Author: S.L. Ellis
Date of Publication: December 20th 2014
CASSIE CRUISE wants her life back as a kick-ass P. I. Trouble is, she has zero credibility since bungling a case on reality TV. After a public tantrum, she slinks off to bury her head in the sandy beaches of Southwest Florida. Just as she starts over as the owner of The Big Prick tattoo shop, a body is discovered in the trunk of her burning car. Cassie’s aware there are those who’d get in line for their turn to torch her car. But murder? You don’t have to like her, but you damn well better respect her. And get out of her way—this is one case she intends to solve, with or without an audience.
About S.L. Ellis
S.L. Ellis came from a small town in Michigan, and after a few decades of winter she was ready for a fresh start. A move to Florida and a few days on the beach improved her disposition a hundred-fold, and it was here that writing became more than a thought. Classes were taken, workshops worked, and a few books written. Ellis's short story "A Brush With Death" was published in Vol. 12 DARK TALES, a UK magazine and reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno, Dark Scribe Magazine, Anthology Reviews: "A Brush with Death is a solid, at times poignant, chiller in which a dying woman--who knows death well after a lifetime of obsession--makes a deal with the Grim Reaper. Ellis's keen observations on aging and death are spot-on." Her short story "If the Shoe Fits" was accepted for publication in HARDLUCK STORIES for its final issue. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and ITW.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/slelliscassiecruise Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/7247243-s-l-ellis--lane-changes
Maybe I wasn’t the best PI around, but none of my cases had been likely to get me killed—until now… Lane grabbed my arm, pulled me in front of her, and shoved me toward the hallway.
“I can walk on my own.” I shrugged her hand off my shoulder. Everything my eyes landed on I measured for use as a weapon.
“Go sit.” I walked to the lanai and flipped the light on. She flipped the light off and grabbed my hair to steer me toward the chair. The moon was huge, white, and in position with the tops of the palm trees. I blinked and slid my eyes toward the closed and barred sliding doors.
“How’d you get in?” I asked.
“Jimmied your side garage door. You really need a deadbolt on that if you’re not going to lock the inside door.”
“Well, shit.” I couldn’t believe I’d been so concerned with the sliding doors and not the side door. After all, it’s how I got in to her house.
“I’m sorry to have to do this,” she said and gave my hair an extra twist. “I just couldn’t think of a cleaner plan.”
“I could help. There are nicer plans. Maybe you didn’t give it enough thought?”
“You’re so weird all the time,” she said. Moonlight radiated from the barrel of the revolver, a Ruger Single Six. I hid my panic while Lane backed in to the chair next to mine. She still had my hair in her hand, pulling out hair and stretching my scalp with each inch she moved. Tears came to my eyes, and then she let go of my hair.
“Do you think anyone would be surprised if you’re found floating in the pool?” Lane asked, once she situated in the chair and had the revolver aimed at me just so.
Bad things happened in threes. That was the thought that ran through my mind—right after holy shit. This was number three. A scorched breeze moved through the trio of Queen Palms situated in the side yard. I watched their fronds whisper and nod as if remarking on the scene in the street beneath them. An intermittent glow from the fire truck’s lights and the clunk and clang of firefighters putting away equipment underlined the quietness. Just a few people continued to hang around and gawk. I searched the gawkers for familiar faces, wanting Vince, my fiancé, to appear, or if not him, then Janice, my friend and neighbor, would do. No such luck. Instead, the only recognizable face was a neighbor, Sammy Porter and, when he walked up, he aimed a flashlight over and around the car. I watched with an anger I thought I had left back on the decaying streets of Detroit. I’d moved here because I thought I could safely hide in this neighborhood of retirees, trimmed palm trees, screened-in swimming pools, and manicured St. Augustine grass. I’d done my homework, but it seemed pointless now. People were supposed to be safe here of all places. Wrong and wrong again. Apparently, it didn’t matter how aware you were, or where you lived, violence could creep up on you anytime and anywhere. Sammy bent down near the trunk.
“Hey, it’s still on fire back here, still got a fire here.” With the help of his flashlight, I saw a meandering spiral of black smoke escaping between the cracks of the trunk lid. A sudden anxiety raced through my veins and, as if dipped in cement, heaviness weighed down my legs and arms. I wanted Sammy to go home and mind his own business. In fact, everyone should leave. It was my car someone had torched, my business, my loss.
