Saturday, February 3, 2018

Excerpt from a new novel 3

Excerpt: Untitled Serial Killer Story

In this scene, we meet Emery Taylor and Sam Pawwannee. I love the character of Sam. And, actually, he's a combination of two other characters I've been playing around with for some time, searching for the right story in which to insert them. The right story never has come along, but blending them together to get Sam and to put Sam in this story seemed perfect. His entire storyline flowed perfectly, easily, and was as narrow and specific or as wide open and flexible as I needed it to be. That almost never happens and it makes me love Sam that much more.

Of all the characters in this story, Emery Taylor is the one most on the chopping block, so to speak. Or at least her storyline and background are. Initially, she filled a hole in the story. I liked the potential I saw and began fleshing her out, developing her into a bigger more substantial character, fitting her into larger story pieces. I'm not at all through with her, and in a second round of editing, I imagine much of her will change. I can't cut her entirely, at least, I won't. But her evolution is not yet complete, and while I have some ideas of what changes need to be made, I'm never entirely sure what the final outcome will be. These characters often have minds of their own and make their own demands during the writing and editing process.

Still, this scene here is a good introduction to Emery, Sam, their relationship, and Emery's journey for healing. We also are introduced to Greendale, which is a fictional town in northern Colorado. It's a place I wish I could visit, actually, and I hope it coveys, over the course of the story, the pros and cons of a small town.


