Monday, December 28, 2009

Alex's Interview with Officer Mandel

'Alex' coming March, 2010
part 5

Brad settled back against his desk when the chief abruptly cleared his throat, flicking him an irritated glance as he reached over and put a hand on Alex’s shoulder.

“Sean Elson found you in the basement.” He waited until Alex looked at him, then gave him an encouraging nod. “I also read the report, but can you tell us what happened in your own words?”

Alex rubbed his hands on his jeans, then clasped them together to hold them still. “I’ll try.”

Brad watched Alex’s tapping foot, wishing there was a way to make things easier on the boy. He glanced up and met the young man’s eyes.

Alex dropped his gaze to the floor, breathing hard. “I don’t remember very much,” he confessed grudgingly. “Mama had me down there a long time. I hadn’t eaten anything, and when I said I was thirsty she made me drink out of her bottle. It made her angry when I threw it back up.”

He continued with a small laugh, “Anyway, the noise from the fire confused me. I didn’t know what it was, and it was a while before I smelled the smoke. It scared me and I rolled off the mattress and squirmed towards the hall. That’s when a fireman came rushing down the stairs.”

“That was Sean?” Ben asked.

“Yes, sir.” Alex shrugged and moved in his chair, uncomfortable. He glanced at Brad then quickly away. “He scared me worse than the fire. You see, I hadn’t met very many people, and he was in full gear…”

“That would have scared the crap out of me,” Brad murmured.

Alex gave him a grateful look. He sat up and squared his shoulders. “I was fourteen, but in most ways I was younger than that. Mr. Elson carried me upstairs and through the fire…the heat and stench and noise…God.”

He brushed the sweat from his forehead with a shaking hand. Brad handed him bottled water and they waited while he composed himself.

He carefully screwed the cap back on the bottle, intent on the task. “It was worse outside. I was given to the medics, who poked at me and asked questions I couldn’t answer. I felt confused and scared and the neighbors stared at me.” A shudder ran through him. “I hated the pity in their eyes.”

Brad shifted his gaze across the room, noting the bright sunshine outside the window. He absently watched a bird hop across the sill as Alex continued his narrative.

“I was terrified when they put me in their truck and drove away from home. I didn’t know where I was going or what would happen to me. I spent a month at the hospital, frightened and alone. Every day people would come and ask me questions. I felt like a monkey on display. That’s when Mr. Elson rescued me and took me to his house.” Alex drew a hard breath. “In a way, that was worse.”

“For heaven’s sake, why?” Brad looked at the young man’s bent head.

Alex shrugged. “Jane was there.”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Alex's Interview with Officer Mandel

part 4

“You’re mother died in a house fire. Do you want to start there?” Haden prompted when Alex remained silent.

Alex nervously chewed a corner of his lip. “What do you want to know, exactly?”

Brad exchanged a look with the police chief. “You said something about a dirty mattress. Is that what caught fire?”

Alex’s lips thinned in anger. “You read the report, Brad. You know as well as I do that she passed out on the couch and dropped her cigarette.” He folded his arms across his chest. “God, you must really think I’m a fool.”

“I don’t. But damn it, Alex, you’re not being overly cooperative, are you?”

Alex shrugged ruefully. “I guess not, it’s just very hard to talk about. I thought I’d left it all behind me when I moved out of that house.” He absently rubbed the ragged scars at his wrists. “I’ll never escape, will I?”

Haden shifted impatiently in his chair. “If you mean your past, then no, none of us can do that. But we can help with your future.”

Alex straightened in his chair. “Thank you.”

Brad met his glance when he turned to him, ready to stop the narrative if it grew too painful for the young man. He wasn’t out to torture the boy.

Alex swallowed. “It wasn’t the mattress that caught fire, though it easily could have been. Mama smoked all the time we were down there, and after she’d spilled her bottle on the mattress I thought she’d burn us both alive. I think she went upstairs that last time to get another bottle of something.”

“Why were you down there?” Brad asked, then swore, disgusted with himself. “I’m sorry. Don’t answer that question.”

Alex gave him a fleeting smile. “It’s all right. I don’t remember what I’d done that particular time. Something to make her furious. I was a clumsy child. She liked the basement. It was more comfortable than the garage.”

“Anyway,” he picked up the story, leaving Brad as much in the dark as before. “I tried to sleep while she was gone. She never let me sleep very much, down there. I remember wondering where she was, and dreading the answer. Her surprises were terrible.”

His voice dropped to a husky whisper, drawing Brad closer. “That’s when I smelled the smoke. I tried to reach her, I swear! But my feet were taped, you see…” His face twisted with pain. “I hear her screaming in my dreams. She’s calling my name but I can’t help her.”