“Get away from my car!” I yelled. Sammy ignored me, but my yelling did get a firefighter’s attention. He grabbed a pry bar, elbowed Sammy aside, and popped open the trunk. Sammy swallowed and then looked over at me.
“Oh, my.” The firefighters bent to get a closer look and, lured by the looks of horror on their faces, I went to the car. Bile rose in my throat. Inside the trunk was a charred and still-smoldering body. Oh my God. The nose was completely gone and overall there wasn’t much flesh remaining on the face. Oh. God. Sucking in my breath, I turned away from the face, only to catch a view of the relatively undamaged organs behind the ribs and the incinerated flesh of the chest. Dizziness hit and I grabbed the outside edge of the blackened trunk to keep from falling face first into the charred body.
“Back away from the car.” Turning toward the voice, I felt vindicated, thinking he was speaking to nosy Sammy, but no one else was near the car. Just me, bending over the trunk of a car—my car, as I had so recently and loudly reminded all—ogling, with no outward signs of repulsion at a barbequed human corpse. I shoved down the trunk hood, straightened up, and took a step back. It began as a typical interrogation.
“Your full name, please?”
“Cassandra Leah Cruise. You can call me Cassie.”
“Would you go over what happened tonight, Ms. Cruise?” I knew this was the part where they were supposed to get a feel for whether I was guilty or innocent based on my behavior during questioning. Also, they would be aware of where I looked as they question me. My sister, Rachel—Sergeant Rachel Cruise—had told me all about interrogations before she was killed in the line of duty eighteen months ago.
“I don’t know what happened,” I said. Looking at the paint-covered cement block walls of the interview room, I thought they were probably cool to the touch, and I wondered how odd it would seem if I stood and laid my forehead against the wall to soothe the ache radiating from behind my eyes. I decided on somewhere between odd and extremely odd. Looking away from the block wall, I gave my attention to the detectives in the room. They both wore button-down shirts and khaki slacks, but that’s where the likeness ended. I zeroed in on the older detective. He was close to my forty-nine years and handsome in a rough kind of way. The tiredness of his eyes, the wrinkles in his shirt, and his old-style slicked back hair reminded me of the Detroit Homicide Bureau detectives I knew from a previous career. He caught me looking and returned my stare. Suddenly, I felt both homesick and needy and I shivered with another emotion I didn’t want to put a name to. Running my hand through my purposely-shaggy auburn hair, I looked at the younger of the two. He appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties. His slacks had a nice crease. He was well groomed, clean-shaven. He even had a style to his military-short hair.
“What’s your name?” I asked the young detective. He scrunched his face and cleared his throat before answering.
“Stephan. It’s Detective Lieutenant Craig Stephan,” he said. I shot him a smile.
“I’m Cassie.” Stephan ignored the smile.
“You have a charred body in the trunk of your car, and you don’t know what happened?”
“I don’t know how a body ended up in the trunk of my car.” I looked to the right. Per Rachel, when a person is remembering, they tend to look to the right. That’s because the right side of the brain is the memory area. If they look to the left, they’re lying. Or did I have it backward?
“It’s your car, isn’t it?” Detective Stephan asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“It is my car, but it’s not my body. I mean, I don’t know who the body is or how it got in the trunk.” “We think you know,” Stephen insisted.
“I’ve told you I don’t know,” I said, again looking to the right. The older detective put out his hand. “Detective Brick Winslow, County Sheriff’s Office.” He shook my hand as a man should shake a woman’s hand. Warm and firm.
“For real? Your name is Brick?” I asked.
“You have to know my parents to understand,” he said. I nodded.
“I only know what I saw.”
“Okay. Tell us what you saw,” Detective Winslow said after releasing my hand.
“I was outside watching the firefighters with a few of the neighbors who were still hanging around.” North Harbor’s Detective Stephan grimaced and rubbed his hand over the short, bristly hair on his head.
“What’s that got to do with the body?” Winslow held his hand up in Detective Stephan’s direction. “Just let her talk,” he said and then turned to me. I again saw a tired, work worn, big city detective. Someone who seemed as out of place as I felt in this small Florida town. And I also saw a person who would likely understand parts of me that not many others could.
