Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A birthday present

Yesterday was my birthday, so in the spirit of such celebrations I'm going to give all of you a present.

I've mentioned before that I've already written a good chunk of a thriller, Fatal Circle, that I plan one day to finish and sell. On Thursday, September 11, 2008, I read the first page and a quarter of that book at a signing. Other than that one time, I've never shown any of the book to anyone.

Here's that tiny introductory bit of the novel, in completely raw, unedited, embarrassingly rough first-draft form. These are the words as they came from my keyboard; the final text will be much, much better. (Can you tell I'm having to talk myself into showing this to you without rewriting it first?)



As Mike Hood watched the two men watching him, he realized that the life he had carefully constructed for the last five years was evaporating in the shimmering waves of heat rising off the strip mall parking lot almost as quickly as the small, dark puddles still standing from last night’s rain.

On his lunch break, stretched out flat on the low brick wall in front of InCompute, he was enjoying the unexpectedly hot last day of September when he spotted the two men for the second time that day. From the moment he’d left CitFree, he’d known they could come for him, but the knowledge didn’t diminish his confusion. Why now? He’d done nothing to merit the attention, yet he also knew they had to have a reason. As much as he’d hated the agency, he’d never seen anyone in it act without a strong belief that their action was necessary and justified.

He arched and stretched his back, sat up, and pulled his hair into a ponytail, repeating the same movements he made every day before his after-lunch walk. When he was at CitFree, visible habits were enemies, weaknesses others could use against you. Only civilians could afford habits, and all the ordinary people he’d studied had possessed them. When he left, he knew that to fit in he had to have habits, too, so he cultivated them with the same studied effort he brought to every task. He went too far, of course--he now understood that moderation wasn’t in him--and he knew that those few who considered him a casual friend thought him obsessive at best.

He quickened his pace as he walked along his daily route, up the covered walkway in front of the ever-changing storefronts that occupied the doomed side of the L-shaped mall, across the feeder road, behind the Burger King, down US 70, and then behind the Wal-Mart that was the only merchant keeping the mall from commercial extinction. He forced himself to look only straight ahead in the hopes that his tails would believe he’d become sloppy enough to miss them. CitFree never worked in the open, so the only danger point was behind the Wal-Mart. He considered cutting out that part of the walk, but doing so would tell even a bad team that he was onto them. He figured he could duck into a rear employees’ entrance if it came to that, but fortunately over a dozen men were unloading a pair of trucks behind the store and he was never at risk of being alone. The tails didn’t follow him, and he relaxed a bit as he passed along the white concrete rear wall of the block-long building.

As he emerged into the bright parking lot from the shadow of the Wal-Mart’s far wall, they were waiting, pretending to chat near a beat-up green F150, and he caught one clear look at them. He stared a moment too long and for a second made eye contact with the taller one, so he nodded, said, “Nice truck” even though he knew they probably couldn’t hear him, and kept moving. He had to force himself not to shake his head in disgust at himself; making eye contact was inexcusable. He reviewed the snapshot image in his mind as he continued on to the front of InCompute. Both men were in jeans and dark blue t-shirts, and both wore gimme caps from a used car dealership down the road. One was Caucasian, a bit over six feet tall, thin, with dark brown hair, a few days of stubble, and a thin pale line showing above the tanned part of his right arm and below his t-shirt sleeve. The other was a few inches shorter, probably twenty pounds heavier, and Hispanic.

He noted in their reflections in the InCompute window that both were watching him directly; amateurs. Either CitFree was desperate for help, or he’d somehow attracted the attention of some low-end local group. He knew from the study of the area he’d made before he chose it that even the bikers who ran the organized trades in Raleigh and Durham would handle a surveillance job better than these two losers.

No, a local group made no sense. Stick to Occam’s razor, he reminded himself; someone from CitFree had to be running these guys. That he couldn’t spot the agent in charge suggested that he might know the leader.

Too bad; he hated killing people he knew.

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