Thursday, January 8, 2015

Touching Spirits, Chapter 1

This is my new adventure novel. I will be doing a give away through Goodreads and Kindle when the book comes out.  I am working to publish the first week of July.    

    




                                                                                                       CHAPTER 1
 
  
      I was doing my nightly cop thing in one of those tall skinny houses in Amsterdam.   If I wanted to sleep I had to check every access point before I went to bed.  I started at the same door every time, pushed my shoulder against the warped old thing until I felt the bolt click into place, then walked to the next entry point, the bathroom window.  Only another cop would understand.
     As I was drifting into sleep someone sat beside me.  Someone was in the room.  The mattress compressed and triggered an alarm in my head.  Adrenalin hit my heart like a defibrillator jolt.  I snapped awake but did not move. 
       Gun and badge were on the bedside table.  If the intruder had my weapon I was already dead.  I waited for a pillow pushed against my head to silence the shot.    
      As my mind raced someone took hold of my arm.
     I shouted and jumped out of bed, grabbed my automatic and flipped the light switch, but I was alone.   It was the third time in a week something sat on my bed and grabbed me.  I moaned and laughed and wiped sweat from my face.  Strange sounds escaped my mouth as I slid down the wall.  Cops don’t go crazy.  I had to hold it together.  There were attorneys to deal with and divorce papers to sign. 
     For years marriage held together my life in Amsterdam.  Friends, career, apartment and language were stuffed inside it like groceries in a paper bag.  Divorce hit that bag like a stream of water.  What had once seemed strong fell apart in my hands and left me juggling the contents so nothing would shatter at my feet.  
     I remember the day everything changed.  Michelle was across from me in the kitchen, chopping vegetables at the counter for a midnight snack, her reddish blonde hair falling over a shoulder.   
She had been out and looked so sexy and sweet standing there in her black pumps and flowered print blouse that hung loose around her neck, shaking with the rhythm of the chopping.  As I admired her and stepped close and kissed her shoulder and pressed my hand on hers, I smelled perfume and cigarette smoke from the club. 
      The instant I touched her she started crying and dropped the knife. 
     “I’m so sorry, Cody, but there’s someone else.  I met a couple and they took me out.  I’ve tried not to see them, but I can’t stop.” 
     It wasn’t so much the words that hurt, but the look in her eyes, those green eyes that filled my nights and my heart, once so full of admiration and hope and our love, now showed fear and a wanting to be somewhere else.  Her simple admission broke the foundation of our home, broke the concept of us.  It was as though I had been slapped, but it hurt more, a pain in my gut that sucked strength out of me because I knew what it meant.  Michelle was part of me, her laughter and kisses lotion on the dry skin of my soul.  She was the reason I came to Amsterdam, learned Dutch and joined the force.  She was my Holland. Without her as my anchor in the Netherlands I could already feel the tide of culture and language pushing me toward the beach of my home, my country, the USA.      I don’t know how long I sat below the light switch.  Traffic in the street below turned silent.  Laughing crowds had long since left the bars when I climbed into bed. 
     I was sleeping on the horrible little sofa bed, steel bars poking me when I moved, dreaming of Michelle, cozy in our apartment, when I found myself staring at a man.  I thought I was dreaming and rose on an elbow.  He was in his sixties, dressed as a Wild West gambler with vest, Western bow tie, silver walking stick, a strange blue glow around him.  I stared for a few moments before realizing I was awake. 
     Fear shot through me and I jumped out of bed and ran for the light once more.  With light the phantom vanished, but his chair remained.  Something had moved it from its place against the wall. Something real, with physical form, had moved it.