“Go ahead, Ms. Cruise.” I nodded my appreciation to Detective Winslow before continuing,
“So I decided I’d had enough and yelled, ‘Get away from my car!’”
“Having someone near your car bothered you?” Stephan asked.
“And?” he said.
“One of the firefighters popped open the trunk.” I folded my hands on the table in front of me and tried to find a way to describe a horribly burned body without having actually to see it in my mind’s eye. Detective Stephan slumped down in his chair, letting his arms hang slackly alongside.
“Ms. Cruise, come on, just tell us what happened.” What a freaking whiner, I thought before responding.
“Look, I’m trying, but I want you to understand this first because I think I know how it looked to others. It took me a few seconds to catch on to what I was seeing, and when it registered, I instinctively slammed the trunk. I wasn’t trying to hide anything.”
“The body…” I took a deep gulp of air and looked longingly at the cement wall. “That body, what I saw, I’m not so sure I’ll ever stop seeing it.” Keeping my eyes fixed on the wall, I described in detail the charred corpse. They were both quiet for a few seconds, but eventually they worked into the confrontation part of the interrogation. That was where they made accusatory statements regarding the suspect’s involvement and tried to raise the stress level.
“Come on. You know more than you’re saying. In fact, I personally think you skipped an important piece of the story,” Detective Stephan said.
“What piece? I didn’t skip anything,” I said.
“What about how and why you killed the person found in your trunk? How about that part of the story?” he asked.
“I’d like you to think about that. Why would anyone kill a person, put the body into the trunk of their car, and then light it on fire on their own street, in their own neighborhood? Bring all that attention to the body they’re supposedly trying to hide? Does that really make sense to you?” I asked.
“It’d make sense to a certain washed-up P.I. who made a fool of themselves on T.V. I mean maybe that washed up P.I. wanted to bring some attention back to themselves and—”
I cut him off with a sugary voice and fake smile. “You’ve just made it abundantly clear you’re a fucking moron.” The last thing I wanted to think about or hear about was the television show debacle. “Why did you park the car on the street?” Detective Winslow asked, diverting the moron from saying anything in return.
“I fell asleep watching a movie and didn’t move it into my garage,” I said. This question raised my stress level, and I couldn’t stop myself from looking to the right three or four times in a row.
“Are you feeling okay?” Detective Winslow asked. I nodded, filled my lungs with stale air, and let it out while trying to rid my mind of illogical feelings of guilt. So much for Rachel’s stupid interrogation tidbits. Detective Winslow stared at me for a few seconds.
“Okay, so normally you park in the garage? This time, just by coincidence you left it on the street.” “Yes, that’s what happened.” Winslow looked down at his pad of paper.
“Tell me about the vehicle.”
“Like I said, it was my sister’s. It’s a 1997 Mercedes Benz 500SL Roadster, in great condition. I mean it was in great condition. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“Okay. Go over again why you parked your car on the street and not in your garage.”
“Again?” He nodded.
“Laziness, I guess.”
“That it?” he asked.
“Okay. No, that’s not it. Not all anyway. I mean, I had to pee.” I was suddenly embarrassed over the fact that I was embarrassed to talk about a normal body function.
“What the hell?” Detective Stephan said. Turning toward Detective Winslow, I explained.
“I gulped down a huge amount of iced tea while working at the shop and left in a cranky hurry. I ran some errands, and once I turned onto my street, I felt an overwhelming urgency. So I parked the car on the street, hopped around while trying to concentrate enough to get the bags of landscape rock I’d bought at Home Depot out of the trunk. I gave up halfway through and ran inside, barely making it to the bathroom in time. As I said earlier, I then grabbed an old movie from my collection and popped it in the player. Dead Ringer starring Bette Davis.”
“Who?” Detective Stephen asked.
Ignoring him, I said to Detective Winslow, “It’s what I do to relax. Anyway, about half way through I fell asleep on the couch. Not the fault of the movie, mind you. I was exhausted from the day. I never went out to move the car into the garage. I forgot about moving the car.” Rachel would understand, wouldn’t she?
“No idea why someone would do this to your vehicle?”
