Haven Books Fiction
Mara Purl's Novels & Stories
Cause & Conscience - Prologue
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Deputy Delmar Johnson was not eager to read the journal of a woman who was probably dead.
He'd put it off all day, then lingered over dinner at the Bird's Nest. Now he delayed for a moment longer, taking in the view from just outside the restaurant.
The Central Coast hills, which had baked all day in the July sun, now seemed to shudder as they shrugged off the heat of the day, sending a shimmer through the landscape, making it appear as a mirage. Sometimes Del thought it was a mirage. He was a long way from South Central Los Angeles.
He worried that his reflexes had slowed in an atmosphere no longer charged with nightly drive-by shootings. And he rejoiced that he could now go several hours thinking thoughts other than survival. Night-blooming jasmine began to release its elixir to the evening air, where it mingled with the pungent aroma of eucalyptus. Inhaling deeply of the heady scent, he understood how California had become a land of dreams and aspirations, and how it saturated its visitors with sensuous visions of wealth and abundance. Like a land that dripped honey, it made its captives unwary till they sank in their own satiety.
Shaking his head to clear it, he crossed the parking lot and felt comforted by the satisfying crunch of gravel under his boots. Tempting though it was to head for his cozy studio apartment, he could no longer avoid reading the journal.
Though he had orders not to treat the missing reporter's case as an active one until, or unless, something concrete turned up, he was free to pursue whatever he wished during his time off. The journal had turned up when a hidden safe was found during a search of Chris Christian's apartment. Now, he knew the book would be sitting ready to burn a hole through his desk.
Pulling into his assigned parking spot at the Central Coast Sheriff's station, he turned off the motor and let the Suburban begin to cool. As he stepped down from its high running board, he let the heavy door slam and heard all four locks respond synchronously as he pressed the remote and headed up the stairs to the front entrance.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's office shared a building with the Department of Forestry, perhaps signifying that trees were every bit as important as people, a sentiment with which Del was beginning to agree. The two species stood toe to toe in a necessary symbiosis, each literally creating the other's air to breathe. Experimental programs in inner cities proved third-generation welfare families who'd never seen a tree began to overcome depression and hopelessness with the planting of a single sapling.
His heavy boots clanging down the hallway, Del opened his office door, his eyes flying to the journal to disprove his theory of spontaneous combustion. Still in tact, the unpreposessing journal contained the full weight of what was almost certainly a dead woman's soul.
Lifting it, he ran his hands over the nubby, black synthetic-over-cardboard perfect-bound book. Not an expensive item—she hadn't chosen leather or raw silk for her memoirs. Yet it had a simple elegance about it—classy, understated, functional. He asked himself for the hundredth time whether or not he had the right to read someone else's private writings.
Of course, he could rationalize that it was his job to read it. Yet it surprised him what hesitance he felt. Perhaps it was the very nature of a self-reflection that bothered him. What would happen, he wondered, if he started to write his own journal? He'd never done that much soul-searching, if that was its primary function. And when it came to recording the daily events of life, they seemed far too mundane to bother. Of course, he kept a log of work-related activities, but that came with the job.
Could he write down personal thoughts—how he felt about being an African-American man moving alone in a Caucasian stronghold? Or how he felt about a particular woman? Involun-tarily, he found himself resisting the idea of committing anything to paper. It wasn't so much the inability to frame his thoughts and feelings in words; it was that he didn't trust what would happen to the journal itself.
What was a private diary but a dangerous, little emotional time-bomb that sooner or later was bound to go off? Full of betrayals, heartbreaks, and all manner of things best left unknown, it seemed to him a bad idea ever to keep one. Unless. Unless something happened to the owner.
And here he was, the follower of clues. Thinking back to Christopher Darden's book, he remembered what the former D.A. had written—that Nicole Simpson had left those photos of herself battered and bruised...had left them for him. Had Chris Christian left this journal for Del?
Sitting heavily in his desk chair, he flipped open a page at random. Good date with Joseph last night. He still refuses to be called "Joe."
What was startling in reading the words was their immediacy. Chris didn't seem dead at all, or even missing. Her voice was here and now in present time, and he felt transported not only back in time, but also into her particular reality as convincingly as if she'd taken his hand and walked him into her life.
Shuddering at the thought, he reminded himself for the hundredth time that Chris wasn't necessarily dead at all. Yet he couldn't shake the feeling he was trespassing on someone's unfinished life. Flipping forward he found:
I feel as though I'm having some sort of clandestine love affair. The symptoms are all the same: my heart skips a beat when he calls; I can never call him back; I look forward to meeting him but am scared and worried about these meetings, and can't tell anyone about them. Last time I was due to meet with him I remember glancing in my underwear drawer thinking I ought to put on some naughty garter belts for our meeting. It was a strange thought and I dismissed it, but the fact that it crossed my mind got my attention.
At first he assumed Chris was referring to Joseph Calvin, but the references to being unable to call him didn't jibe with other notations: call Joseph back. Curious, he flipped backwards to see if he could anchor these comments to any person or appointment, but found none that seemed to relate. He continued reading.