Monday, June 6, 2011

The New Moon Murders part 1

One of my great loves in life is writing fiction. One of my great frustrations is that I don't get to write enough of it. What follows is the beginning of a novella I wrote back in December titled 'The New Moon Murders.' During June Gloom I'll attempt to finally finish it. Let me know what you think. Constructive criticism is always appreciated.

To keep an RPG bent to it, I'll post characters at the end of each chapter. I'll also post a link to a PDF and ebook. I've never published an ebook before so any hints or suggestions are appreciated as well.

Enjoy! (hopefully)


The New Moon Murders
A Thomas Gunn Detective Story
by R. Keith Athey
Part 1

Chicago lived up to its nickname as the Arctic gods blew icy gusts over Lake Michigan into the man-made canyons of the Windy City. Bits of ice and snow shot through the air biting into the exposed flesh of anyone foolhardy or desperate enough to be outside in mid-January. Model Ts and canvas-covered freight trucks rocked with each gust as their drivers fought snow-packed roads.
Private Detective Thomas Gunn wondered why he was one of the fools caught outside on a day like this. The wind stung his face under the fedora clamped tightly to his head while his trench coat whipped about in the wind. Father Michaleen Burke walked next to him, wheezing a bit with each step. The old priest’s wrinkled face and balding head seemed invulnerable to the cold but his old blue eyes squinted from behind large bifocals with each gust.
Gunn stopped at a street corner waiting while a moving truck clattered past. Municipal snow plows’ early-morning efforts buried an entire street of cars under dunes of snow but the vindictive morning wind blew small blizzards back into the streets and sidewalks.
The old priest grabbed Gunn's arm to slow the detective’s pace. Visions of a red-haired woman filled Gunn’s mind. Her eyes were swollen with tears. The detective pulled his fedora down as if to hold out the cold. The vision cleared.
Hold a minute, son,” Father Burke said releasing Gunn’s arm as he pulled out a hip flask taking a quick nip to hold out the cold. “You walk too fast for my old legs to keep up.”
My apologies, Father. I sometimes forget you’ve aged a bit since being my boxing coach at St. Thomas.” Gunn held out his arm to assist Father Burke across the street bracing himself for the visions that came with physical contact.
Burke slapped Gunn’s arm away. “I'm not that old, Thomas,” Burke said as he stepped off the curb past the snow-covered cars.
The old priest made it part way into the street then turned back to say something to Gunn. A black Buick slammed into Burke rolling him under the car. The driver slammed on the brakes skidding to a halt. The priest lay there with a shocked look on his face. His eyes were wide as his mouth moved silently filling with blood.
Gunn shook off the vision as Father Burke stepped into the street. Some called it his Gift. He called it his curse. Thomas Gunn could see into the future but only if it was a horrible future. He also saw the into the past but only those events that caused anger and pain. The stronger the emotion, the more vivid the image. He lived life seeing tragedies that were and those that might be. Physical contact was almost always required and so he spent his days to himself with as little physical interaction as possible.
Father, No!” Gunn yelled grabbing his old teacher by the shoulder and pulling him backward. A black Buick sped through the intersection missing Burke by inches. The driver finished lighting a cigar and drove on unaware of what might-have-been.
Thank you, Thomas. That would have been a nasty way to start the day.”
You might want to get some new cheaters, Father. Those don’t seem to work so well.”
My glasses are fine, Thomas. It’s Chicago drivers that need fixing.”
The wind subsided as they turned down South Homan street. Cars lined the streets on either side of the upscale neighborhood.
The Fuchs live a few blocks down. If Eric’s at home, we say a few niceties, invite them to Mass, and leave.”
You brought me here to figure out if Eric is involved in the New Moon Murders, Father. I don’t see any point in avoiding the man.”
I must confess to an ulterior motive. I hope you can tell me something about his wife, Mary Kate.”
Do you think she’s involved as well?”
I certainly hope not. She’s a good woman.”
You’d be surprised what a ‘good’ people do, Father. I’ve arrested plenty of community pillars when I was a cop. Why are you concerned about the wife?”
A year ago Mary Kate told me her husband became obsessed with the occult. He turned his bookstore into an antiquities shop specialising in ancient rituals. The store prospered but he was never home. He became cold and distant. I tried to help but Eric stopped attending Mass and avoided me when I came to visit. Then, after years of being childless, Mary Kate became pregnant. She was so happy, Thomas. We both thought Eric would return to the good man we knew but it had the opposite effect; he grew more distant.”
They need a marriage counselor not a detective,” Gunn said.