“Congratulations,” the little lawyer said, holding out a ring with a dozen keys on it. “It’s all yours.”
Emery Taylor took the keys from the lawyer and put them into her coat pocket. She was already wearing her coat and moving out the door.
She’d just grossly overpaid for land that was rightfully hers. She smiled inwardly at that; maybe this was what the Indians had felt like when the government allotted them bits of their own land back.
“I’ll walk you out.”
The little lawyer caught up with her and walked with her back down the long hallway of the Park County courthouse, the one-hundred-and-twenty-three-year-old floorboards creaking under their feet.
“So what do you plan to do with the place?” He was several inches shorter than her five feet ten inches.
“It needs to be cleaned up.”
The lawyer bobbed his head. “The house does need some attention, but the bunkhouse is livable and all the outbuildings are still in working order.”
He must have forgotten she’d already bought the place.
“Any cattle left on the T-Bar Ranch are long gone now, and there isn’t much farming to do with February.” She turned right in the main hallway of the building and headed for the front door.
“T-Bar? We’re talking about the 3B Ranch.” The lawyer was obviously new in town.
“My mistake.”
The little lawyer looked out the front doors onto the snow-covered lawn and street. “How long you gonna be in town?”
“Short trip,” she said, reaching for the door. “Overnight.”
The lawyer smiled. “Moose Trail Motel is the best motel in town.” He chuckled at his joke.
The Moose Trail Motel was the only motel in town, apart from the casino. And this lawyer obviously did not know who she was.
If she’d been permitted on the reservation, she would have stayed there. Instead she planned to stop in at the bookshop. Eleanor Jenkins had always kept two rooms in the back she rented to men heading to or away from jobs with the oil companies or ranches. She thought she’d see if Eleanor was still there, and if the woman might have an open room for the night.
“Thanks,” she said, pulling the door open and stepping out into the single-digit warmth of the morning. “I’ll give it a try.”
The lawyer smiled, waved, thanked her again, then turned and disappeared back into the building.
She zipped her coat then pulled gloves from her pockets and put them on as she descended the wide stone steps in front of the massive and regal courthouse. Even for February at eight thousand feet in northern Colorado, the weather was bad. It had been one of the longest, coldest, wettest winters in recent memory with no immediate end in sight. Today the sky was clear, but only yesterday had a storm that had dumped eighteen inches of snow in three days cleared out. And another storm was expected by the end of the week.
Her boots crunched over the frozen sidewalk that led to Main Street. She walked half a block to her 4Runner and saw that a plow had come by while she’d been inside. She unlocked the door then reached for the running board, climbing over the two feet of snow that hadn’t been there an hour ago. She started the engine and let it run.
Along Main Street, which was six blocks long, residents were taking advantage of the break between storms. The street was lined with cars and the stores and shops all looked busy. She remembered the last time she’d been here, and how little anything had changed. Small towns were like that.
She put the truck in gear and it muscled its way out into the road.
At the north edge of town, she passed the train station that had been converted into a museum fifty years ago, and drove over the railroad tracks that still saw several trains a day. The museum was open on Fridays and by appointment during the winter months, but saw hoards of people over the summer. Emery had been in there a couple times herself as a child; her father had taken her.
She passed County Road 14 and the Greendale-Park County Municipal Airport on the right. An eight-foot chain link fence ran east along the north side of County Road 14 and north along the east side of Main Street, which was called County Road 21 this far north of town. Small blue lights blinked from the top of the fence every ten feet, and spaced between the lights were yellow signs that read no trespassing aircraft operations area. Twenty years ago, she remembered hearing stories about high school kids who jumped the fence and roamed the airport in an effort to appease the boredom of living in a small town. She imagined kids still did that.
A few miles past the airport, she made a left onto County Road 18, dropping the truck into four-wheel drive and barreling through two feet of frozen snow. It was slow going, but the truck was made for this kind of work. And she was in no hurry.
It had been twenty-three years since she’d been on this road. The last time, she’d been eight years old, sitting in the passenger seat of her father’s pickup truck, bracing herself against the door as her mother drove too fast over the unmaintained gravel road. It had been the end of August, and hot. The truck windows were open and warm air and smoke from her mother’s cigarette blew around her. Dust swirled into the truck, and pebbles kicked up and dinged the undercarriage in an unrelenting symphony. The back of the pickup was packed with her mother’s belongings and the things from the house Sheri knew she could sell in the first big town they came to. Emery’s belongings were packed into a pink backpack that bounced on the floorboard of the truck near her feet.
The dust had stuck to the tears on her cheeks.
She slowed as she neared the turnoff for Country Road 7 to the right, buried under so much snow the only indication of it was the break in the fence. Her thoughts automatically jumped to the realization that the cattle guard was buried under so much snow it would be ineffective, and that she’d need to string a makeshift barrier until the snow cleared. Then she remembered it didn’t matter; there were no cattle on the ranch.
She looked again at the snow-covered road. The last time she’d been here, there had been a simple wooden arch announcing the property as the T-Bar Ranch. Most of that was gone now, with only the pillar on the left still standing.
She eyed the road, which was no road at all but a thick, frozen sea of snow. She could barely make out the indentations of tire tracks, but they had nearly been filled in. She guessed those were from the inspector who had been out to the property three weeks ago.
When she closed her eyes, she could see this road as clearly as if she was once again running over it or riding along it on horseback as she had as a child. But today it was indistinguishable under snow so thick she couldn’t even really make out the stream that ran parallel to the road until it broke off to the east past the house.
After one moment of hesitation, she shifted to 4L and turned the wheel. The truck trudged forward steadily, eating up the snow-covered ground in even strides. With one eye alert for any indication of a downward slope into the streambed, Emery primarily kept to the faint tracks made by the last vehicle to burrow through here.
With her attention on navigating the road, she almost missed the first outbuilding. It was a huge machine shed, where all of the farming equipment had always been kept. It was a long white building with red doors, and it was almost unidentifiable under all the snow. It was buried under eight-foot drifts on the two sides she could see, the strip of red of the door struggling to peek out over the snow.
She noticed almost immediately that the snow leading up to and around the building was pristine; no one had been anywhere near it since well before the snow had begun. Including the inspector. But she wasn’t surprised. And it didn’t matter. She’d known from the start she was going to get screwed on this deal.
She pushed on, the road winding around to the left and then back as it skirted a dense copse of trees. In the summer, and especially the fall, the stream bubbled and gurgled here, running over large stones in the streambed. She could remember long summer days spent here, barefoot, wet and covered in mud.
The road curved around to the left again and the house came into view. She gasped softly and let off the gas, the beast of a truck rolling almost instantly to a stop. As she stared, her vision became blurry, and she quickly blinked away tears.