“Nope, can’t think of one.” Big. Fat. Lie. Probably many people would have stood in line for their turn to torch my car. I was not the world’s most careful driver, but more to the point I was not what you’d call a people person. I couldn’t play the games required to enjoy popularity. I didn’t like fluff. I didn’t like false emotions. I didn’t know how to change my so-called snotty, sarcastic ways. Therefore, people didn’t really like me. Most times I was okay with it.
“No idea who the dead person is?”
“No idea.” Rachel’s description of the next step in an interrogation didn’t hold up either. Supposedly, it was something called theme development. They made up a story about why the suspect did the crime, hoping he would start filling in the missing spots, give reasons of his own, or blame the victim. Instead, it seemed both of the Detectives floundered and became stuck. They never got to the point where they were supposed to speak in soothing voices in hopes of lulling the suspect into a sense of false security, thus allowing them to confess. Eventually, I tired and asked to leave and, surprisingly, they let me go. Detective Winslow asked if I wanted to call someone for a ride home. I said no, I could get myself home, even though I desperately wanted to call Vince. It was called biting off your nose to spite your face. I walked the mile home in the dark and the ninety-four degree heat and humidity as a personalized form of self-flagellation. Inside the house, I tripped over my purse and key ring lying in the entryway, picked them up, tossed them on the dining table, and then phoned Vince. After allowing him the privilege of soothing me, I gained his promise to come over and comfort me. I looked out my window at the now quiet neighborhood and felt a tenseness building between my shoulder blades. Turning away from the window, I picked up a magazine from a nearby pile and flung it across the room. And another. And another. Not stopping until I hit a framed painting on the far wall, knocking it to the floor with a crash. Why? Who was the poor victim? Who did this? Why my car? Rubbing the tears off my face, I returned to the window and watched as a dark sedan, lights off, crawled towards my house, almost coming to a stop in front of the new neighbor Lane’s house. The driver—from my window just a dark faceless shape—turned in my direction and then sped up, popped on the lights, and went on down the street out of the neighborhood. Could be nothing, just a forgetful driver. The streetlights were in good repair and spaced evenly enough along the street. But now, everyone and everything came under suspicion. It was weird how something was inconsequential one day and then important and suspicious the next. Damn, I’ll never have a car like that again. As on almost any other day, I then heard the voice of my long-dead sister.
“Uh-huh, tell me about it,” she said. My failure to protect her now crispy and blackened Mercedes-Benz convertible overcame me. Another failure. Another public failure. I grabbed the partial pack of cigarettes I’d thrown in the trashcan under the kitchen sink earlier and lit one up with shaking hands. This was a murder. Someone placed a body in my trunk, torched my car, and walked away as if the body was never a person, as if they hadn’t ever meant anything to anyone. No one should walk away without paying for this. One, two, three. Bad things always happened in threes. The temperature inched up by a degree a minute. Lord have mercy, it’s summer in paradise. I sat and thought about the weeks and days before the incident, trying to figure out what, if anything, stood out. My conclusion was meeting the new neighbor, Lane Somers. That one typically normal thing stood out from all of the other mundane happenings. I noticed her the moment she stepped out of her front door. From across the street, I could see she didn’t fit the neighborhood. I guessed her to be under thirty, which is about a forty-five-year gap from the fossilized fussbudgets making up eighty percent of the subdivision. She was tall and lissome with an unaffected elegance in her walk—a woman with an assured style. She stood out in other ways, not only because she didn’t automatically reach for the handrail when she moved along her porch. Prior to her moving in, at forty-nine years, I was the youngest chick on the block. After much thought and planning, I purposely chose to live amongst a gaggle of WOOPs—well off older people—because I knew, statistically, only about one percent of persons aged sixty-five and older would be involved in violent crime. The stats were much different in my old neighborhood. Living here, statistically, I would be safe. I would be anonymous. Safety and anonymity. Those were my reasons for moving here. After hopping off the lawnmower, I bent down to brush off pieces of grass and dirt from my legs. As I straightened, I took in the whole picture. She looked like a young Grace Kelly. A shot of envy coursed through me and I had to remind myself that beauty was not a reason to be jealous. By my age, you should realize it was just an occurrence. An act of nature. That was what I told myself anyway.
“Cassie Cruise,” I said and put my hand out.
