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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

STRANDED, Chapter 2


Chapter 2


Their second night out, Jake entered the ship’s dining room and breathed in the fragrance of ginger and anise and other Oriental spices wafting from the evening buffet table. Paper lanterns festooned the ceiling. White tablecloths and pale rattan chairs gleamed against the rich turquoise carpet and faded cocoa walls. 

Intricately carved pictures of rural Filipino life hung on the walls, reminding him of Nam. A boy on a water buffalo. Two workers in domed field hats, cultivating a rice paddy. A mother and baby outside a hut. The perfect setting to celebrate with Ginny tonight.  

Ginny stepped in next to him, pretty in a red, sleeveless wrap-around dress. The first night at sea, the cruise had honored newlyweds. Tonight it was oldyweds’ turn. He wore the black polo shirt she’d given him before dinner as an anniversary gift. She had sewn a gold insignia of the Marine Corps on the pocket and embroidered Lt. Colonel Jacob A. Chalmers, USMCR, in tiny, neat letters beneath it. 

“My brag shirt?”

“That’s what Marines do best.” The hug said there was no getting out of wearing it.

His gift to her gleamed under the soft light of the paper lanterns. Gift-giving wasn’t his strong point, but this one swelled his chest. The ring was a delicate white-gold band, set with four birthstones—a ruby for her, two sapphires for the twins, a peridot for him. In the tough months ahead, he wanted the ring to be a reminder of this evening and their happiness.

“Look, there are our guests.” Ginny waved to a young girl accompanied by a thin, white-haired woman standing at the other entrance to the room. “Crystal is eleven, and Betty is her great-aunt. Poor things were eating all by themselves last night.” For sure, Crystal and Betty would not lack dining companions the rest of the trip.

The four of them joined the buffet line, and Jake piled his plate high with rice and every vegetable and choice of meat offered. Though the fare was simple, a festive bottle of wine sat on each table, along with goblets and a pitcher of water. As soon as they sat, a waiter brought champagne in delicate, fluted glasses.

The captain called for toasts, and the chatter in the dining room hushed. Jake was the first to stand. “Twenty years ago I proposed to this lovely lady.” Applause rippled through the room as he pulled Ginny to her feet and put his arm around her. “She didn’t turn me down then, and she hasn’t since.” 

“Jake!”

He kissed her soundly and the room reverberated with hoots.

“Bragging is what Marines do best,” he whispered.

“Next to best.” She cast a sultry look at him and took his hand, laughing as they sat, fingers entwined.

When the toasts were done, Captain Emilio rose to make his rounds to the tables. Why so early? Was something special planned?

The captain approached their table. “Congratulations on your anniversary.” His gaze rested on the Marine Corps insignia and slid up to the two scars on the right side of Jake’s face. “Nam?”

“Dog. Pit bull.” Jake narrowed his eyes, waited to see if the bully caught the mimicry.

The captain’s lips thinned into a straight line. “Ladies, enjoy your meal.” His smile slid over them like a tanker over seaweed. He walked, shoulders rigid, to the next table.

“I got bit once,” Crystal said, “but it was just a puppy. It didn’t hurt much.” 

“How long ago was that, Jake?” Betty put her hand on Crystal’s arm, as if to hush her.

“About forty years ago. I was two and didn’t know any better than to pick up her pup by its neck.”

“I bet all the girls swooned over you, you look so romantic with those scars.” Crystal’s blue eyes fluttered in demonstration.

He burst into laughter. “Quite the opposite. Does the nickname Jagged Jake or Chewy Chalmers sound romantic?”

“Oh.” The corners of Crystal’s lips turned down. “They call me Cry-Baby Crystal at school.”

“I was Shrimp,” Betty interjected. “Every year the kids got taller, except me.”

Ginny hunched her shoulders into a shrug. “With red hair, what else but the Freckled Freak?”

