Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 5, 2013

Second Post: Non-Action Scenes from Thrillers

This scene is from Devil’s Blade, a thriller/mystery/detective book about a man who caught a serial killer in New York.  The murderer escaped and disappeared, only to surface in the detective’s home town—a place he’d left physically and emotionally.  This is a bit about coming home.


Glory and I left the courthouse and walked out into the warm fall day.  The light breeze that washed our faces was only a hint of the winds aloft that drove the scattered clouds so that the light changed from bright to shadow and back as we walked.
Glory was talking about the Moonleigh investigation and the data she was assembling.  I listened carefully and nodded as she spoke, but music played in my mind as clearly as if it had come from the open windows of a ’75 Mustang fastback, parked across the street from Mabel’s Café.
Coming back here, walking across this street to sit with a woman who was virtually a stranger, while surrounded by the ghosts of my dreams and fears, my two worlds of incompletion began to converge.  What I had left undone, turning my back on Lineboro, vectored to collision with what had come undone—the critical need to finally, totally close the Moonleigh case.  I had lost twice in Lineboro—now, I had to win.
When we walked into Mabel’s the attention of everyone in the place, with the possible exception of the waitresses, focused on us.  Some conversations paused for a few beats before resuming.
A glance at Glory acknowledged the fact that she felt the touch of all the eyes on us, but we kept silence.
Every restaurant has its own unique set of scents that places it in a special slot in a person’s olfactory memory.  Passing a bakery while the ovens are hot and the bread is rising—the warm touches of yeast and grain drive straight to the brain and salivary glands; opening the door to a fine Italian restaurant greets one with a complex mosaic of spices both subtle and strong overlying the richness of tomato sauce and pasta.
Entering the doors of a good small-town southern restaurant during the fall harvest season is like being wrapped in the warm arms of comfort itself.  Fried chicken, golden, hot and ready; piquant collard greens, warm in big black kettles, flavored with sugar cured ham, waiting for homemade hot pepper sauce; yellow squash simmering with rich chunks of onion.
Now, in the Alabama harvest time, the rich flavors of apples and cinnamon sharpened the palate.  All these, with strong coffee brewing greeted me as a welcome back to the town I’d left so long ago.
We paused, looking for a table, and the hum of talk moved tentatively back up almost to the level where it had been before our entrance. Just ahead was a counter mostly occupied by men in working denims and khakis along with two who wore sheriff’s department uniforms and gun belts. Women sitting at the counter wore mostly jeans. Those wearing skirts sat at tables.
Along the left wall were four booths.   The  rest of the restaurant was filled with tables for four, covered with red and white checked tablecloths.  Couples and foursomes occupied most of the tables.  A group of women chatted happily at a pair of tables pushed together.
A waitress, delivering a tray of food waved toward the back of the room at an empty booth in the corner.
As we sat down, I took the side of the booth that let me watch the door.  It was an old and deep habit, but I still cannot sit comfortably with my back toward a door in public places.  In the Special Forces and in some police cases I had worked, it could have meant survival.  If Glory noticed my preference she said nothing.  There was almost a tingling on my skin from the touch of eyes in the room.  We were being watched, talked about, and speculated upon by almost everyone in the place.
Glory was, naturally, well known.  The men watched her longingly, the women—somewhat jealously.  It was my presence that was the active catalyst fermenting imaginations in the room.  Some recognized me and told others who I was. Others asked each other, “…isn’t he the one who…?” kind of questions.  Glory and I pretended to ignore it without real success and began to talk animatedly to cover the uneasiness as much as for conversation.
“Glory, I’ll bet that the all the furniture in this place is exactly the same as it was when I was in high school. Probably only the tablecloths have changed.”
I looked around the place my eyes glancing off people while pretending to absorb the nostalgic atmosphere.  Some faces were familiar, but not exact. Most were altered by time.
“This has to be the same seat I sat on back then.  The springs are still hard on the butt!”
“Well, I can’t imagine that any manufacturer still makes those little chrome-legged chairs with the puffed plastic seats and backs anymore.  That particular shade of mottled red in the chairs and the seats of this booth would be hard to find anywhere outside used furniture stores,” she said.
She’d leaned over the table, speaking quietly to make sure only I heard her comments.
As she spoke, I leaned in—almost unconsciously–meeting her eyes and sensed a warmth that was almost too comfortable.  It felt good, but there was Chloe…
No, Malacca, No. You’re here strictly on business.
I leaned back in the booth, putting one arm on the back of the seat looking up and around the walls at the many pictures of Lineboro high school athletes over the years, who had gone on to play sports in college.
“Glory, if we looked at the songs on that old Rock-Ola jukebox over there, we’d probably find some of the music I spent my money on back then—even if it does play only CDs now.”
Just then, the door on the opposite side of the room that led to the kitchen burst open and Mabel came out.  She was wearing a full-length white apron over a dark blue denim dress with a bib neck, and a white tee shirt showing at the neck.  She came around the counter directly to our booth, smiling and opening her arms. I would have recognized her in any setting.  Here, she was an integral part of the scene.
“Malacca Longwood!  You’ve stayed away too long!”
As I got to my feet she hugged me like an aunt with her favorite nephew, and then pushed me back at arm’s length, holding my biceps; inspecting me from shoes to hair.
“Glory, this one was a skinny little kid when Colonel Longwood first brought him in here to meet me.  Now look at him all grown up and handsome!”
Glory nodded and half-closed her lashes . I felt a burning blush.
Mabel, short, wrinkled and square-faced, with a kerchief covering,her frizzy gray hair, spoke as if she had had a personal hand in helping rear me.
“Look everybody, listen up!” Mabel said.
She still held one of my arms linked in hers.
“This is a man who has come home that we can be proud of.  Folks this is Mal Longwood.  His grandpa is Colonel Longwood—Papa to most people.  Sheriff Skeet Longwood is his cousin.  This is the man who grew up here and became a Green Beret and then left the Army to be a detective in New York City.  Welcome him home.”
I really flushed then, feeling the heat from toes to hair as a little spatter of clapping went around, followed by smiles and nods before the patrons went back to their lunch. Some of the hum in the room was of the “I told you who he was…” variety.
Mabel did look to be about seventy or so, but maybe less than the seventy-five that Skeet had estimated.  She hugged me fiercely again, and then bustled back to the kitchen–a personally involved cook and manager.
“Well, Detective Longwood, welcome home.” Glory said.

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