Hi all! I decided to give you an extra dose of Sample Sunday goodness. Here is the ENTIRE first chapter of TIN GOD. Enjoy!
“That’s impossible.” Jaymee’s stomach lurched and then spiraled to her toes. The meager window air conditioner in the manager’s trailer did nothing for her constricted lungs. She shifted as the torn plastic of the junky folding chair cut into the back of her thigh. “My boyfriend–ex-boyfriend–paid the rent. I gave him the money last week.”
Her insides continued their cartwheels as Mr. Shaw, smarmy manager of Ravenna Court, pulled open a desk drawer and thumbed through his files. A glob of ash dropped off the cigarette dangling from his thin lips. He grunted and swatted the ash onto the floor. Jaymee squirmed again, reminding herself not to touch anything without first dousing it with disinfecting spray. A pungent aroma of sweat, stale cigarettes, and lemon-scented air freshener hovered over the short, square-faced man who directed all his comments to Jaymee’s chest.
“I didn’t get it.” Mr. Shaw crushed his cigarette into an overflowing ashtray.
Jaymee’s mouth went dry. “I don’t understand.”
“What’s not to understand?” Shaw’s gravelly voice held no empathy. “You’re two weeks late with the lot rent. Now you got five days to come up with the money or get out.”
Troy. What had he done with the cash she’d given him? She’d known this was going to happen as soon as she read the stupid note he’d left her yesterday. Apparently, he’d met the love of his life down at The Lotus, and they planned to live happily-ever-after in fairytale land. Jaymee had grown tired of his laziness and hadn’t been sorry to see him go until now.
“I can postdate a check.” She dug into her cheap bag. Embarrassment burned her cheeks. She’d always managed to pay her rent even if she had to skip a meal or two.
Shaw rubbed the back of his fingers against his scruffy chin, thick eyebrows raised. “Right. Then it’ll bounce. Cash or money order only.”
She didn’t have it–not to spend on rent. Dazed, she sat glued to the crappy plastic chair.
Shaw leaned back and put his hands behind his head. His stony expression changed: beady eyes narrowed; thin lips parted to display yellowed, uneven teeth; eyebrows hiked up his shiny forehead. “You got options.”
Cockroaches might as well have slithered over her body. Jaymee crossed her arms over her chest and pulled up the collar of her tank top, her hand lingering over the skin still exposed. “Excuse me?”
“I accept other forms of payment.”
Her stomach heaved. “I’m not interested.”
“Just sayin’, your neighbor Crystal saves a lot of money by providing certain services.”
Jaymee clamped her mouth shut. A decade of heartache and betrayal had taught her patience and more importantly, how to hide her hatred.
“Again, no thank you.” She snatched the pink slip off his desk. “I’ll have the money for you.”
Shaw’s pursed his lips together until they turned white. His eyes had gone cold again. “Have it your way. You got three days.”
Jaymee exited and shoved the door to Shaw’s trailer shut with her elbow. Midday heat snatched her breath. Red-hot sun bore down on the mobile home park, wilting the already scraggly pepperbush growing along the half-dried out creek bed that served as the park’s eastern border. Three fat tiger spiders nested among the bushes’ white leaves, lying in wait for mosquitoes. She shuddered and skittered to the other side of the drive.
She stomped down the dusty path, her chest aching with fury. She’d have to dip into her minuscule savings account, and that money was meant for something far more precious than rent. She glared at the miserable place she called home as her shoes began to fill with gritty dirt.
Ravenna Court was about as beautiful as a rattlesnake bite. Forty or more dilapidated mobile homes lined the park, all in various states of disrepair and neglect. Instead of cultivating colorful flowers, Ravenna residents battled kudzu and stubborn cogongrass. Children played in the weed-ravaged empty lots, and neighborhood dogs roamed free along with raccoons and other night bandits. Life on the west side of Roselea, Mississippi’s historic cemetery, was a hell of a lot different from the genteel atmosphere enjoyed uptown. Jaymee didn’t have any beautiful antebellum homes to admire on her walk home. All she saw were overgrown yards and decaying headstones from the nearby cemetery.
She lived here for seven long years–since just after her eighteenth birthday. Now that she had to dig into her savings just to get by, she figured she’d be stuck here for the rest of her life.
What other option did she have? She kicked a clod of dirt and watched it roll down the bank towards the creek. Everything she owned, however pathetic it might be, was in that trailer. She had no place to go, and she couldn’t do anything without a place to live.
Unless she called Darren. She’d rather eat dirt. Her brother would help, and then her father would descend to berate her for shaming the family yet again, but not before he chewed her mother out for Jaymee’s very existence. Her mother had enough misery to deal with.
Her sweat-soaked scalp tingled from the heat. A single bead of perspiration trickled down her neck and into the crevice of her bra. She followed the gravel road out of the small trailer park, grateful for the canopy of red maples and dogwoods lining the path. They were the only pretty things in this place. Graying headstones peeked through the thicket of woods. Guilt swept over her. She hadn’t visited in a while.