If he and Ginny had been alone, he would have slipped his fingers into that golden-red hair and pulled the woman he loved into his arms. Freckled Freak? He wanted to guffaw, belt out a good, hard laugh. The Freckled Freak had grown into a beautiful woman who still made his heart thrum. He’d never stop thanking God for her.

Without warning, sorrow slammed like a steel wrecking ball into his chest. Thank God? His lungs tightened in a sharp ache. When the doctors said Ginny would die of stage IV colon cancer at age forty-two?

“Jake?” Ginny’s hand pressed against his arm, and he steadied his eyes on hers. They crinkled at the corners, a sheen of moisture refracting light from the paper lanterns overhead, and he knew she was smiling bravely. Smiling for him.

He sucked oxygen back into his lungs and laid his hand over hers. They’d agreed not to let grief claw away their joy of being together.

“Dance?” He led her to the small dance floor and took her into his arms, cradling her against the jostle of other couples.

He’d lost control. He wouldn’t let it happen again. The cruise was only the beginning of the good things he’d planned for her.

* * *

Eve slipped out of her dress and hung it in the narrow closet. Thank goodness she’d already laid out a change of clothes on her berth. Captain Emilio had left the dining room sooner than she expected, and his wink as he passed her table had set her nerves to jangling. 

Up till now, switching from prosecuting attorney to field agent had proved fun. She’d worked on the crew by first ordering room service, then gaining a tour of the galley, and eventually a trip through the entire ship. The crew loved her interest in them and eagerly answered all her questions.

But what had she discovered? Nothing. She shook out the cobalt blue, V-neck blouse and white, cuffed shorts and put them on, then plucked out the pins holding her hair in a French twist. Her visit in a few minutes with Captain Emilio had to look casual, like it was no big deal. No giveaways like trembling fingers or forgetting her name was Eva Gray.

She squinted into the tiny bathroom mirror and settled on a light application of lipstick, no powder. Okay, so she hadn’t discovered the hold stuffed full of drugs. But she had unearthed two puzzling events that sat like lead in her gut.

Why was the ship operating with a skeleton crew—maybe half what it needed? The men were scrambling from room service to meal preparation to the mechanics of running the ship. Then there was the fact that every member of the crew was sailing the Gateway for the first time. That couldn’t be a coincidence. Only Chester, the first mate, was an old timer. She blew out a breath, remembering how unfriendly and closed-mouthed the officer had been.

She slid her feet into high-heeled sandals and buckled the straps. Somehow those two discoveries were important. They pointed to something, but what? Three more days until they docked in Manila. She needed to pull things together.

She found Captain Emilio alone on the bridge, leaning over a map spread on a chart board. He had removed his jacket, and the back of his short-sleeved shirt was pasted in a line of sweat bracketed by his shoulders and running down his spine to his waist. He turned to face her as the wooden deck creaked under her sandals, his eyes constricted, hard, like a hawk sighting its prey.

Her breath froze, and for a second she couldn’t move, couldn’t think. Then he smiled, and the icy bullet in her lungs dissolved. Had she imagined animosity? She took a deep breath. This wasn’t going to be as easy as questioning the crew.

“We still on course?” She nodded at the map and forced a smile.

“We’re right where I want us to be.” His voice was deep, confident, a man used to getting his way. He stepped around the chart board, his eyes sliding appreciatively over her body. His hand pressed lightly against her waist as he guided her to a tray offering an assortment of drinks.

She stiffened at his touch, and his hand dropped.

“An after-dinner drink?” His eyebrows rose—over her choice of beverage, or over her reaction to his brash familiarity?

She delayed her answer, examining the offerings on the tray, regrouping to take over the reins of control. “How about a tour first?” She pointed to what looked like some kind of communication apparatus. “What’s this?”

“A single side band radio.” He explained it in detail and moved to the next piece of equipment and then another.

She lost interest at the third item. What she needed was some way to link him to the Romeros. The facial similarities weren’t enough, of course, to make a legitimate connection. But wasn’t it an interesting coincidence that Emilio, an Italian, commanded a ship that the feds knew ran drugs from Guam to the Philippines to Chicago, home turf of the Romero family?