At his desperate words Brad rose to his feet and jabbed a finger at the open file on his desk. “It’s not true, Alex. The coroner stated that she died of smoke inhalation. She was dead long before the fire reached her.”

“I don’t know that for sure.”

“You can’t blame yourself,” Brad said, incredulous.

Alex covered his eyes. “If I’d been a better child we wouldn’t have been in the basement. I could have helped her.”

“Alex! It’s not your fault your mother drank till she passed out with a lit cigarette in her hand. Alex?”

Brad slammed a fist on the desktop when he didn’t answer.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Alex's Interview with Officer Mandel

part 3

Brad stepped quickly from behind his desk as the chief entered the room, slightly ashamed of his relief to move away from Alex.

Haden glanced from him to where Alex sat hunched in his chair. “What’s going on?”

Brad shrugged. “I’m sorry, Chief. I’m just not good with him when he gets like this.”

Ben Haden let out a discouraged breath. “I thought he was doing better.” He crossed the room and pulled a chair closer to Alex. A fringe of black hair hid the boy’s eyes and most of his face. He seemed asleep. Ben frowned. “What were you discussing?”

Brad sat on the edge of his desk. “We were talking about his mother.”

Ben snorted. “That would do it.” He put a hand on Alex’s shoulder, shaking him a little. “Alex?”

Alex moaned low in his throat and Brad clenched a hand, forcing himself to sit still though his body had tensed at the sound.

Haden shook Alex again. “What’s going on?”

Alex gave a ragged, desperate laugh. “She has me in the basement again. I hate it down here. The mattress smells.” His voice turned vague. “I smell smoke…”

He drew a sudden sharp breath and scrambled upright in his chair, coming fully awake. He looked at them in confusion, then reddened at their scrutiny. “Sorry about that,” he muttered, breathing hard. He looked at the police chief. “I feel like an idiot. How long have you been here?”

“Not that long. What was that about?”

Alex rubbed the sleepiness from his face. “Nothing. Just a bad memory.”

Brad cleared his throat. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Alex flicked him a look. “Why?”

Brad threw up his hands but Haden stopped his outburst with a quick shake of his head.

“We want to help you,” Ben said forcefully, “But I think the only way to do that is to understand your ‘gift’. Anything you can tell us may be useful.”

Alex raised a doubtful brow. “If you think so,” he said after a moment. He carefully folded his hands and Brad glanced away as his expression turned bleak.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Alex's Interview with Officer Mandel (a chapter cut in the final edits)

part 2

The officer closed the file cover with a disgusted snort. “You’re right. There’s nothing here to help…”

“Help what, Brad?” Alex interrupted, his blue eyes dark with emotion. “You mean it wouldn’t help for people to know that my mother was a schizo that my father married one drunken night, and abandoned as soon as she was pregnant? How wouldn’t that help my case?”

“Alex!” Brad rose to his feet in dismay but Alex flung from his chair and paced the office, distraught. He stopped by the open window and Brad saw a shiver pass through his spare frame.
Alex covered his face with shaking hands. “God, this is intolerable.”

“Damn it,” Brad muttered and hit a button on the phone at his desk.


“Chief, can you come in here a minute?”

“What’s the problem?”

“It’s the interview. I’m screwing it up.”

There was a brief pause on the line, then Haden cleared his throat. “I’ll be there in a moment.”

Brad stared at the red light on the phone until it winked off, then glanced at Alex. The young man still looked out the window and Brad ran a hand through his crisp hair, slightly irritated. Nothing ever went smoothly when it involved the boy.

“Alex, please resume your seat,” he said more sharply than he’d intended. Startled, Alex turned to him and Brad regretted the panic on his face.

He motioned to the chair opposite the desk. “Please, just sit down. The Chief will be here in a minute.”

“Okay.” Alex sat in the chair, his gaze on the tips of his shoes.

Brad coughed softly to get his attention. “I’m not your enemy.”

The boy had grown still and Brad darted an anxious glance at the door. “Alex?”

The young man stirred and raised his face and his unfocused gaze filled Brad with dread.

“Alex?” he repeated, and looked again at the closed door, wishing to God that Haden would arrive.

Alex remained silent, shivering, his fear easy to read. Brad leaned closer, searching the bewildered eyes across from him.

“What is it?” he asked, not sure he wanted the answer. “Alex, what do you see?”

“I don’t know,” Alex said, his voice slurred.

Brad jumped when the door to the office suddenly opened…

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Up in Arms for 'was'!

I keep hearing how 'was' is a bad word in writing. Yet if you pick up any book published within the last year, and I'm talking respected authors!, you'll find the word used over and over again. What gives? Who started this misleading rumour? Sure, any word can be over-used, but in reality, using 'was' often keeps the tempo flowing in a paragragh and saves it from sounding stilted. So I say, three cheers to the word 'was'!!