This week finds me going through my edited manuscript one word at a time, either accepting editorial changes, rejecting them, or adding new material that clarifies concepts or fleshes out characters. My mood oscillates between elated (I’m making a good story better!) and aggravated (will anyone even care if I say waitress rather than server?). I careen between bullishness (can you say million-seller?) and bearishness (no one reads books anymore). But on the average, I’m feeling pretty good about this effort.
I thought you might enjoy a sneak preview. Below is an excerpt, Chapter One in its entirety. You’ll meet the protagonist and see the triggering event that starts the plot rolling. This excerpt won’t give away what the book is about, but will give you a glimpse of who it is about. The book launch will be in December 2016. I hope you’ll want to read more! Okay, without further ado…
Act One: Transitions
Chapter 1: Eight Seconds
On the spur of the moment, Eddie Caruthers decided to help a damsel in distress, and thus began his long slide into darkness. Of course, that was not apparent from where he stood. Clarity about the genesis of one’s own misery comes mainly in the cold light of hindsight, too late to be of use.
The damsel was a doe-eyed young lady with a melodious voice, a sweet smile, and an astonishingly corpulent build. Rosalyn Pitts and three other women had exited the big stone church that occupied half a block on Union Avenue in downtown Framingham, Massachusetts. Hobbling with the help of a cane in each hand, Rosalyn jaywalked in the spill of the streetlights, talking cheerily and breathlessly over her shoulder to her three friends, who lingered on the sidewalk behind her as they finished their goodbyes.
Her distress arrived in a black SUV, as the driver started spewing invective at her from his open window. She was in his way, forcing him to stop for her as she made her laborious crossing. He loudly bemoaned the size, color, and unsatisfactory forward speed of the lady’s posterior, adding, “Does Old MacDonald know he’s missing a cow? E-I-E-I-Oh my God!” Rosalyn hung her head and tried to move faster.
Eddie saw and heard all this from where he stood in the courtyard of Solid Rock Church. Landscaping spotlights highlighted shrubs and ornamental trees just beginning to shed their red and yellow autumn garb. Eddie had been strolling under those trees, in rapt conversation with his—friend, girlfriend, wife to be? He was still trying to work all that out. But whatever the lithe and lovely Shawna Bell was to him, he enjoyed her company immensely and found that her nearness made the whole wearisome world fade away.
He and Shawna had been last to leave the building after choir practice, hanging back for the few seconds it took him to set the alarm and lock the door. Eddie wasn’t in the choir, but Shawna was, and he considered that reason enough to volunteer to handle building security and lockup on Thursday nights. He’d been doing that for six weeks, just for the pleasure of accompanying Shawna to her car—as slowly as possible—and listening to her small talk.
He definitely didn’t appreciate having the moment spoiled by the sudden stream of insults and profanities he was now hearing. He looked over and noted the make and model of the vehicle, an occupational habit that was now a reflex. Then he focused his attention on the driver who was intruding on his happiness. It was especially aggravating that the target of this onslaught was poor Rosalyn Pitts. Roz, who everyone knew was unfailingly pleasant despite suffering perpetual discomfort from the strain on her joints; Roz, who never showed embarrassment at having to sit on a bench in the rear of Solid Rock’s sanctuary, a bench placed there because she was too big to fit on the cushioned chairs used by the rest of the congregation; Roz, who doubtless had a too-short life expectancy and would probably never, ever be asked out on a date. If anybody deserved a break, it was Roz.
Eddie found himself yelling, “Hey, loudmouth, if you had any class at all, you’d shut up and leave the woman alone!” He fully expected an answering salvo of bluff and obscenities. People always acted tough from inside a car. Being wrapped in a four-thousand-pound steel and glass cocoon had a way of making people lose whatever inhibitions they might normally have had. Well, if listening to some thug curse at him would spare Roz further humiliation, then so be it.
But the driver didn’t say another word. Instead, he slammed his vehicle into reverse and whipped it into a curbside parking space. Eddie was briefly impressed with the maneuver. Not many people could fling a Range Rover around so precisely in reverse, and fewer still would try it while sporting those oversized two-piece chrome wheels. What kind of nutcase would risk curbing rims that pricey? That fleeting question evaporated when the driver got out, slammed the door, and strode toward the courtyard.
Eddie’s pulse quickened. His senses honed in on the approaching man. His first words were to Shawna: “Stand clear.” He glanced in her direction and made a shooing gesture with his right hand.
“Eddie!” Shawna’s normally silky voice nearly squeaked, and when she spoke his name a second time she drew it out to great length. “Eddiiieeee! Don’t get into it with him! Let’s just go!”
But Eddie had already turned his attention back to the lout who had been Roz’s problem and was about to become his. This man was compact, some three inches shorter than Eddie’s six-foot height. “Loudmouth” had an olive complexion and dark hair slicked back. He looked to be in his late thirties, a good ten years older than Eddie. Powerfully built, his broad shoulders and muscular physique marked him a dangerous opponent. The angry stare and clenched jaw suggested he wasn’t coming over to chat. He approached with head up, chest out, fingers curled but not quite clenched into fists.
