The Stone Harvest — Chapter Two
An excerpt from the upcoming novel, with commentary
In anticipation of the upcoming release of my first novel, and perhaps with a hint of shameless self-promotion, I’m trying something new. I’ve already released the first four chapters of the book, The Stone Harvest, as a preview on Amazon, and as a follow-up, I’d like to share each of those four chapters with a bit of commentary on my personal attachment to them.
This book began as a way for me to parse through the memories of my past life as a soldier and police officer to divide fact from fiction. My time in those fields provided me plenty of opportunities to see and experience the bad things that humans do to each other. Writing it was at times a tough journey as I had to wade through all that mental filth but I don’t regret it for an instant.
So many of my fellow Vets live the remainder of their lives never knowing or acknowledging how much their past experiences have affected them and their personal lives. Me, well, it took me several years and several failed relationships for me to figure out that PTSD had taken a toll on the quality of my life.
The Stone Harvest has been my way of bringing light and sunshine to the dark past. After the chapter below, I’ll share my thoughts and a bit of the history that I brought into that chapter.
Chief Christian Sanchez was at her desk reviewing personnel files when she got the call from Warren. She had come in earlier than usual because she needed extra time to weed through a few staffing issues the department had. Though she’d been in the role for just over three years, the City Manager kept her on a short leash regarding getting new blood in the department and especially about culling the dead wood from the team. This was going to have to change, but not today. The folders had barely been spread out her desk when she had to catch the newly found dead body, so she stacked them up again and secured the lot in her right, bottom desk drawer.
The Chief didn’t like dead bodies any more than the next guy. In fact, the fewer dead people she had to deal with, the better. Not an unusual point of view. This part of the country had plenty of ways to create death, whether anyone wants it or not. Sometimes it’s the environment. Sometimes it’s a farming accident. Sometimes it’s the sheer stupidity and evil that humans can inflict on each other.
When Sanchez left Kansas City, Missouri almost four years ago, she honestly expected the amount of pain and misery she encountered to diminish. This had not been the case. While there hadn’t been an increase, it still struck her as amazing the myriad ways that humans can inflict such pain and misery on each other. Having a dead body found on the new guy’s property, while unsettling, wasn’t much of a surprise. Sanchez gave up being surprised over such things a long time ago.
The new guy was only a new guy to the folks in the town. She and Karl had known each other for many years. Since Kansas City. Since the academy where young Sergeant Sanchez was an instructor and Cadet Warren was a kid just out of the Army. Though they butted heads often, Sanchez understood his post-military vigilance and failure to accept civilian bullshit. She had spent 10 years in the service herself, Air Force, and she knew how hard that transition could be. When Sanchez’s days at the academy were over, and she was put in the same patrol division as the Warren. From then on, they were tight, siblings in blue.
After too many murdered children and dead bodies bloated from the Missouri heat, after one broken relationship too many, Sanchez had had enough and, on a whim, applied for the position of Police Chief in Westwood, Idaho. The job was what she was looking for, and they were looking for someone like her. She had plenty of fuel left in her tank and looked forward to the new scenery and challenges.
Two years later, she was surprised as hell when she got a call from her former patrol partner asking to help him set up a soft landing spot in someplace quiet. What were the odds that Warren would be the guy to find a dead body on his property? Pretty good. If anyone could find trouble, it was that guy.
“Hannah!”, the Chief called out to the clerk on duty. “I’m headed out on a call. Our buddy Warren found a dead body on his property. I’ll call dispatch and let them know to get a crime scene team on the road.” She didn’t wait for a response.
Had she, she would have seen the odd look on Hannah’s face and heard her ask, “The Baker place?”
Sanchez took the department’s new Ford Explorer and weaved her way through a few blocks of Westwood’s older residential neighborhoods to Highway 41. A couple of miles south of town, she got on the first of the gravel roads that would lead to Warren’s Little House on the Prairie.
Before he had moved into the place, she hadn’t visited the property but had driven past it a few times, always noting the impressive collection of old car and truck chassis. The overgrown weeds were a nice touch, she thought. The previous owner had been dead for a few years, and it had stood abandoned until Warren moved in. She was impressed at how quickly he had gotten rid of the vehicles, but as she pulled close, she saw that part of the front yard area was still a bit of a mess of weeds, though it was coming along nicely.
Warren was on his front porch sipping coffee when she pulled her vehicle into his front lot. The image that she saw was nothing like the doorkicker she had known back in the day; flannel shirt, jeans, and seated calmly surrounded by a few of his hens.
“Morning, Chief. Cuppa?” He said with just enough warmth as to not be rude.
“Maybe in a few. Let me see what you got, OK?” Sanchez replied with more kindness than he.
“Can do.” Warren got up and started walking around the east side of his light blue pole barn of a house while the hens and the Chief followed. “I told you a couple of days ago that I was gonna spend some time raking the field and collecting the new stone harvest. This morning I was working on a thick patch of them and found a new friend.”One thing about Warren hadn’t changed, Sanchez noted. He still walked too damn fast. It wasn’t just that, she thought. He shifted gears so quickly. It took her about 25 strides to catch up to him and match his martial pace across his field of stubble. The spot where they eventually stopped was about 25 feet away from the modest rock pile that Warren pointed towards and about 200 yards north of the barn wall.
Warren stayed where he was, but after a pause, the Chief understood and proceeded alone. Warren also moved up here to get away from dead bodies and was reluctant to spend any more time with them than he had to. As she got closer, it was pretty easy to see which way the stone grave cover was oriented. The few stones that were covering her hands had also been removed, exposing part of her abdomen, the sweater and, about 6 inches of her forearms.
Sanchez looked in Warren’s direction and asked, “Did you try to give CPR?” Back in the day, Warren had always been the one with a quick bit of gallows humor. She tested out the line not so much as a cheap joke but to gauge where her old friend’s mind was.
Nothing. Just a cool stare in return.
She got up, dusted herself off, and headed back to him. “I’ll take that cuppa now if you don’t mind.”
Chief Sanchez is an amalgamation of a few of the super remarkable female leaders I had or knew when I was in the military.
The popular notion of being a “soldier” is the guy who is kicking in doors or jumping out of planes to hit the DZ. Yes, that’s true, but sometimes a soldier drops into a hot zone to transport supplies to the combat folks, or to set up a field mess station or EPW (Enemy Prisoner of War) collection site. Sometimes they stay in the rear, making sure that all the beans and bullets head to the right place. And sometimes they patrol the streets back at the heavily-populated military bases and stand shoulder to shoulder with you when the bad shit happens back home.
The women that I had in mind when I wrote Chief Sanchez were exceptional soldiers. Not great female soldiers, just soldiers. They had a mission and performed it with grace, muscle, will, and some ass-chewing along the way.
I needed a character in the book that understood Warren and his pained mindset, someone that had walked a similar path but came out with different mental results. PTSD can be like that, two people can experience similar things but walk away with dissimilar effect. I don’t overplay Warren’s psychological trauma in the book. Most of his interactions with the good people of Westwood seem entirely reasonable, and they may be, but Warren has his own internal dialogue about them. Sanchez needed to be there not just as a partner in this adventure but sometimes as a translator for the reader, or at least as a sympathetic ear.
Thank you again, for reading along.