“Wish you were here.” Her voice sounded meek in the humid air. This was one of those days when Lana’s absence was nearly unbearable. Her oldest friend rested forever in Roselea’s historic cemetery, taken away four years ago by some cruel stranger in downtown Jackson. Lana had been a couple of years older than she, and they’d grown up together–along with Lana’s brother Cage–in Roselea. When things got bad at home, Jaymee fled to the safety of Lana’s. They’d lock themselves up in her pink and green bedroom, and Jaymee would pour out her misery. Lana listened but never judged. Not even when Jaymee made the biggest mistake of her life.
A fly landed on Jaymee’s bare leg, and she swatted it away. She followed the winding road past the cemetery, sadness mounting with every step. The graveyard was part of historic Roselea, with its hulking Civil War monuments and graves dating back to the late 1700s. Overgrown kudzu and jasmine snaked over the stones, giving the cemetery a wild, haunted look. On cooler evenings when her life wasn’t totally falling apart, Jaymee loved wandering through the grounds. The decaying stones, some of them too faded to read, usually gave her a strange sense of peace.
But today the cemetery looked cold and bleak. Its appearance matched the sadness that lived in her heart, leaking into her everyday life until she wanted to lie down and give up.
Yesterday had been her daughter’s birthday. Sarah was seven now, living somewhere with her adoptive parents. Did she have a party? Eat too much cake and ice cream? Did Sarah have any clue her real mother existed–that Jaymee hated herself for trusting the wrong people? Only seventeen, she’d been naïve and in a hopeless situation. Ripe pickings for the manipulative bastard who’d bullied her into giving Sarah up.
Jaymee had been saving her money, biding her time. She almost had enough to retain a lawyer. Digging into her savings to replace the money Troy stole from her would set Jaymee back at least two months.
The hits kept coming, but that was life. At least that’s what Jaymee kept telling herself. “Can’t give up. Lana would never forgive me.”
Tired and hot, Jaymee stayed under the shade of the dogwood blossoms and checked her watch. Fifteen minutes to walk to her gig cleaning Roselea’s antebellum masterpiece before her shift at the diner this evening.
Maybe she could ask Rebecca for the money. Her part-time employer had become a friend of sorts over the past couple of years, and Jaymee suspected the housewife was lonely. Most days, Rebecca followed Jaymee around as she cleaned, rambling about her many charitable causes and plans for her ever-growing flower gardens.
Rebecca might loan her the money. But then she would ask more questions Jaymee didn’t want to answer.
Just a few more months.
Already late, Jaymee beat a fast path down Rosaire Drive, a winding avenue high on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. In the heart of the town’s antebellum district, the street housed several historic homes, but the crown jewel was Evaline Hall. Brick columns guarded the entrance, and the stones were covered with blooming jasmine. The blacktopped drive wound through magnolias and live oaks until turning sharply to the left, where Evaline emerged. She stood two stories tall, her white portico supported by four wide columns. The main body of the house boasted a second story balcony made of strong iron, and two symmetrical wings made the mansion as imposing as she was beautiful.
Part of Evaline was open for tourists, but the house was always closed for cleaning on Tuesdays. Jaymee hurried up the stone steps, eager to get started. Evaline was the only place she could escape the heat and shitty memories of her life. The old house, full of antiques and secrets of its own, felt more like home than Jaymee’s own tiny trailer.
She paused in front of the main entrance. Rebecca’s new marble planter chock full of pink azaleas lay on its side, planting soil spilling out onto the whitewashed porch.
“Damn.” Jaymee pulled the heavy planter back onto its base. A four-inch crack snaked vertically through the white marble. Rebecca was going to be pissed.
A hot breeze drifted through the porch. The azalea blooms shifted in the breeze, but the heavy marble remained rooted to the floor. Jaymee nudged the planter with her foot. It had to be at least twenty-five pounds.
A twinge of unease rippled through her. She shrugged it off. “Must have been one hell of a gust of wind.”
Jaymee bypassed the main door and followed the wraparound porch to the east wing where the Newtons lived. The side door was unlocked, and Jaymee entered the home’s newly remodeled gourmet kitchen. Evaline’s original kitchen sat in the west wing of the home. A favorite of tourists, the old room had once been detached, but the house had eventually been renovated to include it . Rebecca had preserved the old kitchen but had no desire to cook in it.
“Hello?” Jaymee looked at the granite counter. She’d left her sunglasses here last week and Rebecca said they were still sitting on the counter. But she didn’t see them. “Rebecca, I’m here.”
Silence greeted her. Odd. Rebecca was usually bursting to talk. She was probably holed up in her art room painting. Out of habit, Jaymee turned to the stove where apple muffins usually waited, covered with an embroidered warming towel. The stove was empty. A sharp jolt of nerves hit her. The kitchen was immaculate, as though it had just been cleaned. Rebecca hadn’t cooked a thing this morning, or there would have been dirty baking dishes in the sink.
Jaymee moved with heavy feet to the refrigerator. The iced tea pitcher was nearly empty. Rebecca always had fresh iced tea waiting for Jaymee.
