I’m currently working on a new series. It’s a detective story about a private eye named Moneta Watkins. Here is a rough draft of the first two chapters. For this series, I’m going for a lead character who takes joy in the world around her – an anti-Sherlock vibe. I’d love to hear any feedback you have in the comments. Please excuse the typos. (Chapter one originally ran as a stand-alone short on Short Fiction Break.)
Moe yawned as she stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the basement. She didn’t like coming to the city morgue. It wasn’t that it was dark and dirty like on TV. This morgue was always pristine, state of the art, and during the day filled with fancy robotic lab equipment, stainless steel tables, and intelligent looking scientists in white lab coats. What frustrated Moe about coming to the morgue was the way the people here looked at her after she did what they asked her to do.
The elevator descended and she tucked her hands into the front pocket of her grey hoodie. Biting her bottom lip, she said a silent prayer, hoping the murder wouldn’t be too gruesome or violent. Moe liked using her gift to help the police, but she hated seeing the violent ones. They stayed with her, plaguing her nightmares and invading her daydreams for years after.
She looked down at her tennis shoes and smiled at the pink laces. She’d put them in earlier that morning. The touch of pink made her black Converses pop. She loved how fresh laces could make old tennis shoes seem new.
The doors of the elevator slid open and Moe stepped into the room. All except for one of the ten workstations were empty. In four hours, she imagined the room would be filled with pathologists scurrying around as they started their days. The scene was only something she had to imagine because they never asked her to come here during the day, only at night when no one was around to see what she could do.
“Ms. Williams, over here,” Detective James called from across the room. He and his partner, Detective Mason, were dressed as they always were: grey rumpled suits, nondescript ties, and gold badges that hung around their necks. Two men in white lab coats stood with them. The tall, bald, pasty skinned one was Doctor Andrew Keats. He was the pathologist Moe typically worked with. She didn’t know the heavyset short scientist with glasses.
They spoke in hushed tones about her as she crossed the room. She couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying, but by the way, they were motioning toward her, she could tell the detectives and Doctor Keats were defending her presence to the fourth man. When she got within ten yards of the group, they fell silent. Joining the circle, she looked them each in the eye and offered a smile. When it wasn’t returned, she looked back down at her pink laces. If being the only woman and the only person of color in the room weren’t enough to make her feel uncomfortable, she was at least fifteen years younger than the doctors and detectives.
“Thanks for coming in, Moe,” Doctor Keats said. “This is my colleague, Doctor Ron Schmitt. Ron, this is Moneta Williams. She’s the one I’ve been telling you about.”
“Nice to meet you,” Moe said as she shook the Doctor Schmitt’s sweaty hand.
He replied with a grunt as he looked her up and down.
“I’ve been talking about what you do and Ron wanted to see it for himself,” Keats said.
“It’s not much to see,” Moe said with a shrug as she stuffed her hands back into her sweatshirt.
“It’s pretty freaking amazing,” Detective James said. “I’ve lost count of the number of crimes she’s solved for us.”
“This thing she does, surely you’re not using it as evidence?” Doctor Schmitt said.
“No, no, no, no. Nothing like that,” Detective James said.
The excessive number of no’s made Moe smile.
“Sometimes though, when the evidence fails us, we just need a push in the right direction,” Keats said.
“So how does this work?” Schmitt asked, crossing his arms over his chest. “Do we need to light some candles, hold hands, and chant some kind of nonsense?”
“Ms. Williams touches the victim, closes her eyes, and then she tells us what happened,” Detective James said.
“So you’re some kind of psychic mind-reader?” Schmitt asked with a dismissive grin.
“Not exactly,” Moe said. “When I touch someone and concentrate, I’m capable of sharing an electrical current with the person that allows me to experience a person’s most active neural pathways by creating a replication in my mind of the memory the person is having.”
Doctor Schmitt laughed. “Nonsense. Keats, this is nonsense,” he said, shaking his head.
Moe shrugged again.
“It’s real,” Keats said. “You’ll see.”
“Fine,” Schmitt said. “Show me.”
“The victim is this way,” Detective James said, motioning to the back corner of the room.
