Thursday, January 31, 2013

Flexing My Brain (part 1)

I was always a doodler in school.  I just couldn't keep my head on the subject most of the time.  (Lucky for me, I seem to have a sponge in my head instead of grey matter.  ;) )  My doodles weren't necessarily the type you're probably thinking of, though.  While I did draw--mostly abstract--pictures occasionally, most of my musings were just that. . . musings.  I wrote poems in the back of whatever section the current class occupied in my 5-subject spiral.  I wrote letters, too.  

It's alway neat to run across one of those old notebooks stashed in a box in my parents' basement, or in mine.  I've kept them all, because each and every one has treasures hidden somewhere between the pages.  The poems almost always stir memories of their inspiration.

Yesterday, while digging out some small shelves for my son to use for his books, I found two such spiral-bound troves.  While one had poetry and random musings, the other held a much more precious gem. . . the beginning of a story.

I was, quite frankly, amazed at this discovery.  I don't remember writing it, but it is most certainly my handwriting, my style.  And it's in my notebook from school, though which class I can't remember now.  So I must have written it in a moment of fantastic inspiration.  

And it's good.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not setting off fireworks that write my name in the sky.  But the story has considerable potential.  It is clear is some ways that I was in my infantile state of my writing when this story was born.  (Poems scrawled on the pages after it are dated 2001.)  There are aspects that bug my now more educated mind when I read it, but with polishing and development, it could go somewhere.

So, since I have been suffering from a block with Church Hill, I wanted to do some writing exercises, starting with this tidbit.  Below, I will copy the story exactly as I found it, and in my next post I will show corrections and other edits.  I think this will be good for me, good for Church Hill, and therefore good for you, my readers who long for the conclusion.

The foot was swollen, a purplish-red from the blood flooding the vessels.  So swollen, in fact, that the toes were beginning to look like they were adhering to one another, becoming one giant toe, and eventually a long pointed foot with no toes at all.  The laceration from the bite was clearly visible at the angle of joint connecting the foot to the poor creature's leg.  It was a fairly deep slice--the result of a razor-edged jawbone.  Above the site of the attack the lower leg was also beginning to swell and movement of the entire limb was quickly being restricted.  Injectable antibiotics were necessary, and it was clearly evident that the foot would eventually fall off.  The price would have to be marked down, naturally.  After all, who wants to pay $175 for a dragon with a missing foot?  It truely was a shame.  It was such a beautiful dragon.  Not that it isn't still, but then we come back to the asthetic value of the animal.  Who wants a dragon with a missing foot?  I guess there are those people in the world who have a soft spot for such unfortunate creatures.  I myself am one of them.  But they are so few and far between.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Chapter 34 (part 2)

He was young, maybe in his early twenties.  His features still mostly untouched by life.  But his eyes carried the scars of a spirit that had seen much in his short life.  They were warm copper and good-natured.  Trustworthy.

My head bobbed in a slow nod.  “Yes.  I do.  You took an oath to help and heal.”

He began to swab the dried blood from my skin surrounding the wound, the slight pressure causing my skin to yelp as pain unfurled under his fingers.  I imagined my entire are would be purple and black blotches by the end of this very long day.

As he cleaned, he gave a nod.  “I did take an oath to help and heal, Ella, but the police and FBI take oaths to protect and serve.  Your trust in them put you in this situation.”  His coppery eyes met mine, his expression earnest.  “I’m not saying you shouldn’t trust me.  I honor my oath.  You should know, however, that they can subpoena me if you go to court.  In that case I would have to answer their questions honestly, including disclosing anything you told me now.”

I took a deep breath through my nose, immediately regretting it when the pungent fumes of the alcohol burned my sinuses.  I wanted to talk to someone.  Needed to.  But maybe Kevin wasn’t the right person.  

I studied his face as he went back to work on my shredded skin.  His touch was feather-light as he examined the area where the bullet tore through my flesh, but it still hurt.  “I’m going to wrap this with sterile gauze.  I’ll do my best, but it will hurt.  The bullet didn’t graze you.  It went through the outer part of your triceps and biceps, which is why you can’t move your arm.  The damage it caused leads me to believe it was a ballistic tip.  It’s likely that your bone was damaged, too, though it isn’t obviously broken.  There may be splinters of glass, too.

“Open your mouth,” came his gentle order.  He pushed a wad of gauze between my lips.  “Bite down on this when it hurts, Ella.”