     I could have imagined seeing a ghost.  Maybe I imagined something touching me night after night, but there was no denying something moved the chair.  That freaked me out.  The rest of the night I sat in the corner, firearm in my sweaty hand.  I was safe with my back against the wall.  If anything touched me I would instantly see it. 
     This was scaring the hell out of me.  I was losing sleep.  It wasn’t something I could shoot or slap handcuffs on.  Once or twice might have shaken me up, but could have been explained as a dream.  I had to find a way to stop it.
     I was lucky I still had my career and ran from the house each morning.  But sketchy sleep was making me irritable and I often snapped at Michael, my partner, during the second half of our shift when I started worrying about going home, and if the touching would return that night. 
      I needed somewhere to go where I felt safe and welcome.  I couldn’t go to the people I loved in Michelle’s family.  They had chosen sides.  I was now a foreign intruder, isolated and alone, a man with a giant accent that made even the flower girl on the corner look twice and hesitate to answer, never having heard Dutch spoken by an American. 
     One night I refused to go home.  I couldn’t take something touching me again.  I had to make it stop.
     I wanted the walk home to last as long as possible, so I took the park rout, watching wisps of fog float along the narrow streets, past little houses pressed together, windows glowing with light filtered through curtains.  From one of the windows jumped a cat.  I turned to watch it run and saw a man following me. 
      He was short with brown skin and black oily hair combed straight back. 
     I was so absorbed in the thing touching me at night I wasn’t watching my surroundings.  I was being street stupid.  He might be some guy rushing home.  That would be the best scenario.  Or he might want to rob me.  That I could deal with.  But if he was connected to a case and seeking revenge, there might be more than one guy.  If that were the case I was in trouble.  I had to get among people and find out. 
     I reached beneath my coat for my weapon, and realized it was in my police locker.  I crossed the street and stepped out of sight behind a van. That gave me a few seconds head start.  The instant I stepped out of view I sprinted up the street and around the corner.  
     I made it to the park and squatted in the bushes, panting, waiting to see if I was being paranoid or really in danger.  Within seconds the guy ran into the park and rushed to the restrooms, came out and turned a circle, searching the park, and ran to a side street. 
     Was he related to a case?  Had some con with a grudge recently been released from prison?  For three hours I marched around the city, stopping several times in doorways and peeking out café widows to make sure I had lost the stalker. 
     After following one canal and then another, I found myself where I felt best:  At the old three story bookstore that became my second home while studying for police exams. 
     I laughed when I saw the building, skylights making the roof glow, little gargoyles hiding beneath the eves.  Already I was loosening scarf and taking off my gloves as I approached.  For a while I walked around checking out old study spots:  The huge leather chair by the elevator, the alcove beneath the stairs. 
     Loud angry words pulled my attention toward the sounds of a struggle, and I thought a woman might be in trouble.  Customers sitting on the floor and standing in the aisles looked about.  I marched across the store to the fighting couple. 
     With a wave of my badge they froze.  The woman had bright red hair that touched the spiked collar of a leather jacket.  She smiled when she saw the badge and jerked her arm away from the man holding her.  A book flew out of her arms, hit the carpet and slid to a stop against my boot.  
     As I picked it up the book grabbed my attention.  I wanted to read it, but hell, I was a cop.  Could I read something called Ancient Spells and Energy?  It was fringe material, I used to call such publications, for the marginally sane 5% of society.  But where was I supposed to find answers?  Who should I ask about being visited by a man with a blue glow, or invisible things touching me at night?  My friends would think I was crazy.  It wasn’t like I could pop online and search for a plumber.  And if the police department heard about it they’d yank my badge and gun and put me on sick leave, or throw me to the psychologists who, of course, would treat it as an illness.
