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Thursday, December 13, 2012

December's Critique Winner


Opening one thousand words of an untitled thriller/suspense novel (critique will be posted tomorrow):


Benny staggered into the train compartment and locked the door. Muscles shrieked with each motion as he folded the benches together into a bed, then fell into it.
Maybe, just maybe, he’d live long enough to find out who was trying to kill him.
Eyes closed, he lay motionless, waiting for his breathing to slow. For the first time, he felt safe enough to relax. Consciousness ebbed away.
No. Not now. Can’t sleep yet.
Benny shook himself awake. He grabbed a digital voice recorder from his bag and began: “It’s Thursday, Feb. 4. I’m recording this account from an Amtrak train compartment.”
The effort of speaking tired him, and his eyelids grew heavy.
Got to tell the story before it’s too late.
“It all started with a phone call at 1:04 this morning …”
Benny paused. In the moment it took to select the proper word, he lost consciousness.
***
The bedside phone’s ring had jarred Benny awake. Before he could mumble a greeting, a scared, angry man hissed into the phone.
“I suggest you listen, Mr. Wilks,” said a whining, sibilant voice. “I will not repeat myself.”
Was he dreaming? Not a chance. The call had ripped him away from a dream, and the afterimage of somewhere warm and humid was fading away.
“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.”
Crank call? Yeah. That’s probably it.
“Your friend 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 only came up with questions.
Who had found him here, 2,000 miles away?
He suppressed the urge to leap out of bed, instead replaying the call in his head.
Had he missed something? Misinterpreted the caller’s verbal signals? The voice quavered just a bit. Rushed from point to point without the subtle gaps most speakers inserted between thoughts.
No. The takeaway was subtle, but adamant. There was fear in the man’s voice.
Despite the call, sleep still beckoned. A trip loomed, several long days scouting real estate in Oregon, and he dreaded dragging his body into action this early.
Was he overreacting? Perhaps the caller really was a crank.
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. For 15 years he’d labored to forget that part of his life.
He traveled a lot. But no matter how promising the real estate deal, how hot the market, he would not return.
Could never return.
Worry rolled in, a storm of long-ignored memories that threatened to keep him awake all night.
No. Can’t allow that.
He expelled the memories from his mind, then sucked in a deep breath once, twice, three times.
Good, his pulse was slowing. He 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?
Chicago. The word would not be dismissed.
Had the caller known him in Chicago? Had someone tracked him to Seattle?
He took a deep breath and rolled out of bed. From the dresser he grabbed suitable attire for a late-night prowl through the wintry streets of Seattle – jeans, a Seahawks sweatshirt, and hiking boots.
For the first time in years, indecision struck.
Should he call the police? No, not yet.
What could he say? Some weird guy called and told him to meet someone on a street corner? That wasn’t a law-breaker. Can’t mention the implied threat, either. This guy said he had helpful information. So why should Benny feel threatened?
Excellent question. With no good answer.
He snatched up a shoulder bag crafted from a single piece of weathered walrus hide and covered with hand-tooled designs, then 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, driving away the last of his lethargy. 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.
A vibration from his pocket. The phone. The text from Newt read, “’Sup!”
He texted back, “Aren’t you a little old for that kind of slang? Cops should set better examples. Leave that to the kids at the Youth Center.”
“LOL! ‘Nuff bout me. Where u goin?”
How did Newt know he was on the move?
Benny looked over his shoulders and strained to peer around corners. Nothing.
Another vibration.
“I’m not much of a cop if you spot me. I’m under.”
Benny kept walking, careful not to change his posture. If Newt was watching, he would notice.
Another text.
“I’m workin. Got tip about robbery. Be under for awhile. So, where u goin?”




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