Sunday, November 7, 2010

2010 Gotcha Inspirational romance entry

Here is my Gotcha Inspirational Romance category entry. I realize this is not everyone's cup of tea. It may seem trite, but realize that this publisher (Steeple Hills) targets a specific audience and is very particular about what they will accept.

Chapter One

Detective Jack Butler crossed off the date on his desk calendar. Thirty days down, and only thirty more to go. The Dilbert cartoon showcased on the month of September seemed to mock him. He had endured thirty days of ostricization from the Durango Township Police Department, and was halfway through. The department needed him; he knew that. In a township like theirs, there were only a few seasoned detectives on the force. He had to get back to the streets and back to his partner. Sitting behind a desk was sheer torture.

It was his immediate superior, Captain Dave Calhoun, who had decided Jack needed the punitive vacation from the force. As his penance he’d stuck him with the Juvenile Court Department. All because Jack had uncharacteristically lost his cool when responding to yet another domestic violence call at the home of Lee Whitman. It was common knowledge that the man terrorized his wife and four children. Yet no matter how many times they responded to calls, his terrorized wife refused to press charges.

On that balmy August night neighbors had called, some with complaints and others with sincere concern. Lee was on one of his tirades again, and out of control. Jack and his partner Ted Riley had responded. Jack considered it to be his great fortune that he was the one closest to Lee when in his drunken stupor he raised his fist towards his three year old and very nearly connected. Jack was on top of him in minutes, and before he knew what was happening he had his arm across Lee’s neck, squeezing the oxygen out of him. He could still Lee’s face, fear splayed across it as for the first time he’d been forced to fight off someone his own size. It took Ted to finally pry him off the man.

The next thing Jack knew he was hearing words like anger management and hot head. This time they were in reference to him, and not their latest perp. Captain Calhoun called him in to his office immediately after the incident. Jack still remembered the conversation as though it had just happened. He had expected a suspension or worse. He’d expected to hear a few choice words from his Captain about his complete loss of self-control. The last thing he’d expected, though, was a Bible verse.

Of course, he’d heard rumors that Calhoun was a religious man. Jack thought it was wise to keep that sort of thing to oneself, but Calhoun was never one for following the rank and file. For that, Jack deeply respected the man and had as long as he’d known him.

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. Proverbs 29:11. Have you ever heard that before, Jack?” Calhoun had asked, as he closed the dog-eared book.

“No I can’t say that I have, but I’m no altar boy either.”

“You can say that again. Listen, this tough guy fa├žade is only going to get you so far. I understand your frustration, but you need to let the system work.”

Oh, that was a rich one. Let the system work. He’d tried that over the last ten years. So far he couldn’t see that the system was doing much but serving as a revolving door.

“And in the meantime what are we supposed to do? Should I have let him punch his three year old right in front of us?” Jack asked.

“I’m not saying that, but maybe there was something you could have done between that and nearly strangling the man.”

Jack had closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry, Captain, you’re right. It won’t happen again.”

“No, it won’t.”

It was then that Calhoun had explained to Jack what his punishment would be. Sixty days working with juveniles at the detention facility. He’d serve as a liaison between the department working with caseworkers, parents and an overburdened system. Calhoun had not said much about the assignment, other than it would give him a chance to see things from another side. Calhoun probably thought this would be some type of valuable life lesson for him, and that he’d get the reward of seeing his efforts make a difference.

Thirty days were now behind him, and he still felt useless. He’d counseled with frustrated parents, and commiserated with caseworkers, but the reality was that most of the kids were just spoiled and entitled. In a township like Durango there were no real gangs, just “wanna be” gangsters. If Jack had to put money on it, he’d bet these kids just wanted some attention from their parents. Most of them were expert button pushers, and he ought to know. In his day he pushed buttons with the best of them. Still, as much as he tried to hint at the situation the parents were oblivious. That is, when they managed to show up at all. Many of them sent their lawyer and their checkbook. From the parade of misfits he’d witnessed so far, he wasn’t sure whom he should put the blame with, parent or child.

