Mannequin Monday – Take Me Somewhere…
I’ve never been to the catacombs of Paris. Never come face to face with the roots of Irish humor. But on this Mannequin Monday books take me where I have never been. Elle Marr, Tana French…
Words don’t simply clothe a blank form. They transport the viewer.
And an excerpt from my next book Surfrider,
What I’m Reading
In several recent blog posts I’ve said that, when I open a book or begin watching a film, I expect the story to take me somewhere I’ve never been. Whether it’s an emotion, place, personality, mystery, spirit – I want to experience something new.
Stories I’ve enjoyed recently, for example, that fit that bill would include:
- Tana French’s mysteries, one of which is In the Woods, based in Ireland. A sense of place, of culture, of humor…all new to me.
- Elle Marr’s novel The Missing Sister, set in the Paris catacombs. A dark, intriguing place, a bit of history, that I never knew existed.
- Eric Jerome Dickey’s novel Before We Were Wicked, set in 1996 Los Angeles. A new-to-me perspective on Black experiences, insights into African cultures, even the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles in the late 90s.
Just yesterday I came upon a new story in Narrative magazine. A graphic short story by Jenny Lesser titled Signaling. One frame spoke to me. The message was not so much new as, oh yeah, I feel that way too. For a lifetime I have tried to articulate to myself why I love all of John Steinbeck’s works. The articulation has never happened. But this cartoon frame tells me, I don’t need to explain my love for his stories.
You can read all of Lesser’s graphic art story on Narrative, free for only a sign-in.
And speaking of going where I’ve never been, last week I read Michael Connelly’s The Law of Innocence. I am a huge fan of the Bosch character, both on the page and on Amazon Prime. Not so much the Lincoln Lawyer character Mickey Haller. Courtroom drama has little appeal for me. Just a preference of mine. But Connelly’s The Law of Innocence is contemporary enough to include the beginnings of the 2020 COVID lockdown. That part of the story took me not someplace new, but someplace I would prefer not to think about. Tough enough living through it.
What I’m Writing
I am sharing an excerpt from my upcoming novel Surfrider. Three teens – Tessa Warren, Eric Ryder, Lyndie Reed – have been surfing in Malibu. They take a break, pick up fast food, and wander out to the end of the Malibu pier.
Excerpt from Surfrider
Eric waved Tessa and Lyndie over to the end of the pier. He pointed down. “Look at that boat.”
A long boat with an open hull bumped gently against the pier pilings. A single outboard motor sat at the stern. Painted matte black. Scattered around in the boat were maybe a dozen blue gasoline containers. Scraps and shreds of plastic lay in the bottom of the boat.
“It’s not tied up,” Tessa said.
A rope tied to the boat’s bow trailed out, floating in the water.
“Let’s get a close look,” Eric said. He walked to the side of the pier where steps led down to a small floating dock fastened to the pier’s side.
“Come on. Maybe we can reach it from there.”
He climbed down the ramp to the dock. Holding onto the pilings, he was able to reach the rope in the water. He pulled the boat closer. “There’s no registration number on the side of the boat.”
Eric climbed in.
“Can you start the motor?”
Eric pushed the starter button on the steering console. The engine kicked over. Sputtered. Died. “Out of gas.” He shook a few of the gas containers. All empty.
Lyndie climbed into the boat. Held it against the dock. Tessa waited, took video of the boat from the pier, then climbed down to join the other two. She slipped her phone in her pocket, watched from the small dock.
I smell weed.
“The water is calm. Let’s paddle this boat to the beach.”
“Why?” Lyndie said. “Just tie it to the dock.”
Eric sniffed the air. “I smell weed.”
Lyndie sniffed as well. “Yeah, for sure. The smell is in the boat.”
Tessa stepped up to the edge of the dock. “It smells kind of sweet.”
“That’s it!” Lyndie pointed to Tessa.
“Leave the boat here,” Lyndie said to Eric. “This could be trouble.”
A voice boomed from up on the pier. “Freeze! Hands where we can see them.”
The three teens jerked up to see four men above them on the pier. Large men. Wearing DEA caps and jackets. And each held a gun.
Pointed at the teens.
Tessa, Lyndie and Eric sat on the dock, hands clasped behind their heads. The dock rose and fell gently on the incoming waves. Two of the Drug Enforcement Administration agents searched the boat. A third used his radio to relay the info from the teens’ ID cards to his office.
The fourth DEA jacket, a stocky man with a scar on his left cheek, asked, “Where did you stash the drugs?”
“Drugs?” All three spoke in unison.
“Yeah, the bales of marijuana.”
“We don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eric said. “We spotted the boat here, untied. We were curious.”
“Try the truth.”
“It is the truth,” Lyndie said.
“How did you get the bales offloaded? Who helped you?”
“And why aren’t you in school?”
Lyndie sneered. “Do you watch the news? Schools are closed because of poor air quality. From the wildfires. You know about them, don’t you?”
“Don’t hand me any sass, kid.”
Tessa shuddered. Her only experience with the police occurred at the pileup in the desert. And two years ago when her brother died. She felt drops of sweat running down her back.
