Stockholm

Detective Maye has seen it dozens of times before. Stockholm syndrome. When the victim develops an affection for her captor.

He holds his hand out for the feral child hiding under the kitchen sink. If not for her wide marble eyes, glowing like orbs in the darkness, he would think no one is there.

He shines his flashlight inside. Compared to the photo he keeps in his chest pocket, she is unrecognizable. Gone is the fair-skinned angel with the free-flowing blond hair. Her skin is caked in dirt, hair a dingy orange collected in one unkempt knot atop her head. The t-shirt she wears barely covers her. She folds herself like an accordion amongst the kitchen chemicals, no bigger than a bottle of bleach.

Maye curls his fingers into his palm to draw her out. “Come on. He can’t hurt you anymore.” But then he wonders how many times this man has promised not to hurt her.

He stuffs his hands in his pockets, and child psychologist, Dr. Pridget, steps in front of him, opens her arms like a doting mother.

“You’re safe now.”

Maye thinks it’s working. The child emerges. All skin and bones, falling hair and ripped fabric. She shields her eyes to the flashing of CSI cameras. Pridget moves to hug her, but the girl drops her shoulder. On hands and knees, she crawls across the floor, between Maye and Pridget’s feet, exposing everything the shirt doesn’t conceal to everyone in the room.

A sickness in Maye’s gut tells him she’s used to being naked around men, she’s used to the heaviness of their hands, the tightness of their beer guts pressed hard against her fragile body.

They watch as she does what she’s had to do to survive for the last six months—curl herself underneath the sinking chest of the now dead man who killed her childhood, t-shirt soaked in both of their bloods.

© Nortina Simmons


This flash piece was originally published September 15, 2017, and features Detective Frank Maye, a character from my Lost Boy work in progress.

Detective Maye Chronicles: Dead End

“There’s a special place in hell reserved for people who drink diet soda.” Spence kicks the empty Coke can across the cracked asphalt, slaps his overhanging gut.

Detective Maye fits his hands into a pair of too-small black latex gloves, hoping they don’t split open over his swollen arthritic knuckles. Genetics. His father’s were just as bad, had hands the size of bear paws.

Maye picks up the can with his index finger and thumb and drops it into a plastic evidence bag. “If we’re lucky, we might get the perp’s DNA on this.”

Spence shrugs. “Or just another dead end.”

Maye rolls the bag down and stuffs it under his arm. He sighs and stares up at the spray-painted street sign marking the intersection of Fifth and Washington, sectioned off by yellow caution tape. “I just don’t understand how someone can get snatched right from the bus stop in broad daylight, and nobody sees nothing.”

Spence sucks his teeth, twists his mouth and spits on the ground to the left of his shoe. “It’s Cumberland Heights.” Which is another way of saying it’s the hood. And the hood has a rule: No snitching to cops.

“But this is a twelve-year-old boy.”

“A twelve-year-old boy who probably saw something he shouldn’t have.”

Spence turns and walks back to the car, but Maye lingers in the intersection for a few more seconds, the flashing yield light hanging overhead. Someone saw something. Someone always sees something.

Like his father. Someone notices an elderly man meandering along the sidewalk with a bouquet of flowers and a “Happy Birthday” balloon. People don’t just vanish into thin air. There’s always a trail. He just needs to find that first bread crumb.

“Mind if I drive?”

Spence shakes his head, leaves the door open and circles around to the passenger side.

“We headed back to the station?”

Maye tosses the evidence bag containing the Coke can onto the seat. He puts one foot inside and drums his fingers on the seal of the door.

“My mind’s not settled yet. Let’s do one last run through the neighborhood.”

“Your call.”

Spence ducks his head inside and slams the door. Maye can tell he’s getting frustrated. They’ve been at this scene seven times in the last three days, and no one’s talked. But with a glance at his watch, he sees that it’s approaching two o’clock. School will be out soon, kids walking home from the bus stop. One of those kids was holding a secret, and if he could just get that kid alone, without the fear of being seen “snitching,” maybe he’d be more willing to spill.

