Chapter 1: Avalon, S.C.

Women can get you in a lot of trouble.

That would be a perfect epitaph for my tombstone.  So perfect that the next time I got a raise, I was planning to order one, pre-carved with everything except date of death, and propping it up beside the TV, a constant reminder easily visible from my recliner.  Except that it wasn’t happening anytime in the foreseeable future, considering I wasn’t going to see another promotion until the day after hell freezes over.

I guess it goes without saying that my state of employment excommunication was caused by a woman.  Here’s how that happened.

We were sitting around in the bullpen of a newspaper office that shall remain nameless, since as a veteran reporter I am well aware of the power of libel laws, watching the evening news and having a mini party.  The mayor and a handful of city councilmen (I guess I should say city councilpeople, since one of them was a woman) had just resigned under the cloud of a misappropriation-of-funds scandal, broken by our paper in a story uncovered, investigated, and written with a genuine byline by none other than yours truly.  I didn’t have expectations of a Pulitzer or anything like that, but it was still a sweet moment to savor.  Mr. Pierson had bought the booze, even springing for Tanqueray since my fondness for martinis is well known.  People kept offering another round of toasts and well, I could catch a cab home and so why not.  Then Missy Pierson showed up in a pair of cutoffs that barely hid the cheeks of her delectable ass which she proceeded to plop into my lap and when I asked if she was old enough to be drinking, she told me not to be an old fuddy-duddy, the legal age was twenty when you’re in the company of a parent.  Twenty is well over the age of legal consent in South Carolina as well, and one thing led to another and eventually I got to savor the glory of those bits of aforementioned delectable ass that the cutoffs had been hiding.

I remained the darling of the reporting staff right up until Monday morning when Mr. Pierson called me in and informed me that he was moving me to the local sports desk, get out there and cover some high school football.

And there I stayed for seven weeks and four days, unrepentant and unreconciled.   How unfair.  OK, maybe I should have used a bit more judgment.  But ultimately, Mr. Pierson should at least share the blame for any shortcomings in the proper moral instruction of his daughter.  Besides, half of her genes are his.  Although his ass was in no way comparable to hers, and I wasn’t going to kiss it to get out of reporter hell.

It was late, Friday night but just barely.  I had just wrapped up my brilliant coverage of West Ashley’s thrilling last second victory over arch-rival Wando, including a play-by-play description of the pyramid the drill team had constructed at halftime using bodies and chairs.  The shallow end of the news pool, but when you’re a reporter, you report, yessirree, Mr. Pierson.  I held no illusions that my riveting prose would get me back into real reporting, but it would probably enable me to hang onto my job until Missy got around to seducing somebody else and my misdeed was forgiven, or at least forgotten.

Anyway, I had emailed my last story to the editing desk and was strolling around the halls, killing time until the deadline to see if I might be needed to make any changes or clarifications.  As I passed Classified, there on the floor was a letter that had likely fallen from an overburdened in-box.  I scooped it up to replace it, but having nothing better to do—plus being a reporter and therefore nosy—I read it first.

Most classifieds are emailed in, and those sent by snail mail are typically scrawled on notebook paper in block letters by people who don’t have access to computers.  This one was thick, cream-colored stationery engraved with an Adeline Foster’s name and address in blue.  The text was written in a neat and legible cursive.

WANTED: Journalist for extended investigative project.  Accommodations and stipend provided, with bonus for success.  Send resume to (use address below).  For more information, inquire weekday mornings between 9 and 11 at 843-999-9999 (not the real phone number, of course, privacy laws being every bit as vicious as libel statues).

And look!  Here I was, a journalist damned tired of local sports reporting and therefore available for an extended investigative project.  If I believed in a god that sent signs, this would definitely qualify.  So I stuffed the letter in my pocket.  If it were indeed a message from god I didn’t need the competition, and if it turned out to be a dead end I could always return it in time to make the classified section on Tuesday.

At 9:01 on Monday morning I was on the phone.

“Ah, Mr. Whittaker.  What a delightful surprise.  I have read your stories with much interest, although not so much lately.”  A certain bell-like quality in her giggle took some of the sting out.  “Certainly YOU don’t need to send a resume.”  Again the giggle-bell.

“So tell me about this ‘extended investigative project.’  How extended, for example, and what are we investigating?”  Not to mention the devilish details about what sort of accommodations and how big a stipend.

“If you are truly interested in the project, how about coming out to Isle of Palm to meet me and discuss it.  Say, tomorrow at noon?  I shall have Priscilla prepare a light lunch.  I much prefer to do business over a good meal and a glass of wine than in some stuffy office, much less over the phone.”

Midday on Tuesday was about as slow a time as there was for local sports, particularly during football season.  I readily agreed to meet.

In preparation I consulted both Google and the well-indexed morgue at the newspaper.   Ms. Adeline Foster was a financially-independent 43-year old double-divorcee.  Born into an upper class Charleston family with an aristocratic lineage if little in the way of current prosperity, she had rectified that shortcoming through marriage.  The newspaper had lots of ugly details about her second divorce—in flagrante delicto infidelity by her shipping magnate husband with two underage prostitutes, captured on film by a private detective who sweet Adeline had hired to confirm her suspicions.  There was even a photo in the file, although we hadn’t been able to run it; once black stripes had been applied liberally enough to cover everything that the State of South Carolina defined as indecency, it would have looked like the women were wearing burkhas.  In fact, it was probably illegal to have that photo in the archives, even in the interest of thorough journalistic documentation.  I risked taking a moment to appreciate the creative athleticism of the young women before slipping it safely back in its envelope.

The photos on the web and in the morgue didn’t do Ms. Foster justice.  While perhaps not quite over the line between beautiful and merely attractive in her natural state, Ms. Foster didn’t appear in public au natural.  Lean as only an addiction to working out or a personal trainer can accomplish—I was betting on the latter, uniformly tan, glowing with health.  Not to mention perfect teeth, perfect skin, and perfect hair.  When Priscilla (I assumed; she didn’t introduce herself) showed me to the veranda, Adeline was sitting with her feet on a stool, exhibiting a pair of shapely calves peeking out beneath khaki capris.  A crisp white shirt was knotted above a taut belly that a woman fifteen years her junior would have been proud to display.

“Wonder if she sleeps with men who have no money,” my lusty alter ego immediately speculated.  Meanwhile, the working part of my brain was busy repeating my new mantra:  Women can get you in a lot of trouble.  Oohm.  Women can get you in a lot of trouble.  Oohm.

The working part of my brain didn’t stand a chance.

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10 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Avalon, S.C.

  1. Wonderful. What a hook. On the edge of my seat. Without the pretty young coed in cutoffs on my lap, of course, but hey… women don’t get me in trouble. I get myself in trouble…

  2. Great beginning, anxiously awaiting the next chapters…just to see what kind of trouble this reporter is going to get himself into.

  3. Re-posting this from that “other” blog.

    Very strong opening, Rusty. You have a very believable main character with a hint of flavor from old detective novels. I half expected Whittaker to refer to Ms Foster as a “dame.” He is clearly a different character than ole Walt from strange bedfellows. A little irreverent, ok… pretty darned irreverent. Thinks with his second head. (You sure he isn’t channeling Alex Perez a little?)

    You definitely set strong expectations for the character and piqued interest in the story without revealing anything about the story.

    You might want to consider the issue of telephone numbers. I won’t repeat what I said on your old blog but the phone companies have reserved the numbers 555-0100 through 555-0199 in all North American area codes to be used for fictional numbers. This way you won’t have to tell the reader that the number has been changed.

    Well done. Looking forward to reading this one.

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