     I had to get help.  The first sentence read:  “Though out history humans have been visited by creatures of other realms.”  That was all it took to suspend my disbelief.  Every page shouted to be read.  I felt like a kid who tries tennis or skateboarding and is hooked.   
      Weeks passed and one book led to the next as though forming an intellectual path designed just for me.  When I finished one book I knew anther was waiting, and fingered through editions on the shelves of my old bookstore, until another title captured my attention like a friend shouting my name.  From each I took bits I could use, prayers and meditations, and put them to work in my life. 
The only thing that stopped the touching was a recipe in one of the books:  Several times a day I surrounded myself with the White Light, closed my eyes and imagined a bubble of light surrounding me. 
     How strange it felt to be on patrol, the one American on the Amsterdam police force, and sit down in a toilet stall in the Red Light District, hookers and tourists and hash café’s outside, and imagine a bubble of love protecting me.  I was a grown man after all, not some boy at Sunday school.  Life on the force had changed me, toughened me.  It meant rubbing against people with hatred pounding through their veins like a virus, and I was the serum injected to stop them.  Yet here I was, hiding in a graffiti-covered stall, shiny black shoes touching urine on the tile floor, 9 mm strapped to my side with cuffs, radio dangling over my shoulder, outfitted for urban warfare, asking for love to surround me?
     I felt stupid imagining the bubble and would have dropped it in a heartbeat if it wasn’t keeping away the touching.  Soon I was sleeping through the night and feeling stronger.  I began visualizing the bubble more often.  Within a couple of weeks I started getting flashes of intuition.  While buying morning bread I got a glimpse of the baker having hot sex with another man.  That made me recoil.  It was too much information.  When I spoke to the girl at my local news stand, who was all laughter and smiles, I saw her signing legal documents and knew she had come into money. 
     And then the glimpses got serious.  I shook hands with a bar owner during patrol and saw his basement filled with marijuana plants.  After some investigation of his electricity usage we got permission to search his property, and it turned into a nice arrest. 
     That was a huge encouragement and I found myself speaking to the white light daily.  I didn’t want to label it God or Shiva or Buddha, because with those names came a steamer truck of beliefs and dogma.  I didn’t want to be sucked into any one way of thinking.  I had a private thing going with the light and wanted to keep it that way. 
     Then came the day that tore my life in two and shook the Amsterdam Police Department.
Michael and I were chasing a gipsy boy in rags down an alley in the Red Light District, past working girls flaunting their stuff behind windows, one dressed as a school girl, one as a nurse.  I remember the thuds of our boots on damp asphalt.  My breath pumped out before me in clouds.  As we entered a tunnel our footfalls took on a hollow sound. 
     I got a flash of insight and saw a bullet hit Michael’s chest and knock him off his feet.  I saw his beautiful wife crying, their baby growing up without a father. 
     There was no thought process before I acted.  I had no time to fall back on training and examine evidence or consult a senior officer.  I knew in my gut it was going to happen any second.
I had to stop it and reached for him as we ran.  I stretched a hand toward him but could only run fast enough to touch him with my fingertips.   The shot was coming. 
     Spittle escaped my mouth as I shouted, pulling all my force from within and stretching, reaching as I ran with one last burst of speed.   If I didn’t grab him now he’d be dead. 
     I got a hand on Michael’s shoulder and pulled him back. 
     For a split second I laughed as we ran into a little square, into the sunlight once more, then saw the gunman kneeling, aiming along the rifle barrel. 
     As the muzzle flashed I spoke two words: “God love.”

