A great new way to break down what you want to amend or edit in your manuscript by Brian Gatti!
Source: The Editing Process
A great new way to break down what you want to amend or edit in your manuscript by Brian Gatti!
Source: The Editing Process
Vicente was out of breath. The heat was exhausting and oppressive. It was as if he was being smothered under thick wool blankets. He leaned against a park bench, gasping and his mouth gaped open and closed like a pet gold fish.
My lungs feel like they are filled with embers, he agonized.
The sun sunk below shapes of Camelback Mountain and disappeared from view, but Phoenix still baked alive in the twilight.
Shadows popped up everywhere and lengthened into jagged, rotted teeth.
There was no one in the park. He looked about him, paranoid and anxious. Encanto Park was never this empty. Even in the early AM hours, bums and addicts roamed around the grounds begging for handouts or cigarettes.
Four, parked cars sat abandoned in the parking lot. The car owners were also nowhere in sight.
Ahead was an unlit, brick structure which served concessions and towels during the day to the squealing-with-delight kids that were lined up for the community pool. The ebony glass front reflected back at him, the interior empty and soulless.
He stood up and walked away from the bench. Pulling up his hoodie, he swiveled around and glanced again at the surrounding area as he crossed the lot.
This isn’t right, his instinct whispered inside.
His eyes couldn’t find anything wrong except something about the street lights that bordered the park. They were powering on, but only emitted tiny cones of light. At this hour, Vic was sure the park’s own tower lights should have been on. Patches of pitch black swallowed entire sections of the park.
An iron fence surrounded its interior. There were eight basketball courts, the hoops were silhouettes in the sky like forgotten soldiers in formation in front of the racquetball center. Behind the center, white lines which marked the tennis courts were barely visible.
No traffic came down 15th Avenue on the west side of the park grounds. In fact, Vic could not hear a single noise — car, person or otherwise. It was as if the city as one held its breath.
Night compressed upon him. Air thickened, wrapped its arms around him and the only noise he heard was his own heartbeat. More of the buildings in the distance were swallowed in pitch black. A charcoal wave washed along the western horizon, dots of light snuffed out one by one. They popped and twinkled away like shooting stars.
His skin prickled and an energy radiated through him. Fear lifted the hair on the back of his head. Involuntarily, he walked backward, away from the sight. After hours the gates were closed and the fences padlocked. This didn’t deter him. He heaved up and thrust his body up and over the top of the gate with a practiced precision.
He could see a set of cement dugouts above the dips of a skate park ahead. It wouldn’t be comfortable, but they would provide a little shelter and a place to sleep tonight. He tried to pretend all was safe and right.
“Park is closed.” A husky voice came out of nowhere behind him.
Vic spun on his heels to face it.
No one was there. His eyes strained to peer into the gloom.
He blinked. He blinked again.
The high rises of the eastern horizon were darkening. Their lights were not turning off but were diminishing. Fading as if their energy sources were drained to nothing.
All around the park, the city shut its bright eyes and slept inside the ebony blanket he saw earlier.
“Park is closed.” This time louder, the voice rasped over his right shoulder.
Vic spotted a lanky figure that hovered in the murky shadows of the racquetball center. The stranger surrounded in inky mists hadn’t been there moments before.
He couldn’t make out any features but he guessed by their stature that it was a man with a thick curly beard. Yet, he didn’t make any movement or sound.
“Hello?” Vic called out. In spite of being on the run and shouldn’t be attracting any attention, he felt compelled to react.
“I see you!” He shouted.
The Beard started forward, his feet making no sound as they skimmed over the concrete. “I see you too.”
Enough of this!
He charged to the left, sprinting through the sands of the volleyball courts.
“Where are my hands, Vic?” A high-pitched woman’s voice followed after him, terse and angry.
He skidded to a stop and spun around, his eyes frantic and searching.
“Who’s there? Who said that?”
“You know who.”
The voice came from a lump of shadows where someone sat in the sand at the base of a park lighting pole. She struggled to her knees and bucked forward and staggered to her feet. Light played over her gaunt and bloody features. Dirt caked her cheeks and patches of white skull gleamed through her thinning blonde hair.