—Nortina

Missing Pieces

Bernita waited a week before revealing the secret. She was surprised it lasted this long, that no one thought to search her house or wander into her garage and discover the decaying stench coming from a heavy duty trash bag next to the chest freezer…

Because she couldn’t fit him inside. Because she was no butcher, and no matter how many times you salt and pepper it, or drop a bouillon cube into the boiling pot, you can’t make human flesh taste like chicken.

Detective Maye motioned for her to take a seat across from him. She was thankful to be talking to him and not the other guy, his partner, Spence. Spence had the whole bad cop routine nailed to a science. The permanent frown on his face, how he never blinked, walked with a stomp, accusation always in his voice. He was the reason she decided to come clean.

Lori had called her hysterical, said Spence was hellbent on sending her to prison for Gordon’s disappearance, pressing her to confess. After four hours in the interrogation room he had Lori convinced that she was somehow involved because of the fight she and Gordon had the night before. It was loud. Everyone could hear, even from across the street Bernita heard it, as if they were screaming in her backyard, right under her bedroom window.

Gordon had confronted Lori about the affair. Bernita and Lori had been sloppy, both assuming that Gordon wasn’t bright enough to figure them out, or that he wouldn’t be too upset if he did. Wasn’t it every man’s sexual fantasy, anyway? To have a girlfriend with a girlfriend—to screw them both.

Then again, Gordon never thought of Bernita as a girl. Not her baggy clothes, her deep voice, her cornrow braids.

“I have some information on Gordon.”

“Something you forgot to tell us yesterday?”

She’d invited Maye and Spence over after they had finished interviewing a neighbor. She wanted to be caught. She didn’t realize how hard it would be to dismember a body, get rid of the evidence.

The head went fairly easily, and she plopped it in a greased aluminum roasting pan. But sawing through raw bone with conventional kitchen knives proved fruitless. His left leg and thigh lay on a cutting board while the police stood outside on the front porch, listening to her concoct a story about Gordon’s online poker addiction, how he was strapped for cash and had people after him. They didn’t smell the hair burning in the oven because she’d forgotten to shave Gordon’s head. They didn’t notice the blood splatters on her apron after her unsuccessful attempts to hack his leg in half at the knee.

Or maybe they did notice. Maybe they were already on to her. Maybe nosy neighbor and devout Catholic, Mrs. Munson, told them about Bernita’s early morning exits from Lori’s house minutes before Gordon was due home from his graveyard shift at work. Maybe they were able to break Lori, and to remove suspicion from herself, she told them how on the night he disappeared, Bernita burst into their house, wielding a gun, threatening to kill Gordon because Lori disserved better.

The gun wasn’t loaded, and it turned out to be much easier to kill Gordon than pulling a trigger.

Gordon was allergic to nuts. His throat closed completely in three minutes flat after she gave him fries cooked in peanut oil.

Detective Maye reached for his side. Bernita fidgeted when she saw the glint of metal handcuffs.

“Why don’t we just start with where is he?”

Bernita bit her bottom lip. The cooking part came much later, when she realized she wasn’t strong enough to lift him into her trunk and discard him in the woods miles from town. Gordon was 245 pounds alive; dead and bloated, even after the excrement was discharged from his body, he weighed twice as much. She’d pulled her hamstring dragging him down the stairs into the garage, and then left him there three days while she figured out a plan B.

“Lori had nothing to do with it. She doesn’t know.”

Maye nodded, leaned back in his seat, and crossed his leg over his knee. “Why’d you do it?”

Bernita stared at the wall, sterile white like a hospital. She wondered if there was a reason behind the interrogation room’s wall color, if it affected a suspect’s mind, made it difficult for them think or say anything but the truth.

In her red t-shirt, against the white, she imagined the room bleeding.

Nortina



It is Short Story A Day May! Today’s prompt, “The Secret,” comes from Marta Pelrine-Bacon. This story was inspired by an episode of Snapped. It has a strange ending, but oddly enough, it feels complete. But that could also be because it’s nearly midnight and I’m on the verge of sleep. By the way does one of the characters sound familiar? Yes, Detective Maye is back! He didn’t make is as a main character in my A to Z novel, Lost Boy, but you might see him in a few short stories here on the blog!