It gets worse, Thomas, much worse. Mary Kate’s father was murdered and on that night she fell down the stairs of the Fuchs’ new home. It killed the baby within her and left her paralyzed below the waist. The doctors can’t find anything wrong but she cannot walk or feel anything in her legs. She’s fading, Thomas. If we can’t find a way to help her I fear she’ll die.”
You still haven’t gotten to the part where you need a detective.”
Father Burke began to speak then paused. “What I hope is that your Gift can give us some clue as to how to help Mary Kate.”
Thomas Gunn stopped mid-stride. “You asked me to help solve a murder, Father.”
And I suspect you will, son. You’re a fine detective, one of the best in the city.”
You didn’t say anything about a Reading. You know better than to ask.”
Your Gift is part of you, Thomas. I wouldn’t ask a pigeon to deliver a message without flying. I don’t expect you to solve a case without your Gift.”
Gift,” Gunn spat. “My visions are a curse.”
And yet I suspect that 'curse' just saved my life. Your visions are a Gift from God, Thomas. Don’t ever doubt that.”
You’d be more convincing if you hadn’t performed an exorcism on me when I was fifteen.”
Thomas, that was twenty years ago and you know that was Father Avec’s doing. We know more about your abilities now, besides, you said you forgave me.”
Forgiving and forgetting are two different things,” said Gunn.
The New Moon Murders have the police stymied and this women may hold the key to ending them. Please, Thomas, I promise never to ask you to use your Gift again.”
Gunn started walking again shaking his head. “You know I can’t control it, the Gift I mean. It just happens. I may not see anything useful. I may not see anything at all.”
Have faith, my son,” Father Burke said as he turned up the freshly shoveled walk of an elegant three-story Greystone home. “We are in God’s will as long as we are doing His work. If He wills, we will succeed.”
Father Burke knocked on an ornate door. A dark-skinned domestic answered. A broad smile spread across her face as she recognized the priest. “Father Burke, it’s so good to see you again. “Please, come in out of the cold.”
Gunn stepped in glad for the warmth. The large entry hall had two sets of double doors on either side. A large staircase with an carved banister lead to the second floor.
Maria, You can tell Mary Kate and Eric that Father Burke and Thomas Gunn are here to see them?” Father Burke said using his best old priest smile.
Mr. Fuchs is at his store entertaining someone from a museum in Berlin. He left a short while ago. Mrs. Fuchs is in the parlor. I’ll let her know you’re here.”
Thomas Gunn took his gloves and hat off, running his hand over the staircase banister. An elegant Longcase clock marked time as its large pendulum swung through each second. Gunn closed his eyes.
Anything?” Father Burke whispered when Gunn opened his eyes.
The maid returned looking unhappy. “Mrs. Fuchs will see you now.” She led them into a richly appointed parlor. A large fireplace lent its warmth from the back of the room. Bookshelves covered one wall. A formal humpback couch sat flush against the other wall beneath rows stern-faced relatives. The the portraits looked down with disapproval at the goings on in the parlor.
A woman sat beside a large bay window staring down at the street below. She held a porcelain doll stroking its brown curls. Dark circles surrounded the woman’s large green eyes. Her perfectly brushed, red hair framed a face wrought of anger and pain. Her dress fit snugly but she seemed shrunken inside it.
She was the woman from Gunn’s earlier vision.
Mrs. Fuchs, Father Burke is here to see you,” the maid said.
Mary Kate Fuchs pulled herself from her thoughts and turned to face Burke and Gunn. Despite her condition, she possessed a strong, harsh voice. “Maria, please bring our guests some mid-morning tea. The Twinnings should suffice.”
The maid excused herself as Father Burke bent to kiss Mary Kate on the cheek. She accepted the kiss without movement. “Mary Kate, this is my friend, Thomas Gunn.”
Mary Kate frowned. “I know of you, Mr. Gunn.”
How so?” Gunn asked raising one eyebrow.
My Father was Captain Patrick Lynch of the Chicago Police Department.” She pointed to a portrait hanging on the wall of a stern-faced man in full dress uniform. “He cursed you loudly and often while you were on the force.”
We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, Mrs. Fuchs. My condolences on your loss.” Try as he might he couldn’t make ‘condolences’ come out like he meant it.
Fire burned behind Mary Fuchs’ eyes. “My father wouldn’t want your pity, Mr. Gunn, and neither do I.”
Your father took a lot of mob money, Mrs. Fuchs, and got me fired when I tried to prove it. My connections in the FBI told me he was turning state’s evidence against the mob. I’m just sad he wasn’t able to testify before he died. Ironically, one of the most corrupt policemen in Chicago died a hero.”
Mary Kate turned her wheelchair back towards the window. “He died a fool. He should have kept whatever secrets he possessed. If he had, the world would be different. His weakness ruined everything.”
Do not speak badly of the dead, Mary Kate,” Father Burke said sternly. “It was for you and your child-to-be that he contacted the authorities. We spoke the night he died. He told of a dark stain on his soul. He said he had to set things right. I told him forgiveness was his if he went to the authorities and confessed. He refused at first. He said the consequences were too great. I told him it was the only path to forgiveness. So if you want to go blaming someone then blame the living, Mary Kate. Blame me.”
Mary Kate spun back around. Her face contorted by rage. She gripped the doll by the head pointing it like a weapon towards Father Burke. The doll’s legs and arms swung wildly as she screamed at the priest. “You sanctimonious, meddling old fool! I lost everything because of you. I lost my child. I lost my legs. Eric won’t even touch me now.” Large tears ran down her face. “I’m half a woman. My husband knows nothing but his store, books, and trinkets. He won't even look at me!
And you, my beloved Father Burke, the man who performed my marriage, the man I’ve confessed my sins to, the man who taught both Eric and I at St. Thomas you, you threw me into this hell with your precious piety. For What? So my father could have forgiveness from some non-existent sky spirit? Tell me father, did it feel good to cause a man’s death? To pull the strings of religion until he danced to the tune of your own twisted sense of morality?”
Father Burke absorbed the verbal abuse. He didn’t get angry or defensive. He simply reached out to comfort her. “Mary, your father found forgiveness and your child was innocent. Both are with God now.”
God,” she barked shoving the priest away. The force pushed her backward toward the window. She grabbed the wheels to stop, the doll fell to the floor.
Mary Kate snatched up the doll and cuddled it like a baby. When she spoke again her voice was low and angry. “You go peddle God somewhere else, priest. I have no use for Him here.”
Mary Kate, listen to yourself!”
Thomas Gunn grabbed Burke by the arm. “Father, we should leave.”
Father Burke looked on Mary Kate with sad eyes. “I'm sorry to have upset you, Mary Kate. We'll be leaving now.”
Just get out, Father, and never return. The next time we meet will not be pleasant.”
The maid hugged Father Burke on the way out making excuses for Mrs. Fuchs.
Thomas Gunn replaced his fedora as the two stepped onto the Fuchs’ front porch and into the cold.
Well that couldn’t have gone any worse,” Father Burke said stomping down the steps.
Yeah, that dame’s screwy alright,” Gunn said as he steadied himself at the top of the stair holding onto the railing.
Are you OK, son? Did you see something?”
Yes. Just now,” Gunn said closing his eyes for a moment. “I know why Mary Kate’s gone off her nut. He husband’s a murderer and what’s more, she knows he’s a murderer.”