“Give them back to me. Give me my hands!”
What the hell is this?
“Park is closed.” The Beard had gained on him and was only a few feet away. His features were still obscured in the smoky mist that swirled about him.
Vic retrieved a serrated knife from his waistband and brandished it. “Get the fuck away from me!”
He swung the blade back and forth in a semi-circle of threat in front of him. His arm trembled.
“That isn’t your knife. Not the one you used before.”
Another feminine voice came at him from below, down by his sneakers.
A naked body, missing arms and legs, thrashed in a pool of syrupy blood.
“Where is the knife you used on me before you stuffed me in the trunk?” she garbled up at him, choking on ropes of clotted blood that oozed out along with her words.
Vic shrieked and leaped backward.
“Why did you do this to us?” He snapped his head up seeing another woman hung from a light pole in the tennis court area. Her body on display in its mini cone of light. Blood dripped in endless streams from dozens of cuts and lacerations. She was strung up with a white and blue-striped nylon rope.
“I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE, BUT I DIDN’T DO THIS!” He screamed at her. Screamed at the top of his lungs, “I DIDN’T DO ANY OF THIS!”
“We all saw you.” They chanted as one back at him. A hand clamped down on his leg above the ankle. He felt the cold of her skin through the material of his jeans.
Vic twisted to escape, but his leg remained locked in her icy grip.
He shrieked again when he felt another set of crawling fingers work themselves up his right shoulder. A severed hand, pale and with freshly done fingernails, grabbed at his face, covering his mouth. He lost his balance and fell with a loud splash into the sand.
Two new, bulky shadows crowded over him.
“Make this easy, buddy. Tell us where the others are and we’ll work a deal out with them.” The fat detective said as he chuckled and drank from his Circle K foam cup.
“We don’t have to hand you over,” Kemp, the skinny black detective said as he knelt next to Vic. He poked a thumb at the thrashing body which was rolling closer. “You left her teeth. She’s going to use them.”
NOO! His mind screamed. Reality like a mirror cracked and splintered into shards. The world bucked up and down under him.
Pain exploded in his head and a lightning flash of agony blinded him. He rolled over onto his back groaning and clutching at his forehead. Rivulets of blood pumped up between his fingers. Daylight pierced his vision and speared directly into his brain.
As his headache blossomed into a migraine, he understood that the morning had arrived. He was laying in the concrete dugout among spit out gum and patches of dried dog piss under the stone bench which he had used as a bed.
The graphic nightmare replayed over in his head again. Not a single detail had faded. No dream had ever come so close to reality before for him. His breath was still ragged and his body trembled from the terror.
A familiar voice was inside his head. It spoke independent and on its own…
“Park is closed.”
Vic sat straight up.
“I see you.” The voice repeated, this time it followed with a giggle.
At eye-level, a serrated knife had been placed on the bench. It hadn’t been there when he had gone to sleep.
It was his knife though. The knife he left at the house he shared with Cat, packed away under his bed. Someone retrieved it, placed it by his head and left while he was tortured by the nightmare.
His lips pressed into a thin line and his jaw locked when he spotted two distinct and wet, bloody finger prints on the handle.
WHO THE HELL IS DOING THIS TO ME?
The picture is to pay homage to one of the books that most inspired me to be a horror/epic fantasy writer: The Shining by Stephen King!
Jack and friends have come out to celebrate with me on MY ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY writing my blog!!
I am super thrilled to celebrate and mark this occasion. It certainly doesn’t feel like I have been doing this blog for a whole year! What an incredible journey it has been — in a good way filled with a lot of personal growth and accomplishments that I didn’t think were possible.
Just a few stats that I would like to point out. Since July 17th, 2016:
Been an unbelievable year and I am ecstatic to see what the next year will bring! Thank you for being with me this year and enjoying the ride with me. You are all my favorite passengers! ha!
Now back to work….