The party walked together toward a figure covered in a white sheet, laying on a stainless steel table. Moe could tell the person under the sheet was a slightly overweight male who was around six feet tall. She whispered another silent prayer, asking that this one not be violent or gruesome.
As they surrounded the table, Detective James reached to pull back the sheet and uncover the victim, but Doctor Schmitt grabbed his hand. “Nope,” Schmitt said. “I don’t want you giving this charlatan any clues.”
Moe looked down at her laces again and sighed. “It’s fine,” she said. “I don’t need to see him.” Reaching under the sheet, she found the victim’s hand. It was cold and stiff. “How long has he been dead?” she asked.
“We estimate the time of death at ten hours ago,” Doctor Keats said.
“He might be too far gone,” Moe said.
Schmitt let loose a victorious laugh. “I knew it,” he said. “She’s a fraud.”
Ignoring the doctor, Moe said to Keats, “If I’m going to see anything, he’ll need a boost.”
“One step ahead of you,” Keats said with a smile. Reaching below the table, he retrieved a car battery attached to a small motor and a set of jumper cables. After setting the contraption on the table, turning on the motor, and attaching the cabals to the battery, Keats tapped the remaining ends together, generating a small spark. The other men around the table jumped. “I love it when they do that,” Keats said to Moe with a smile.
Moe grinned. “Just a quick hit, okay?” she said. “I don’t want to get everything in his head. Just the last couple things he saw.”
Keats attached the grounding cable to the table and held the positive cable next to the dead man’s big toe. “Just a quick hit. Got it. Let me know when you’re ready,” he said.
Moe took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and said, “Now.”
When Moe opened her eyes, she was standing perfectly still in a bright room. She held a brick in her right hand and a fishing net in her left. The floor was made of square white ceramic tiles and the walls were painted Sea Shell Blue color. She remembered the name of the color because of how ridiculous it had sounded. Sea Shell Blue. Such a stupid name. Sea Shells weren’t blue.
As the memory began to sharpen, Moe could tell the dead man was in his kitchen. His name was Charles, but everyone called him Chuck, or Grand Pa. He was seventy-six. Even though his wife, Marge, had died two years ago, there was a sad loneliness still lived in his chest. He missed her every second of every day. She’d picked out Sea Shell Blue for the kitchen, and the white tile. It was the only reason he’d kept it.
Moe stood in the doorway, staring across the room at the base of a black stove. Next to the stove was a white double sink and above the stove was silver hood and a shelf half-filled with various spices. When Marge had been alive, it had been packed with spice jars that were routinely replenished, but Chuck had been slowly throwing the old bottles as they ran low. Now, only a few unused ones remained. For a reason Moe couldn’t see yet, she was focused on the floor. She was standing as still as she was able. Waiting.
A small nose poked out from beneath the stove. It twitched, sniffing the air. The nose disappeared and the small head of a little grey mouse appeared. The animal also stood perfectly still, waiting to see if any predators had noticed its arrival.
“I’ve got you now you sneaky little bastard,” Moe thought as she squeezed the brick in right hand.
The mouse ventured out from beneath the stove, creeping toward the square of cheddar cheese Chuck had left in the middle of the room.
“A little closer,” Moe thought, watching the mouse move a few inches at a time across the floor. “A little closer,” she said to herself as a drop of sweat dripped from her bald head, down her cheek. She decided at that moment that she would use the brick and not the net.
Determining the room was safe, the mouse scurried toward the cheese.
“Got ya!” Moe yelled as she jumped at the mouse with as much energy as she could muster. Moving at that speed made her knees and her backache, but she didn’t care. If she could kill this damn thing, the pain later would be worth it. Her knees crashed into the tile floor and sent a scream of pain through her body as she leaped at the mouse, hoping to smash it with her brick, but the mouse was too quick. It scampered away, returning to its hiding place under the stove before Moe’s brick could smash against the tile.
“Get back out here, you little son-of-a-bitch!” Moe yelled as she struggled to get to her feet. Reaching up, she placed the brick on the spice rack above her head, dropped the fishing net to the side, and then returned to her hands and knees. Straining to see through the crack under the stove, she yelled, “I know you’re under there you furry bastard. Get out here and fight like a man!”
