(excerpt from Model for Deception, a Vangie Street mystery, currently being shopped to agents)
The Next Step kitchen was abuzz with activity: one man was washing dishes, another removing clothes from the dryer, someone else peeling a cucumber. I walked through the room at a clip, not only because of the slightly unpleasant smell of leftover spaghetti. Truth tell, folks at the Next Step shelter made me nervous. I knew poor—half of Kurt Jamison’s clients were skinny white women in faded sundresses with a baby on the hip and a toddler at the knee. Clients at the Next Step were different. Not just because they were overwhelmingly male. My wariness was due more to the sense of isolation each seemed to exude. The men milling through the house came across as disconnected from the rest of the world, as if the Next Step were simply a way-stop on what was otherwise a long, solitary journey.
The dining room was quiet except for the sound of plastic playing cards slapping oilcloth. Bobby James Reynolds, a retired police officer who volunteered at the shelter, was seated at the table with a guy whose head resembled a squishy boiled egg.
“Computer Lady!” Bobby James boomed, and I relaxed, until someone in the next room shouted and I jumped, hugging my packet of stories to my chest.
“Alright, alright.” Bobby James eyed my shoes, the red Gucci sandals with heavy gladiator straps. “Came dressed for battle,” he observed.
“These are my kind of shoe. On the verge of being too much.” I lined my shoe up against Bobby James’s sparkling white sneaker. The neat tennis shoes, knife-pleated khakis, and golf shirt with a pig logo from a local barbecue restaurant were half uniform, half silliness—perfect for a recently retired policeman. In a couple of years, Bobby James might be sporting Hawaiian shirts and flips flops, but for now, he was a man in transition, getting used to his newly retired status. “We make a pair, don’t we?”
“My go,” the guy across the table said, drawing a card from the deck and scraping it across the green-checked oilcloth. Peeping at it, he flung the unwanted card on the discard pile.
“You know Eggs?” Bobby James waved his clutch of cards at his opponent.
I nodded hello.
“Play,” Eggs directed Bobby James.
Bobby James fingered a card. When he picked up the discarded six of hearts, a pale scar shaped like a lightening bolt zigzagged across the back of his hand. “What’s going on with you, lovely lady?”
I hesitated then, brushing the crumbs aside, I sat in the chair next to Bobby James. A retired police office might be exactly what I needed. Maybe he could ease my mind about Heather’s being AWOL, or if not (heaven forbid), he might have some advice on running her down.