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY
Vic felt the stiff metal of the chair pressed up against his back. The sweatshirt stuck to his skin and chafed around his neck. Inside the interrogation room, it was dead still with no AC blowing through the vents.
Just another old trick that they play. Keep the suspect in the room, make him sit there worrying about what he had been brought in for, what do the police know… Literally to make him squirm and sweat. Vic surmised.
Then they will enter all smooth and nonchalant. Offer up a cold soda to get me to relax a bit. One of the cops, the good cop, will offer to take the can or glass away to throw away. Secretly they are gathering more evidence for fingerprinting and DNA for later.
He frowned and adjusted his chair.
Stop that! His mind scolded. They are watching you. Remain cold, emotionless. Don’t give them anything to work with. When they come in, you have to be the investigator. You’ve got to learn what they know.
His skin crawled with the feeling of their eyes upon him, observing him through the two-way mirror. Judging him not only on his past history, but by his race as well. He understood the reality of things. Yet, he still hated it, but he wasn’t going to fool himself to thinking that he would not be held accountable to a social stereotype either.
The last day and night had become surreal. It was as if he drove to that wealthy neighborhood and parked his car in another parallel reality. Nothing had made sense since he had stepped into her house.
He had to find answers if he was going to get through this and out of the elaborate steel trap that he was in.
A subtle knuckle rap at the door announced the entrance of the case detectives. The first was an older white cop with a scruffy, grey goatee, brown and unkempt hair above a set of sharp blue eyes. The detective following him stood a good five inches taller. A black and athletic man, close-cropped hair and a strong jawline. Although he seemed more of a younger, model-type, there was a sense of confidence that surrounded him.
Each had a drink in one hand and several manila folders tucked under the other arm. They joined Vic at the table, sitting across from him and opened their file folders without a word.
I am this week’s guest star on Law & Order. Madre! Vic made the dumb joke inside. His nerves were ragged. Outside, he remained stone and stoic.
“Vicente Vargas, age 23,” said the black detective in a monotone announcer voice.
“Before we start, champ, you want a drink or something?” the other “Good Cop” offered with a shark grin.
There it was… and so we begin.
He shook his head with a tiny movement.
“You sure? Kind of hot in here, no?”
Vic stared away from them and did not acknowledge the offer. The longer he could drag this out, the better his chances were of getting information to be slipped out.
It was the exact tactic the two seasoned detectives were angling for.
Good Cop stepped up, “I’m Detective Chad Ellis. This is my partner on this case, Detective Payton Kemp.”
He still gave them nothing.
Detective Ellis continued to lead the conversation. “I see… you are a person of few words. Okay… Well, let’s not start that way. The more open you are with us, the more we are going to be able to help you out, Vicent.”
“Vicente.” Corrected Detective Kemp.
“Uh, yeah, sorry.” Ellis coughed into his hand and restarted, “Why don’t we go over the facts and then you can fill in some details for us?”
His eyes remained locked on Vic’s, looking for any signs of cracks in the foundation. The scan was penetrating and precise. Those eyes were focused, experienced and yet somehow haunted.
Like Cory Tames, Vic mused. The kid had been a meth junkie since he was eleven years old and had been serving his sixth drug sentence when he met him.
When Cory talked to you, his mouth said one thing, yet his eyes were alive with ghosts running around in his head. You almost could see them flash by.
There was something that the heavy-set detective had seen that reminded him of Cory. Something still hovered over him. Ellis hadn’t let go of it and it had stained his soul. Vic made mental note – Could I use that somehow?
“Yesterday evening around 4:30 to 5:30 pm, at 1718 Lioness Estates Drive, Shari Renee Thomas was stabbed to death. She had been butchered inside her parent’s house. At 2828 S Margo Drive, Vicente Anthony Vargas parked his 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt. Inside it, Officer Dan Reccard discovered her body.” Kemp read aloud to the room, then he sat back in his own steel chair. Both detectives waited and watched.
Don’t give them anything. Vic repeated to himself in his head. Shari Thomas, remember that name. Wait.. They said she was killed between 4:30 to 5:30. I wasn’t there until after 6! I can use… No, they may be baiting me. Giving me false rope to hang myself. Dammit!