If she could tie him to the family, or even just to Chicago, she might well have found the link that could secure a win for the Justice Department. Eight years of chasing Danny Romero would finally end with his backside in a corner he couldn’t slip away from.

The captain’s finger hovered over the last piece of equipment. “This is the radio locator beacon—the distress signal. It alerts other ships or aircraft that you’re in trouble and need help.”

Enough about equipment or she’d have to send out her own distress signal. She infused fresh curiosity into her voice. “How long have you been captain of the Gateway?"

Again the man rattled on. Definitely oriented to details. Her interest perked as his autobiography moved backwards through time. Vanity made one vulnerable. What question could she ask to lure him into a trap that would give the information she needed?

Captain Emilio stopped abruptly. His eyes narrowed, focusing on hers. “Where are you from, Eva?”

Exactly what she wanted to ask him. “Chicago. How about you?”

His eyebrows shot up. “Small world—my father lives there.”

Her heart leaped. The trap had caught its mouse.   
                       
* * *

Captain Emilio smirked as Evedene Eriksson, alias Eva Gray, clattered down the steep ladder stairwell. How her eyes had danced after he’d shared the information she so badly wanted to hear. A rather pathetic game of cat and mouse on her part, but worth it to see her think she was the cat, and he, the mouse.

He snorted. So, she should be done with her pitiful interrogation of him and the crew now that he’d revealed he was Danny Romero’s son. If only she’d been willing to offer herself in his bed to get the information out of him. He shrugged and picked up a microphone. Just as well. His mission tomorrow required all his attention. 

For a moment he tried picturing his father’s face when the old man received the news of his son’s death. Would he crumple into tears at the loss, or scowl at what he perceived as incompetence? 

Who cared? His father was a goner, whether through the Romero trial or through his emphysema. And so was Emilio if he didn’t make his escape now. Either he faked his death, or the other three Romero sons—the “legitimate” ones—would make it a reality.  
  
“First Mate to the bridge,” he announced over the public address system. 

Chester appeared promptly. He had been with the captain five years, and his clenched jaw said he knew his performance had better be up to snuff. 

“The radio locator beacon can be moved now. Are both lighters set?”  It was important to Captain Emilio’s purposes to not use the lifeboats. The flat-bottomed lighters rode high in the water and were used for brief sojourns of sightseeing in the shallow waters surrounding the outer Philippine islands. They weren’t necessary components for the sale of the ship.

“Yessir.”

“The keys?”

“Yessir.” Chester reached into his pocket and produced two sets of ignition keys. His hand shook, and the keys clanked against each other.

“Don’t go getting soft on me.”

Chester shoved the keys back into his pocket and blinked several times. “We’re only supposed to take out the attorney.”

“You want to back out, now’s the time.”

“No sir.” The first mate swallowed and looked the captain in the eye. “The explosives are ready when you are.”  

CONTINUED ON THURSDAY-FRIDAY 

Monday, September 1, 2014


I left Grammar Yammer in order to complete my novel, and, AT LAST, here it is! 
Part 1 (36 chapters) will be serialized for your reading pleasure on Mondays-Tuesdays and Thursdays-Fridays in September and October. Enjoy!





PART 1

June – July
1981



Prologue


The heavens faded from black to dusky blue, arching like an inverted bowl over the inky waters below. Sprawled across a fragment of boat, Jake Chalmers scanned the horizon. Darkness cloaked the expanse to the west, but in the east the circle of the earth etched a line of gold between ocean and sky. Pushing himself chest high, arms shaking, he studied the line for movement. Nothing. Nothing but the rising sun.

He rolled to his back and threw an arm over his eyes. Seawater dripped off his sleeve, stinging the cracks in his lips. He winced and pressed them together. A scum of brine coated his mouth, numbing his tongue and the back of his throat. Swallowing to generate saliva blazed a trail of salt down his esophagus. His stomach heaved, but there was nothing to expel, not even bile.

