Thomas Wharton

My daughter’s favorite thing to say last year when she was in preschool and hadn’t succeeded at some task or other was “Try, try again. That’s what Mrs. Wright says.” An interesting motto for someone who was just four years old. She would often exhort me with the same saying and she still brings it up from time to time. So, as you might have guessed, I did not win the fiction contest last week with my chapter two entry, but as I mentioned I have numerous opportunities to try. I spent last night and most of today (in between SAHM things) working on my chapter three attempt. I think is is a bit better than my previous work and I may get the hang of this mystery writing thing yet.

Chapter Three – The Art of the Bid

Emmy wanted to storm in and confront both men. But cooler, decidedly more detective-like instincts kicked in. She waited in her van. Jack first, and minutes later Gombrick, emerged. To the casual observer they were unrelated customers from the throngs who waited daily in long lines for icedcapps and Timbit. Gombrick’s stiff gait reminded Emmy of a peg-legged pirate. Jack was carrying his usual cup of coffee. After they were gone, Emmy pulled out but didn’t follow either man. She knew where to find them when she needed them. What she needed now was information that neither was likely to give her.

Ixion Construction was located just off Yellowhead Trail near 82nd Street. Emmy called to let them know she was bringing a preliminary report. In truth, she had nothing to report that would help Ixion discredit Gombrick’s claims. She hoped they would have information for her. There was only one reason for Jack and Gombrick to be together and it meant bigger issues were at stake. But what did that have to do with Fulton?

“Ms. Budge, it’s good to see you so soon.”

Emmy smiled wryly as she shook the proffered hand of the company’s vice-president, Elizabeth Farron. Not the type Emmy pictured when she thought of construction workers, Ms. Farron had assured her on their initial meeting that she had come up through the ranks. Not tall, but sturdy and with the strongest grip Emmy had ever encountered in any female, she was inclined to believe that the pretty blond with a sunburst tattoo peeking above the neckline of an Oilers’ shirt was more capable than your average heir of an oil sands tycoon.

Ms. Farron led Emmy into a conference room strewn with evidence indicating a meeting had taken place not long ago and motioned for Emmy to sit down, “Sorry about the mess. Just finished up a progress meeting on the microbrewery project.”

“Brian Fulton’s?” Emmy inquired. “That’s still on?”

The young woman hesitated slightly before nodding. “There were other investors.”

“Of course. Was that part of Gombrick’s job? Bidding?”

Ms. Farron gave her a quizzical look. “No, but he was
aware of company bids. Why do you ask?”

Emmy shrugged, “Curious. I really stopped in to say I’m dropping the investigation.” Before she could be interrupted, Emmy raised her hand and continued, “I followed Gombrick for four days, and aside an inexplicable visit to the Edmonton Queen last night, he did nothing to indicate he’s anything other than a middle-aged man with a bad back. My advice: pay him the money.”

“I’m paying you money to prove he’s defrauding my company,” Farron retorted angrily before the whole of Emmy’s statement sunk in. Slowly anger drained from her sky blue eyes. “Did you say he went to see Brian Fulton last night?”

“No,” Emmy replied, “I said he visited the Edmonton Queen. Why would you think he saw Fulton?”

Flustered, she replied. ” Well, I just assumed. Bert was on the James MacDonald project when the accident occurred and Brian was one of the backers.”

“But isn’t that a city contract?” Emmy asked.

“Yes, but even the city needs to borrow funding for large projects.

“So you knew Fulton?”

“Not really. My partner, Vic Wild, handles funding.” Her tone was flat, but the absent way she twirled long straight strands of hair around her fingers told Emmy there was more to her involvement with “funding”, Brian Fulton and his microbrewery.

“I know you think there’s nothing more to this case, but I would appreciate it if you would continue out the week. Just to make sure, and with a closing bonus for your wasted time.”

That evening Emmy mulled the events of the day over a glass of ale at the Black Dog on Whyte Ave. She had been sure Gombrick was working with Jack on some case, but her conversation with Ms. Farron left her thinking Gombrick was guilty of more than trying to arrange an early retirement. She flipped through some clippings in a folder on the table.