“Vicente, listen. You are in a world of hurt here. I want to understand what happened. Help yourself and take my advice. Now is the time to tell us your side of things. Tell us what she did.”
Their game of pleading, threatening, bribing, pretending went on for another half hour. He didn’t give them anything.
A knock at the door interrupted their little performance. After he answered it, Kemp rushed out of the room holding another manila folder. Five minutes later he returned and whispered into his older partner’s ear.
“Yeah? No shit?” Genuine surprise came out.
They both turned to look incredulous at Vicente.
Bullshit. Bullshit games, my main man, whispered Rory again in the dark recesses in his head.
Kemp returned to sit at the metal table across from the young Hispanic.
“You aren’t giving us much choice here, bud. I know we asked you earlier if you wanted your lawyer and you refused, but maybe this is your ploy. Are you a gamer, Vicente?” Ellis started.
Vic felt more sweat gather at the back of his neck. He still averted his eyes, staring at the back of his hands in front of him. Something had changed, shifted in their favor.
“I know you are smart. You know a lot of the system since you did your earlier stint. Did you get taught some legal magic in jail? You learned some good tricks that will work this all out?” Kemp jumped in with a mocking taunt.
“Thinking that if there’s no lawyer maybe you can say that we didn’t allow you counsel or didn’t advise you to get one?” Ellis pointed at a corner in which a camera was directed at them, a tiny red light blinked.
“It’s all on tape. Just like the recording of you leaving the Thomas residence. “ He paused again to let that sink in.
“You need to start working this out with us, Vicente.”
Stone cold silence. No show of emotions.
Kemp turned in his chair and looked at Ellis. “Samantha Troy? Do you think…?”
Ellis scrunched his face and then shook his head slowly. “I hadn’t thought of that, but why?” He shifted back to Vic, leaned over the table and clasped his hands in front of him. “We have the body. Are you going to admit to this? Perps like you have gotten themselves away from the death penalty by being cooperative and leading us to the other bodies.” His tone was flat and matter-of-fact.
Yet, when he said “Perps like you” an expression flickered across his face. A crack in his practiced foundation. A glimpse behind the detective mask to the disgusted and angry hero wanting justice. That look scared Vicente. It was an honest and deep emotion — brief but revealing. He exposed a truth: they have actual hard evidence.
Oh god, I am in so deep!
Vic met the detective’s gaze for the first time, his top lip involuntarily trembled. “I didn’t hurt that girl. I didn’t know her.”
“Who is this then?” Kemp slid a head shot of a dead woman at him. A pretty, red head with cloudy white eyes stared up at the photographer, but Vic felt those dead eyes pierce into him.
I don’t know you!
“Who’s hands are these?” Kemp slid another photo of the hands from the backpack.
The older detective slapped his hand down on the pair of pictures startling Vicente. “Why do you have them if you had nothing to do with their murders?”
“WHAT?” Vic blurted. “Murders?”
“I am going to run her DNA and find out her name soon enough. You would save us a lot of time, you would give her family closure and you would go a long way to bettering your situation, IF YOU TELL ME WHO THIS WOMAN IS!” Ellis pointed at the cut hands.
Two dead girls. And they think there’s more.
“Is this Samantha? Did you kill Samantha Troy?” Kemp asked in a more even tone.
It was like a one-two punch followed up with an uppercut to his jaw. The detectives had him boxed in and on the ropes. He even felt like the room was spinning.
“I want a lawyer.” He rasped.
The detectives sighed in unison. They felt that they were on to something. A confession, a rant, a breakdown, something… It had been close in hand. Whatever it was, it didn’t happen and their window had past.
Kemp spoke out loud for both Ellis and their prisoner to hear, “He’s scheduled to be brought downtown on the transfer at 9 am. We can speak with him and his lawyer then. Give him time to rethink his story and be more willing to save himself the needle!”
Vic lowered his face into his hands.
