The following is the first chapter of my third Martha’s Vineyard Mystery, White Shark. It is preceded by The JAWSfest Murders, and Deadly Catch, and it is followed by Pretty Vineyard Girls. I really hope you enjoy it! If you do, please leave a comment!
Red and white lights flashed onto the bedroom ceiling. For one brief instant, they made no sound in their unnaturally bright and colourful hip-hop across the drywall. They barely disturbed the two men in their single beds. Charles, in the bed furthest from the door, opened his eyes and watched them dance above him in a ritual his semi-lucid brain couldn’t comprehend. Then almost immediately, the lights were joined by the scream of tires tearing across pavement. Rubber hollered in its battle between movement and direction. It felt like the windows of the house had shattered inward with the cacophony, shattered like they did in a bad horror movie, shattered in a detonation. The room filled with an explosion of sound, a cracking, crunching, and mechanical sound. Then, as quickly as it came, it was all sucked away in a vacuum of silence.
“What the hell was that?” Brad asked from his bed. He didn’t expect a response.
Charles lunged out of bed, opened the bedroom door, and ran down the stairs. He took a brief second to put on his flip-flops, grateful that he had decided to sleep in boxers and a t-shirt. Brad came down the stairs behind him. Charles turned and looked at his friend. Brad’s face looked unsettled, pale and yellow. Charles wondered if his face looked the same, like eggs in mid-scramble, not yet congealed. He decided that it probably did. After shouting to Brad to call 911, Charles ran into the night.
The porch light on their rental house lit the front lawn, the driveway, and the trees at the property line. Past that, there was an unfathomable blackness lit by nothing at all. Charles ran toward the road. His body coursed with adrenaline. His heart pounded in his ears. Wet dew from the lawn brushed onto his feet. It felt cold and made his flip-flops slippery. As he ran, Charles searched for any sign of the car or cars that had wakened him. Any sign that the whole thing hadn’t actually been a terrible nightmare. He knew it wasn’t. He might not have been so sure if Brad hadn’t heard it too, but he had. If it was a nightmare, he was still in it. Reaching the end of the drive, Charles stopped and tried to let his eyes adjust. The light from the porch could accompany him no further. It had stretched out in its support as far as it could go. He was on his own. No birds chirped at this time of night. If the crash had disturbed them, they did not let on. There wasn’t even the buzz of crickets. It was too early in the season. The days were plenty warm in June on Martha’s Vineyard— Charles had even been swimming that afternoon—but the nights were still quite cool.
Charles looked deep into the black. Far on his left, he saw a single red light. A taillight? It looked like a taillight. He ran up the road toward it. As he got closer the light began to fade. Charles quickened his pace. The light flickered. Charles ran faster. His heart pumped. He didn’t want to lose that beacon. The light peaked in the orange-red of a cigarette coal glowing on the last, long drag before being dropped and rubbed out under a boot. The taillight burned and then was gone. Charles stopped short in the dark. His beacon was gone. His legs were gooseflesh. A cold current of night air ran over him. The hair on his arms and neck lifted, rolled fluidly like algae on a riverbed. Charles shuddered. He turned to look back at the still lit driveway, now over a hundred feet behind him. It was the only thing discernable in the blackness. Seeing it was the only reassurance that Charles could find. He no longer knew exactly where he was going but he still knew how to get home. Turning back around, Charles faced the point where he believed the red light had been. He ran in that direction.
“Hello!” Charles yelled into the wall of darkness in front of him. There was no moon. No stars. He could barely see his hand in front of his face but he had to keep going. There was someone out there, maybe more than one person, who also couldn’t see their hand in front of their face, someone who was not only as blind in the dark as he was but someone who was also bleeding to death. Someone who was pinched between a dashboard and a seat, scared, and not sure if they were going to survive what had just happened to them. “Is there anyone out there?” Charles yelled again. He found a great deal of comfort in hearing his own voice. His left foot went down and found something big, heavy but not solid ground. He felt a sharp pain in his toe and a sickening wrench in his ankle. He pulled his foot back reflexively and tried to regain his balance. Charles stumbled and flailed hitting something hard with his fist. He hopped twice and then found his footing. His ankle hurt and he slowed. It must be car parts, he thought. He was walking through bits of the wreckage. He slowed his pace. He heard pieces of plastic and metal scrape on the road under his feet. Charles was grateful that whatever he was stepping on wasn’t wet and mushy. He didn’t want to step in flesh. As long as it wasn’t flesh. His heart raced faster at the thought.