“Lane Somers.” She moved her hand to take mine and sent a light vanilla-citrus fragrance my way. “Well, I’m here. Finally.” She sighed and leaned back on her heels.
“It’s so exciting.”
“To move here?” I asked, at that time thinking, first glance should have showed her nothing exciting ever happened in this neighborhood. Unless she counted the occasional lawn watering schedule violation. Her eyes flitted from the hibiscus bushes and day lilies growing along my walkway to the baskets of spider plants hanging between each columned section of the porch and back to me.
“It’s more than that,” she said.
“Oh, really? Why’s that?” She tossed her head back and crossed her arms. Something in her demeanor gave me pause. I tried concentrating on her face, hoping to discover some smidgen of her story.
“Do you have something in your eye?” she asked. Embarrassed, I shook my head no and thought about explaining my theory of a person’s life story showing on their face, but she beat me to the punch.
“Think you can judge a book by its cover?” she asked.
“Somewhat. First impressions are telling, you know.”
“You have a point.” She looked me over, starting with my feet and ending at my face. I’d felt as if I’d been busted and didn’t know what else to say. We both became silent, not looking each other in the eye. The temperature inched up by a degree a minute. Lord have mercy, it’s summer in paradise. The screwed up beginning of the screwed up investigation. . . Janice let me off at my house. I stood outside and watched her until she disappeared inside her garage. I then walked over to Sammy Porter’s house. He opened the door an inch and mushed his face into the opening. I could only see one of his eyes and half of his lips as he spoke.
“I’m not sure you should be here, Miss Cassie.”
“Well, I’m probably considered a witness. You know, because of last night, an’ all,” he said. I forced myself to look away from his moving lips. Watching half of a mouth speak through a crack felt freakishly hypnotic.
“That’s what I’m here to talk about, Sammy. The fire and the body. Can I come in so we can talk?” “Oh, no. Talking to you would most likely taint my testimony, an’ all,” he said.
“Testimony? Are you kidding me?” I asked.
“Discovering a dead body is no joking matter, Ms. Cruise,” Sammy said. And then I understood. I was making light of his five minutes of glory.
“Sammy, testimony can’t be tainted if there’s no apprehended perpetrator. If there’s no perpetrator, there’s no case, thus, no testimony is tainted.” I deliberately combined nonsense and pseudo cop-speak in hopes it would either reassure or confuse him and get him talking to me.
“I’m a P.I. anyway, so it’s okay. Please open your door,” I turned away again from the door crack before he answered.
“Ever heard of fruit of the poisonous tree?” he asked.
“Of course. I told you I’m a licensed private investigator.” I sort of knew what he was talking about. Regardless, it would take two minutes to look it up.
“I’m not so easily fooled. I know what you really do to earn a living these days,” Sammy said.
“Um, yes. Because I just told you,” I said, looking at the eye and lips in confusion.
“No. I’m talking about that immoral tattoo parlor, an’ all. Now, you need to go on home.” The lips had begun to take on their own personality.
“But, Sammy, I’m just trying to find out who put a body in my car and set it on fire.” The lips disappeared and the door smacked shut. As I turned to step down from his porch, I heard the door creak and before I could look back, I heard Sammy’s lips whisper,
“Hussy.” There was something about both men that made me wobbly-knee weak.
“It’s not about the number of friends. It’s about how guarded and afraid you’ve become.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“Yes, you are. You’re afraid of looking soft, or weak. I guess weak is a better word. But mostly you’re afraid to care about people.”
“I care, but caring doesn’t change the way people behave. And, as you said, it’s not about the number. Quality, not quantity, right?”
“Right. But there’s more to it. You don’t engage people in conversation. You interrogate them. You want them to answer all of your questions—they have to pass your test.”
“I don’t know any other way,” I said.
“You can keep a relationship casual and light for business purposes. You are a business owner now, you know. In my line of work, I have to do it every day. It’s all in the mindset. Keep it at surface level by engaging in easy going conversation and don’t invest yourself every time you meet someone new.”
“If what you’re telling me is some people are worth taking the time to get to know, then that means there are people who aren’t worth getting to know. I just shorten the process. If a person seems offended by my questions and has something to hide, then they avoid me. So instead of finding out the hard way, I find out right away. I haven’t wasted any of my time.”