Bernice Baxter was a bitch.
She knew it, she embraced it. It normally made her job and her life easier. Or at least easier to get her way. People did not like conflict and many would give way rather than stand up to you.
Once more and for the seventeenth time that morning, she looked at her watch. It was 8:12 AM.
From behind her she heard the familiar jingle of The Price Is Right playing on the television in the front room. With her hands on her hips, she glanced over her shoulder. She saw Anna Witherspoon, Bernice’s shut-in patient who sat propped up on the couch with three pillows behind her. She giggled and smiled through her oxygen mask at the TV as the show began.
The rotation of “Idiot TV” was starting — first The Price Is Right, then The Jerry Springer Show and then Judge Judy all before the lunch hour. These shows were dumbing down America she felt and were exactly what was wrong with this country.
Don Witherspoon, Anna’s oldest son was overdue from his work shift. He should have been there by 7:30 AM.
Bernice hated her work taking care of elderly. She was always disgusted and dismayed at how the body deteriorated at the end of life and it often required a lot of care support.
Days like this one she wondered again how she fell into this line of work and how she managed to stay in it. Her lack of bedside manner had kept her out of any nursing positions, but her lack of ambition had stalled her life early in her twenties. Her late husband had kept them afloat with his antique shop. Now a widow and making due with her low wages, bitterness was her true obsession in life.
“Can I have some cereal at least?” A petite, brunette girl whined from the upstairs hallway near the bedrooms.
“Shellie, I don’t get paid any extra for you to eat. I am not here to take care of you.” Bernice berated her in icy tones.
Don’s only child was a seven-year-old oddball. Currently she had the girl sitting in the corner on a little footstool.
Bernice didn’t like her from the start. If she had been seven years old too she would have gathered a group to jump Shellie and would have beat the snot out of the brat. In her day, that was just what you did to the oddballs — the ones that didn’t quite fit in and they didn’t get why.
The mousy girl always had her face in a computer screen or eyes glued to her smartphone. That morning Bernice had walked in on her watching Youtube videos on the basics of computer hacking. When she had reached for the laptop, Shellie had shouted at her and pulled away.
Bernice had slapped her a hard sharp smack across the top of her thigh. The girl’s shorts would hide any marks or bruises that formed.
She smiled knowing that the girl would be too modest to undress in front of her daddy so there was little chance of being discovered accidentally. Shellie was smart though. She wouldn’t say anything to Don and risk getting worse from Bernice. This wasn’t the first time one of her patient’s had a brat to deal with.
Bernice Baxter was a bitch.
“Next we will have our winners Spin the Wheel after these messages from our sponsors!” Drew Carey bellowed in the background.
Don Witherspoon burst in out of breath through the kitchen door. The clock on the stove said 8:26 AM.
He was covered in sweat and his beige uniform had several patches of sweat.
“I am so so sorry, Ms. Baxter!” He apologized.
“No more,” she shook her head in emphasis. “I am quitting. Not only are you late again, but your daughter kicked me this morning! And on top of that, I am going to be stuck on the 202 an extra hour due to the morning traffic! Too much. I am done!”
She’d practiced the speech in her head almost a dozen times while waiting. He had no one else to go to. Timing was critical and finally she had enough to threaten to quit… unless he offered her more money. She had him by what her Eddie would have called “the short hairs”.
Swiping her big green purse from the table, she brushed rudely past him and out the door toward her rusting 2006 Chevy Impala parked on the street.
He raced after her begging for another shot. She made him suffer until she reached for her car door handle. Finally turning to face him, “The only way I can put up with Shellie and your mother any more will be if you pay me an extra $2 an hour. NO LESS!”
Don blanched in surprise and then sagged in defeat. He shook his head in agreement. “I will have a talk with Shellie, I promise. Can you come by tomorrow? The register locked up today and I will have to go in to the laundry mat early tonight to balance out the drawer. Please?”
“Fine.” She didn’t care about the extra time tonight. Her victory elation overshadowed the inconvenience.
As she drove away she watched him in her rearview mirror. “Dumbass!” She laughed and then headed for the freeway.