I nodded to him through my fear.  The crackle of a sterile wrapper being opened had me turning my head away, eyes closed. 

Light pressure just above the wound had me pulling air through the dampening gauze in my mouth is a swift rush.  “Easy, Ella.  Try to breathe normally.  I don’t want you to hyperventilate on me.  Concentrate on your breathing, and bite down when it hurts,” came Kevin’s mellow directive.

He resumed wrapping the clean dressing around my arm with deliberate movements, using less pressure when he got to the tattered gash.  Still, the pain was excruciating, and I clamped down on the gauze hard, soaking it in the saliva that flooded my mouth.  My mind went blank in the face of the electric bolts shooting through my body, and I began to suck shallow breaths through the gauze.

“Breathe with me, Ella.”  Kevin’s voice drifted through the haze of pain.  “In.  Out.”  He drew out each word for several seconds before repeating.

I focused on his voice and pattern they formed, breathing in and out with each command.  My breathing slowed.  While I was still in exquisite pain, the focus on filling my lungs helped.

As he finished taping the loose end of the wrap, I dropped my head and removed the sopping gauze from my mouth.  “Sorry,” I said sheepishly as Kevin took the wad from me in his gloved hand.

“Don’t apologize.  I do this every day.  And I have gloves.”  His grin warmed me, but then the stretcher bumped into view.

Dominic wasn’t sitting up as he had requested.  Instead, he was strapped flat to the back board.  He wasn’t talking or moving.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Chapter 34 (part 1)

My eyes fluttered open when the car began to slow.  We were climbing a small hill exiting the highway, and at the top an ambulance waited.  The flashing lights blazing beams of red through the budding grove of trees lining the road.

It was eerie.  Maybe because I knew this particular bone box was waiting for us.  Maybe because a mist had crept in while I drifted between wakefulness and dreams, and the pulsing red glow was too reminiscent of the carnage we left behind us.  No matter the reason for the dread, I was glad not to be riding to the hospital in that thing.

Brecky pulled the big car in front of the ambulance and put it in park.  “You two stay here,” she ordered, unbuckling her seat belt and opening the door.  

But I pushed the button on my own belt to release it and turned to Allison.  “Stay here, honey.  I just want to talk to the paramedics.”

She just nodded at me, her expression pure exhaustion.

My door opened as Brecky’s closed.  She waited for me to close my own before saying, “I told you to stay in the car.”  

Her countenance was unwavering, but I wasn’t backing down to her, or any one else.

Pointing at the ambulance, my tone was just as firm as hers.  “That’s my friend back there, officer.  I want to see him before they drive away.  And I want to talk to the paramedics.  No offense, but we’ve been screwed over and deceived by too many people in the past few days.  One of which was an FBI agent.  Right now, the people I trust the most are the ones in that rolling box.”  

Ignoring stricken look on her face, I walked between the car and the ambulance, heading for where the paramedics were prepping Dominic for the stretcher.  A hulk of a man had an arm under Dominic’s arms and around his chest, lifting him so his partner could slide a back board under him. 

“I need you to lie down so we can pull you out of the car.”  The big man’s voice was soft and soothing, and Dominic did as he said.

They strapped him down, being careful of his wounded leg, then pulled him from the car and placed him on a stretcher.  When they started strapping him to the stretcher, Dominic grabbed the closest man’s wrist and met his startled gaze.  

“I’d like to sit up, if I can.”  He sounded tired.  I knew he had lost a lot of blood, but he was coherent and the wound was probably an hour old.

“Let me get your vitals first,” the paramedic told him.

He checked Dominic’s pulse in several places, his respiratory rate, and blood pressure.  I watched as he squeezed one of Dominic’s finger tips, the color returning much slower than what I thought was normal.

My eyes flicked between the paramedics and Dominic trying to read the inscrutable expressions of the professionals.  They examined his wound.  They checked his vitals again.  They looked at each other with guarded expressions.

What the hell is going on? I screamed in my head.

A rush of air hissed from Dominic’s pursed lips.  “I’m fine.  I just want to sit up.  Please”

I looked down at him lying supine on the stretcher, his eyes focused on the men standing beside him.  Brushing a stray lock of hair from his forehead, I stroked my fingers through his hair.  It was calming for me, and for him as well, I hoped.  

