- introduce the protagonist and reveal her admirable qualities
- reveal the genre. This isn’t exactly a mystery–detective chases bad guy–nor is it strictly a thriller (showdown between good protagonist and villain). It’s a bit of a hybrid.
- give the protagonist (Briley) an obvious problem
- reveal the protagonist’s hidden need
- introduce the other main characters.
In the waiting room outside the morgue at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, Erin Tomassi shivers beneath a thin blanket and rubs her hands over her arms. Her brain buzzes with the faint beginnings of a headache while disjointed memories of the morning jostle in her mind. Impossible to believe that she’s sitting in a public place in her pajamas. Impossible to believe that Jeffrey lies in the room beyond, lifeless and blue.
She stares at her hand and counts off five fingertips, one for each year of their marriage. Jeffrey is thirty-five years old; men of that age do not die in their sleep. But dead is what he is, or so the EMTs insist. They have to be mistaken, because Jeffrey Tomassi is king of whatever hill he’s climbing. When it comes, Death will have to wait for an appointment like everyone else.
An older man in a lab coat steps into the small room and offers a sad smile. “Coffee?” he says, gesturing toward a pot on a counter. “It’s not very good, but it’s hot.”
She shakes her head. “I’m fine.”
He moves toward the counter and takes a foam cup from a slanted stack. As he pours the steaming liquid, he glances in her direction. “Do you need me to call someone to pick you up?”
“The—my father in law is on his way.”
The man pours two sugar packets into his cup, then stirs the brew with a ball point pen from his pocket. “Never a spoon around when you need one,” he says, tossing her a vague smile. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a cup of coffee?”
“Never learned to like it.” She bites her lip, horrified that the words have sprung so easily to her lips in Jeffrey’s absence. If he were here, he’d tell her to take the coffee, drink it, and be glad for it, because one never offended voters by refusing acts of kindness.
She lowers her eyes, afraid the man might see a trace of the emotions warring in her breast. Jeffrey might be dead . . . and if he is, she is free. Free to refuse cups of coffee, to sleep past seven, to stay in her room and ignore the clamoring world. If she can trust what the EMTs told her, Jeffrey is gone and she will finally be able to put on her nightclothes and go to bed with a sense of relief instead of dread.
But Jeffrey can’t be dead. Because the city is still running, the sun still shining, and the planet still turning. Most telling, she is still breathing . . . and Jeffrey always said she’d die before he did.
He’d make sure of it.