So thirsty. The craving ground like fine sandpaper against every cell in his body. Forty-two-years-old, and he’d never experienced misery like this, not even in Nam. He raised his arm and flexed his fingers, blinked until the crinkled skin on the back of his hand came into focus. A symptom of dehydration? Or the result of floating five nights in the ocean? 

He shifted back onto his stomach and hooked his left arm over the edge of the fragment to keep his balance.  The flat-bottomed vessel, split in half lengthwise by the explosion and flipped into an upside-down V, barely accommodated the stretch of his six-foot-two frame. The submerged air compartments that had doubled as tourist passenger seats kept the damaged craft afloat, but the V tipped precariously with each swash of a wave.

He’d count, clear the haze from his mind. Count the days since he’d boarded the cruise ship. The days alone on the ocean after the explosion. The hours, the minutes, every second of the rest of his life he’d spend hunting down Captain Emilio.

He sat up, catapulted by the heat of rage. The boat fragment jerked and he fell on his back and slid, grasping with outflung arms at the wet surface. The ocean swallowed his feet, his chest. The bucking craft smacked his head as he slipped off. Blood filled his mouth, stinging his tongue where his teeth slashed it. He caught the edge of the vessel, pulled up, and spat. Crimson dots spattered the craft’s white paint.

Ginny. The ache for her pressed against his chest. Where was she? Floating like him in the ocean? Or had she slipped under the waves to a briny grave? He closed his eyes. Tired. So tired. Wanting to save her. Failing. His throat tightened.

He repositioned his grip and willed himself not to let go. Willed himself to fill his lungs and release the air in a slow exhale. Willed himself to crawl back onto the broken sea vessel. He lay on his stomach and stretched his limbs into a sprawl.

God and man may have abandoned him, but he wouldn’t yield body and soul easily. The ocean would have to wait.

He dozed in snatches until the change came. Awareness of it crawled into his dreams and elbowed him awake. He opened his eyes. Rain? He raised his head, body trembling, to scan the heavens. Empty. Only the sun glaring from its own ocean of blue sky.

No, beneath him. Motion, tugging him—a surge forward, then a stop. Surge forward, stop. He shook his head, lifted himself off his stomach. At the next swell he glimpsed the horizon. A green smear creased its edge.

Land.

LAND!

His heart slammed into high gear, and he struggled to his knees. The water dipped and the land disappeared. The boat fragment slid forward. Stopped. Rose on the slow elevator of another swell. He held his breath.

An island slipped onto the horizon. High on one end, sloping to sea level at the other.

He sucked in air and hurled it out in a cry that reverberated across the waves.

As if startled, the boat fragment jumped, and he fell on his stomach. He grabbed the vessel’s edge. It rotated in a half circle and lurched forward on a new path. A path headed back to sea.

An ocean current—it must have caught the longer part of the fragment submerged in the water. He studied the distance to the island. The current might veer back and sidle up to the island, or, just as likely, it might tow his broken sea vessel farther away.

Didn’t matter. He didn’t need the boat. Just the island.

He slipped into the water and set his strokes on autopilot.


Chapter 1

Five days earlier

Jake Chalmers leaned on his forearms against the cruise ship’s railing, his back to the crowded buffet table. The light fingers of the harbor breeze carried his wife’s voice rising in unsuppressed gaiety behind him. Exactly what he’d hoped for. Planned for. To take all the pain and stuff it into his heart, free hers to soar.

He swallowed back the lump crowding his throat and focused on the deck below. Captain Emilio stood alone at the gangplank. He’d been there all morning, personally welcoming each boarding passenger. No question he made a good impression—tall, trim, young for holding the position of captain.

As a seasoned officer sizing up a younger officer, Jake had given him high marks. The captain’s white uniform was crisp; his jacket, immaculate; and his hair, though a bit long, was neatly groomed under his captain’s cover. The ship gleamed with fresh paint and shining metal surfaces. The crew, all Filipinos except for the first mate, were attentive and friendly. Captain Emilio’s attention to detail as good as guaranteed the cruise from Guam to the Philippines would be a memory-maker to cherish.