Thomas Gunn - Psychic Private Investigator of 1930's Chicago

Attributes: Ag 8, Sm 6, Sp 8, St 6, Vi 6
Derived: Char 2, Pace 6, Parry 5, Toughness 5
Skills: Athletics* 6, Driving 4, Fighting 6, Intimidate 6+2, Investigation 6+2, Persuasion 4+2, Streetwise 6+4, Taunt 4+2, Notice 6
Edges: Investigator**, Charismatic, Strong Willed, Psychic***, Arcane Resistance
Hindrances: Heroic**, Curious, Loyal, Quirk
Equipment: Sawed-off Shotgun, 2x.45 pistol, Derringer up sleeve, Sap, Crime scene investigation kit, Fedora (never without and has risks life to retrieve it)
Languages: English, German, Latin 

*Athletics is setting skill used for run, swim, and climb 
**Pulp setting rules often allow the Heroic Hindrance to be take to gain an additional non-Legendary Edge without concern for the prerequisites. 
***Setting Edge, can be swapped for Danger Sense 

Tom Gunn has always been psychic. The dreams, visions, and intuitive flashes are a part of who he is. Deciding his gift would be of most use as a policeman, he joined the Chicago PD and quickly rose to the rank of detective. The police department was rife with corruption, however, and after several attempts to expose it, Tom found himself walking a beat in the worst part of town. He was still a force for good but the people he arrested were often released and never prosecuted. He finally decided to quit the police force and become a private detective.

Tom is a devout Catholic and believes his talents both a gift and a curse. He has a few friends in the Priesthood who call upon him to investigate paranormal incidents but there are high ranking members of the church who believe he is possessed and have, on more than one occasion, attempted to exorcise him.
Tom is extremely curious and will often enter dangerous areas just to see what’s going on. He has a quirk about wearing a hat. In his mind, a good hat keeps the incapacitating psychic flashes to a minimum. He’s loyal to a fault and will always step in to help someone in need.

He believes his strong social skills are a derivative of his 'gift'. He’s able to push people in the emotional direction he desires. Likewise, his career as an investigator has been greatly enhanced by his abilities.

Thomas Gunn's chief friend in the priesthood is Father Michaleen Burke. 

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