Ok, so I started writing this as an exercise. I just wanted to practice setting a scene and introducing characters. My husband told me about a body that was found on a houseboat on the lake, and I used that as a starting point. I'm really happy with how this came out, and hate for it to go to waste, so I thought I'd post it as a starter for a collaborative novel, if anyone is interested. I have no idea whodunnit. I can't wait to see how it ends __________________________________________ It was hot as hell. The humidity weighed on John Gilley like damp wool, making him want to move in slow motion. The sickly sweet stench of decay oozed from the houseboat and hung in the air. Mosquitoes buzzed and bit; tiny vampires feasting on the smorgasbord of police and crime-scene techs swarming around the rundown marina. Crime scene tape hung limply in the still air, encircling a sagging dock that Gilley was sure would give way if one more investigator stepped onto it. The houseboat was old and in bad shape. Green algae coated the pontoons, and the exterior was dusted with the grey mold that fiberglass tended to accumulate in this climate. On the deck, two broken down lawn chairs flanked a cooler amid a scattering of empty beer cans and fast food wrappers. The grimy windows popped with white light as the techs photographed the body within. Gilley leaned against a piling waiting for them to finish documenting the scene so he could take a look. He didn’t want to look. From the initial reports the body had been in there for some time and was well on its way to liquefying. One more horror to add to his collection, as if he didn’t already have enough to keep him in nightmares for several lifetimes. The job was starting to get to him. “Why do we always end up with the messy ones?” Gilley’s partner asked as she handed him a little bottle of Vick’s Vaporub so he could put a dab under his nose. “Dunno, Bishop, guess we’re just lucky that way,” he handed the bottle back to her. The acrid menthol scent of the medicine masked the smell of death, but it had begun to take on its own morbid associations in his mind. Smell is the sense most firmly connected with memory, and so many of the ones he’d like to forget were accompanied by that menthol stink. “You’re going to ruin that shirt leaning on that,” she said. “Did we get married when I wasn’t looking? You sound like my ex-wife.” She snorted. “I’m too smart for that. Here, hold this will you.” She handed him her coffee to free up her hands. He held the hot cup while she pulled her blond hair back into a pony tail. “How can you drink hot coffee in this heat?” he asked. “It’s a talent. Thanks.” She took back the cup and was just about to take a sip when someone called to them from the deck of the houseboat. “Gilley, Bishop, techs are done. You’re up.” Maggie Bishop took a forlorn look at her coffee and handed it off to one of the uniforms before following Gilley. The pair made their way across the uneven boards of the dock and stepped onto the houseboat. Gilley paused and surveyed the detritus on the deck. “Looks like he wasn’t much of a housekeeper. No signs of a struggle out here, though. Must have all happened inside,” he observed. The crime scene tech who meet them on the boat said, “It rained yesterday afternoon. If there was any blood out here it got washed away. Doubt there was any, though. Looks like the guy fell where he was stabbed. Watch your step as you go in the door, it’s pretty messy in there.” The interior of the houseboat was no neater than the deck had been. The furniture was dinged, dingy, and beer-stained. Overflowing ash trays and empty cans covered every surface except the coffee table, which was piled with scribbled papers and racing forms. The sink was full of unwashed dishes, and large cockroaches braved the light of day to scurry across the counters. The body lay in the middle of the living-room kitchen combo, on the dividing line between the linoleum and carpet. It was in a bad state, putrid, swollen and discolored. Gilley didn’t want to know what the streamers of yellow-green fluid were that radiated out around the body. Roger Bleekman, Pensacola’s head medical examiner, crouched near the body making notes on a clipboard. “What’ve we got, Roger?” Gilley asked. Bleekman used his pen to point to the knife handle protruding from the victim’s chest, “Preliminary cause of death is pretty obvious. From the position of the knife it went right into his heart. Death would have been pretty quick. I