It’s funny where a writing prompt may lead you. The prompt that resulted in the following excerpt suggested I write about something in which I have expertise. But what emerged (don’t ask me how) was this story. Not only do I not have any expertise in the subject, I also have no experience in the Young Adult genre. It’s a first draft, and only the beginning at that. I’m intrigued to discover where Mr. Frankie Callahan and his story will take me.
Frankie Callahan Rules the Beach
“You found it on the beach?” Mother raised her eyebrow and squirmed a bit as she rolled the sun-bleached metacarpal in her hand. “You know, when most people take a walk on the beach, they pick up seashells.”
Clearly, the discovery was not as thrilling to her, but I could hardly contain my excitement at finding the decomposed skeleton buried beneath the seaweed and sand.
It’s not like it was lying out in the open or anything. I was digging clams—a job she’d assigned me every Thursday in season since I was five years old—when my spading fork made contact with the skull. No clam put up that much resistance, and while I desperately wanted to dig it up as fast as I could, I realized I needed to go slowly: If this was bone—human bone
— it would be either forensic evidence or archaeological treasure and neither one should be disturbed too deeply.
If digging clams was my duty, digging up relics was my passion. Although mother had little good to say about my wayward father, he’d passed down his fascination with archaeology to me. I’d never found much to speak of, but you never knew when or where you’d make a discovery, and this could be it.
I set aside the spading fork and used my hands instead, scraping and brushing at the overlying sand, acutely aware of every sensation, be it quartz, crustacean or cranium. My heart pounded in anticipation, my fingers trembled. As I dug, a vague outline appeared, eventually measuring about four feet in length and an equal width—an odd circumference for a body, you might think, but as I uncovered more I could see that the skeleton was curled into a protective sort of position: hands covering the skull, knees pulled up as if he were making himself as small as possible.
The metacarpal was the odd thing. It was away from the rest of the body, and really I’m surprised that I saw it at all, it being small enough to pass for a bit of driftwood or oddly shaped sea glass. It lay about a foot from the torso, all by itself as if it had tried to escape.
A seagull’s piercing squeal made me look up and I realized how low the sun was. I was late; Mother would be angry.
I grabbed my pail, groaned at the meager amount of clams I’d collected and the extra long amount of time I’d been gone. She’d be worried by now, maybe halfway down the shore looking for me. And I’d catch hell for both of those transgressions.
I needed to cover the skeleton first. I didn’t want it discovered until I could decide what to do. I hurriedly laid a light layer of seaweed over my treasure, being careful not to disturb its position. I was well aware of the importance of leaving the skeleton as I found it. But the finger… I could take that much with me. I gently wrapped it in my handkerchief, carrying it in my palm as if it were diamond rather than bone.
“Where on earth did you find this?” Mother dropped it into my hand as if she’d been handed a pile of poo instead of a bone. Her hands moved to her hips, a glare in her eye. Somehow I’d managed to disappoint her once again and my excitement faded away, morphing into guilt.
“On the b-beach,” I stammered, suddenly ashamed of my find, then, as I gathered courage, “It could be an ancient human, or maybe a murder!”
“Then we should call the police,” she shook her head and reached for the phone, “and you should stay out of it.”
“But Mother!” She shot me a death stare as I started to argue. “It might be a relic—we should call someone at the university first. If the police move it, it’ll be destroyed.” I raised my hands to my waist, palms up. Couldn’t she see how important this could be?
The death stare again—it gave me the heebie-jeebies and she knew it.
“I’ll call the police, and the university,” she said at last. Mother wasn’t easily convinced; maybe she foresaw the fame and fortune that might result from an archaeological find—or a murder victim for that matter.
Honestly? I didn’t care why she relented, I was just grateful she did.
The crime unit van meandered down the street, as if its occupants were on holiday. When it pulled up in front of the house, a chunky and rumpled cop got out.
Holy Columbo! I thought. He had it right down to the flapping trench coat and scuffed up shoes, although his gray hair conceded that he had a few years on my favorite cop. The guy hitched up his trousers and headed for the door. I opened it before he got up the steps.
“Please don’t mess up the skeleton!” I begged. “It might be a relic and you’ll ruin it if you move it around.”
“And a good day to you too, son.” The old cop smiled and held out his hand. “Detective Stanley—I promise we’ll be careful.”
“I’m Frankie.” I shook his hand, trying to do my best imitation of a grown-up, and casually stretched my neck to peek past him, hoping for the archaeologist from the university.
“Looking for the uni guy?”
I smiled at Detective Stanley and nodded.
“He’s waiting for the okay from us… Sorry, Kiddo, it’s policy.”
The detective beckoned toward the car, and two other old guys emerged. Stanley pointed as he introduced them. “That’s Doc January on the left. He’s the coroner. And the fella next to him—that’s my partner, Detective Minike.”
Mother appeared out of nowhere and stepped into the scene.
“Ma’am.” Detective Stanley nodded toward her then looked at me. “This your mother, Frankie?”
“Norma Callahan.” Mother shook hands with the detective and smiled. Who was this woman? My mother never smiled—especially at a cop.
By the time the other two cops got to the steps, Mother and Detective Stanley were on a first-name basis.
“Call me Harvey,” he’d said, placing his other hand over hers. He was all polite-like, not a hint of cop in his voice.
“Norma.” Mother tilted her head towards him and smiled. “It’s very nice to meet you, Harvey.”
I didn’t get it. Wasn’t he here to see me?
After Detective Stanley introduced his crew, Dr. January spoke up.
“So where’s this body?” He shuffled his feet on the ground and looked impatiently at Mother, clearly anxious to get to work.
Mother looked at me; the smile had vanished.
“It’s down the beach a ways.” I pointed toward the shoreline and gestured to the right. “Not real far, but you’re going to get your shoes wet.”
“Not to worry.” Detective Minike said. “We’ve got gear in the trunk.”
“You coming along, Norma?” Detective Stanley held out his elbow to Mother.
“If you insist.” She smiled again as she took his arm and walked down the steps. The way she looked at him was just plain unnatural and it gave me the creeps—Holy God, was she flirting with him?
I slunk down the beach, staying well ahead of Mother and Detective Stanley. How did my big discovery end up being a parade for her? She looked out of place in her striped dress and shiny shoes—for that matter it felt like none of them belonged here. This was my beach.
As I carefully pulled the seaweed away from the skeleton, Dr. January squatted down for a closer look. He peered at the bones, gently prodding them with the end of his pencil, careful not to disturb them.
Slowly standing, he put on a pair of plastic gloves and moved to the cranium. He knelt alongside it, carefully felt all the way around it, then stood.
“I’m calling it murder,” he said, stripping off his gloves and wiping sand from his knees. “There’s a small hole in the skull—probably .22 caliber.
“See the little bits of hair and flesh here?” he said, pointing to the skull. “That tells me this body has been dead less than a year.” The guy must have had x-ray vision, ‘cause I didn’t see anything but bone.
“Then you’ll probably want this.” I pulled the metacarpal from my pocket and held it out to Doc.