She shoved the stove with her shoulder, hoping the sudden jolt would scare the mouse into a panicked run. “You can’t hide from me!” she yelled, banging the stove a second time with her shoulder. “Get out here and face me!” she yelled as she hit the stove a third time.
There was a sudden sharp pain in the back of her head. She reached to the back of her neck to feel what had happened and was surprised to feel a warm, thick liquid coming from the base of her skull. She looked left and saw the brick next to her. It was smudged with blood. She thought about Marge. There was a feeling of relief, and peace, and completion. “I’m coming, baby,” she heard herself say as her arms went limp and her cheek pressed against the floor.
Moe opened her eyes and let go of Chuck’s hand. She looked at the four men standing around her. Each watched her with curious fear. It was the moment she dreaded, the moment when everyone in the room stared at the freak.
“You okay, Moe?” Keats asked.
She tucked her hands back into her sweatshirt and took a step away from the table. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m okay.”
“Well?” Detective James said. “Did you see who killed him?”
“Nobody killed him,” Moe said. She looked down at her pink laces and tried to forget the sight of the bloody brick on the floor and the memory of a wife named Marge she’d never actually met. “It was just an accident,” she continued. “He was alone.”
“This is nonsense,” Schmitt said, throwing his hands in the air with dramatic flair. “She didn’t see anything. How does an elderly man accidentally bash his head in with a brick?”
“He was hunting a mouse that had run under the stove,” Moe said. “He put the brick on the shelf with the spices and then started hitting the stove with his shoulder trying to scare the mouse. The brick fell, whacked him in the head, and he died. Freak accident. Not a homicide.”
“That explains why you couldn’t find any prints on the brick,” Detective James said to Doctor Schmitt.
“And why the neighbors didn’t see anyone coming or going,” Keats added.
Schmitt stammered with his mouth hanging open. “But. I don’t see how… I mean… An accident? The brick just fell?”
“Well gentleman, let’s call it a night,” Detective Mason said, his deep gravelly voice filling the room for the first time. Nodding to Moe, he added, “Thank you, young lady.”
“I’m glad I could help,” Moe said with a smile.
“Come on, Moe,” Keats said, motioning to the elevator. “I’ll walk you out.”
“Thanks,” she said. As she stepped into the elevator, she tried to erase the moment from her mind. She tried to leave Chuck and his mouse and his loneliness on the table with the detectives. She looked at her laces and tried to remember threading them through her shoes that morning, but she knew it was hopeless. Chuck’s memory of his last moment was her memory too now, and she’d see it over and over, until it finally wore thin in her mind and disappeared, as all memories do, only to be replaced by someone else’s.
Moe’s phone began playing the smooth sounds of Barry White, telling her it was time to get up. She debated reaching over and hitting smooth, but when the song transitioned Barry’s deep baritone speaking sweetly to singing about how he couldn’t get enough of her love, she couldn’t help but dance under the covers. She bit her bottom lip and smiled, thinking about the day. Today was going to be a good day, she was sure of it. Stretching, she sat up and checked the time. Six o’clock. A little earlier than usual, but she had a big meeting today and she needed to be awake.
A whine came from the end of the bed. She looked down to see Bosley’s nose and eyes poking up from the end of the bed. “You need to go out, boy?” she said to the brown short haired dog. Moe had no idea what breed he was. She was pretty sure he was just a mutt. She’d found him in an alley one night walking home for a job. She bent down to pet him, he licked her face and wagged his tail, and they’d been fast friends ever since.
She slid to the end of the bed and rubbed behind his ears. His tail beat furiously on the floor. She heard her coffee marker begin to brew in the kitchen and that gave her a second surge of energy. Popping out of bed, she grabbed the sweatshirt she’d worn the night before from off the floor and pulled it on. Dancing and singing along with Barry White as she moved from the bedroom, down the stairs, to the kitchen.
Standing on the tile floor, Moe froze. She glared at the crack between the stove and the floor. She could feel the brick in her hand again. She could see the Sea Shell Blue. She missed Marge. “Come on out,” she whispered.