I is for… [I]ce Cold #AtoZChallenge

He remembered it being cold that day. First day of Spring and ice cold, not uncommon in North Carolina. The state was known for its erratic weather patterns. One could experience all for seasons over the course of a week—14 degrees on Sunday, 70 by Thursday. He’d seen it happen more than once.

He remember laughing at the forecast as he dressed for work that morning. A high of 39 after such a warm February. Trees budding early, pollen already upsetting allergies, people wearing shorts and flip flops despite the groundhog predicting six more weeks of winter.

He remembered misplacing his service weapon. The case he had been working on for the last three months was getting to him. Five-year-old girl missing. Drug addicted mother suspected of selling her into sex slavery for a hit. The night before, he and Spence chased a lead all the way to the Virginia border. Black male, long dreadlocks with gold tips, fitting the dealer’s description, entering the woods behind a park with a little girl in a pink floral Sunday dress. Emerging a little over half an hour later alone.

In collaboration with the local police department, they swept that park until well past midnight, brought the hounds, half the town, the father and his family from Texas. No luck finding a body, or any trace that the little girl had even been there. It was disheartening for everyone, to be so close and still not find any answers, but what upset him more was that father. How he could leave his daughter in the hands of someone clearly unfit to be a parent.

The mother’s addiction didn’t start overnight. He remembered interrogating her back at the station. How she looked—skeletal—her words incoherent, sentences choppy, laughing at her own flat jokes, referring to random events in her past that had nothing to do with the case or her daughter, not knowing her own daughter’s name. How it was so easy for her to sell her child to the devil for a day’s high. This addiction sprung from years of seed taking root. The father knew this, and left anyway. As far as Frank was concerned, he was just as responsible.

After calling it a night due to darkness and fatigue, he remembered taking out his handcuffs, threatening the father, decking him hard in the jaw, ended up spraining his hand pretty badly because the man was built like a linebacker.

Spence dragged him home after that. He remembered crashing on the couch, waking up what seemed like minutes later to bright sunlight and his cell phone’s obnoxious ringtone.

“Don’t tell your mother I forgot our anniversary,” he remembered his father had said.

“Aw, Dad, at your age, I think she’ll forgive you,” he’d said laughing. He rolled to his side, found the floor, and balancing on the arm of the couch, pulled himself up to his feet.

“Remember, you gotta get this old one day.”

He remembered he flicked on the bathroom light, studied himself in the mirror. His disheveled hair, the ring on his cheek from how he slept on the couch. “With this job, I don’t think I’m gonna make it to that age, old man.”

“Bad news on the case?”

“Worse news is no news.” He sighed, squirted toothpaste on his toothbrush and ran it under the faucet. “At this point, we’re looking for a body. I just hate that his happened to a little girl.”

“We all do, son. She didn’t deserve this. There’s a special place in hell reserved for people who do that to children.”

He held the phone away from his ear and spat into the sink, then took a towel from the rack and wiped his mouth. When he finished in the bathroom, he said, “Yea, well they better hope I’m not the one to send them there, ’cause I’ll make sure it’s painful.”

He remembered they were silent for several minutes. Frank noticed his father’s heavy breathing on the other end and asked if his sleep apnea was getting any better. Of course the old man denied ever having a problem.

“I’ll probably be over tonight after work, around six. If nothing new happens with the case.” Frank said later.

“Don’t rush. I’m gonna run over to the floral shop, see if I can’t buy your mother some flowers.”

“Anything but roses.”

The old man chuckled. “Funny, I can remember she’s allergic to roses, but I can’t remember our blasted anniversary.”

“You remember what you want to, old man.” It was the last thing he said to his father before they hung up.

He remembered first reporting his missing service pistol that morning when he arrived at the station, figuring he must have lost it back in Virginia, after all the chaos of the scuffle. Then he had a meeting with the captain to discuss the consequences of his behavior. The father was threatening to sue, said Frank broke his jaw. Unbelievable. He could barely hold a pen long enough to write a report, but he had managed to break the man’s jaw.

