As I await to finish my manuscript for Kindle (awaiting a cover), I thought I would share an excerpt from my forthcoming novel Down to Sheol. It’s a modern western crime novel set in rural Texas:
Jack McGregor stared down the dark highway when he realized it. Shit he thought. He slammed the steering wheel with his fist, screamed, “DUMBASS!” and took the next available exit.
The Love’s Travel Stop stood illuminated in the distance. The respite of travelers and truck drivers alike. Jack wished the stop was for a coke or cigarettes.
After he parked his truck, he ruffled through his ashtray for a couple of quarters. Paid no mind to the big rigs and 18 wheelers that occupied the far reaches of the lot. He darted towards the pay phone, relieved to see it vacant. Looked around the vicinity of the truck stop, head shooting to both sides, as he inserted the quarters and dialed Mason’s number. He knew nobody was watching him but he made the rounds anyway. It was a habit.
Lindsey Mason’s iPhone rang. Not recognizing the number, he considered not answering. But he knew he had to meet McGregor soon and knew the man didn’t possess a mobile phone of any sort, so he could be calling from anywhere—probably paranoid out of his mind.
Lindsey immediately recognized his client’s drawl but could not hear much else. The background noise practically drowned everything out. “Jack? I can barely—“
“I forgot it—”
“God bless—I forgot it, man.”
Lindsey squinted, pressed the phone towards his ear and leaned forward towards his steering wheel. “Forgot? Did you say ‘forgot’?”
“Yes dammit! I forgot it!”
“What do you mean?”
“What the hell—I can’t hear you Jack!”
A pause on the other end of the line. He still heard the background noise but no vocals. Wondered if Jack was still on the other end. “Jack? Jack?”
“The film,” Jack said.
Mason forgot about the excess noise and focused his attention on what his client just told him. “Say that again Jack.”
“The FILM. I forgot the film.”
Shit. First word into Mason’s mind. He stopped his car and pulled over to the side of the highway. Watched the cars passing him, wishing he could be in one of them, dealing with a different set of problems. He sighed then asked, “What do you want to do?”
No immediate reply. Just noise.
The lawyer’s fingers tapped the top of the gear shift as he waited for an answer. Felt like an eternity. But then he heard his client ask, “Can you still meet me at the Love’s? That’s where I am now. It shouldn’t take me more than 45 minutes to get back here.”
“That’s fine. Fine,” Mason said watching the cars speed by.
The line went dead.
Jack’s hands gripped the steering wheel as he drove down the farm-to-market road, constantly peeking at the rear view mirror. Noticed a set of lights from behind. Hands gripped the steering wheel tighter. The car passed. A sigh of relief. Hands loosened their grip—slightly. Nerves—damn nerves. Felt it in his bladder. Whenever he got nervous, he had to urinate. Been driving for close to 30 minutes, holding it in but he couldn’t any longer. The diabetes didn’t help. Realized The Country Store was fast approaching. A port of habit. They always had the best kolaches.
More importantly, they had a toilet. He pulled the truck in. He would get home eventually, get the film eventually and eventually get it in the hands of Mason to hold it for him. What did he have to worry about? Need to stop being so nervous, so paranoid and stop having to take a piss every five minutes, he thought.
He noticed another truck sitting vacant at the lone gas pump. Strange. McGregor reminded himself again to stop being paranoid. Time to empty the bladder, get home and get the film to that lawyer.
But first things first.
Gabe was behind the counter. Nodded his head at Jack when they made eye contact. No grin tonight. Usually Gabe was the cheerful sort. Where was the driver of the truck outside? Stop, Jack, he thought. Jack scanned the rows of cigarettes behind the counter. He came here to pee but knew he was running low on tobacco. A drag might help with the paranoia. “Evening Gabe. I need a pack off—“
“Marlboro’s right? Ol’Jack always smokes Marlboros.”
Jack paused for a moment. Gabe wasn’t one to show initiative. But then, whoever said people had to act consistently? “Right, Marlboro’s. You’re getting good at this.”
“Yeah…” Gabe said.
Gabe’s hands shook as he slid the carton across the counter.
They were still shaking when he took the cash from Jack. He thought, Maybe he was trying to quit smoking. Right? Maybe the jitters. Gabe put the money in the drawer then looked at Jack looking at him. Their eyes met. “I also need the key.”
Gabe reached under the counter and handed him the bathroom key—hand still shaking. Jack wondered, Maybe it wasn’t cigarettes he was trying to kick. Maybe it’s a harder drug of some sort. Or maybe it’s something else…NO WAY! Stop thinking that way Jack! “Be right back…”
Jack smiled at him as he exited the shop. All that Gabe returned was a nervous glare. Maybe it was just a bad day for the guy. Caught him at a bad moment. Hopefully.
As he walked out of the store, in to the humid central Texas evening, McGregor’s stare returned to the vacant burnt orange Ford (a newer model than what he drove). Looked familiar. Stop Jack.
He walked briskly to the rear of the store. Dropped the key a couple of times while trying to open the bathroom door. Looked at his hands after he got the door unlocked. Shit, they were also shaking. What was in the air?
As he did his business, he heard a rustling sound outside. Some talking. No way. No freaking way. After zipping up, he pulled out his folded buck knife. A gift from his son, Clayton. He was coming home soon. He called earlier, saying he touched down at Bragg. He thought, The boy survived Afghanistan. His father could survive the latrine in Ellis, Texas. He laughed looking at the knife but decided to unfold it. Probably nothing but it never hurt anyone to be prepared. He concealed the blade by resting his thumb on one side of the steel and his fingers seated on the other side. The handle sat against the palm side of his wrist. With this grip he could stab or slash. It never hurt to be ready. He shook his head. Knock it off Jack.
He opened the door.
As soon as it was fully extended, he saw two men in front of him, staring. Both had baseball bats at their sides. The older one was tall and wide, a little overweight, eyes bloodshot. The younger one was thinner, almost feral looking, wired and ready for a fight.
Jack knew who they were. John Chambers and his little brother Lee.
“Evening Jack,” John said.
“You know me but—“
“That don’t matter right now. What matters is something you have in your possession.”
Jack stared at them puzzled. “What would that be?”
“Hand it over.”
Lee spoke up: “The—the—fuh-fuh—“Jack noticed the elder put his hand towards his sibling, motioning for him to stop.
“You heard him. The film.”
“I ain’t got it.”
John looked at him with a cold stare. “Now ain’t the time to bullshit Jack.”
“I said I ain’t got—“
“Don’t make this any tougher than it has to be,” he said while picking up his bat.
“I can’t just make it appear.”
John then stood erect, rested the bat at his side. Must have thought there was something to what Jack was saying.
But it was too late.