Bosley nudged her leg, calling Moe back to reality. “Sorry, boy,” she said, trying to shake the memory from her head. She listened and caught the faint sound of Barry White. Holding on to it, she began to sing and dance again. Leaving the kitchen for the living room, she found Bosley’s leash, clipped it around his collar, and took him out the front door.
The song continued to play in Moe’s head as she followed Bosley from one tree to the next. She wished he’d hurry up and pick a spot. She’d never understood what it was he was looking for as he sniffed at a spot, only to decide it was not worthy of his pee. Finally, after five different pauses, Bosley picked a small patch of grass under a sapling and let his loose what his bladder had been holding all night.
“Good boy,” Moe said, which made her laugh. She felt the need to say it, but telling an animal it was good for going to the bathroom was absurd.
Turning, they walked back to the two-story rowhome Moneta called home, but before they could reach the door, Moe heard a relieved voice call. “Oh, thank God,” said the voice.
Moe looked across the street to see her next door neighbor, Stacey Howe coming toward her. Stacey’s black heels clicked loudly on the sidewalk as she walked. Her blonde hair was disheveled, her eyeliner was slightly smeared at the corner of her eye, and her slinky black dress had a stain on it. “Looks like you had a fun night,” Moe said.
“I guess,” Stacey said. “Maybe? Who knows? I sure don’t.”
“Well, welcome home,” Moe said with a grin. Despite Stacey’s often impetuous choices, Moneta liked her neighbor. She was smart and nice to chat with. Plus, Stacey never turned down an adventure.
“You look chipper this morning,” Stacey said, sitting down on her front stoop. Moe joined her as Bosley nuzzled Stacey’s leg. Stacey rolled her eyes and apathetically rubbed his head.
“It’s a beautiful morning,” Moe said.
“No. That’s not it,” Stacey said, looking at the bright Spring morning with disdain. Then studying Moe, she added, “You’ve got a new case, don’t you?”
“Maybe?” Moe said, unable to hold her smile back. “I’m meeting with a potential client in an hour.”
“You want me to come along? Give them some of that Howe charm?” Stacey asked. She wreaked of alcohol and smoke.
“I think you just need to go to bed for a while,” Moe said, rubbing her friend’s back softly.
“Yeah,” Stacey said with a yawn. “You’re probably right. Standing, she fished her keys out the small black and gold purse slung over her arm. “Before your meeting, you think you could do something for me?”
“What?” Moe said, suspiciously.
Stacey held out her hand for Moe to take. “Read me and tell me what I did last night,” she said with a whine.
Moneta laughed. Holding her hands up defensively she said, “Not a chance. Whatever you did last night, I do not need in my head.”
Stacey burped. “Yeah, probably better that way.” As she unlocked her door, she added, “Come get me for dinner. Okay?”
“We’ll see,” Moe said. “Depends if I get a case or not.”
“Keep me posted. And Moe,” Stacey said, looking down at Moe and Bosley.
Moe looked up at her and raised her eyebrows.
“Put on some adult clothes. No t-shirts with pictures of old movies or weird sayings, please. Promise me?” Stacey said.
“Promise,” Moe said.
After grabbing a coffee and a bagel, Moe showered and dressed, deciding today was a jeans and Green Lantern t-shirt day. Looking in the mirror, she said to Bosley, who was now laying at the end of her bed, “I think I’m going fluff today. What do you think?” While the dog did not respond, her phone transitioned from her classics playlist to Alicia Keys. As Superwoman rang through the house, Moe said. “Fluff it is.” Removing the scarf holding her hair in a pineapple puff, she moved and sang to the music as she sectioned out her hair and then picked it out. When she was done, she moved her head left and right and smiled at how her hair bounced.
Feeling confident in her appearance, Moe took the final step of her routine. She looked to the top right corner of her mirror where a picture of her mother, father, and four brothers was taped. Underneath the photo was a typed mantra. Touching the picture, Moe read, “Your name is Moneta Watkins. Daughter of Amar and Rashida. Sister to Robert, Joseph, Calvin, and Lance. You grew up happy and strong. Remember the love. Remember the joy. Because no matter what is in your head, this is your story.”