“You can’t just force them to tell you everything all at once,” Vince said.
“I just want enough to figure out if they’re what they seem to be.”
“You didn’t behave that way when we met way back when.”
“I know, but I thought you were rich so it didn’t matter,” I said.
“I am rich.”
“Guess I know what I’m doing then, don’t I?”
“So you’re just after my money?”
“That’s something you should’ve asked yourself a long time ago, back before being with me became so addictive.”
“Uh-huh, Cassie, you think you’ve just proven a point, don’t you?”
“Well, you did. You’ve proven mine,” he said. “Do you know you have gorgeous eyes? Then there’s your perfectly hairy chest. It’s yummy. Oh, and your feet. Did anyone ever tell you, you have the feet of a twenty year old?”
“It’s an old trick, but feel free to go on distracting me. That way you won’t have to tell me I’m right. Anyway, I’m asking you to lighten up on Lane, okay?” His request seemed so unfair I could barely catch my breath. I felt surrounded by a gray cloud of failure. Had we changed so much that we no longer understood each other?
“What is it you want from me Vince? What do you want from life?” I asked.
“What do you mean? I want to succeed. Retire early and live the good life. I thought we wanted the same things. That's why we're a couple, right?” Vince said. I did my best to hide my disappointment, knowing I needed time to figure out its cause.
“Right.” Looking out the window the last few minutes before reaching the restaurant, I thought about the meaning of success. Perhaps that's where our problems began. We both wanted to succeed, but hadn't really discussed our definition of success. At the restaurant, we sat at our usual table overlooking the beach during the time the movie-making industry calls magic hour, which really doesn’t last an hour. Nothing beautiful lasts forever and magic hour is no different. This is the time the sun sets, the light is perfect, the sky is reddish pink, and for approximately thirty minutes, everything looks amazing. I decided to let go of the anger I’d felt about Vince and his request regarding Lane. I didn’t want anything between the evening and us. We held hands across the table while staring out at the waves and sky. The sun was huge and red and, for a brief bit of time, I thought of the body in my car and the red paint splashed on the window of The Big Prick. They were both things an enraged person would do, and it felt very personal. Who would do that to me?
“Drinks anyone?” Amy, our usual server, asked. She had dark spiky hair with pink edges and a diamond stud in her right nostril. Nonetheless, her petite shape and perky attitude reminded me of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.
“It’s so good to see a happy couple,” she said. I looked over at Vince and stuck out my tongue. He crossed his eyes. Amy groaned and held up her hand in an effort to stop us. Vince gave his winning smile to Amy and caused her to blush.
“Seriously, you two are a great couple,” she said.
“You wouldn’t believe the stuff we overhear. Sometimes the whole restaurant gets to hear, like a few days ago when this ‘Barbie’ and ‘Ken’ look-alike couple got into it. They came in all happy, looking and behaving as if their perfectly planned lives were just that. Perfect. And then we all got to see they’re just like everyone else.” Amy shook her head and waved her hand in the air as if to rid herself of the memory.
“Working here, I’ve figured out the people who try to appear perfect have the bigger problems out of the public eye.” She looked at Vince.
“You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?” She looked at Vince.
“Yes, I know what you mean.” He crossed his arms over his chest and turned his head to look out the window. For a guy who’d just lectured me about engaging in light conversation and not investing emotions, his body language was telling a different story. Although, I did appreciate how crossing his arms like that highlighted his tanned muscular biceps.
“Anyway, my bet is you two—” She pointed at Vince and me. “—will be hanging out ten years from now. I’ll be right back with your drinks.” Something about the Barbie and Ken story had me thinking about Lane and her boyfriend Del.
“Wait, Amy, I want to ask you—”
“Cassie, come on now. Let’s have a nice romantic dinner, okay?” He used his smile on me. As much as I should be able to ignore it after all this time, I couldn’t. I crossed my fingers.
“Just wanted to know the dinner special, that’s all.”
“Oh, right.” He made a face at me and turned to Amy who waited quietly.