This morning he was scheduled to meet with a thirteen-year-old girl who had been caught shoplifting at the local Western Tobacco specialty shop. She’d stolen, of all things, a rare Cuban cigar. Considering that selling Cuban cigars was still illegal, he thought that the prosecutor could surely get the owner to drop the charges entirely. Either that or the owner would have to admit that he was selling knock-offs, and that would be bad for business. This one was a no-brainer. He was already bored and the day had just begun.

Chapter Two

The last time Maggie Bradshaw felt this frightened she had just learned the devastating news of her husband Matt’s fatal car crash. It was difficult to believe a year had passed since she and Lexi had lost him, yet she still clearly recalled the cold stab of fear that had coursed through her body. She felt it now, as she and Lexi waited at the Juvenile Detention Center of the Durango Township. Lexi sat next to her, stone faced. Maggie had received the phone call at work and had rushed over in a panic. Lexi, arrested for shoplifting.

Lexi had become progressively more rebellious over the past year, and Maggie was at the end of her patience. They should be able to get through this, but for the first time in many years Maggie was starting to lose hope. Her prayers weren’t working anymore, and she couldn’t find any peace about the situation. Lexi was crying out for help, she knew that, but still she had no idea how to help her.

Bring up a child up in the way of the Lord, and when they are grown they will not depart from it. That was Proverbs, Maggie recalled, though she could no longer remember the passage. It was supposed to be that way, it was one of His promises, but so far it wasn’t working out with Lexi. She and Matt had certainly given her a solid foundation. They’d brought up their only child attending church regularly, Sunday school and a Godly home.

Now she saw her Lexi pulling away from those church kids, as she now called them, like she knew that she didn’t belong. It was a constant struggle every Sunday to get her out the door and to church on time.
And now this. Stealing, violating one of God’s commandments when she knew better. Maggie shuddered as she realized that she was losing control of her precious daughter. The little girl that used to follow her around like a shadow would barely let her touch her anymore.

“Detective Butler is ready to meet with you.” The clerk behind the desk announced.

The two of them were escorted to a back room. The tall detective rose as they walked inside his office, Lexi following reluctantly behind Maggie.
The room had spare and sterile furnishings, and Maggie immediately felt uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say, or how on earth she was supposed to defend her daughter.

The officer held out his hand in greeting. “Nice to meet you Mrs. Bradshaw, Lexi. I’m Detective Jack Butler.”

His gray eyes were kind, Maggie noticed right away, and it gave her hope. His voice was deep and authoritative, but somehow gentle. They took their seats in front of the officer’s cluttered desk.

“I’m - I’m so sorry about this. My daughter deeply regrets her actions. I can assure you, it won’t happen again. Ever.” Maggie said. With that, she looked directly at her daughter, willing her to say something.

Lexi bit her lip and stared at the ceiling.

Detective Butler looked at Maggie sympathetically, as he wrote some notes on a yellow legal pad. He handed her a single sheet of paper. “As you can see, the owner did agree to file a police report.”

Maggie’s heart dropped as she tried to read the report, but the words Arrest Warrant seemed to jiggle out of focus. Her daughter was a felon. How had this happened?

“I don’t think you need to worry. We can get the prosecutor to drop the charges.” The detective said. He made his best effort at a smile, but he was obviously a serious man who didn’t have much practice at it.

Maggie allowed herself to feel a pinch of hope. “Really? That would be wonderful. Wouldn’t that be wonderful, Lexi?”

At this Lexi actually spoke. “Yeah,” she said. “Wonderful.”

The detective spoke to Lexi for the first time. “I just have to ask. A Cuban cigar? Why?”

Until that moment, Maggie had not known what her daughter had shoplifted, or why. Now she realized all too well why she’d stolen the cigar, but it was too painful to talk about. It wouldn’t make sense to anyone else anyway. It hardly made any sense to her.

For the first time, Lexi looked somewhat alarmed. “What difference does it make?”