At 9:12 AM, Bernice pulled out from the onramp and merged into the rush hour crowd.
It was hot already, the radio stated it was nearing 96 degrees. She frowned and punched the button to look for a country music station.
At 9:16 AM, the Impala lurched forward and sputtered like it had a gas hiccup.
“What the hell?” She shrieked. However, the car continued to race along at 48 mph. There were no red engine lights or any other dashboard signals to account for it.
“I just got this damn thing an oil ch—” The wheel yanked to the right on its own and the car brakes plunged to the floor by themselves.
Car horns blared and deafening tire screeches surrounded her. The Impala skewed to a parked position in the fast lane. Cars whizzed by close and narrowly avoided her.
Bernice screamed and smashed her foot on the gas to try to get the car moving again.
“Oh dear lord!” She mouthed the words as she tried the door handle. Her breath taken away from her intense terror.
The door wouldn’t open, all were locked.
The Impala growled and then revved fiercely as if it were alive and had a mind of its own.
Again Bernice screamed as the car ripped across the three lanes of oncoming traffic. It barreled through the cement barrier. Flung forward, she broke her sternum on the steering wheel at the same time the air bag deployed.
At 9:17 AM Bernice Baxter’s car nose dived through the air, plunging over 80 feet onto the unaware traffic below.
The blinding air bag prevented her from seeing the impact of her car as it plowed through the front cab of a long, grey prison transport bus. A bus headed for the downtown Phoenix Jail.
Bernice Baxter blinked for the last time as her eyes filled with blood. She hung against the bus’ hood and partially out of her shattered driver-side window. The back door to the bus burst open and men clad in orange jumpsuits fled in all directions down the freeway ramp.
Flames flickered and scalded her pulped legs as engine oil and fluids flooded the ground. Her skin darkened and her flesh sizzled like bacon.
She didn’t feel the heat or the pain.
Bernice Baxter would never see her extorted raise.
Bernice Baxter had finally ceased being a bitch.
At 9:20 AM as Don Witherspoon scolded Shellie on how her abusive behavior had cost him, a miniature, green light blinked three times in a rapid series on her laptop. It had laid abandoned in the sheets of her bed.
A fire engine horn blast followed by the sounds of several wailing police cars could be heard somewhere north of their house. Neither of them noticed nor heard the emergency sirens.
Neither of them noticed nor heard the single bleep and soft hum of a file download beginning.
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Like a bolt of lightning, Vic sprinted back into the house, nearly knocking the screen door off its hinges.
He blazed a path through the living room, hopped over a clothes basket in the hallway and bulldozed open the back porch door. The heavy footfalls of the police officer hadn’t left his ears and he could hear them chasing after him.
“OH MY GOD, VICENTE! WHAT DID YOU DO?” Cat screamed from somewhere in the front of the house or the front yard.
“Stop!” Reccard called out to him, he already sounded winded.
Vic kept his pace and scrambled up and over the backyard gate. When his feet hit the gravel of the alley way, he shot to the west. His best chance was to get closer to the campus, get among a crowd. He needed time. Time to know what had just happened and time to think of his next move.
Above all, Vic didn’t want to go back to a cell or have to leave Cat again. Until today, he put faith in the idea that things were going to work out for them. Cat would get back into her schooling, finding herself and making a career. He would be careful, avoid trouble and maybe even do something to better himself.
But was that all dusted? He wondered to himself as he pelted headlong to the end of the alley.
There was a struggling strip mall a few blocks west that was his first goal. The parking lot would be busy enough at this late hour of the afternoon. He would make for the Spry’s Grocery Store. Plenty of shoppers getting tonight’s dinner.
Sirens blared at the other end of the alley behind him. A police cruiser barreled down the from the other end of the alley trying to play catchup.
Not breaking stride, he cut right at the end and pumped his legs faster. He had to get to that parking lot first. He heard several dogs beginning to bark at the commotion and the siren.
