During the month of April, Claudia is writing the Jazz Murderer, a Seth and Ava Story for newsletter subscribers. There are daily and weekly contests for eBooks, paperbacks, and other prizes.
Today, in this post, we are sharing the story so far. The first section is told in story form. The next section is told in series of Twitter posts. We return to story form on this blog next week.
The final story will be available for sale at the end of the month. All sales will go to Feeding America.
Seth leaned out the elevator door and looked up and down the hallway.
“It’s not this one,” Seth said.
He stood up straight. In the process of leaning forward, his very drunk wife had slid down on his arm. He bounced her back up to his shoulder.
“I told you,” she slurred. “It’s twenty.”
“There are only four floors.” Seth looked down at her.
“I know, I know,” she said.
“You know what?” Seth said. He raised his eyebrows in amusement.
“You told me I’d get more drunk, drunken, drunker, whatever, at this altitude,” Ava said. “But I’ve been to Aspen a million times.”
“You don’t drink much now,” Seth said.
“You’re a bad influence on my drinking,” Ava said.
He grinned at her.
“I didn’t listen to you,” Ava said. She poked her finger up in the air. “No, I did not.”
The elevator doors closed but the car stayed still. Seth took out his cellphone.
“Who are you calling?” she asked.
The hotel picked up so he wasn’t able to answer her question. In a few moments, he was able to sort out that they were staying in luxury suite 420. He glanced at Ava to tell her that she was right about the twenty. Her eyes were closed and she seemed sound asleep.
He pressed the elevator button and went up a floor. Once there, he roused Ava enough to get her walking. Together, they stumbled toward their suite. Seth leaned her against the wall while he dug out the card key to the room. Ava took one look at the door and stood up straight. Scowling, she touched the card lock.
“What is it?” Seth asked as he continued to look through his pockets.
“I put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ thingy there,” Ava said.
She looked across the hallway and saw that the door across from them had a “Do Not Disturb” tag in its lock.
“Hey!” she said.
“Shh, shh,” he said in a kind, intimate tone.
“That guy stole our ‘Do Not Disturb’ thingy!” Ava pointed to the door.
He turned his head to look at the cardboard sticking out of the room lock.
“We need that thingy!” Ava said. “We’re ‘talent’ and ‘talent’ sleeps in!”
Pointing to the tag, she wrenched herself from the wall. Between her ridiculously high heels and her drunken state, she landed in a pile in the middle of the hallway. She giggled.
“Would you like me to get it?” Seth asked
He reached across the hallway for the “Do Not Disturb” tag. Trying to right herself, she reached up and tugged his arm. His arm bent and he felt the skin on his finger tug as it slid along the edge of the tag. He looked at his finger. A paper cut was usually no big deal but he was scheduled to play the piano the entire festival. He was closing the festival with a solo performance. He gave the tag an annoyed scowl.
“Let’s leave it there,” Seth said.
“But we’re the ‘talent’,” she said from her spot in the middle of the hallway.
“How about if I write a note?” Seth asked. “Will that do?”
Ava nodded and turned green.
“I have to…” Ava’s lips folded over themselves. Her hand went to her mouth.
In a feat worthy of his nickname “Magic O’Malley,” Seth managed to get her off the floor, through the room door, and in front of the toilet before she threw up.
“Don’t forget!” she ordered between heaving.
Shaking his head at her, he wrote a quick note on the hotel sticky note. Sticking the tag on the door, he realized that his finger was bleeding from his encounter with the “Do Not Disturb” tag. Sucking on his finger, he closed the door.
He checked the bathroom for Ava. Her designer dress and undergarments had taken her place in front of the toilet.
“Ava?” Seth asked.
Feeling motion, he made turned fast. Naked, Ava stood with her hand out.
“You just…” he pointed to her mouth.
“I’m not drunk anymore,” she said with a laugh.
“I gargled,” she said
He smiled. Laughing at him, she grabbed his hand and led him to the bedroom.
From the dark, depths of sleep, Ava became aware of two things at once — her head felt like the a steam train was moving through it and someone was knocking on the door. Not daring to open her eyes, she rolled from her side to her back and felt for Seth. He wasn’t there. Her ears picked up the sound of the shower running. Sighing, she rolled onto her stomach and dropped back into sleep.
The knocking became pounding. She awoke anew and reached for Seth. She realized again that he was showering and that her head felt like it was going to explode. The pounding on the door continued.
She got out of bed only to discover that she was naked. She grabbed Seth’s shirt from the pile by the door. It was over her shoulders before she realized that Seth worn it while he played piano at the festival all day yesterday. It smelled of sweat, his cologne, and mountain air with a hint of marijuana. Every performance had been a cloud of now legal marijuana. She was halfway through the suite and halfway through buttoning the shirt when the pounding stopped.
She sighed and sat down on the suite couch. Somehow, the head pounding intrusion into their morning was gone. She sent an irritated look toward the shower. Seth had said that not having a “Do Not Disturb” hang tag was no big deal. Clearly, he was wrong.