His imagination had always been far too vivid. He saw his flip-flop sliding on sheets of skin, slices of scalp. His foot tickled by bits of hair. He imagined his foot splashed, not with the coolness of the night dew, but with the warmth of blood, his flip-flop becoming sticky instead of slippery. What was he running into? What would he do when he found someone? He was going to find someone. That was inevitable. Cars don’t hurl themselves down the road in the middle of the night. Well, Stephen King’s Christine had, but she was a satanic Plymouth. Satan’s car didn’t crash in the middle of the road. Satan was a better driver than that. Whoever was out in the blackness in front of Charles was hurt and needed help.
“Hello?” Charles called again.
“It’s me! I’m the one!”
Charles jolted back. He heard and saw the man all at once. A young black man swayed out of the darkness toward Charles. By the time Charles could see him, he was no more than six feet away. He started to back up at the same pace that the man came toward him. Charles led him in the direction of the driveway light.
“What’s your name?” Charles asked, slowly backing away.
“Sam Grover…my name is Sam Grover.” The man seemed to think long and hard on this question. He breathed heavily. He kept walking toward Charles.
Charles didn’t want to get too far away from the wreck but he didn’t want to leave this man alone either. “Do you have some identification? Show me some ID please, Sam.” Charles wanted to confirm that the man was thinking clearly, that he at least knew who he was.
“My mom! My mom is sick. I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault.” Sam Grover pulled a wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans and handed it to Charles. Charles held it toward the light from the drive and squinted to read it in the dark. Indeed, he was Sam Grover. Charles decided that Sam was thinking rationally. He returned the wallet and took Sam by the shoulder; it was too dark to get a really good look at him. He led him to the drive where the light was better.
“Sam! Focus on my voice for a minute please. Were you alone in the car? Is there anyone else in the car?”
“My mom is sick!” Sam said again. He was sweating and panting for breath. “I’m so sorry.”
“Sam, is your mom in the car?” Charles held him firmly. It was too dark to see the extent of the damage but Sam’s head was wet and shiny on one side. It looked like he could have quite a gash. Charles turned around and saw that Brad was still in the mouth of the driveway. Their friend Brooke was with him now. He yelled loud enough that Brad could hear him. “Brad, take Sam into the light and get a good look at his head. Don’t let him close his eyes! I’m going to see if there’s anyone else in the car.”
“Okay! Be careful!” The light from the house hit Brad sideways across his face. Charles could see Brad’s eyes widen behind his glasses even at this distance. It looked like he had a thyroid condition.
Charles turned his attention back to Sam. “Sam, you have to go to my friend Brad over there. Do you see him? He’s going to make sure that you are okay. Do you understand?”
Sam looked back into the darkness where Charles had first seen him. Then he looked down the road at Brad. “Okay. My mom’s sick. I’m so sorry.”
Charles watched the silhouette of Sam head down the road toward Brad and when he was sure that Brad had him, Charles turned back around and headed once more into the oily night. This time, as he ran, Charles braced himself not only to find a car wreck but also to find a sick woman inside it. Christ, he hoped she wasn’t dead. What would he do if she were dead?
Charles continued into the black, once again feeling the bits of wreckage under the spongy soles of his flip-flops. The road turned and blindly he almost tripped over the edge. The earth fell away under his feet. Down the slope was a car lit only by the faint light on the inside of the passenger door. It had been impossible to see from a distance because the car was upside down. The driver’s side, the side closest to Charles, was crushed in completely. The door was completely concave, hammered in like a tin drum, indicating that the car had rolled on that side. How the hell Sam Grover had been able to walk out of this was beyond Charles. The passenger door was still open where Charles imagined that he had crawled out. The windshield was gone. Not smashed, gone. That was it. There was nothing else. It was a crushed-up car. There was no sign of a passenger. No sign of another car. Nothing at all to indicate that anyone other than Sam Grover had been in the accident at all. Had the mother been thrown? How the hell was he supposed to find her if she had been? There was nothing more that Charles could do at that time. Brad had called the emergency crew. They would certainly be better equipped to handle this than he was in his flip-flops, NHL boxers, and JAWS t-shirt. Charles scrambled back up to the road and headed toward the light that marked home.