Eddie figured him for a sucker puncher. The man would probably try to get up in his face, and then attempt a knockout by throwing a sneaky roundhouse punch from out of nowhere. It was an old trick, demonstrated in a thousand YouTube videos. Not a chance he gets that close, Eddie thought. He could see that his own reach was greater, and the guy was leading with his chin. Then, on the edge of his awareness, he saw and heard the passenger door of the stranger’s Rover open and shut as a second man, much larger than the first, exited the vehicle and started toward the courtyard. Two of them. Not good.
Eddie’s heart was hammering under the influence of an adrenaline surge. But this wasn’t the remembered terror of all his childhood confrontations—it was the body’s way of prepping itself for fight or flight. Eddie took two calming deep breaths, as he had been trained, and positioned himself for what was coming next.
Taking two steps backward, he raised both hands slightly above his head, palms out. Most watchers would see the universal gesture of surrender, a posture that says, “I’m not a threat.” Only a careful observer might notice that his hands were not held up in the in the classic surrender pose; instead, they were well in front of his face, ready to be instantly deployed to block, grab, or punch.
“I don’t want any trouble, man.” Eddie spoke loudly enough to be heard by both the advancing attacker and any bystanders who might later be asked who started it. He knew he needed to win not only the physical fight but also any legal proceedings that might ensue from it. It was never too early to lay the groundwork for that court fight.
“Too late now, punk.” The smaller man began to accelerate, closing the gap between them. He kept up a running commentary, declaring what part of Eddie’s anatomy was about to be kicked.
They were about seven feet apart. Eddie took another step backward, and as soon as the ball of his foot hit the ground, he reversed direction and charged. Strike while they’re talking. That was the rule, because an opponent’s reaction times were slower when he was busy spouting off.
The two men closed in an instant. Eddie landed the first blows—it was not far from his already upraised hands to the aggressor’s face. He missed with a straight left, but landed a right and a left in rapid succession as the shorter man raised his arms to block before trying to twist out of the way. None of Eddie’s punches were hard enough to do serious damage, but that was not the point of the initial flurry. The point was to get the man off his plan of attack. A foe who is defending himself from you is not hitting you.
Eddie was somehow more acutely aware of the sounds of the fight than he was of the tactile sensations. He heard the impact of his fists on flesh and the stranger grunting under the rain of blows. Shawna stifled a scream somewhere to his right. The attacker recovered from his surprise, dropped into a crouch, and spread his hands. He hunched his shoulders and ducked his head to protect his face. Lunging forward, he wrapped powerful arms around Eddie and set himself to throw him to the ground. Eddie raked his thumbs across the shorter man’s eyes, making him jerk his head back and loosen his grip. This gave Eddie room to insert his right arm under his opponent’s armpit. By twining his arm under, behind, and back over the shoulder, he trapped the man’s arm and put painful pressure on the rotator cuff, forcing his foe to bend down and twist awkwardly to the side.
The attacker’s face was now at belly level. Eddie palmed the man’s face with his left hand and rushed forward, pushing his overbalanced assailant, who had to scramble backward to stay on his feet. Eddie needed only three running steps. The back of the man’s head met the rough granite stonework of the church with a sickening thud. Eddie might easily have followed up with a knee to the face as the logical finishing move, but he was not inclined to overkill. As he released his arm, the man sank to the ground, where he feebly thrashed and twitched. His eyes were open, but did not appear to see anything. From first punch to lights out had taken around eight seconds.
Eddie spun, looking for the Rover’s passenger. He was standing about fifteen feet away, and not advancing. The large man looked much older than the one on the ground. His hair was mostly gray. He was paunchy, wider at the waist than at the shoulders, and for some reason was wearing sunglasses at night. He shook his head, and almost smiled. When he spoke, his voice was raspy. “I got no beef with you. I just wanna collect my hot-headed friend here and be on my way.”
Eddie nodded, edging over to where Shawna and Roz’s three friends were standing in a little clump. He knew better than to turn his back to the second man, but his caution proved unnecessary. The older man went straight to his fallen friend. He held him still and spoke quietly to him for a minute or two. Then he hauled him to his feet, and half dragged, half carried him back to the Rover. There was definitely some muscle under all that flab. He laid his dazed companion across the back seat before getting in the front and driving off.
Only then did any of the women in the courtyard speak, and they all began talking at once. The voice Eddie focused on was Shawna’s. “You could have killed that man!” She still sounded squeaky. She turned to gaze wide-eyed at the spot where the man’s head had hit the wall with such an awful sound. “What were you thinking?”
Eddie considered the question. He was a little stung that she offered no congratulations for having successfully defended himself against a dangerous attacker, no words of concern for his own well-being, no thanks for having stuck up for Roz. “I was thinking …” He too turned and looked toward where his attacker’s cranium had met the stone wall. His lip curled. “I was thinking … welcome to Solid Rock.”