“Just the drinks for now.” I let it go when I looked across the room and noticed RJ sitting at a corner table, fiddling with his phone. He saw me looking and nodded. I looked around for the camera person. When I didn’t see him, I gave all my attention to Vince. I was determined to have an unstressed evening. We did have a nice romantic dinner and the mood continued well into the night. To my relief the image of Detective Winslow only flashed briefly during the midst of it all. There was something about both men that made me wobbly-knee weak. Sadly, history had proven, when it came to maintaining relationships, I was not to be trusted.
Q/A with S.L. Ellis
How did you come up with the idea for this story?
When we moved to Florida, we stayed for a time in a subdivision full of retirees. The neighbor across the way, however, was in her 30’s, blond, slim, and attractive. She just didn’t fit, which got me thinking about why she would move to a neighborhood of older people. Was she hiding from something or someone? And, well, you get the picture…
Where do you find your inspiration?
I am inspired to write when I read. The better the book, the more I’m inspired and eager to write. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? I am easily distracted. Any shiny thing will get me going into another direction and I have to dig deep to find the will power to keep going and finish the story before beginning another.
What are your current projects?
I am working on the next in the Cassie Cruise, Private Investigator series, and I’m 30,000 words into a historical (late 1880’s – early 1900’s) novel with a strong, female protagonist. She has visions of gloom and doom and, as you might imagine, isn’t the most popular person in the village when her visions come true.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Just that people aren’t always what they seem to be. They aren’t always what they present to the world. Does music play any type of role in your writing? Music is an important part of my writing. I like to remind myself how few words make up the lyrics to most of the songs that I love. They tell a story and convey emotion in under 200 words. I strive to keep my writing tight while still telling the story.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your life?
Experiences are things (conversations, emotions, adventures, work) you’ve participated in and felt internally.
What books have influenced your life most?
I loved and learned so much from a handful of biographies found in school libraries, but beyond those, any book written by Catherine Cookson, Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Mary Stewart began my love of reading genre fiction.
Are there any new authors that have grabbed your interest?
It’s best to say “newly discovered authors” because my TBR pile/list is huge and an author may have been published for years before I get around to reading them. Authors who’ve recently caught my interest and have become an obsession are Gillian Flynn, Elizabeth Hand, Ariana Franklin, Gil Adamson, and William Gay.
Can you share a little of your current work with us? Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I welcome all reviews. How else will I learn and grow as a writer if I don’t listen to my readers? I say all, but there is the one I’m not looking forward to reading. I recently gave a memoir writer (who I’ll not name), an honest two star review and she wrote a response comment blaming it on a “tussle” we had in a forum. I’m not looking forward to her “revenge” review only because I won’t allow myself to respond to it. I have so many clever and snarky things to say to her, but won’t give her any more of my time and attention.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
I have an author page on Facebook (facebook.com/slelliscassiecruise) and my website is www.cassiecruise.com. The blog posts on the website are written in Cassie Cruise’s voice, but I write the book reviews that you’ll see on that site.
Do you have a special time to write? How is your day structured writing-wise?
I write wherever and whenever I get a chance. Sometimes it’s only a sentence or two, so my progress on most projects is at a snail’s pace.
Why did you choose to write [genre] stories?
Genre stories are typically about characters and their actions, reactions, thoughts and behaviors. That’s what interests me and that’s what I write. What is for you the perfect book hero? A flawed, tough-minded, person who’ll always stand on their own, but isn’t afraid to show their loyalty to their loved ones.
When you start a book, do you already have the whole story in your head or is it built progressively?
I’m not a plotter. I have key points written, but everything else occurs organically during the writing. When and why did you begin writing? In 1996, I began my attempts at writing as a way to understand everything I was feeling when a family member was convicted of a very serious crime. The story was a failure as far as the writing, but I did come to terms with my feelings regarding the conviction.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I needed (and still need) validation, so I didn’t really believe in my writing until I won a contest for a short story and it was published in an anthology.
List three books you have recently read and would recommend.
1. Two Guys Detective Agency, Stephanie Bond
2. Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
3. The Impossible Wish, Christine Nolfi
Tell us something that people would be surprised you know how to do.
Most people would be surprised to know I was afraid of driving an automobile and avoided getting a license for a long time, but purchased and taught myself to drive a motorcycle in a matter of days.
Will you write more about these characters?
Lane Changes is the first in the Cassie Cruise, Private Investigator series. My hope is to write about Cassie, Janice, RJ, and Brick for a long time.