Here's the first half of the first chapter of my novel in progress, Monticello Mystery. As the title suggests, Thomas Jefferson, or rather his remains, figure prominently in this novel.
A curious package sat on her desk. Faith's secretary customarily opened her mail for her each day, stamping the date in the upper right hand corner of each piece. However, it was highly unusual for her law firm to receive a box-sized package, let alone one that covered nearly a third of Faith's desk. Because of the unorthodox nature of the package, the secretary had not opened it, rather placing it on Faith's large oak desk, where it sat looming upon her return from lunch.
"Caroline, what's up with this package? Was it delivered by Fed Ex or by regular mail?" Faith questioned, stepping just outside her office threshold so that she could see her secretary.
"Ms. Fisher, it was delivered by a private service with signature required. The sender's name was not listed on the receipt. Were you expecting a package?"
"Nope. I guess I'll just open it, though I'm a little wary with an unexpected package from an unknown sender." Faith stepped back into her brightly lit office, sunshine meandering in, cascading a soft spotlight on the package.
"Since you're hesitant to open it, do you want me to call building security, just to be safe?" Caroline called from her station just outside Faith's office.
"That's not necessary, Caroline. I'm just being paranoid, I think." Faith closed her office door, something she rarely did. She sat down in her brown leather desk chair, leaning back to survey the rectangular box on her desk, which was wrapped in generic brown paper. Faith slid her hands on both sides of the package and lifted slightly, to judge its weight. It was solid and surprisingly heavy. Though no one was watching her, she was embarrassed when the thought crossed her mind that she should probably put her ear to the package to make sure there were no ticking bomb sounds. Standing up, she placed her hands on the sides of the package and bent at the waist, pressing her right ear to the top of the box. She sat back down, satisfied that there was nothing left to do but open it.
Faith Fisher was thrown off by the break from routine. Craving predictability, she had worked at the same law firm and lived in the same house for 15 years. She and her husband, Ross, a science professor at University of Virginia, took the same vacation to Cape Cod each summer. Highly organized, Faith did not like surprises or change. Even at home, Faith paid her bills online the day they arrived in the mail, and laundry was washed, folded and put away three times a week.
She took a rarely-used letter opener from her top desk drawer and slid it through the taped ends of the brown wrapping, careful not to ruin yesterday's french manicure. A shiny wooden box was inside. She grabbed the flaps of the thick outer paper and tipped the package up slightly so that the wooden box would slide out the opposite end. Placing the brown paper on the floor, she began her inspection of the wooden container.
The dark wood gleamed with a high polish. It was well crafted with a silver clasp in the center of one of the long sides. There were no markings or other indications as to the origins of the box or its contents.
Faith flipped the clasp open and slowly lifted the lid upward on its hinges. Peering in, Faith felt her stomach tighten as she realized what was inside. The box was lined with burgundy velvet fabric. The bottom of the container held what appeared to be a variety of bones, some whole and some fragmented. Bones lay one on top of the other, filling the container half full. A pocket was sewn into the short side of the lining. Without reaching into the pocket to grab its contents, Faith pulled the fabric out to peer down inside. There appeared to be three silver fasteners of some type, perhaps buckles.
Her head swam with possible scenarios for the reason a box of bones would be on her desk. Feeling woozy, Faith plopped with a thud into her chair. She began to inventory her list of crazy clients. All attorneys had at least a few clients who were difficult, or quirky, or just plain nuts. Perhaps one of her crazy clients had sent her this box for some reason. Her mind then wandered to her family for possible culprits. Faith had not seen most of her extended family for several years. She could not imagine her parents, sister, or in-laws doing anything this morbid.
On edge, Faith jumped when she heard a light tapping on her door. She did not want anyone entering her office right now, with the pile of what appeared to be human bones on her desk. "Just a minute," was all that Faith could utter. She closed the box and latched it. Feeling warm, she pulled her straight chestnut hair into a low pony tail at the nape of her neck. She walked to the door and opened it a crack. It was Caroline.
"Is everything alright? I mean with the package?" Caroline asked with concern.
"Not really. Would you mind checking to see if Brad Henderson is available, and if so, have him come to my office?"
"No problem, Ms. Fisher. I'll call his secretary right now," Caroline said, heading for her desk.
Faith closed the door and returned to her chair. Brad Henderson was the managing partner of the firm, Barclay and Cahill. He had hired Faith and had also been her mentor as she learned the practice of family law. Brad was the only person in the firm she felt she could trust to share the contents of the package. He had a level head and had never betrayed a confidence. Brad was the glue that held the firm together.
Footsteps echoed on the marble floor outside Faith's office door. A firm knock was followed by Brad's smooth voice. "Faith, it's Brad. May I come in?"
Faith jumped out of her chair and opened her door, taking care not to open it so wide as to let anyone passing by peer in her office. "Thank you for coming so quickly. Come in. You're never going to believe this."
Brad sat in the chair opposite Faith's desk, curiously eying the box. "What's in the box?" he asked.
"First, let me say that I have no idea who this is from. It was delivered over lunch by a private delivery service with no sender name on the receipt. I need for you to come around to my side of the desk so you can see what's inside. I'd tell you, but I think you're just going to have to see it for yourself." Once Brad made his way around to Faith's side of the desk, she stood up, unclasped the latch, and lifted the top. Faith watched Brad's face as he peered in the box. His eyes widened and his jaw fell slack, which was a look she had not witnessed on his face in 15 years of working with him.
"Holy shit. Are those human bones?"