“I know, I know. I’m working on it. Really! I just need a little more time to come up with the right story!” Nikki Gillette glanced up at the skylight where rain drizzled down the pane. Above the glass, the sky was a gloomy shade of gray, the clouds thick with a coming storm, twilight hurrying across the city. Beneath this window to the sky, inside her loft and curled into a ball on the top of the day bed, her cat Jennings lay, his eyes closed, his golden tail twitching slightly as he slept. Seeing him, Nikki reminded herself yet again that she needed to pick up Mikado at the groomer’s tomorrow. Her head was so full of her own problems, she’d forgotten him today. Luckily, Ruby had assured her she could pick up her dog tomorrow at no extra fee, a kindness she wasn’t generally known for.
Hunched over her desk, Nikki held the phone to her ear with one hand and fiddled with a pen in the other. The conversation was tense. Nearly heated. And for once, she knew she was at fault. Well, at least partially.
As her agent described why her latest book submission had been rejected by her publisher, Nikki glanced at her computer monitor, news stories streaming across the screen. An alert that yet another storm was rolling its way inland, the latest breaking news.
“What was wrong with the Bay Bridge Strangler idea?” Nikki asked, but, deep down, knew the answer.
Ina sighed audibly. “For one thing he’s in San Francisco.”
Nikki could imagine her agent rolling her expressive brown eyes over the tops of bifocals that were always perched on the tip of her nose. She’d be sitting in her tiny office, cup of coffee nearby, a second, forgotten one, maybe from the day before, propped on a pile of papers that had been pushed to one corner of her massive desk.
“And you’ve never met him,” she added in a raspy voice. “And since good old Bay Bridge is big news on the west coast, I’ll bet a dozen stories are already being written about him from some of those authors in that enclave of mystery writers they’ve got out there. You know, I probably already have a submission somewhere here on my desk, if I took the time to dig a little deeper through my slush pile.”
Another good point. Irritating, yes, but probably spot on. “Okay, okay, but I also sent you an idea about a story surrounding Father John in New Orleans.”
“Who knows what happened to that freak? A killer dressed up as a priest. Gives me chills. Yeah, I know. He’s a better match, closer geographically and infinitely more interesting than Bay Bridge, but really, do you have a connection with him? An inside look?” There was a pause, a muffled “Tell him I’ll call him right back” on the other end of the line, then Ina was back, never missing a beat. “As near as I remember Father John disappeared. Either moved on, or, more likely lying dead in some Louisiana swamp. Crocodile bait or something. No one knows and right now, not a lot of people care. He’s old news.”
“No one really knows what happened to Zodiac and he hasn’t killed in decades, but there’re still books being written about him. Movies.”
“Meh. From authors and producers without any new ideas. The reason your first two books did so well was because they were fresh, you were close to the investigation.”
“Too close,” Nikki said shuddering inwardly when she remembered her up-close-and-personal experience with the Grave Robber. That horrifying experience still invaded her sleep, bringing nightmares that caused her to wake screaming, her body in a cold, damp sweat.
“I’m not advocating you ever becoming a victim again, trust me. But you know you have to write something which you’re emotionally connected to.”
“So you keep saying,” Nikki admitted as she looked around this little garret with its built-in bookshelves, easy chair and reading lamp. Cozy. Smelling of the spice candles she lit every morning. A perfect writing studio, as long as she had a story to put to paper.
“So here’s the deal,” Ina said. “The reason your first book worked so well, or at least in the publisher’s eyes, is your connection to the story, your involvement. That’s what you need.”
“That might have been a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Nikki said as she twisted her pen between her fingers and rolled her desk chair back.
“Let’s hope,” Ina said. “Look, no one wants you to be a victim again. God, no. But you had a connection with the second book, too.”
Therein lay the problem. She’d sold Coffin For Two, her first book, a true crime account of the killer she’d dubbed The Grave Robber, a psycho who had reigned terror on Savannah before targeting Nikki herself. She had no intention of coming that close to a psycho again–-book deal or no book deal. Coffin For Two in which she’d infused a little dark humor along with her own personal account of dealing with the madman, had sold thousands of copies and caught the eye of a producer for a cable network that was looking for particularly bizarre true crime stories; so the book was optioned, though not yet produced.
Her second book, Myth in Blood also had a personal hook as she had been close to that true crime story as it had unfolded. Working for the Savannah Sentinel, Nikki had pushed her way into the investigation, stepping on more than a few toes in the process and pissing off just about everyone in the crime department at the newspaper. That case, involving the rich and ill-fated Montgomery family, had enough grotesque elements to appeal to the public, so another bestseller had been born. While trying to get close to that investigation, she’d met Detective Pierce Reed and their relationship had developed to something deeper. Now they were engaged and she was supposed to be writing Book Three of her publishing contract, but so far, no go. She just didn’t have a story.
Ina said, “You know, there are dozens of true crime books out every month, but the reasons yours stood out was because of your personal involvement. Take a tip from Ann Rule; she knows what she’s doing. You’ve read The Stranger Beside Me. The reason that book is so damned chilling is because she knew Ted Bundy. She was there.”
“She seems to have done well with other books, where she didn’t know the killer.”
“I’m just sayin’ that we could use another Coffin For Two or Myth in Blood.”
“Or The Stranger Beside Me.”
“Yeah, I’d take that, too.” Nikki heard the smile in her agent’s voice.
“You can come up with something. I know it.”