This is a couple of scenes I wrote as part of a project I've been working on for over a decade. It's taken on many different forms, beginning life originally as a screenplay for a film, then morphing into a TV mini-series, a graphic novel and a prose novel.
It's one of those projects that's been rattling around in my head for a long, long time that I pick up occasionally and then ultimately fall off of. But it's a premise I really like, which is probably why it's stuck with me for so long and gone through so many revisions. Some day, I hope I get to release some finished form of it, whatever shape it may take.
So here's an excerpt from The Valiant. These two scenes focus on Amanda Benes, a detective and single mom, and her teenage son, Alex. They live in a city that's about to be turned upside down by a vicious gang war and the appearance of a mysterious vigilante.
The alarm had been going off for three minutes.
Amanda Benes’ still form was curled under the sheets of her queen-sized bed, on the side furthest from the window, one arm spread across the cool, unoccupied side. The alarm had been going off for three minutes, and still she didn’t wake.
Outside, a black and white roared through the neighborhood, the siren wail mixing in with the aggravating electronic alarm.
Benes opened one eye, saw red and blue flickering just outside her window, then receding as the black and white raced away down the avenue. With a grunt, she rolled toward the alarm clock and slapped it silent. She moved into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, not even looking over at the empty side, alone in the slatted darkness of her bedroom. The morning light, warm and orange, didn’t even register for her.
She stood and walked into the shower and turned the water up as hot as it would go.
Steam filled the small room until she could barely see the tiled wall next to her. She leaned against it, her face resting on her forearm as the water poured hot and stinging over her. She sighed loudly, trying to empty her mind for a moment, then stretched.
Twenty minutes later, she clipped on her holster and slipped in her 9mm. She walked into the kitchen, and she rolled her eyes when she saw what was going on there.
“Feet off the table,” she said, moving toward the coffeemaker on the counter behind her son, Alex. He rolled his eyes, and put all four feet of his chair back on the floor. He continued to munch on cereal without saying anything intelligible to her.
The decade-old coffeemaker chugged to life and Benes rinsed out her travel mug. She noticed the paint on the wall was peeling above the sink again. Without turning, she asked, “What time did you come home last night?”
“Dunno,” Alex answered. “Late.”
“Your curfew is eleven,” Benes said. “There’s nothing worth doing out there past eleven.”
Alex twisted in his chair toward her. “I don’t even want to go out until eleven!”
Benes stuck her mug under the spout, and hot coffee filled it. “Be home by eleven.”
Alex grunted. It might have been a swear.
“Hurry up,” Benes said. “I’m driving you to school today.”
“I’ll take the bus.”
“I’m driving you to school today, Alex,” Benes repeated. “Get your stuff.”
Alex stood, a sour look on his face, and walked out of the room. The cereal bowl stayed on the table. A drop of milk fell from the spoon. Benes grabbed it and put it in the sink as if by reflex. She heard Alex stomp through the living room, exaggerating his movements as he packed his bag for school. He tapped his foot waiting for her by the door. She took her first sip of the strong black coffee, made a face, then sealed the mug and walked out of the kitchen.----
In the car, Alex stared out the passenger window, not saying a word. Even getting him to put on a seatbelt felt like a chore. Benes sat silently frustrated, weaving her way through the morning traffic, occasionally glancing over at him from behind her sunglasses. As usual, she let him choose the radio station, and as usual, he’d chosen some hard rock song that grated on her ears and raised her blood pressure.
He didn’t even really like that kind of music; he just chose it to bother her.
Amanda Benes was a good detective.
“Or a mom,” her partner had said once.
“Same thing,” she’d replied.
Her cell phone rang. She silently thanked whoever was calling and tapped the ‘Phone’ button on the steering wheel. The music cut out.
It was her partner, Ed Nguyen. Speak of the devil. His voice filled the car. “Where are you?”
“On my way to school.” Alex turned and gave her a scowl.
“Great. Body in Dumper’s Alley.”
“A body in Dumper’s Alley. Stop the goddamned presses.”
“I’m there now,” Nguyen said. “See you when I see you.”
The rock music returned as Nguyen ended the call. Alex reached over and turned the volume knob higher. Benes’ jaw clenched. She knew saying something would just cause him to push further. Every morning was like this. At least, the mornings when he didn’t just grab his bag and run out the door to the bus stop down the block. The silence between them was longer than she’d realized.
In a few minutes, Alex got out of the car in front of his school without even looking at his mother. She just drove away.
Dumper’s Alley was buzzing with activity. The yellow police tape always brought out the neighbors, even in an area that goes through a lot of it. Dumper’s was the widest alley in the neighborhood, and lined on both sides with dumpsters, a popular place for everyone and every scumbag in town to drop their trash and unwanteds. Benes parked her car next to a couple of black and whites with their flashers on and walked toward the tape, pulling on a pair of plastic gloves.
Nguyen met her at the edge of the crime scene, steaming mug of coffee in his hands, as usual. Also as usual, he was wearing a crisp dark suit with a red tie.
He’d fill that mug four more times before their shift was over.
He lifted the yellow tape for her, then followed her into the alley.
“What’ve we got?” she asked, ducking only slightly under his arm.
He didn’t miss a beat. “Body. ME’s probably gonna call gunshots as COD.”
“There’s another shocker.”
Partway down the alley, slumped up against a rust-rotted, scuffed yellow dumpster, was the body of a man in a sharp business suit. There were two holes in the man’s chest, blood pooled all over his stomach and the ground beneath him.
“Hello,” Benes said.
She checked his pockets, though she was sure Nguyen had already done so.
“No wallet,” she said to herself. “No ID.” She stuck a finger in his mouth and opened it slightly. “Teeth are smashed to shit. Hopefully his prints are in the system?”
“Yeah,” Nguyen said. “What are the chances of that?”
“Right. Doesn’t look like he bought this at Jose’s Thrift,” Benes said, standing.
“Still, you never know.”
Nguyen scoffed. “Because we’re that lucky.”
Benes heard the clicking and snapping of the crime scene photographer behind her. She hoped he was getting the right angles this time. She glanced around the body.
“No sign of the gun,” she said. “Tons of blunt-force trauma. Someone beat the shit out of him before he was killed. Executed?”
“Yeah,” Nguyen said, with a strange tone. “About that...” Benes knew she wasn’t going to like what he said next.
Nguyen turned and pointed toward a nearby dumpster, which had a perfect impression of a boot pounded into the side of it. Benes walked over and knelt down by it, running her hand along the side of the impression. “What the hell...”
“Yeah,” Nguyen said. “What do we do about this?”
Benes shook her head in disbelief.
“The entire thing?”
“The entire thing.”
Nguyen nodded toward the CSI team waiting by the coroner’s van. “Shit. They’re not gonna like that.”