He remembered there were no new leads that day. After all the promising evidence in Virginia, they found nothing. The suspect got away. The girl was still missing. He left the office an hour earlier than he expected. When he got to his parents’ home, his father had yet to return from his run to the florist that morning.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Prologues, character sketches (2) and monologues, brainstorming, outlines, backstories (read more here and here). In today’s post we take a break from Leslie and Gregory and look deeper into the disappearance of Detective Maye’s father. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

D is for… [D]etective Franklin Maye #AtoZChallenge

Today we take a look at another character in Prodigal Son*, Franklin Maye, the detective assigned to the missing persons case filed by Leslie Fields for her son Gregory.

Since his character is not as solid as Leslie’s (truthfully, I’m not totally in love with the name Franklin Maye), I want to take this opportunity to brainstorm a rough sketch of Franklin. Since he will play a significant role in this story (tracking down Gregory), it’s time I take a look at his character and start building.

When creating his character, I want to make sure Franklin doesn’t fall into the category I like to call the “literary cop cliché.” If you’re a reader of crime fiction, mystery, or suspense, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

What is the “literary cop cliché”?

  • The “literary cop cliché” is, as you can guess, a police officer, usually a homicide detective.
  • This detective works closely with a partner who is the Frick to their Frack.
  • This detective’s life is totally consumed by the job. Day and night they work, coming in early and staying in late.
  • This detective is a heavy drinker, using alcohol as a means to cope with the gruesome horrors they have seen throughout their career. In fact, the whole police department has a main bar they all congregate to afterhours before going home.
  • Speaking of home, this detective is estranged from their family. They’re never home and they are always absent from important events in their children’s lives. They don’t talk about work, not wanting to burden the spouse with the ugliness and cruelty of humanity they’ve had to experience. Because they don’t talk, their marriage is on the brink of divorce, and they’ve moved out and gotten an apartment in the city, close to the police station. On top of all that, the kids hate them.

After reading this list, give me one literary cop who doesn’t fit at least one of these descriptions. If you’ve read one “cop story,” you’ve read them all. Hopefully this story doesn’t become one of those.

So, first thing’s first…

Who is Franklin Maye?

Franklin is SINGLE. Can’t be estranged from resentful children and a nagging wife if he doesn’t have them. However, I won’t make him a bachelor, which can quickly become another cliché. Besides, he has too dorky of a name to be a hard-edged cop by day, ladies man by night. In fact, I think I’ll shorten his name to Frank. Yes, from now on, he’s just Frank Maye.

Frank lives in a one-story house (because apartments are reserved for bachelors) with his Aunt Bethel, the closest thing he has to his mother, who died earlier this year. While not at work, Frank helps take care of his mother’s kid sister Bethel, who is suffering from early onset dementia, the same disease his father had when he left his home early one Saturday morning and never returned. The disappearance of Frank’s father still haunts him to this day. It’s the reason he became a missing persons detective, and why he’s so overprotective of Bethel, who is in denial of her age and her illness and still wants to be independent.

Limitations? Desires? What’s at stake? What does he have to lose/gain?

When Leslie first reports her son missing, Frank feels for her. He wants to help her. Throughout the investigation, they become close (though not romantically, because that would be another “literary cop cliché”). He wants to restore for Leslie and her sons the close, loving relationship that he had with his parents, and he just might jeopardize his job to do it.

A possible subplot to the main conflict of this novel could be Frank’s coming to grips with his father’s disappearance, which may have indirectly caused his mother’s death (of a broken heart?). It’s been two years, and the case has since gone cold, but maybe he does his own investigating off the record as a way to find closure. Maybe he confides in Leslie about it. Maybe, in a way, they can both bring each other peace.

If I decide to go through with this subplot, I may make this story a 2-person POV, meaning I’ll alternate between telling the story from Leslie’s POV and Frank’s POV. While I’m not the biggest fan of multiple POVs in a novel (I like the suspense of being in only one character’s head—sometimes the reader doesn’t need to know everything), it’s a route I may explore as Frank’s character comes to life.

Not taking away from Leslie’s desperate search for Gregory, of course!

I’m open to any suggestions! Like I said, Frank’s character isn’t as concrete as Leslie’s, so I may change some things as the challenge goes on. You’ll just have to stick around to find out.

That’s it for now! See you tomorrow for Letter “E,” when we’ll look at another backstory.

—Nortina