At my touch those sea green eyes found mine.  He took my right hand in his and turn to press a kiss on my palm.  I began to melt for a couple seconds, but cold reality of the situation kept me sober.

Addressing the paramedics, I gave them an abridged version of what happened.  They didn’t need all the details, just from the time Dominic had been shot.  When the smaller one looked at me, his eyes went right to my bloody bandage on my arm.

“Were you shot, too, m’am?” he asked.

I followed his gaze, glancing down at my arm wrapped in tattered cloth soaked with my blood.  Sighing at him, I said, “Yes.  But I’m not riding with you.  Officer Brecky is going to follow you in her car, and I’ll ride with her.”

He scanned my face, then looked at my arm again.  When he met my eyes he must have seen my stubborn determination.  “At least let me look at the wound, and put a proper bandage on it.”  He stepped away from Dominic, heading toward the back f the ambulance.  “I can fix you up in here,” he said as he walked.

“Go,” Dominic said.  He sounded weary.

I sighed again.  He had to get to the hospital, and I was only holding up that process with my pigheaded refusal to be helped myself.  I said nothing as I turned away from the stretcher and headed to the ambulance where the paramedic was waiting for me.  

As I climbed inside the boxy vehicle, he patted a seat next to where he knelt on the floor.  Some sort of bandaging kit sat on the seat next to the one he indicated.  I ambled over and sat down, turning my body to better present my arm.  

“I’m Kevin,” he said as he began to cut through the scrap of cloth binding the tear in my upper arm.

“Ella,” I returned.  

“Do you wanna tell me what happened?” he asked in a nonchalant tone. 

The cloth fell away, revealing an ugly gaping rent in my flesh.  Kevin examined it without touching, then started cutting away the sleeve of my shirt.

“I need to get this out of the way,” he explained.  “So what happened?”

I told him everything that had happened at the cabin.  “I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell any law enforcement about this,” I said.  “Not yet, anyway.  I don’t know who I can trust anymore.”

His soft brown eyes found mine.  “Do you trust me?”

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chapter 33

My heart soared at the sight of the exotic beauty standing at the passenger door.  I began wriggling out from under the steering wheel as exultant tears spilled down my cheeks.  Against all odds, our savior had found us.

“Allison.  You can get up, sweetie,” I said in voice that trembled with relief.

Dominic turned to see who stood outside the car as I climbed out.  I didn’t trust my legs to hold me if I ran, so I leaned on the hood as I walked around to greet Samantha Brecky and her partner.

I collapsed into her arms when I reached her.  “Thank God you found us,” I wept on her shoulder.  

I looked up to meet the sharp gaze of Officer Carwahl standing a few feet away.  Despite his couldn’t-care-less attitude when Cassie had first disappeared, his mud-brown eyes showed a glimmer of relief.  Had he been worried about us, or was it just the recovery of crucial pieces for his case that caused his easement? 

Officer Brecky held me at arms’ length, and looked me over.  “Allison called.  I could barely hear her, but the caller ID read your name and I heard gun shots.  She never hung up, so we were able to track the phone’s location.  Are you guys okay?”  Her scrutiny fell to my bandaged and bloody arm.

“Just a flesh wound, really,” I chirped before she got to examining it closer.  “Dominic’s bad, though.  Shot through the thigh.”  I lifted my chin toward Dominic peeking through the back window.

“What about Allison?” Brecky asked.  

“She’s fine.  Shaken up, but okay.  She shot Bill Jennings in the cabin.  There’s a body in the basement and three more in the woods.”

“The girl shot Agent Jennings?” Carwahl cut in.

I gave him a nod and turned back to Brecky.  I didn’t like her partner.  He was gruff and unfeeling.  He seemed to care only about the case and not the people involved.  “Jennings said Ritter is on his way.  We need to leave.”  The anxiety was beginning to take hold.  Here were people I trusted to help us, and I was stuck relating the story.  There wasn’t time.  

Brecky grasped the urgency.  “Carwahl, you take their car, with Sterling in the back.  I’ll take Mrs. Boothe and Allison in our car.”  

Carwahl grunted at her, but proceeded around to the driver side.  Brecky opened the passenger door for Allison who climbed out and hugged her.

At the back door, Carwahl stopped and looked in at Dominic lying on the floor.  “We need to get him on the seat,” he said in his raspy voice.  Brecky glanced down and gave a curt nod.