The two agents who had been searching the boat climbed back onto the floating dock. “Definitely a panga drug boat,” one said. He held up scraps of plastic. “Weed smell all over this.” He pointed back to the boat. “All the gas cans are empty. Ran out of fuel.”
“I’m thinking this boat is too small to have made the run all the way north from Baja California,” said DEA scarface. “Wouldn’t hold enough bales to make it worthwhile.” He turned to the teens.
They stared back.
“So, this was a short run. Did you meet a bigger boat offshore? Offload the bales yourselves? Where are they?”
The teens sat in silence. Too stunned to talk.
The agent checking the IDs came over. “They’re high school kids from the Valley.” He turned to the teens. “Looking to score some cash dealing at school?”
Tessa felt a tear popping out. She blinked it away. No way she would cry in front of these assholes.
“This is bullshit,” Lyndie said. “We found an abandoned boat.”
“Shut up.” The agent with the IDs pointed at her. “Where’s the stash?”
“There is no stash,” Eric said. “The boat was empty when we found it.”
Tessa felt her stomach tighten. The breakfast sandwich roiled inside her. She leaned over to the side and retched. Threw up all of her breakfast.
“I want urine tests from these three,” DEA scarface said. “Call it in.” The agent with the IDs turned away to talk on her phone.
Tessa wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Spit to clear her mouth. None of the agents offered to help her.
Lyndie leaned over. “You okay?”
“Oh sure. I’m having a great day. And it probably isn’t even nine o’clock yet.”
Tessa looked up when she heard Eric shout, “Dad.”
A man in jeans and a close-fitting dark blue tee shirt pushed his way past a handful of onlookers on the pier and started down the steps.
“Hold up, buddy.” One agent yelled at him.
“Hey. I’m Ric Pyne. The boy’s father. What’s going on?” He showed his LAFD badge.
“Your boy and his friends were caught in a drug boat.”
“What are the charges?” Ric asked.
“This is a panga boat used to smuggle drugs up the coast from Mexico. There are traces of marijuana all over it.”
“I repeat, what are the charges?”
“I’m taking the kids home. You have more questions, talk to our lawyer.”
Ric turned to the teens. “Let’s go.”
Tessa eased herself up, sidestepping the vomit.
“Our IDs,” Eric said. The agent handed them over to the teens.
The three followed Ric up the steps.
Eric told his dad what had happened as they walked along the pier toward PCH. Ric smiled. “Wrong place, wrong time. You really stepped in it this time.”
At the base of the pier Tessa and Lyndie went into the restroom so Tessa could freshen up. Ric said, “Meet us at my truck.”
A few minutes later they all sat in Ric’s truck, a fire engine red Ford F-150 with a crew cab.
Ric said, “My station is waiting for a call to go to Santa Clarita. I heard a call about three kids picked up in a drug bust. My captain relieved me of duty for a half hour. I have to go back right away.”
“Thanks Mr. Pyne. You saved us.”
“I called the family lawyer,” he said to Eric. “ To alert him to the events. Will you kids be okay getting home?”
“We’re fine, dad.”
Tessa and Lyndie called their moms about the trouble. From Chicago, Tessa’s mom swore she would bring the DEA up on harassment charges. Lyndie’s mom sounded relieved, then got off to chase down her little brother and sister.
Ric said, “It’s only been four weeks and you’re all dealing with law enforcement again.”
Eric walked Ric through the details of what had just happened. Ric explained what he knew of the panga boats.
“We’ve gotten calls several times to give medical assistance to men picked up in the water. They try to steer the boats ashore in secluded places along the beach and often end up flipping the boats in the surf.”
Eric said, “One of the agents thought this boat was too small to have come all the way up the coast from Mexico.”
“Probably right. That was my thought too. Only about twenty five feet long. Most of the boats are easily fifty feet long. All with open hulls stuffed with gas cans and drug bales.”
Ric continued. “The panga boats are pretty cheap to build. A wood or fiberglass hull. That’s it, just an open hull. They load them with drugs and gas containers, and try to run under the radar from Baja California to the Southern California coast. They meet someone who offloads the drugs and runs them to a distribution center. It’s getting too difficult to get that quantity of drugs across at border crossings.”
“So where did this one come from?” Lyndie asked.
“All the gas cans in the boat were empty. One agent said they ran out of gas somewhere near here.”
Are we in trouble?
“That makes sense,” Ric said. “But I don’t see how the boat ended up empty and out at the Pier. It’s too open here to come ashore with drugs, even at night.”
“Are we in trouble?” Tessa asked.
“You guys are fine,” Ric said. “You found an abandoned boat. Case closed.”
Ric paused. Laughed. “Just don’t make a movie about this.”
Eric held up his GoPro camera. “Well…”
“And I got footage with my phone,” Tessa said.
Ric groaned. He put the teens out of the truck and drove back to the fire station.
After they climbed into Eric’s SUV, Tessa turned to him. “You.”
“You. Once again you got us in a pile of trouble.”
“You were the one who conned us into getting up early four weeks ago and going to the Mojave. We all got hurt. I lost my camera. All the footage…Now we’re here in Malibu. Barely past sunrise and already we’re suspects in a drug bust.”
Eric was silent.
“Yeah, Eric. Your next text…I won’t answer it.”