The stream of passengers trickled to a few last-minute boarders. Now would be a good time to slip down and join the man for conversation. As small as the ship was, with only twenty-four guests to attend to, the captain might be up for several visits on the bridge during the five-day trip.

 A ship’s horn blared nearby, and the passengers, evidently mistaking it for the Gateway’s, flocked like starlings to join Jake at the railing. He made room for Ginny to squeeze in front of him, her back plastered against his chest. The Cherokee wedge sandals she’d purchased especially for the cruise raised her four inches to where she could fit just under his chin. Impulsively, he kissed the top of her head.

She tipped her face up at him and smiled. “Watch it, Marine.”

He wrapped his arms around her, inhaling the fruity scent of her shampoo. “I’m watching, and you aren’t getting away.”

But she would get away. Months, the doctor had said. Maybe three, maybe six. The lump rose back to his throat.

The horn blared again, and the passengers, grumbling that the cruise wasn’t leaving after all, drifted back to the buffet table. Ginny shifted to his right side and slipped her arm around his waist. “Shouldn’t the captain be on the bridge? We leave in fifteen minutes.”

“Must be waiting for someone. Here comes the first mate now.” Jake nodded at a short, balding Caucasian striding toward the captain. “He’ll take over so the captain can go.”

“He’s sure ticked about something. Look at the roster.”

Behind his back, the captain’s hands clutched the ship’s roster, rapping it like a jackhammer against his spine. Jake shrugged. He’d be annoyed, too, if his men came up short.

At the first mate’s approach, the hammering shifted to ominous whaps. The captain’s nostrils flared above clenched teeth. For one beat, the hammering stopped. “I told you to wait.”

The mate jerked to a stop. “Yessir.” His lips pinched into a thin line. He turned and slunk away.

Jake scowled. Nineteen years in the Reserves had exposed him to every kind of officer the Marine Corps attracted. This one was a bully. He managed his men through intimidation.

“Look!” Ginny nudged him with her shoulder. “That’s who he’s waiting for.”

He followed her line of sight to a woman stepping onto the gangplank. She wore a calf-length dress the colors of a brilliant red and orange sunset, a slit on the left opening to just above her knee as she trod up the passageway. Like the captain, she was tall and slender, a looker. A good match for him.

Ginny sighed. “So gorgeous.”

The blonde or the dress? Didn’t matter. He booted his disgust with the captain. What mattered was a perfect cruise. One last, happy adventure together before Ginny’s suffering began. Unless God chose to remove it …

“Gorgeous is what I’ve got in my arms.” He drew her close in a tight hug. Stuffing the pain. Trying mighty hard for his heart to soar with hers.

* * *

Evedene Eriksson strode up the gangplank, a glaze of sweat suddenly swamping her armpits and dribbling down her sides to her waist. She hesitated. She could still turn and—not run, certainly—but walk away as fast as her legs could carry her.

No.

One clue, one little bit of evidence—that was all she needed. She could do this.

At the other end of the gangplank, the captain stepped forward to face her. Elation bubbled up her chest to her throat.

The man was handsome—dashing, really, in those crisp white cottons and flashy blue jacket with its gold braid and brass buttons. His cap sat at a jaunty angle on his head, revealing dark, curly hair which probably that very morning had been cut and styled. No doubt every female boarding the ship thrilled at the sight of him. 

But what set her heart thumping was that he had the same hawk-like nose as Danny Romero, the same square jaw and cleft chin. Her heartbeat pounded into a drum roll. All she had to do was prove the two men were related, and United States vs. Romero was her win.

She peered at the deck above him, locating the source of passengers chatting and laughing. A couple stood at the railing, locked in embrace. The tightness that had clamped her shoulders all morning loosened. She was making the right decision to board. With all these people here, nothing bad could happen.