     They say two AK-47 rounds ripped through my chest.  But that’s not what I remember.  I saw the muzzle flash, and in that instant the world stopped.  I rose above the scene and looked down on my body in police uniform, frozen in mid stride, Michael diving through the air, the action on his automatic slowly moving forward and back as it ejected shells onto the cobblestones.  And I saw the rifle bullets glow, flying in slow motion as they entered the bubble around my body. 
     As I floated above the scene, no longer was I the Yankee on the Amsterdam force.  I don’t even know if I was a man.  But I could see everything, Michael pounding my bloody chest, people running and shouting and ambulance workers carrying cop and gunman. 

     I awoke surrounded by machines.  Medical personnel rushed about shouting Dutch.  A nurse hung a bag of fluid on a stand beside me and sorted tubes.  Someone shouted numbers and I knew it must be my blood pressure and pulse rate. 
     “Bring fresh blood,” shouted a man.  “It’s on his chart.”
“See, right there, the bullets punctured that lung.” A chubby man leaned forward and tapped an x-ray on the computer screen.  “We have to open him up.”
     When a nurse stopped wiping my chest and let her hand stay motionless over my heart, I looked into her eyes.  They were young and blue and I knew she was a beautiful woman under the mask.  Her beauty aroused such emotion I wondered if sensing or feeling beauty was a sense of its own like taste or sight.  It aroused a longing, a need for love inside me, and pulled my thoughts up from darkness and into the light of the operating room.
     “Doctor, where are the wounds?” she called.
     “Open your eyes!” The man at the x-rays pushed through the group.  “Is this your first day, nurse?“
     I didn’t know what they were looking at so I raised my head and tried to see.
     “He’s awake!  Is this the right patient? “
     Three people read my chart and checked the band on my wrist. 
     “Is this a joke?” The chubby doctor threw open the door, marched out of the operating room and jerked down his mask. 
     “Call administration,” I heard him say to a woman behind the counter, his voice muffled by the windows around me.
     For a couple of hours male and female nurses pushed me around the hospital.  Twice they took me for x-rays and compared the results with those made when I arrived.  I tried speaking with them, but they looked at me with wide eyes and whispered to staff along the way, as though keeping from me a terrible secret. 
     Finally Michael arrived, still wearing the bloody uniform.  The smudges on his cheeks told me he had been crying.  He stepped inside the room and stood beside the door with his back to the wall.   
I was sitting on the edge of the bed looking for my clothes while holding the hospital robe closed behind my back. 
     “What are you doing here, Mike?” I stood up and opened a cabinet.
     “You … they told me you were dead.  I saw you die.”  His face twisted up.
“I don’t know--“
     “You saved my life, Cody.  I saw you take two rounds.  How can you be walking?”  He reached toward me as if he wanted to say more.
     “I don’t know what happened, but I’m not going to be sad about it.” I rubbed my chest. 
     “Cody, we eat and drink together.  I saw you marry Michelle.  But that was two rounds from an AK.”  He lowered his head.  “How can you be alive?”
     “Hey, it’s me.” 
     Michael walked into the corridor and hugged his wife, lifted his infant daughter from her arms and the family moved out of the doorway.
     I felt so far from home.  The Dutch language felt like a tight hood squeezing my head, my thoughts.  Its guttural sounds irritated me.  This life with canals and bicycles in the snow wasn’t me.  I did it for Michelle, for our plans and our love, for the sparkle in her eyes when we dimmed the lights.  Without her it was a lie I could not continue.  She had been the love that oiled the gears of my life and made them mesh and turn without friction. 
     I longed for home.  I needed to jump into California as if it were a hot spring and immerse myself in the things that warmed me: buttered popcorn, French fries with ketchup instead of mayonnaise, tacos warm in my hand, no one trying to eat them with knife and fork, eggs scrambled with tortilla chips and tomatillo salsa, the silhouette of palm trees against a sunset, jogging along the beach in December, wearing shorts.  More than water and food and the passionate touch of a woman, I needed to hear someone say, ‘hey, dude,‘s up?’
     Some staff member must have tweeted the story of the cop who wouldn’t die.  By the time I was ready to leave a crowd of reporters tried to climb into my taxi with cameras and lights flashing, every one shouting the foreign language that was no longer part of me.  
     I needed to go home and plug my soul into that battery charger called family.  That was where I felt 100%.   
     During my panic I remembered my grandmother saying how a family member from each generation went crazy.  I wondered if that were the key to the strange things happening to me.  Did she know what was going on?  If I was going to find out I had to speak to her, the ‘Library of Alexandria’ of my family.  If there was a story, some explanation or curse or something, she would know.  
     When I walked into the station to make arrangements for a leave of absence, every cop who recognized me jumped out of the way as though I carried the plague. 
     “Dead man walking,” they shouted.
My Captain couldn’t finish the paperwork quick enough.  His hands were shaking and he kept staring at my chest, as if searching for blood. 
     Wrapping up my police business meant days of interviews and questions.  I had to meet with my union representative and the department shrink, a fat, jolly man, with hair too black for his age.  We met several times to discuss the shooting and my feelings.  When I mentioned returning to the U.S., Charley said we’d have to continue our sessions via Skype, because if I expected to get disability checks, his signature was mandatory.
     Michelle’s attorney dropped a vase of roses when I walked into her office and signed away our bank accounts, the cars, and the loft.  For a few moments I amused myself by considering whether to demand possession of the sex toys I had bought.  I thought how amusing it might be to see this tough young woman, short hair combed like a man’s, arguing in court over a slew of vibrators and leather whips, the spices of our sex life, but I let them go as well.  By releasing it all I was cutting the emotional strings that bound me to Michelle.  I was free.
     Within a couple of weeks my belongings were in storage and I was on my way to the USA.  After the bustle of the airport, the excitement and rush of finding the gate and getting a seat, came long hours of listening to the engine hum.  Between continents at thirty thousand feet, it was easy to think over life and see it clearly. 
     The aircraft bounced and shivered through turbulents.  Two overhead bins burst open and a woman shrieked.  I sipped tequila from a plastic glass and admitted the touching began long before Amsterdam.