They opened the back doors.  Dominic was of moderate assistance in the moving of his injured leg and bulky body.  At least Officer Brecky didn’t have to lift his bulk alone as he was able to help pull his body onto the seat.  Carwahl had only to lift his injured leg.

“Buckle your seat belt,” Brecky said before closing the door at his back.  Dominic obliged.

I was helping Allison climb in the back seat of the officers’ car when Carwahl’s rough voice cut through my thoughts again.  “Radio for an ambulance to meet us at exit one-sixty-three,” he said.  “This guy needs a hospital, and so does she.”  

I looked over in time to see him nod in my direction.  He was right, of course, but I still bristled.  We had been through Hell, and we were handling it fine on our own.  Although, for how much longer I couldn’t say.  If Ritter was coming, it was only a matter of time before we crossed his path.  At least now we had two cops with us.  That meant two more guns.

I shut the door as Allison buckled herself in.  Brecky was approaching, and when she reached me I touched her arm.  “I know I need a hospital, but I will not leave Allison.  She goes with me.  She could use a few sessions with a counselor, too.”  I took a quick breath.  “I’d feel safer if you were with us.  So maybe instead of us riding in the ambulance with Dominic you could follow behind it and drive us to the hospital?”

Those exotic emerald eyes pierced me as she looked me over again.  “Yes.  Okay,” was all she said before pointing to the car for me to get in.

When at last we reached a paved road, Officer Brecky picked up her radio and called for the ambulance.  She used police jargon to explain the details of the situation.  From what I could glean, dispatch was sending one ambulance to the designated exit and a cruiser to meet us at the hospital.  SWAT and a forensics team would be sent to the cabin.  And, Carwahl was to drive our stolen car to the station.

She glanced at me after setting the radio back in its cradle, but it was Allison she spoke to.  “Allison, you did a very smart, very brave thing by calling me.  You might have even saved Mr. Sterling’s life.”

I looked at my little angel sitting behind Brecky, a shellshocked look on her face.  Her skin was pale from the shock of the day’s events.  The usually bright color of her blue eyes seemed washed out.  Her blond hair was darkened with the grime of crawling through the woods and cave, and it slicked to her head before fraying out at the ends, knotted in places.  Dirt smudged her clothes, and I noticed a tear in her shirt that I hadn’t seen earlier.

I wanted to reach back to her, but my arm wouldn’t let me so I tired to give her a reassuring smile as I said, “She saved my life.”

Brecky looked at me fully then, surprise in her eyes.  Her gaze shifted to the rearview mirror where she could look at Allison behind her.  “I imagine the three of you have quite the story to tell.  But first, we need to attend to your wounds.”  Her hand fell to my wrist, and she gave a light squeeze.  “You can tell me later.  For now, rest.”

Allison slumped against the corner of the seat and the door, staring out the window.  I laid my head back and closed my eyes, finally able to relax a bit.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chapter 32 (part 2)

The bumpy drive out to the road was torture.  Every thump and divot jostled my injured arm, sending lightning bolts of pain through my whole body.  Teeth gritted, I drove slowly to avoid the jarring as best I could, but it was difficult with only on arm to steer.  I could only imagine the pain Dominic must have experienced spread across the back seat.  

Turning the car onto the dirt road when the driveway ended was another monumental task.  I used the car’s forward momentum to aid me, but it was still excruciating.  Thankful that we had ditched the Mustang with it’s manual transmission for an everyday Joe-schmoe automatic, I drifted past the black car Bill Jennings and company had left on the road.

Well, isn’t that typical, I mused.  Crooked FBI agent drives a shiny black Beamer.  It was like a scene from a movie, only Allison and I weren’t movie stars.  This was really happening to us.  

We were on our way home, but I was still scared out of my head.  Jennings had said that Ritter was coming, but when?  I didn’t want to run into him on the way out.  No doubt he would have a driver and gunmen while he sat in the back seat.  

Probably wearing a bulletproof vest, and sitting behind bulletproof glass, I though with a sneer.

I was in no condition to be runaway driving.  One hand was in no way sufficient to navigate these roads at high speeds with a gun-blazing car on our tail.  I kept a sharp eye on the road and forest ahead and prayed.  

A few miles out, I caught the glint of sunlight on chrome and glass.  My heart stuttered.  There was no where to pull off unseen, so I slowed to stop choosing the left side of the road to better hide Dominic.

