Monday, February 14, 2005

BC: Pounding Feet—Part II

It’s a large Burger King bag, lying on its side.

Deep in my gut I know it came from the same car that tossed out the duffel bag. It is just too unusual for this neighborhood.

I draw to a halt and survey the mess. Spilling from the bag is an empty super-size French fries holder, one burger box, a ketchup rectangle, and a large cup. Complete with plastic cover—and a straw.


A chill cleats up my spine. This is the likely “smoking gun.” If the saliva on that straw leads to the same person whose fingerprint is lifted from the wallet . . .

Reason argues. Some kids on a cruise last night—that’s all this is. No missing man, no murder. Clean up the trash like a good citizen.

But I’d be throwing away crucial evi—

Clean up the trash.

I ogle the bag, ambivalence playing tug-of-war within me. Vaguely, I wonder if anyone is watching from a window. He’ll think I’m crazy. Irresponsible, too, if I simply jog away.

I step into the street and force myself toward the items, half repulsed at what I’m about to do. How much harder this deed will render the detectives’ job. How apologetic I will be.

The French fries holder is empty. The ketchup rectangle contains only dregs. I pick them up along with the hamburger box, shove them all into the bag. The cup gives me final pause. I linger over it, then slowly slide it in as well. It sticks halfway out the top, the straw a stubborn radar tower. On the other side of the street sits a stack of recycle bins, waiting for pick-up. None is meant for this mixture of paper and plastic, so I lean the bag against them, hoping some conscientious sanitation employee will sort them accordingly.

I jog away, knowing no worker will take the time. Relieved at the thought. If the bag sits there another day, perhaps it won’t be too late to retrieve it when the missing persons case sputters to life.

My brain spins plot points and twists. Tomorrow I will see the newspaper article. I will call the police with my information, lead them to the Burger King bag.

It will be gone.

The man—a popular P.E. high school coach—will be found dead. Lacking enough evidence to be convicted, the killers will go free. My fault. The town will hate me. The guilt I will face—

No, wait. Through bulldog detective work, the battered bag will be traced to the dump. Inside will be the French fries holder—yielding only one identifiable print. Mine. The straw will not be recovered. Other circumstantial evidence will amazingly point to me. The police will see my story of finding the wallet and bag as a cover-up. Town citizens will cry for a swift breaking of the case, pressuring the D.A., who’s up for reelection. Police will jump to arrest me, newspaper headlines applauding their success. My husband will set out to find the real killer. He and my daughter will fall into mortal danger.

What will I do?

I will cry to my God to protect them. I will shake my fist at the heavens. God, You gave me the conscience that made me pick up that wallet, that trash. Is this my reward? Will He save me from conviction, my family from harm? Or will He let these nightmares, too, swallow me whole?

I turn the final corner onto my street, slow to a walk. The voices of fiction and reality chatter in my head. I reach my door, knowing full well tomorrow’s newspaper will contain no article about a missing referee.

But I will not start my run without checking the headlines.

~ Brandilyn Collins, author of Dead of Night and other “Seatbelt Suspense”

Sunday, February 13, 2005

BC: Pounding Feet—Part I

Why am I on this blog? I have my own. I post Monday through Friday, and lots of writers come along to discuss the craft of fiction. I can be my fun-loving, ridiculous self there (in spite of the excruciatingly deep and dynamic fiction techniques I teach, of course). But, hey, it’s my blog.

This is not my blog. Here, I am among known and respected authors of fiction with a Christian worldview. They hold discourse on how faith finds it way into their stories. Their posts are all so . . . erudite. So intellectually stimulating. Athol opines about understanding God in an evil world. Jane talks about commitment. B.J. discusses writing grace. Angie waxes poetic on discernment of distractions. Okay, so Jack confesses to being a blog virgin, but even amid this unlikely topic he manages to speak Roman and quote classic literature.

Part of me wants to pull out my own favorite phrases from Goethe and Milton. Weave into them some awesomely divine topic. Match wit for wit, I.Q. point for I.Q. point.

The other part says, “Aaah, what the heck.”

So I’m joggin’ down the sidewalk early in the morning last week, minding my own business. Every day I run the same five-mile trek through a well-kept and expensive residential neighborhood. Been doing this for twenty years. I know this area.

Deep into the second mile I pass a large black duffel bag on the street near the curb. Open. Clothes spilled out. As if it’s been tossed from a moving car. Quite untoward for such a tidy neighborhood. My suspicious suspense-writer brain kickstarts. I ignore it. So somebody threw a bag out of a car, so what? My stride doesn’t break.

Until I register the wallet.

Of their own accord, my pounding feet slow to a halt. I turn and eye the brown leather on top of the clothes. Someone will surely steal any money in it. The Good Samaritan within me is alarmed.

I hustle back and pluck up the wallet, looking for an I.D. Perhaps the person lives nearby, and I can return the stuff. The thing’s empty. No money, no cards, no driver’s license, no pictures. I turn it over in my hand, study it. The leather’s so flat. Maybe it’s never been used. Or maybe . . .

I survey the clothes. Pants. A red knit shirt. I turn the shirt over and find some sort of referee badge sewn onto its front. Something clickety-clacks beneath the clothes. I catch a glimpse of pens and coins.

My imagination roars into full gear.

I drop the shirt, back away from the clothes. What have I done? This is evidence. Whoever this guy is, he’s surely been kidnapped, maybe killed. My brain does some clickety-clacking of its own. Probably two suspects at least, because the duffel bag would have been thrown out the passenger window. They stripped the wallet to slow down detectives. No victim name—no suspects, no trail.

I have just left my fingerprints on the wallet.

They will be good prints. Before I left home I put lotion on my dry hands. Lots of oil to leave behind on that leather.

Sanity raises it head. Girl, you need to chill. I have written one too many suspense novels. Surely there’s an innocent explanation for this mess at my feet. And nothing I can do about it, either, not without an address. I double check my Good Samaritan conscience. It is saddened but acquiescent.

I resume my jog.

The strewn items scream at my back.

Facts stubbornly crowd my mind. I brand them into memory. They will be important when the police are faced with a missing persons case. I left my house at 6:08 a.m. Yes, officer, I remember exactly. I checked the grandfather clock as I slipped out the door. Which would have put me at the place of evidence around 6:25. I will explain how my prints got on the wallet. They will fingerprint me to ferret out this false lead.

Who was kidnapped? Why? Is he still alive?

I finish the second mile, attack the third. Dark scenarios of blood and terror weave through my head. In the fourth mile, reality rises once more, waving frantic hands. It catches my attention, pulls me from the grim tapestries. Space and time join the argument, each step I run away from the bag, each passing moment, calming my errant thoughts.

There is an innocent explanation.

I cover circuitous streets until circling back a mere half block from the duffel bag. Temptation to veer off-course, recheck the items, crooks a seductive finger. I resist, sold out to the belief that all is well.

Until I see more scattered evidence in the middle of the road.

~ Brandilyn Collins, author of Dead of Night and other “Seatbelt Suspense”