The house was exactly as she remembered it, but it was in a horrible state of disrepair, as the inspector had said. The siding was falling off, several of the windows were broken and had plywood boarded over them. Because of the snow, she could not immediately identify the extensive damage to the roof, but the inspector had assured her it was there, and she didn’t doubt him.
The house was a simple two-story affair with a wide porch running across the front and one side. The first of two additions stood to the right. The second was in the back, and was the one her father had done. The house had been white once, with black shutters. Now only a single shutter still clung to the house, and only by its top fixtures. The others were long gone.
Most of the wood planks that made up the front steps were also gone, but she could see the two that remained, as well as the porch, because someone had kept them clear of snow. A great deal of snow had been cleared from the front walk as well. The road leading north was plowed, as was a small area her father had always used as a driveway.
She pulled the tuck forward and parked in the drive, turning off the car. For a long time, she just sat staring out the windshield at the house. Memories washed over her, ones she’d replayed herself in the last twenty years, and ones she’d forgotten about. Tears spilled over her lashes and ran down her cheeks, but she was also smiling.
She’d been born in this house. That wasn’t supposed to happen, she knew. Her mother had wanted to go to the hospital in town, get the good drugs, or maybe have a cesarean and skip the pain all together. But Emery had been born in April, nearly four weeks early. And like this one, that winter had been particularly gruesome, with lots of snow and freezing temperatures. Two days into a worsening blizzard, Sheri had started feeling contractions. Sheri’s pregnancy had been plagued with a variety of ailments, including transient contractions. By the time Sheri had taken these contractions seriously, it was too late to get her to the hospital. There had barely been time to fetch a midwife from town.
Sheri had never let Emery forget the story of her birth, or how it so clearly illustrated what a painful and troublesome burden Emery proved to be. Her father had always chuckled warmly at the memory of her birth. “Always had a mind of your own, buttercup,” he’d always said. “Right from the start.” Then he would smile, pulled her into a hug, and kiss her head.
Sometime later, she got out of the 4Runner and made her way up to the porch. She could easily recall her mother sitting in an old wicker rocking chair on the far end, smoking and reading celebrity magazines, and wishing she were anyone else, anywhere else. Just as easily she could remember the evenings she’d sat with her father snapping green beans they’d just picked from the garden, or the afternoons he’d set up the sprinkler in the front yard and they’d laugh and chase one another through it.
Carefully, Emery climbed onto the porch using the two remaining steps. The old wood creaked and groaned under her feet, and she couldn’t help smiling.
She turned in a slow arc, taking in the vast space around her. Even under all the snow, she could see that places had gotten overgrown and neglected over the years, but under that, it was the same.
She leaned a shoulder against one of the porch columns, closing her eyes and breathing deep the clear mountain air, and soaking up the solitude. What was she doing here?
She’d been trying for years to buy back this ranch. It never should have been Sheri’s to sell all those years ago. Emery’d approached the estate manager nearly eighteen months ago when Bob Biscayne had died and the ranch and all his other worldly possessions had gotten tied up in probate due to the fact that he hadn’t written a will. His three children, who had never had even a passing interest in ranching, began squabbling over who got how much. She’d made a more than generous offer, but it had taken months for the transaction to finally settle.
Now she wanted to get it cleaned up. It was a project she would have undertaken no matter when she’d been able to buy it, but it was especially welcomed now.
It was time to move on. It was clear that Nick wasn’t coming back. Her heart was still broken, dangerously fragile, but she hoped that moving away might help with moving on. She was ready to get away from a place and a house where every street and every room brought painful memories.
And she’d been happy here once—the only other time in her life when that was true. If she could ever be happy again, this seemed like the place it would happen.
She turned and leaned her back against the rail, feeling it give slightly under her weight. She looked at the front door, a heavy, solid oak affair with a large oval-shaped beveled glass window. The glass was filthy, even under the frost, and it was broken, a spider web of cracks spreading from a point of impact on the lower left side. From the look of it, something had struck the door, a golf ball maybe, or more like a rock.
“Children from town,” a deep voice said from behind her. “Throwing rocks. On a dare.”
She smiled and looked over her shoulder at the man standing at the bottom of the steps.
The enormous Indian looked up at her. “This place is haunted. Or so the children tell one another.”
“Hello, Sam,” she said.
He smiled. “Hello, Emmy.”
Samuel Pawwannee was six and a half feet tall, with shoulders as wide as most doorways. He had an enormous barrel chest, hands the size of hubcaps, and every part of him was steel-strong muscle, without an ounce of unneeded fat.
His face was angular with a slightly heavy brow and a wide nose, his skin still a deep brown from the sun, despite being this far into winter. He had big brown eyes that were warm and welcoming, burning with intelligence and twinkling with humor. She’d never once seen hate in those eyes, and only once had she seen anger in them. His long black hair was usually free around his shoulders, but today it was tied at the base of his neck with a short piece of leather.
He was dressed in jeans, cowboy boots, and his father’s sheepskin coat, which he’d worn since he was big enough to fit into it. She didn’t see his truck anywhere, nor did she see a horse. He’d either left whichever one he’d brought around back, or he’d walked here. With Sam, one was as likely as the other.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
Sam shrugged a massive shoulder. “I knew you would be here.”
She turned back and looked at the house again, her hand wrapped around the heavy keychain in her pocket. She never heard a sound, but she suddenly saw Sam standing on the porch at the top of the stairs. He took a step and leaned his shoulder against another column.
“Is your business in the white man’s court concluded now?”
She chuckled at his phrasing then pulled the key ring from her pocket. “Official this morning. Just came from signing and filing the last of the paperwork.”
“Good. This is long overdue.”
Sam had never liked that she’d left the ranch, and he’d never been particularly fond of Bob Biscayne.
“Have you been clearing the snow?”
He nodded once. “Yes.”
They stood like that in silence for several long minutes, comfortable in their companionship and their own thoughts.
“Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“I am taking a lunch break.”
“You’re not eating,” she said.
He nodded once. “I am to pick you up and meet Marie at the casino.”
“I’m not allowed in the casino.”
“I reminded her of this. My instructions did not change.”
She eyed him skeptically. He remained impassive, and unreadable.
“Marie is a powerful woman,” she acknowledge after some time.
A faint, adoring smile curled up the corners of his mouth and he nodded. “Yes. She is.”
She chuckled. A more perfect couple did not exist in this world.
They were quite for a while longer. After some time, she stood up and fingered the keys.
“Guess I’ll have a look around inside now.” She’d been putting it off.
He stood and turned to face her. “You should prepare yourself,” he said, his big voice steady. “It is not what you remember. And it is a mess.”
She looked up at him, her eyes finding his big brown ones. She saw in him what she’d always seen—strength, certainty, conviction, and a calm she’d always been envious of. Sam was a constant in this world and in her life.
She nodded as if she’d expected this, and looked again at the door.
“Will you come with me?”
“You know the answer to that.”
She swallowed, knowing he was right. “What I meant to say is, I want you to come in with me.”

“Then I will.”

1 comment:

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