But if you knew Wolfie, you wouldn’t be surprised. There were rumors about him killing his wife until she turned up with a new lover. Sort of man people hate on sight. Can’t believe people pay him up front.”
“So, you wouldn’t have any ideas about where he might go?”
Mr Abrams took a slug of his tea and thought about it. “He used to run a workshop at a writers’ retreat up the coast at Bridgetown. It’s pretty remote. I sponsor a course there once a year. They might know where he is or where he goes. It’s a long shot. I’ll get you the address.”
Delaney smiled and drank off his coffee. “Thanks. It’s a start and it’s great to see you looking so well.”
“You too, Mr Delaney.”
“Oh yeah, I need a couple of good crime novels. A present for a woman who likes them pretty hardboiled.”
Mr Abrams eyes lit up. “I will find you some personally. There has been quite a good crop of new titles this fall. Funny how people never tire of murder mysteries. You’d think after Covid and Ukraine everyone would want happy stories.”
Delaney shrugged. “I heard misery loves company.”
Another extract from Book of Ashes here
© Sam Hawksmoor April 2023