She stopped in front of the captain.

“Eva Gray?”

She blinked. The captain was holding the ship’s roster, eyebrows raised, expecting a response. She almost corrected him, almost said, No, she was Evedene Eriksson. 

 “Yes, Eva Gray.” She stared boldly into his eyes. She wasn’t a field agent like Scott, but she could lie just as well.

Captain Emilio glanced at the roster. “You’re traveling alone? The reservation says two staterooms.”

The question smashed like a fist to her stomach. She’d been only a few steps behind Scott when someone pushed him onto the track with the El bearing down on him. For a moment the switch she’d turned off in her mind flipped on, and she saw Scott fall, heard people scream, felt the swoosh of air slap her face as the train braked.

She snapped the switch off. “Just me.”

“Then one of my crew will show you to your cabin. You’ll find your luggage inside.” The captain made a mark on the roster and bowed slightly, the gesture a wooden tilt from the waist up. “Welcome aboard, Ms. Gray.”

She followed the crewman across the deck, but at the captain’s shout to cast off, she found her legs suddenly stilt-like, her sandaled, toenail-polished feet like sandbags. What was she doing? Her stomach twisted into a hard knot. She shouldn’t have let herself think of Scott and the El.

“This way, please.” The crewman held open a door into the ship’s bowels.

The gangplank growled into place behind her, and the deck shuddered beneath her sandals. She should run, leap onto the pier. Her feet betrayed her, yanked her forward through the hatch. The crewman brushed past, and the door clicked shut.

She inhaled sharply. Tiny hairs at the nape of her neck prickled like icicles and spiked shivers down her spine.

“Here, ma’am, your room.” From the end of the corridor, the smiling crewman beckoned her.

She straightened her shoulders and marched down the passageway. This was exactly where she wanted to be. One last piece of evidence, and 1981 would mark the year she finally put Chicago’s premiere drug lord, Danny Romero, behind bars. 

TO BE CONTINUED ON TUESDAY

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!


May 2013 prove a great ***New Year*** for you!

Grammar Yammer has come to a halt. I hope you enjoyed my blog and profited from it. 

Thank you for being my reader, for your kind comments, and very special thanks to those who participated as critique winners.

                                                            Blessings to you!
                                                            Steph










Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!


May the blessing and joy
of God’s greatest Gift be yours.

Merry Christmas!









Thursday, December 20, 2012

Critique Winner's Revision


Our usual guest blogger, Carrie L. Lewis, is sick, so December’s crit winner kindly agreed to share his revision.

(Scroll down to December 13 for his entry, and back up to December 14 for my critique.)

You will see a big difference in the pace of the opening 1,000 words. In 1212RS’s initial entry, his 1,000 words end with Benny starting his journey. In the revised 1,000 words, Benny reaches his destination.