“No difference at all. Just curious. I have to say, this one is a first. Usually kids steal things like booze, cigarettes. Not too many of them are into smoking Cuban cigars.”

Lexi rolled her eyes, and apparently that was enough to tell the detective the entire story.

“I see.” He said. “So it wasn’t for you.”

The man was some kind of a mind reader, Maggie thought. Although he was on the right track, it wasn’t for anyone else. Not anyone that existed on earth anymore. For the past few months, Lexi seemed obsessed with collecting items that had once been special to her father.

When they’d moved from across the country from Boston back to Durango to be near Maggie’s parents, she’d had to give away some of Matt’s things.
Lexi had not taken it well. It seemed now that one by one she was replacing some of the items that Matt had owned and loved. Including his prized box of Cuban cigars.

“Lexi, this man is trying to help you. I think a little respect is due here.” Maggie implored.

Lexi only sighed and looked at the ceiling again.

The detective was now ignoring Lexi as well, his head bent down as he wrote on another piece of paper. He reached over and handed it to Maggie.

“Arraignment date and time, just in case we don’t get the charges dropped. Procedural, don’t worry.”

Again he graced her with his immensely kind eyes, and this time a warm smile that lit up his handsome face, creating tiny crinkles on the sides of his eyes. Maggie couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t have a ring on his finger, not that she had any business getting involved with a man right now. Her daughter was her only priority, although someone as kind as Detective Butler might make it hard for her to remember that.

Chapter Three

Minutes after Maggie and Lexi had left his office, Jack wanted to check the mirror and see if he had on his trademark goofy smile in the presence of a beautiful woman. Maggie was that rare woman he had heard about often but never met in real life, a woman who was breathtakingly beautiful but unaware of her beauty. Legend had it that there were women like that in the world, but until now he had not believed it to be true.

Her daughter Lexi was another story. How she had the patience to deal with her must surely quality Maggie as a saint. The teenager was rude and uncooperative. With her attitude, he’d half a mind to mess with her. He’d briefly toyed with the idea of telling her that the possession of a Cuban cigar would quality as a felony due to the embargo, and possibly serious hard time in a Federal prison. The kid wouldn’t have known any better, and he might have made her sweat hard for a few minutes.

Even after only knowing her for a few minutes, he knew he couldn’t do that to Maggie. She looked so vulnerable and helpless, a young mother. He would guess she’d had Lexi at a very young age because she didn’t look over thirty. Her hand had been so soft and gentle, and she’d looked incredibly vulnerable. The kid may not have deserved it, but he’d known in an instant that she was fiercely devoted to her daughter.

He noticed the paper work had no reference to Lexi’s father, and Maggie did not wear a wedding ring. He wondered what that story was all about. Certainly, there were enough divorced young mothers in Durango. In fact, it seemed he was fixed up every other month with one of them through his well-meaning friends. Maggie was different, though, he could see that right away.

He was still thinking about Maggie’s long auburn hair when the phone interrupted his thoughts.

“Butler.” He announced, picking up the receiver.

“Butler, I’ve got good news.” It was Captain Calhoun on the other end of the phone.

“I’m listening.” He tapped his pencil on the desk as he waited to hear the news.

“I’m going to end your little vacation from the department early. We need you here.”

“What’s going on?” As much as he wanted to go back to the department, he thought of Maggie. She needed him to see Lexi’s case through. He wasn’t sure he could trust anyone else in the department to handle it, nor did he want to.

“We’ve got an informant, and we’re ready to set up a stake out on the Sepulveda matter.”

Jack winced inside. He’d been itching to work on the Sepulveda matter, a major drug runner they’d been trying to pin down for years. Sepulveda was well protected within the circles of what most suspected was a powerful drug cartel. Right in the little town of Durango, which had turned out to be a great place for him to hide in plain sight.

“Captain, can you do without me for at least a couple of more weeks? There’s something I need to see through over here.” Even as he said the words, he couldn’t believe they had come out of his mouth.

