The first chapter of a mystery/thriller novel. Entry for the 2016 Chapter One Competition.
|By the time most surfers made it into the water at Sunset Cliffs, Kenna Kitada had already been at it for half an hour. The majority of her wave-riding brethren woke up with the morning light, but she had an unwavering showdown with the sunrise, competing to see whether she could catch her first wave of the day before its rays could break across the horizon. Kenna treasured these first few runs, before the area became crowded with early-morning business professionals trying to squeeze in a little surfing ahead of their daily office grind.
While most of them would get in maybe an hour of surf time, Kenna regularly put in two hours daily, which also meant she was considerably better than most of the desk jockeys out here. It was a fact she never failed to make known, especially when experienced jerks gave newbies a hard time. Sunset Cliffs was not a spot for beginners, but that never stopped tourists and overly ambitious amateurs from giving these challenging rocks and rips a try. Inevitably, their lack of skill would get in the way of a more serious surfer who would hassle the newbies with verbal ridicule or sometimes even drop in on their waves. Drop ins, the act of hijacking someone else’s wave, were the cardinal sin of surfing, potentially dangerous in addition to being inconsiderate.
Today was a perfect case in point. After enduring a newer surfer’s awkward attempts to catch and ride difficult waves, a surf bro got tired of waiting and started dropping in on the newbie’s waves, cutting him off on each run and forcing the newbie to either plunge into the water or risk running into the bro that cut him off. Kenna could see the other surfers in the lineup rolling their eyes. Two of the other morning regulars looked to Kenna.
“That’s two,” the first one observed.
Kenna shrugged. “My rule is three.”
“You know he’s gonna do it again,” the other chimed in.
“And when he does, the surf gods will make him atone for his sins!” Kenna called out as she broke from the lineup and paddled to make her next wave.
Sure enough, when the newbie made it through the lineup and started to take his next wave, the bro moved to drop in on him again. Kenna began paddling toward them, clocking the eager glances from the other two surfers as she passed. Catching the wave farther down, Kenna expertly passed the floundering newbie and closed in on her target.
“Sorry,” she called back as she cut by the newbie. “But it’s for a good cause!”
The newbie wobbled on his board, watching in amazement with the others in the lineup as Kenna squatted down on her board, increasing her speed until she was right on the bro’s heels. By the time he realized something was amiss, Kenna was side by side with him, uncomfortably close.
“What the hell are you doing?” he yelled, wobbling on his board.
“The same thing you’ve been doing to that other guy all morning,” Kenna said, remarkably calm considering their two boards were only inches apart and plunging through the roiling water. “This is just a friendly reminder to not be a total douchebag. We were all beginners once, so cut him some slack, huh?”
“You’re crazy!” the bro said, now legitimately struggling to stay on his board.
“Maybe,” Kenna said, completely unfazed by their dangerous proximity to one another. “But if you ever try to drop in on that guy or anyone else again, I’m going to make it my mission in life to ruin every single wave you try to catch out here. You’ll be lucky if I let you do cutbacks in the whitewater. Clear?”
“Fine. Fine! Whatever, bitch!” he screamed, starting to panic.
“Oh, man. Now you’ve gone and done it.”
Kenna used her index finger to poke him gently on his chest, all the extra force needed to send him toppling off his board and into the surf. Kenna rode out the rest of the wave, then approached the newbie who had just managed to get to shore himself.
“Sorry about that jerk,” Kenna said as she jogged up to him.
“It’s my fault,” the newbie said. “I thought I had a pretty good handle on surfing so I wanted to try some tougher waves. I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”
“That may be true,” Kenna said, “But it’s no excuse to drop in on someone’s wave.”
They lingered there, sizing one another up. The newbie looked to be a few years older than Kenna, maybe thirty-five, with the bronzed skin, sandy-blonde hair, and rugged features that seemed to come standard on Southern California natives. It was a sharp contrast to Kenna’s shoulder-length black hair, gray eyes, and facial features that hinted at an ancestry spanning multiple continents.
“Can I buy you a drink sometime?” he asked, taking his time in checking out the toned curves that Kenna’s short-sleeved springsuit did nothing to hide. Unfortunately, his wetsuit similarly did nothing to hide his own beer-gut physique.
“Not while you’re still married,” she said.
He followed her gaze to the gold band on his left ring finger, blushing slightly as he self-consciously hid the hand behind his board.
“Not seeing it doesn’t make it go away,” she noted.
“Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
“I’m beginning to think I pushed the wrong jerk in the water,” Kenna said, checking her watch. “Gotta run. Maybe you should spend more time with the newbie crowd at Ocean Beach. And with your wife.”
Happy Sweet Sixteen WDC!
Kenna carried her surfboard as she walked up the trail to Ladera Street and then took a left on Cordova. As she walked down Cordova, she shook the salt water out of her hair and looked at the real estate around her. It had always amazed Kenna how many different styles and sizes of house could exist side by side. Sprawling Spanish colonials were right next to modernist steel and glass structures designed by architects who seemed to possess all the warmth and visual aesthetic of a Bond villain.
Her own house was the original California bungalow constructed on the lot back in the 1960s when the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego was first developed. Her house was dwarfed on each side by neighbors who had renovated their homes to stretch them to the very limit of the property lines, but Kenna loved her little slate gray house with white trim that still had a large enough yard to do something with. Granted she hadn’t actually done anything with it since her ill-fated attempt at an herb garden last year, but it was nice to know that she had the option if she wanted to do something that required outdoor space.
Kenna used the keypad on the garage door frame to open the garage; it was the one upgrade she added to the house so she wouldn’t have to carry keys on her while she surfed. The fact that she could walk down to Sunset Cliffs every morning made the house well worth its high price and low square footage.