What the hell was in his car? His thoughts whirled around the image of blood dripping in a steady stream from holes in his trunk. I didn’t see anything in the house and no one came after me. How can this be happening?
Three blocks ahead he saw the sign for the grocery store and the various tiny, oddity mall stores. As he knew it would be, cars were streaming in and out of the lot. He weaved around them and then made a straight line for the entrance.
Sweat poured down his neck and between his shoulders. His black curly hair was matted at the sides around his ears. Vic crossed the entry and stopped catching his breath. He knew he had out ran the first officer, but he only had seconds before they arrived in the lot.
He tried to not attract any more attention but walked in a brisk pace toward the back. Below the neon sign for the Produce, an arrow pointed toward the restrooms. A man in his late fifties guided a cart with stacks of open boxes through a set of double plastic doors.
“Excuse me, didn’t see you. Need a window in one of those swinging doors,” he complained.
Vic nodded only and swung around him. In the back, lighting was very poor. One of the fluorescents flickered and buzzed like an angry bee. A cloying, rotted citrus smell bowled into him and nearly made him gag up his late lunch. More stacks of fruit boxes take up the majority of the room and line two of the cement walls. A desk and a corkboard covered in Postit notes saddled the other wall. An open doorway led to an even darker, back stock room and docking port. He could see a glowing-red exit sign above a metal set of double-doors.
Without thinking, he pushed the door open and triggered a piercing alarm.
Damn! Damn damn damn, he cursed to himself. He knew better. This would be obvious; he’d just blew his advantage.
“HEY KID!” The produce clerk returned to the room and called after him.
He dashed to the left, avoided the sloping dock ramp and went parallel to the back of the strip mall shops. Around the corner at the back end, he shot up and over a low, cinder block wall. He landed on a tree-clustered, dirt bank. Ahead of him he spotted several two-story town houses.
You ever in a race, change it up – find new clothes fast! It will give you another chance to confuse’em.
Another pearl of jail time wisdom from his former cell mate, Rory James Cole.
He froze in his tracks as an idea popped into his head. Rory’s younger brother, Durojaiye “DJ” Cole might be willing to help him out. The two had been in the same grade in Brinton Middle School, but Vic had hung out more with Rory back then. And the police wouldn’t have him as one of Vic’s known associates.
Looking through a window of the nearest town house, it appeared empty. He removed his shirt and wrapped his fist in it. Praying to himself that the owners didn’t have an alarm, he broke the back door’s window pane.
Once inside he was quick with a decision and raced upstairs. There were three bedrooms. He chose the master bedroom.
The walk-in closet had exactly what he wanted: a pullover ASU sweatshirt, grey sweatpants and a baseball cap.
They won’t be looking for another college student, they will be looking for a hispanic kid in a teeshirt and jeans. He grinned to himself.
When he begun to untie his sneakers, he discovered that they were stained red with gore.
He rummaged through the dirty clothes thrown on the floor and lucked upon some oversized sneakers. He also discovered hidden among the dirty clothes a matching ASU backpack.
He stuffed a few more extra sets of clothes in the backpack.
Next to the bed was a black oak dresser with a lamp, several worn out paperbacks and framed photos. He picked up a photo of a young couple on a white sand beach. Seeing the smiling faces of the occupants gave him a twinge of guilt and he started to go for his wallet.
“Shit. No. Sorry, I may need this money. You aren’t on the run from the police.”
He spoke the words, but it was Rory, always the survivor, that was inside his head. Don’t be no damn fool!
He left by the front door and walked with faked confidence. He carried the sneakers and stuffed his shaking hands in his jeans pockets.
Several blocks over he made a beeline for the entrance to the Tempe Town Lake Park. More sirens were working their way through the neighborhoods and closing in. He lowered the brim of the baseball cap another inch down.
The sun had finally dipped below the horizon and the park lights were stubborn to show themselves. He crossed over 1st Street, cutting through another pair of town house complexes.
In the shadows of the shoreside, he threw his jeans and sneakers into the flowing water of the man-made lake.
