The Next Step

In my post dated Aug 26, 2011, I mentioned a sequel I was working on, The Next Step, the follow-up story to the novel I’m STILL shopping, Best Laid Plans.

In The Next Step, the residents of a recovery house for female ex-felons have relocated their digs from San Francisco to the rolling vineyards of Santa Rosa, CA. As much as they are moving away from a lot of bad karma and potentially dangerous legal entanglements in the city, they are moving to the peaceful, slower country life that intuitively seems to lend itself to deeper healing. They’re off to a rough start, however. Let me share a little of their journey(and, yes, I have wi fi in the cave):

Madigan, all two-hundred and eighty pounds of her, was stuffed into a red and white polka-dot swimsuit. It was mid-afternoon, the day after the women of The Next Step recovery house for female ex-felons, of which Madigan was one, had moved into their newly built digs in Santa Rosa. Their two-story farmhouse, on two acres of non-productive vineyard land, had been gifted to them as a tax write-off—a win/win for the vineyard owner and the women as well.

“Hey there, old woman,” Madigan turned her pudgy brown face downward, in the general direction of hell, to address the memory of their former benefactress, Florence, a wealthy octogenarian, who had run off with their bank account, gone into hiding, and put their original recovery house in San Francisco at risk. “Turns out your crazy old self is responsible for me havin’ a new swimmin’ pool. Hah!” she slapped her thigh for good measure. She stood at the edge of the lap pool and dipped her toes in. The California summer had warmed the water to a pleasant enough temperature, if you didn’t lollygag. Temperatures could reach the high nineties mid-day, and then drop to forty-six overnight.

Madigan tossed her beach towel onto a nearby lounge chair and lowered herself step by step, into the water. Squinting against the sun, she noticed a mass on the bottom, at the far end of the pool. She back-stepped herself quickly out of the water and glanced around frantically. “Hey! Help! Somebody. . .” she shouted back toward the main house.

Alarmed by the pitch of her voice, Shalese, the director of the recovery house, and Chandra, a street-wise resident with a bad-ass mouth, who’d been raking up construction debris, came charging around the corner of the house. “Effin’-A, girl, you better be drowning or something, yelling like that,” Chandra admonished.

Shalese, seeing that Madigan was safe, cut her pace back to a walk, and stopped where the two women stood, poolside. She followed Madigan’s finger which jabbed frantically toward the other end of the pool. “Come on, let’s go take a look,” Shalese said.

“Right behind ya—w-a-y behind ya,” Madigan muttered. Chandra jogged to the end of the pool, knelt down, and peered into the water. “Looks like rats, three of them,” she said.

“Rats? I almost went swimmin’ with rats?” Madigan crossed her hands over her ample breast, holding her heart. Madigan grew up in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco—she knew rats. It didn’t mean she wanted to swim with them.

“No problem,” Chandra commented, “they’re dead.”

“That’s strange,” Shalese said, squatting next to Chandra. “If they just fell in, you’d think they’d be farther apart. They seem almost tied together.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Madigan called out plaintively as she crossed herself.

“You’re not Catholic,” Chandra said over her shoulder.

“Can’t hurt,” Madigan said.

“I’ll go get the net and scoop them out, unless either of you has a better idea,” Shalese said to the women.

“I ain’t jumpin’ in to haul their sorry asses out of the pool,” Madigan said. “You could get the plague or something. We gonna have to drain the water out. . .” She rocked herself from foot to foot.

That evening, even though it was a weekend, and their regular house schedule was suspended, the ten residents and three staff met in the group room to process the afternoon’s events. Jenny, Shalese’s partner and second in command at the house, spoke quietly with Mab, Shalese’s ex-girlfriend and current staff member.

“We’ve been here a grand total of a day-and-a-half, and already something creepy happens. I thought we left all that behind us in San Francisco,” Jenny said.

“Along with our hearts,” Gabriella, who had overheard her, commented with a smile at her own cleverness. She spoke for all of them—no one had wanted to leave the city.

The suspicious deaths of several men who were coincidentally the ex-husbands of women in the recovery house, was one reason The Next Step had relocated. It seemed likely, but still not proven, that Florence and a band of her wealthy sociopath compatriots—with an agenda of righting perceived wrongs according to their own twisted form of urban justice—may have been responsible for those deaths. Florence’s vanishing act had brought the unwanted attention of law enforcement to the recovery house. The residents, as a group of formerly battered women, did not believe that the policeman is your friend.

“Baby girl, let’s not jump the gun,” Mab addressed Jenny’s concern. “We don’t really know what happened yet.”

“There were three rats, tied together by their tail, tossed into our swimming pool!” Jenny’s voice rose a notch on the panic register. “This was no accident.”

“No, not an accident,” Mab agreed. “Could be a nasty prank though. All the vineyard workers are guys. Maybe they just wanted to see if they could get a rise out of a houseful of women. You know, sort of like a hazing or something.”

“If this is their welcoming ritual, I’d hate to see what they’d do if they wanted to get rid of us,” Jenny said.