There was silence on the other end of the line. “What? Did I hear you right? Jack, I need you. You’re one of the most experienced men on the force.”

“I know, but you were the one who sent me here, and now I’ve got a case I want to see through. I don’t think it should take me longer than a couple of weeks at the most.”

“Alright. I have to say, I’m impressed. I thought you’d jump at the chance. Sure, you go ahead and wrap up things there first. When you’re ready to come back, just let me know.”

As Jack hung up the phone, he checked his calendar again for the date of Lexi’s arraignment. Two weeks to the day. He just had to hang on long enough to work things out with the prosecutor, and see Maggie again at the arraignment. If he didn’t know any better he might think Maggie Bradshaw had cast some kind of spell on him.

Captain Calhoun leaned back in his chair and breathed a happy sigh of relief. So far it looked like Jack Butler did not suspect a thing. Sure, it had taken some effort on his part to switch Lexi Bradshaw’s case over to Butler’s at the last minute, but it looked like it had been well worth it. If he dangled a carrot like the one he just had in front of Butler and he still didn’t bite, there had to be something serious at work.

Thank God for praying women like Irene from the Juvenile Detention Center. She’d seen Lexi’s name come across the docket, and immediately sent out a prayer chain request. Maggie and her daughter Lexi were regular attendees at the Shadow Mountain Church where he served as a Police Chaplain. He also happened to be on the prayer chain, and got the call from Irene. A few more prayers and rapid-fire phone calls later, and he’d reassigned Lexi’s case to Butler.

Little had he known when he assigned Butler to the Juvenile department that his match making skills would come into play. Yes, the Lord worked in mysterious ways as his late wife June had liked to remind him. Although she’d been the true matchmaker in the family, he liked to think he had learned a thing or two from observing her throughout their thirty years of marriage.

All he had intended to do was teach Butler a lesson in patience, but now he had a chance to make two people happy. Heck, maybe even three people. His heart went out to Lexi Bradshaw, a troubled girl if he’d ever seen one. She and her mother Maggie had been attending his church since they’d moved back into town a year ago. Maggie was a beautiful young widow, with a trusting attitude and mature faith. He had no doubt she’d get through this difficult time in her life after the death of her husband. But Lexi worried him, and he prayed about her often. He’d seen her sitting with the other youth at Sunday school, alone and uninterested in participating.

And now, her arrest for shoplifting. He could imagine how mortified Maggie must be. As far as he knew, she’d been quiet about Lexi’s troubles, and had not sought anyone’s counsel at church. She was probably too embarrassed to come forward and admit she needed help with her daughter. He’d have to do something about that too.

Another contest? Well actually, yes!

I wasn't going to do it again this year, I really wasn't. In fact, I'd agreed to be a judge again but had decided not to enter. Better to continue to focus on my current work in progress, right? Of course, that makes sense. So naturally I entered the contest. Again.

This makes the fourth year in a row I've entered the Silicon Valley Romance Writer's Association Gotcha! contest. I was encouraged by the organizer of the inspiration romance category, because entries are apparently low this year. Meaning, maybe I'll actually have a chance to place?

I have to tell you, what makes this contest so difficult is that the judging is EXTREMELY subjective. I've been frustrated in the past with comments from judge's who tell me that they "don't like this character" because of something that the character has said. There was actually a judging class which I did go through for training, and this was one of the things expressly mentioned. Please do NOT judge an entry by taking things personally. Judge the writing, and not so much the content or characters.

Needless to say, not everyone does this. I use to get offended, and then something amazing happened last year in a category that I judged (you are not allowed, of course, to enter in the same category you're judging). I came across a story that was so well written and so superbly presented that I thought it should win first place. I gave the author my highest marks. Later, when the results came out (I'm obviously not the only judge in this category, we each get about 5 entries to judge) that fantastic story (and I do mean it, this was good stuff!) DIDN'T EVEN PLACE! What???

After this, I realized that I couldn't take offense if I didn't place. Good, VERY good writing, often doesn't place. Why, I have no idea. Subjective, anyone?