“Not your usual reading fare, Em. Actually, I can’t remember the last time you read anything longer than the back of a DVD,” a tall dark bespectacled man remarked as he slid into the seat across from her. “Isn’t reading what you supposedly pay me to do?”

Emmy glanced up from the news clippings. “I love that about you too. Your ability to read while biting the hand that feeds you.”

“You haven’t fed me yet. Or offered to buy me a drink,” he pointed out cheerfully, rifling through her papers. “The Edmonton Journal? Hope you’re not looking for information about the world at large.”

“All people, places and things Alberta are chronicled in the Journal, Cam,” she replied.

“Newsflash. The world isn’t flat,” he whispered back in a mockingly conspiratorial tone.

“Nice,” she replied, “but I need to connect Gombrick and Fulton. I can’t do that on the Internet, Facebook boy. Didn’t I ask for information on Farron?”
“Did better,” he told her placing a printout of Farron’s Facebook profile between them.

“One hundred forty-two friends. Good to know,” Before she could tell Cam to go home and be useful, she spied two familiar faces. Bert Gombrick and another she couldn’t put a name on.

“Gombrick? Odd friend choice. He could be her father and is suing her. Who’s this guy?”

Cam put the day’s Journal on the table, pointing to the front-page photo. His finger traveled from a blurry Gombrick to a woman who was clearly Farron to a barely visible man in the back. Before Emmy could ask, Cam opened the Life section to a picture of the same man smiling in an advertisement.

“Jeff Bates? The yoga school guy?”

“Interesting group of friends, eh Em?”

The Edmonton Journal is sponsoring a writing contest for the next eight weeks. The author, Thomas Wharton, will write the first and last chapters and readers are invited to continue the story by submitting chapters they have written. The first installment of what may end up a published novel, Murder on the North Saskatchewan, appeared in the Saturday edition with subsequent chapters to be published on the following Saturdays until the story is completed. Submissions have to be in by Tuesday of each week and writers are allowed to win at least twice, but not in a row. I don’t write mysteries, or at least I haven’t since I was in fifth grade. I don’t even like to read crime/detective style stories anymore which is odd because I was a huge fan of The Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown in grade school and then Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen as I got older. But, the chance to be published was too big a siren call to pass up, and I admit the $500 prize moved me a bit too.

I started the second chapter Saturday night and thought about it on and off during the day on Sunday while we were in the city to visit the zoo and run errands. Rob very helpfully drove me around the area where the first chapter takes place because as a newcomer here its hard for me to write convincingly about the setting. Last night I spent a couple of hours hammering out my first draft only to find it was 143 words too long. Word counts can be maddening but there is nothing like have to lose a few dozen sentences to force a writer to get to the point without losing the substance.

So, below is my second chapter of Murder on the North Saskatchewan. You can use the link to read the first chapter before reading it. Let me know what you think. I emailed it this morning and I am very excited!