A police helicopter flew west of him, headed to the neighborhoods by the grocery store no doubt. Instinct still told him to take the extra steps and remain out of the light of the streetlamps.
Now that he had accomplished goal number one, he rested at a metal picnic table. It was one of his unique strengths: calm under pressure. His mind was quick to compartmentalize most situations, or obstacles. Time after time, it walked him through situations in juvie or jail.
I can’t stay here long, he determined as his mind worked through his options. Light Rail! Yeah, that’s good. It will take me over to DJ’s neighborhood and I can still keep within the crowds.
“Yeah? That does sound just like Rory.”
The two were in the living room on beaten down leather couches. A haze of Mint-Madness vape smoke floated through the room. DJ pulled again on his brass vaporizer.
Unlike his brother who was a beanpole and looked like he missed too many meals, DJ was near 5’7, stocky and with short, tight dreads. He also had a never-ceasing smirk on his lips.
“Your brother with just a few words could get a prison riot started in a convent!” Vic lamented and laughed.
“I know, right?”
“But he never failed me or left me out there to hang. I owe him a lot. When is his trial date?”
DJ got up and crossed to a cluttered kitchen counter. The court summons was buried in mail and loose papers.
“Uh… here.” He snatched it up and read it to himself. “Next May. May 9th.”
Rory was facing his fifth appearance in court for a Breaking and Entering charge. This conviction would garner him the designation “career criminal”.
The two went quiet and DJ plopped back down on the couch with a bowl of cheese puffs.
“You sure it’s cool for me to stay on your couch tonight?”
“I will be out before 5. They’ll never know I was here and you won’t get any heat for this.” Vic was grateful on the chance the kid was taking on his behalf.
“Would you mind handing me that bottle,” DJ pointed at a Coors that stood on the corner of a glass coffee table. “So… you didn’t even know this girl?”
Vic shook his head and rubbed at his nose with the back of his hand. “I went in the back door — there was a note telling me the front door was broken. And when no one answered I tried to find her.”
“Dude… you went inside?”
“I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. Too much sun baking my head today I guess.”
“What is your plan for tomorrow?”
Vic took a long drink from his own Coors bottle. “I don’t know, at least not yet. I freaked out. Panicked with that cop right there looking at that puddle.”
DJ ate the last puff and stood up. Yawning, he said, “I am going to check the news on the computer and see what they are reporting. I can tell you in the morning before you leave. Get some rest. I am sure that this will work out. You didn’t do anything.”
He stated this as a matter of fact, but his eyes asked the question.
Vic replied in a hushed tone, “Nothing.” Then he raised his empty bottle with his own inquiring eyes.
“You will want to take it easy on those. Clear head is going to save you in the morning. Here, give me that backpack. I will throw those clothes in the washer. You never know what might be on them… College students are walking STDs these days, you know?”
Five minutes later, DJ called out from the back of the apartment, “Oh, hey! Are you hungry? I got some free pizza in the fridge.”
He chuckled, “They delivered this pizza here when you were in the shower, but I didn’t order it. The driver said his shift was over anyway and he was going to report the owners as a ‘no show’. So he lets me just take it.”
“Glad my luck is rubbing off on you.” They laughed, but it felt forced and awkward. He was beyond exhaustion and the day’s events were starting to hit home.
“JESUS DUDE!” DJ cursed.
There was sheer terror in his voice.
“WHAT’S WRONG?” Vic shouted back.
When there was no answer, he worked up his courage and went to find his friend.
DJ stood next to the washing machine, the backpack spilled open on top of it. A pair of pale white hands, butcher-cut at the wrists, were nesting inside.
“I… No, this…” The beer lurched up in his stomach and he vomited suddenly into the corner of the room.
From over his shoulder, Vic heard, “I am at 1984 W Dunlap. I need a police officer NOW!” DJ spoke into his cell phone.
He then put a hand over the phone. Through clenched teeth, “Do the right thing, bro. Turn yourself in.”
Vic could not even look at him. His eyes remained locked on the bloody stumps. The finger tips were painted in bright pinks, yellows and polka-dots of blood.
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