She was walking back to bed when the door crashed open. She screamed in terror. On instinct more than anything else, she dropped to her knees and held her hands over her head. For the first time in a long, long time, she wished she’d never retired from the Denver Police Department.
“POLICE!” a man’s voice yelled. “Hands on your head. Cooperate and you’ll have no trouble.”
Still on her knees, Ava turned toward the door. A team of five police officers were standing in the doorway. They wore all black with POLICE stenciled on the back and masks over their faces. The team leader pointed at Ava.
“Where’s O’Malley?” the man asked through his mask.
Ava felt a well of protective energy rise from her belly.
“Why do you want to know?” Ava asked.
The leader nodded to the man next to him. He knocked Ava onto her belly. With her naked butt for all to see, the police officer handcuffed her wrists behind her back. He put his giant size fifteen boot found a spot between her shoulder blades.
The room became almost too silent. With her face in the carpet, she felt more than saw the police move toward the bathroom.
“SETH!” she screamed.
The bathroom door burst open and in seconds, she heard Seth calling for her. She felt the police drag him out of the shower. The officer threw him onto the couch just to her right.
“Where is my wife?” Seth screamed.
“I’m here,” Ava said or tried to say. Her voice went into the carpet.
“Where is my wife!?” Seth screamed.
She felt a presence move into the room. The black covered police officers moved aside for this other person. Without warning, the man standing on her back grabbed her by the shirt collar and pulled. The shirt gapped to her waist and her naked body was on display for all to see. Her head went above the back of the couch.
“Seth,” she said.
His head wrenched around to look at her. His eyes told her that he had no idea why these men were here. Feeling the new presence, he glanced to his right. She watched his face set in angry, disgusted stone. He said something in Vietnamese.
“Yes, I knew you’d remember me,” the man said.
Ava had never seen the man before. He looked like a police detective or possibly a government agent. She was racked her mind. Who was this man? Nothing came. The man nodded in her direction, and the person holding her dropped her onto the ground. Her naked body mashed into the carpet and her forehead slid across the course fiber. She saw only the carpet.
“What is this about?” Seth asked.
“Seth O’Malley, I’m arresting you for the murder of …” The man turned to look at a woman standing in the doorway. “What was his name?”
“Sir, I really don’t think…” she said.
“You’re not paid to think,” the police detective said. “What was his name?”
“Martin Moore Lee,” she said.
“And when am I supposed to have murdered Mr. Lee?” Seth asked. His voice was laced with disgust.
“Yesterday,” the detective said.
“There’s videotape of me play the piano the entire day yesterday,” Seth said. “The only time I wasn’t being on stage or under surveillance video was when I walked through this door late last night.”
“Get him up,” the police detective said.
Ava felt movement. One of the officers in black seemed to have pulled Seth to his feet. She heard the sound of handcuffs being closed over his wrist.
“You cannot possibly think…” Seth said.
“We have your blood and your prints,” the police detective said. “We’ll figure out the why.”
“Ava, call Schmidty.” Seth’s voice came from near the door of the suite.
“Get her up,” the police detective said.
“Sir?” the man standing on her back said.
“You heard me,” the police detective said. “She’s coming with us.”
The room became almost too quiet. Ava felt the man standing over her shift.
“We’re taking her in,” the police detective said.
Someone grabbed her arm and wrenched her out from under the police officer’s boot. The few buttons that had held the shirt together ripped. The Seth’s dirty shirt hung off her shoulders.
She found herself standing face to face with a small, medium build man. His brown eyes were bloodshot. Even in her hungover state, Ava caught the whiff of acid on his breath from either an ulcer, too much alcohol over too many years, or more likely both. He pushed her forward and the officer who’d been standing on her back caught her.
“We’re taking her in,” the police detective repeated.
“Yes, sir,” the officer who had held her down said.
He blocked the man’s access to Ava and led her out of the suite. Once in the hallway, she saw the police tape over the door to the room across the hall from them. Having processed a hundred sites like that one, she knew the site and smell of a murder. She glanced at the man who was holding her. His eyes flicked into the room and back at her.
“Seth was playing all day and all night yesterday,” Ava said. “I was with him all day and all night.”
The man’s eyes indicated that she wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t know. He led her down the hallway. They’d gone only a few feet when she heard the police detective tell the officers to tear their room apart. She closed her eyes through the short elevator ride. On the street, she saw Seth’s head in the back of a police cruiser. She watched as the cruiser drove by.
“You did not hear this from me, Amelie,” the police officer standing next to her said into her hair.
At the sound of her given name — the one only her mother called her anymore — Ava’s head jerked to look at him.
“Stinks so bad it has to be a vendetta,” the police officer said.
“The detective?” Ava asked out of the side of her mouth.
“New,” the police officer said. “And yes.”
Ava nodded. A police cruiser pulled up and the officer helped Ava into the back. When she turned to thank him, he was gone. She drove to the police station in silence.
The story moved to Twitter: Day 1:
We had to pause this story for a week because Claudia injured her hand. The story will continue the week of April 27, 2015.