Murder on the North Saskatchewan – Chapter Two

“I’m a professional investigator,” Emmy corrected him and immediately felt stupid for doing so because apparently her surveillance hadn’t gone unobserved.
Bert chuckled, “Feisty. I like that in a girl dick.”
Emmy didn’t know whether to be insulted or merely disdainful of his Albertan redneck sexism. Flashing him a cool eye of contempt, she squirted her wayward quarry square in the face. He staggered gamely backward a few stiff steps before toppling straight back onto the parking lot pavement. Emmy quickly shoved the pepper spray into her bag and scrambled to assist him,lying flat on his back with arms and legs flailing. Fleetingly Emmy noted how much he looked like the turtle Chelsea had when she was eight that never could stay right side up and met an untimely end in the garbage disposal.
As Emmy bent down to help Bert, he awkwardly rolled onto all fours and crawled away from her outstretched arms.
“Get away from me,” he snarled, rubbing at his eyes.
“Oh, don’t do that,” she cautioned him too late as the rubbing elicited a string of expletives.
She glanced about the near empty parking lot, not for help but to make sure that no one was watching. By the time the EPS had finished taking statements from the passengers, even the news reporters from the various local stations had packed up and left. The only evidence of the night’s events were the police tape cordoning off the riverboat, and a banner proclaiming the ill-fated opening of the casino boat’s maiden voyage. Guiltily Emmy tentatively approached the now partially righted Bert, sitting on the nearby curb he had crawled to, back held at a painful angle and using the hem of his shirt to dab ineffectively at his eyes. He looked up when he sensed her nearing. Even in the dim light coming from the streetlamps on 98th Ave, Emmy could see that his eyes were as red as the sunset earlier that evening. He held up a large, powerful looking hand to halt her approach. Though it was clear that he was greatly hampered by the apparent injury to his back, it was also obvious to her that he was a very strong man. Biceps bulged perceptively. Despite his receding hairline, slightly graying close cropped beard, and gimped back, he was a still a young man.
“Don’t come any closer,” he told her through gritted teeth. “I have had about all I care to take from anyone in the employ of the late, and sure to be unlamented, Brian Fulton.”
“I was hired by Ixion Construction,” Emmy corrected him, puzzled by his assumption that the murdered man had employed her.
Bert laughed. “You are green.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Didn’t they teach you in correspondence school to check the background of your employer before taking a job? Just to cover your pretty little bum?”
Emmy flushed. “It was an Internet course. Through MacEwan if you must know. Very reputable.” But even as she spoke she was remembering something that Jack had told her. “Everyone is a suspect, Em. A good investigator gathers facts because there ain’t no such thing as a completely innocent party. They all have motives and things to hide. Even the victims.”
“I thought as much,” Bert grunted. “Not that I owe you a thing. Especially after the pepper bath. But Fulton was a silent partner in Ixion. His ex’s cousin may own it on paper, but he fronted the cash.”
Emmy stored the information for further rumination and asked, “So you came here tonight to confront him?”
Bert shook his head. “I came here tonight to remind ole Bullrider of a few facts.”
“That are none of your business, lady,” he retorted and with a mighty heave pushed himself up onto his feet.
Even though she was standing a good ninety centimeters from him she still took an involuntarily step back. Bert Gombrick was tall and quite imposing. Emmy entertained just the briefest thought about whether or not he looked as good unclothed as he did in dark blue jeans and white button down shirt before regaining her composure. Defiantly stood her ground, meeting this angry blood-shot pale blue eyes with her own stormy grays.
“I’ll tell the police what I saw.”
He smiled grimly. “Go ahead.”
“You wouldn’t care? I saw you arguing with Fulton shortly before he turned up….and over the paddle wheel of his own boat.”
“I’d care. It would be inconvenient, but I have nothing to hide. I was off that boat before it left the dock, and I can prove it.”
Emmy couldn’t tell if he was bluffing. Jack had always told her that a good liar “feels more fair than foul…to borrow from Tolkien….the less likely to be mistaken for an angel, the more likely you can believe them.”
As she was thinking, Bert limped by her towards his truck. She silently watched him leave. After he disappeared towards the legislature, she climbed into the van. She didn’t feel quite the failure she had. He may have known all about her, but it wasn’t because he’d spotted her. He’d been told. And that didn’t make any sense at all. “When something doesn’t make sense, go back to the beginning.” That was Jack’s motto, and despite the fact that Jack was a prize-winning boob, Emmy knew that she was being played. She was supposed to be on the Edmonton Queen tonight. Just like Bert Gombrick was supposed to know he was being tailed by a private investigator working for Brian Fulton. The question was, why? Emmy pulled out of the lot and headed for the High Level Bridge. Since the divorce she and Chelsea had been staying in a tiny rented house near the University of Alberta. Tomorrow she would start at the beginning, Ixion Construction and Steven Hollis, the man who had hired her. Tonight, she needed a shower and a beer.