Chapter 1

The jangle of the bedside phone jarred Benny awake. Before he could mumble a greeting, angry words hissed from the receiver.
“I suggest you listen, Mr. Wilks,” said a whining, sibilant voice. “I will not repeat myself.”
Crank call? Yeah. That’s probably it.
“I’m calling on behalf of an old friend. He has information you need and wants to meet with you immediately. I assure you, it’s very important that you attend this meeting.”
“Wrong number, bub.”
“Your friend Tommy wishes to discuss events that happened in Chicago, many years ago.”
Benny’s thumb halted before it reached the “end” key. Air drained from the room, and dread tightened around his throat. “Who is this?”
“Don’t interrupt me, Mr. Wilks. We have no time for questions. Consider this call an invitation–and a warning. Be at the corner of Crichton and Emerald at 1:20.”
The line went dead.
For a moment, Benny couldn’t breathe. He blinked, trying to clear his head. But the call still made no sense.
There was no way Tommy wanted to see him. Because Tommy died fifteen years ago.
There had to be a mistake.
But one word from the call plagued him, preventing his pulse from settling back into its strong, slow rhythm.
Chicago.
Sweat beaded on Benny’s face despite the cool air.
After his best friend’s death, he’d left Chicago behind. Left his life behind. Sworn never to return.
Was that a mistake?
Worry rolled in, a storm of long-ignored memories that threatened to keep him awake all night.
No, he hadn’t made a mistake by leaving. Because yes, Tommy was dead.
Benny no longer knew anyone in Chicago. No reason to worry about anything going on in that city.
Yet, how could he ignore the phone call?
He rolled out of bed and padded to the dresser to grab some clothes. On the way out he snatched up a shoulder bag crafted from a single piece of weathered walrus hide and covered with hand-tooled designs. Then he opened the door and scanned the hallway.
It was probably nothing, but as he looked over his shoulder, a line from one of his favorite childhood TV shows came to mind: “My Spidey senses are tingling.”
One deep breath later, he reached the back stairwell and started down the first of three flights. He passed his weathered Honda Accord without slowing. No need to drive. He could walk the eight blocks to Crichton and Emerald with time to spare. And on his terms. The caller may know Chicago, but Seattle was Benny’s turf.
A gust of cold air slapped his cheeks. Physical shock dissipated the effects of the earlier mental one, leaving him sensitive to every sound, every hint of movement on the darkened streets.
A cold drizzle began to fall. He resisted the temptation to turn up his collar, embracing the slight sting of the droplets on the back of his neck. Eyes and ears adjusted quickly to the night.
As he continued east on Campbell, Benny raked his memory. Had he heard that hiss on the phone before? It didn’t sound familiar.
But he had to be sure. So he forced his mind through the past, dredging up memories of men with whiny voices. By the end of the third block, he was certain. He did not know the caller.
Two more blocks passed before he saw another soul in the darkness. At the corner of Campbell and Garnet, a beefy man stood under the awning of a closed restaurant, sending a text message.
Their eyes met with the wary acknowledgement common to men who cross paths at night: I’m not looking for trouble, and you won’t get any unless you start it.
Trouble. Can’t shake that thought.
He was headed somewhere dark and nasty. Delridge was not a bad neighborhood. But danger lurked late, even in the nicest places.
Was he being foolish? Inviting trouble? Probably. Yet curiosity and an indistinct sense of dread pushed him to keep walking.
His hands trembled in anticipation and anxiety. With some effort, he stilled their movement and quashed the urge to walk faster.
No need to hurry. He would reach the intersection several minutes before the deadline without rushing. Plenty of time to plan his next move.
He would calmly observe, then decide, then act.
At the last apartment house on the sixth block, the rain stopped. The air, thick with moisture despite the cold, warned that the precipitation had not ended. Just wandered away for a while and would return.
Two blocks from the rendezvous, Benny felt a pull in his gut–-instincts pealing a warning.
Something wasn’t right. But what? After five years in this neighborhood, didn’t he know the fastest route to the intersection?
Yes. And that was the problem.
Was he taking the best route? Fastest and easiest, yes. But the best? What if he was walking into a trap?
The simplest path lay one block east to Emerald, which blazed with lights, and one block south to Crichton.
He liked simple solutions. They worked.
But not tonight. A part of his brain that hadn’t spoken up in years would not allow him to take the obvious route.
So now what?
He turned south on Ruby, a residential street that even in bright sunlight did not warrant its namesake. Benny crept down the middle of the tree-choked lane with no street lamps, navigating by the chancy landmarks of a porch light on one side of the street and a TV in a window on the other.
In less than a minute, he stood behind a tree on Crichton, about ten yards west of Emerald. Eight minutes early for the rendezvous.
Bark scraped his cheek as he snuck a glance toward the intersection. Lit by four streetlamps, the scene held no secrets. But it still made no sense.
A musk ox sprawled in the center of the intersection.

Thank you, 1212RS, for sharing your revision. I like how you quickly moved Benny out the door in your new beginning, and then built tension by s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g out his journey to his rendezvous.

Blog reader, did you catch some of the other changes 1212RS made?

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