Jaymee hurried down the hall, her five-and-dime canvas shoes slapping against the hardwood floors. Rebecca’s art room was empty, the paints and brushes put away, the lights off and blinds closed.
She must not be home. But Rebecca would have found a way to let Jaymee know she’d cancelled. She was too polite to just disappear, and she’d stopped by the diner yesterday afternoon for a slice of chocolate meringue pie and confirmed their plans.
“Where is she?” Jaymee felt compelled to whisper, as if talking too loudly would disturb the house. The heavy silence felt foreign and sinister. A thump sounded on the private set of stairs that led up to the Newton’s master bedroom and guest area.
“Rebecca?” Jaymee heard the tremor in her voice and rolled her eyes. Good grief. The woman was probably late and just getting out of the shower. She didn’t always have to be the consummate southern hostess.
But she always was.
The voice of fear continued to nag Jaymee.
Another thump on the stairs, and she cut through the hall, skirting the antique desk. Royce Newton’s office door was closed; he was probably out of town, again. The stairs were just on the other side. Jaymee stopped short. Nerves threatened to choke her.
A red, gooey blob marred the bottom step. Blood. No, couldn’t be. Jelly. Had to be jelly. But Rebecca would never have left the mess on the expensive wood.
Jaymee’s heart beat double time. The blobs continued up the stairs in a strange pattern. Had Rebecca hurt herself? Jaymee took another unsteady step, but a hiss of anger stopped her. She caught herself on the banister to keep from face planting on the wood steps.
A mournful yowl sent a shiver of terror from her spine to her toes. Silas, Rebecca’s finicky Persian cat, sat halfway up the stairs, eyes narrowed. Brownish-red spots marred his white fur, and his front paws were covered with the crimson goop.
“Poor kitty. What happened? Did you hurt yourself?” She reached for the cat, but he hissed again and turned tail up the steps. Jaymee followed.
Halfway up, a foul smell saturated the air. The scent was so dense it seemed to have its own mass, much like the inescapable Mississippi humidity. Jaymee’s throat convulsed; she covered her nose and breathed through her mouth. The smell intensified with every step, taking on the odor of rotting sewage. Silas’s bloody paw prints continued up the stairs and across the hall to the Newton’s bedroom.
A memory stirred, twisting its way through the recesses of Jaymee’s mind. She knew this smell, knew the way the scent permeated the soul and made its way down into the gut.
Something terrible is in that room.
The door stood open just enough for the cat to squeeze through. Morning sun streamed through the massive picture window, bathing the room in a prism of light. More bloodstains glistened on the oak floor.
An icy sensation rippled down Jaymee’s spine. She tried to swallow, but her parched throat refused to work. If Silas had lost that much blood, he wouldn’t be running around the house. She fumbled toward the door, heart trying to pound its way out of her chest. The putrid odor had grown so strong it coated her mouth. Bile built in her throat.
The smell of death.
Her father and brother hunted, and as a small child, she’d made the foolish mistake of running to meet them when they’d returned from a weekend trip. In the back of her father’s black pickup truck lay a massive buck, gutted, tongue protruding out of its mouth. Her brother tried to stop her from seeing, but it was too late. The stench hit Jaymee full force, and she threw up on the side of the truck. Her father had spanked her.
Death lay inside that room. Every muscle, every nerve, begged Jaymee to turn and run, but anxiety propelled her forward. With a pale, shaking hand, she slowly pushed the heavy bedroom door open. The silence was so loud Jaymee feared her head might burst.
Nothing could have prepared her for what she saw sprawled out across the king-sized bed, wrists and ankles anchored to the bedposts.
Tears and sweat stung Jaymee’s eyes even as ice-cold terror took up residence in her veins. Vomit churned in her stomach. She couldn’t look away.
Rebecca’s flaxen-colored hair spilled across the pillow. Her pale skin bore violent red slashes. Dried blood stained the white, silk sheets. Purple bruises covered Rebecca’s throat and chest. Her hands were clenched into permanent fists of agony, and her eyes were wide open, staring at the ceiling, her mouth slack.
Jaymee clamped her hand over her mouth. Her employer’s resemblance to Lana had never been more brutally obvious. The long legs, blond hair, high cheekbones, and sunny smile were all frozen in grotesque shock, just as Lana’s had been in the pictures Jaymee forced Cage to show her.
Dead. Both of them.
Silas sat on the edge of the bed staring at Jaymee. Rebecca’s blood. That’s what had stained his beautiful, white fur. He’d been mourning his master, no doubt trying to get her to pay attention, to wake up.
Jaymee fell to her knees and heaved, even as she crawled away from the nightmare in the bedroom.
Get out, get out, get out.
She crawled down the hallway, gagging and spitting. The Newtons kept a home phone in the kitchen. Tears blurred her sight as she stumbled down the stairs, clinging to the banister for support. Her weak knees finally collapsed, and she tumbled down the last three steps, banging her head along the way. Stars burst in front of her, but Jaymee rolled to her hands and knees. She had to call the police.