don’t see any other obvious wounds. Judging from the state of decay I’d say he’s been here about three days. Blood on his shirt and the floor, and lividity patterns say he wasn’t moved once he fell.” “No defensive wounds?” Bishop asked. “None that I can see. Getting him back to the morgue in one piece is going to be tricky, he’s ready to burst. I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting.” “Probably knew his attacker. No defensive wounds, no sign of a struggle,” Gilley flipped through the papers on the coffee table, “He was a gambler. Looks like horses, greyhounds, football, baseball, and… huh… haven’t seen that one before.” “What?” Bishop asked. “Hurricane landfalls. Didn’t know bookies ran numbers on those.” “Takes all kinds. Might help us narrow down his bookie, though. I’ll check the bedroom.” Bishop picked her way through the cramped living space and disappeared down a short hallway. Gilley poked through the living room, trying to stay out of the way as the ME and his assistant bagged and removed the body. “Hey, John, come take a look at this,” Bishop called from the back room. Gilley gave the puddle of corpse ooze a wide berth and made his way to the bedroom. The hallway was short and there were only two doors, one to the bedroom at the rear of the boat, the other to a small bathroom. The bed was built in to the boat against the far wall, drawers beneath it. The only other furniture in the small room was a chest of drawers topped by an old TV. Bishop was holding the mattress up to show him what was underneath. Someone had drawn a stylized coffin in a peculiarly decorative series of lines and crosses. At the foot end of the coffin was a symbol that resembled a grave stone topped by a cross. The whole drawing was surrounded by linked X’s. Coating everything was a fine reddish powder. “What is that?” Gilley asked. “Somebody had it out for this guy. That’s a veve. I used to see them in New Orleans all the time. I’ll have to do a little research to be sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s the veve for one of the Barons. Voodoo. And in this context, most likely the bad kind.” “Barons? Out of my frame of reference.” Gilley touched a gloved finger to the powder. “This looks like chili powder and dirt.” “We’ll have to have it analyzed, but I’d bet its goofer dust. It’s mixed up by hoodoo practitioners to curse people. The Barons: Baron Samedi, Baron Cemetarie, Baron Criminal, there’s lots more, they’re the dark side of Papa Ghede. All of them are associated with death. Someone was working tricks on our victim, and they were serious about wanting to hurt him.” “Voodoo? Seriously? How do you know about this stuff?” Gilley felt a headache coming on. “I told you, I ran into it occasionally working homicide in New Orleans. There are a lot of people who take this stuff seriously out there. I did a little reading about it so I’d know it when I saw it. Get a few pictures, will ya, this mattress is getting heavy.” Gilley photographed the symbols and took a sample of the dust for the lab. “You find anything up front?” Bishop asked. “Just more gambling forms, some porn, and an old six-month sobriety chip. Don’t think AA was doing this guy much good, though.” Gilley nudged an empty beer can to illustrate his point. “Mail on the table was addressed to Gary Means.” “That’s who owns this houseboat, and I’d guess he’s your gooey stiff,” came a new voice from the front room. Gilley and Bishop made their way out. “I ran the registration, and checked with the marina office. Boat was registered to Gary Means, and his name was on the rent checks. I called him into the station and they’re running background on him, should be on your desk by the time you get back.” “Thanks, Billy. Can you ask the techs to go over the back room again? There was some sort of powder under the mattress.” Gilley clapped the young patrolman on the shoulder as he squeezed past him. “Sure, detective. No problem.” The two stepped out into the fresh air and back onto the rickety dock. “So, do you think our true believer is also our murderer?” Gilley asked his partner as he lifted the yellow tape for her. “Could be, if he or she felt like the curse was working too slowly.” Bishop thought about it for a moment, “Dunno, doesn’t feel right, though. Let me do that research and get back to you.” Gilley didn’t push. He was familiar with his partner’s hunches, and he trusted her intuition. Sometimes it was like she had a sixth sense for the way people’s minds worked.