She moved between the two vehicles in the garage and hung her surfboard on mounted wall hooks. One of the vehicles was an unremarkable gray Ford Explorer, a few years old and with enough small dings, dents, and scratches to indicate frequent use. The other was hidden underneath a car cover, but had the silhouette of something sleek and fast. Kenna closed the garage on her way into the house.
Continuing inside, Kenna headed through the modest kitchen and master bedroom into the tiny master bath where she turned on the shower and stepped into it still wearing her wetsuit. She rinsed the suit off in the fresh water, then peeled it off and thoroughly scrubbed the inside as well. Once she had removed as much salt as possible, she draped the wetsuit over the shower curtain rod to dry and then removed her bikini and hung it alongside the wetsuit.
Twenty minutes later, Kenna was freshly showered and ready for work. Dressed in jeans and a henley, she completed the outfit with a pair of Chuck Taylors and an old black leather jacket. She grabbed a thin file folder from the kitchen counter; the only thing out of place in the otherwise compulsively clean and tidy house. Plucking a set of keys from a side table next to the garage door, Kenna locks up and heads to the gray Ford Explorer.
After a short drive and a pit stop at Better Buzz drive-thru for her daily caffeine injection, Kenna arrived at her office in the Hillcrest. She operated her private investigation business out of one side of a small duplex that had previously been owned and operated by a pair of sibling dentists. One of them, Zeke, passed on a few years back and bequeathed his half of the office to his brother Abe.
Abe, who seemed to want the company more than the rent money, allowed Kenna to rent out his brother’s side of the office and convert it into a traditional office. When business was slow for both, which admittedly was more often than not, they would spend the day chatting or teaching one another something new. Kenna took a great amount of pride in the fact that Abe now had a social media presence and, for her part, felt like she was getting pretty good at backgammon.
Kenna parked on the street, half a block down from her office. She usually left the one parking space assigned to her side of the duplex open as some sort of optimistic ritual that might encourage walk-in business; today, though, it was out of necessity because the space was currently occupied by a late model baby blue Mercedes Benz E-Class. Kenna exhaled loudly as she took her keys from her pocket, steeled herself, and headed for the front door.
“Kenna!” a shrill voice chirped from the Mercedes.
Kenna turned to greet her client.
“Mrs. Ingersoll! Sorry to make you wait. I thought our appointment wasn’t for another hour.”
“Oh, well, you know I’m very big on punctuality. And with the way San Diego traffic is these days, you have to leave yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go. I just figured I’d get here a little early and wait. And you’re here now so it looks like everything worked out perfectly!”
Except for the part where I had an extra hour to type up the case file, Kenna mused as she unlocked the door and held it open for Mrs. Ingersoll.
The inside of the office was as clean and well maintained as Kenna’s house. There was a front room that served as a reception area and small waiting room, with two doors in back leading to a private office and a bathroom. Kenna had removed the dental chair from the private office when she first moved in, but always felt more comfortable out in the reception area. Now it served as more of a storage closet and file room while she conducted the majority of her business in the outer room.
The place still smelled faintly of Formo-creasol, Eugenol, Acrylic Monomer, and the other unpleasant smells of a dentist’s office, but she couldn’t tell if it was a lingering odor from past tenant or an ongoing one from her next door neighbor. Kenna tried combating the smell with a variety of air fresheners, but that just made it worse and probably made clients feel like they were about to get a Tahitian Breeze root canal, or a Japanese Cherry Blossom crown.
“So did you find anything?” Mrs. Ingersoll asked anxiously, taking a seat on the guest side of Kenna’s desk.
Kenna took a seat behind it and set the folder down she had carried in from the car.
“I’ve been following him for two months, just like we agreed,” Kenna said, watching Mrs. Ingersoll’s reaction closely.
“What’d you find?” Mrs. Ingersoll asked, snatching at the folder. “Gambling? Drug use? Cheating? Oh, please God, let it be cheating! The prenup would never survive an affair!”
Kenna opened the folder and splayed some photos out across the desktop. Mrs. Ingersoll’s facial expression changed from one of excitement and anticipation to one of confusion.
“Your husband’s not cheating on you, Mrs. Ingersoll,” Kenna said. “On Friday nights from eight until midnight, he plays Dungeons & Dragons at a game shop in Mission Valley with a bunch of friends from work.”
“Are you serious?”
“Completely. Mrs. Ingersoll, after two months of intense scrutiny, this is the closest it gets to anything clandestine or untoward.”
“You don’t have any other information?”
“Well, I mean, I can tell you about his tenth level half-orc barbarian Kurg if you’re really interested.”
Mrs. Ingersoll glares at her. “I need something I can use when I file for divorce. If you can’t find something for me, maybe you should create it.”
“Look,” Kenna said. “You’ve got two options here. You can either have me keep investigating him in hopes that he does something in the next several months that he hasn’t done in the last two, or you can accept the fact that your husband isn’t the philandering creep you thought he was and try to move forward. And as much as my bank account wishes I were, I’m just not the person to help you entrap your husband for financial gain. If he actually did something wrong, that’d be different and a situation where I’d happily nail his ass to the wall. Now, if you’d like me to keep you up to date on Kurg’s conquests, I’m happy to oblige. But I honestly think you should consider dropping this whole thing. ”
Mrs. Ingersoll seems to consider Kenna’s words.
“Miss Kitada, if you’re not going to help me come up with a justification to divorce my husband and void our prenup, I’ll go find someone who isn’t as constrained by your pesky romantic side or code of ethics.”
Score another one for wedded bliss, Kenna thought as she watched Mrs. Ingersoll write out a final check for her services and drop it on the desk.
“Good luck, Mrs. Ingersoll,” Kenna called after her former client as the woman stormed out of the office and slammed the door behind her.
Submitted for the September 2016 "The Chapter One Competition."