Adrenaline still had his heart racing as he jogged into the driveway. The bright light made him wince after being in solid darkness for so long. There were three figures in the light. He could see his friends, Brad Park and Brooke Collins, standing with Sam Grover. Brad was talking to Sam and Brooke stood a few paces away. She looked frightened. Once in the drive, Charles slowed his jog to a walk. He needed to catch his breath. He tried to breathe deeply, to bring his heart rate down, but it was still racing. When he got close enough, he could see the left side of Sam Grover’s head. His temple was painted red and sticky; dirt and bits of leaves were glued to the open wound in a grisly decoupage. It was impossible to see exactly how bad the wound was without cleaning it up first. At the very least, Charles was happy that he was standing up and awake.
“He keeps trying to leave,” Brad said matter-of- factly to Charles.
Charles shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. You can’t leave. You’ve been in an accident. You’re not going anywhere until you see a medic and speak to the police.”
Sam’s eyes widened. “No! No police! I have to go. My mom’s sick.”
“What do you mean your mom’s sick? Where is she?” Charles was less concerned and more irritated at the mention of his ill mother than he had been at the crash site. When Charles had first heard of her, he had assumed that the woman was lying in a pool of her own blood, faeces, and vomit in a car that reeked of gasoline and was about to explode. Now, he was imagining some woman with the flu propped up in bed watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
“She just lives down the road. I have to go. I can’t talk to the police.” Sam Grover started down the driveway toward the street.
“Whoa! You can’t. You need to speak to the police for your own protection if nothing else.” Charles wasn’t about to physically restrain him, but he figured he could slow him down until the emergency team got there.
“No! I have to go. My mom’s house is just up here.” Sam turned in the opposite direction from the crash and started jogging down the road. Charles stayed with him. He didn’t run out in the middle of the night to save this guy only to have him collapse and die from a subdural haematoma in the middle of the street. And who’s to say that the car he just rolled was even his? Nope. This guy was going nowhere—at least, not alone. They hadn’t gone far when the lights of a fire truck, two police cars, and an ambulance appeared through the trees in front of them. There was no way out. The street they were on was a cul-de-sac. Charles stopped running.
“There. You have no choice now.” Charles walked out into the middle of the road and started swinging his hands above his head in the universal signal for “stop”. He stepped aside and stood where Sam had come to a halt. Sam was bent over with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath, resigned to his fate. The first vehicle in the emergency convoy was the fire truck. It rolled up beside them, lights rolling, and the driver leaned out.
“You call about an accident?” the driver yelled out.
“You bet.” Charles pointed toward the wreck. “Straight ahead.”
“Anybody hurt?” the fireman asked.
“Just him.” Charles jerked his thumb toward Sam. “He was the only one involved.”
“No other car?
“Not that I saw,” Charles said.
“Okay. You stay and talk to the officer behind me.” The truck drove on in search of the wreck, turning on a floodlight.
Two police cars drove up, followed by an ambulance. The cruisers stopped in a formation that blocked the two men in. Charles and Sam stood motionless. The officers’ headlights blinded the two men. They winced. The red rolling lights were much less offensive, but the headlights were harsh. A short and stocky officer stepped out of the first car. He walked toward Charles without looking up. He pulled out a note pad and began to flip through it looking for an empty page. “I’m Sergeant Jack Burrell. Are either of you two gentlemen hurt?”
Charles smiled at the officer who he had come to know so well during his last visit. “He is. He’s the one from the accident. I’m staying up the road. My friend called in the accident.” Charles’ grin broadened as he waited to be recognised.
With a jerk of his head, Sergeant Burrell motioned to Sam, still focused on his notes. “You talk to the officer over there. She’s going to take you to the ambulance.” He turned back toward Charles. “I have a few questions for you, sir. What’s your name?”
Charles looked at the officer incredulously. “Jack! It’s me!”
For the first time, the sergeant looked up and stared at Charles. “Charles Williams?”