In a previous post I introduced Grace Kimball, the main character in my book in progress, A Silent Place to Die. Grace is helped in her amateur sleuthing by a female detective on the Endurance police force named TJ Sweeney, a native of Endurance who grew up with her mama and brother, Tyrone. Their dad left long ago for another woman, but TJ’s mom never divorced him. “Marriage is forever,” she used to say.
Here is how Grace and TJ’s paths crossed in the small town of Endurance.
When Teresa Johanna (TJ) signed up for high school, she was placed in Ms. Grace Kimball’s advanced English class, much against her will. The first couple of weeks she looked around her at all the white faces and decided she would opt out. This class wasn’t for her.
To her astonishment, Ms. Kimball showed up at her house one day after school and talked to her and her mother. They sat down with fresh lemonade and cookies. When her mama explained that Teresa was unhappy in the class, Grace assured her that TJ should be there. “And what do you want with a skinny-ass black girl in this white bread class?” TJ asked with appropriate sarcasm.
That was when Grace made them both a promise. “Your daughter has great potential. She’s smart and reads and writes beautifully. If she works hard, takes college prep classes, and does well on her college entrance tests, she can write her own ticket to college.”
“And who’s gonna pay for this ticket?” Mama asked.
“She’ll get scholarships.”
“We don’t accept no charity,” Mama mumbled.
“This wouldn’t be charity. It would be recognition that she has great promise and our world can use her talents. It would be a chance for her to find out what she can do.”
“We’ve done been promised before.”
“This time will be different. Intelligence, hard work, perseverance; they will pay off. Let her try it just one year and see what happens.”
So Mama said “yes” and the sulky TJ was captured in Grace Kimball’s net.
After that the world opened. TJ read Richard Wright’s Native Son and Black Boy and intriguing books about other worlds like those of Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet. She read books by and about strong women. After high school she won a scholarship to the state university where she began by majoring in English, but then she fell in love with law enforcement and decided she had found her niche. After college she took the police exam for Endurance and came home to keep an eye on her mama.
By the time A Silent Place to Die opens, TJ has advanced up the ranks to police detective. She and Grace have a tight friendship as adults, and she has moved into Grace’s circle of friends.
In the opening chapter of the novel, TJ helps their friends celebrate Grace’s retirement. Little do they know that in the coming weeks Grace will start down a path that will put her in a great deal of danger. A murder will cause the town to be stirred up and fearful and Grace will end up in the middle of it all. The retired teacher doesn’t realize that folks she sees every day in Endurance have dark secrets to hide, secrets for which they will kill. TJ knows the darker side of the small town, but will she be able to keep Grace safe?