“What’s up, Ella?” Dominic asked in a weary voice.

“Everyone get on the floor,” I practically whispered.  “There’s a car coming.”

Allison was curled in a tight ball under the dash before I could even unbuckle my seatbelt.  Dominic flopped onto the floor with a grunt os pain as his wounded leg landed with a thud.  He made his large frame as small as he could in the limited space.

I glanced out the windshield as I removed my seatbelt.  A silver car was approaching.  I couldn’t tell what it was through the trees, but it was large and roundish.  Sliding my injured arm through the belt, I shimmied onto the floor, and tired to squeeze myself under the dash with the foot petals.

“Turn off the car,” Dominic hissed.

Fumbling, I turned the key and the engine died.  

Crunching gravel froze me in place.  The car crept as it came alongside ours, the driver riding the brake.  I imagined whoever it was hanging out the window to look inside the Camry.  If they were close enough, there was no hiding Dominic as he sprawled the width of the car in back.  Of course, I was no better since I didn’t fit under the dash like Allison.

The car drove past us and stopped.  A door opened and closed.  Then another.  The sound of gravel crunching underfoot as someone approached our mobile hideout had my heart about to burst with adrenaline.  

I wasn’t sure we could survive another fight if this was Ritter and him men.  Surely we would be out numbered and out gunned, not to mention both Dominic and I being in a weaken state.

I held my breath as the footsteps approached.  I couldn’t see the window without lifting my head and exposing myself even more.  It sounded like two people, but the steps were so slow and measured I couldn’t be sure.  

At the sound of a fingernail tapping on the window, I knew we were found.  I raised my head and stared into the most beautiful pair of green eyes I’d ever seen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review: "Fifty Shades of Grey"

I’m a writer and a reader, but I’m not big on writing reviews.  They feel like book reports to me.  The ones I have written in the past wither on the page when compared to those written by people who have even a minor talent for such assessments.  However, I have recently read two books which I think deserve at least an effort on my part.  (I will write the reviews in separate entries.)  

The first book, I am reviewing because I want to get my strong opinions about the writing and storyline out.  This book was recommended to me by several people, some of which compared the writing to my own, so I feel obligated to give my opinion.  And here I emphasize that it is my opinion.  It is not meant to sway other readers one way or the other.  It is merely my own view on the things that I picked up while reading.
(Fifty Shade of Grey, by E.L. James)

The second book was Christmas gift from my father.  I read this book in less than a week, which is saying something since my life is a hectic blur most of the time.  But I couldn’t put this book down.  I loved it so much that I want to write a review to share with the author and future readers.  Again, though, it is my opinion and thus not meant to sway anyone.  
(Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo)

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James

2.5 stars


When I started reading this, I went in with mixed feelings.  I had read several reviews, good and bad, and I had been told by a few people who have read some of my pieces that this book reminded them of my writing.  The unfavorable reviews I had read said the writing was horrible, so I started this book on the defensive.  

But, there is a big difference between writing and story or scenes.

If I had been an agent following the 5-page rule--meaning if I didn’t like/love it in the first five pages, then I’d reject it--I never would have signed this book.  The first five pages were incredibly dull and filled with excessive use of adjectives.  In fact, within the first three pages there was a sentence that used eight adjectives.  Eight!  In one sentence.  By the time I got to end of the sentence, I had to look back to remember just what the author was talking about to begin with.  

These first pages also gave amazing detail for a scene that would never again be visited.  Superfluous descriptions of the lobby of a building left me hoping that this scene would become important later in the story.  That I hadn’t wasted my time reading something that would end up having nothing to do with the story at all.  But, that’s exactly what it was.  Every bit of that useless description could have been cut from the book, and it wouldn’t have been missed by any reader.

I did notice that the writing got better as the book progressed, but I still think the entire thing could use a good editor.  It would probably be half the length if all the clutter was cut.  It would also be easier to tolerate.

The story is okay.  It really only follows Ana and Grey along in their relationship without giving much information outside of that.  Even when Ana, who is telling the story, isn’t with Grey, she constantly thing about him.  He totally consumes her.  

Ana doesn’t ring true to me, either.  I find it very hard to believe that a young (heterosexual) woman of twenty-two has never found interest in a man.  Especially in today’s world.  The virginity thing is completely understandable, but I challenge you to find a woman today of that age who has never been attracted to a male.  This reader just doesn’t buy it.

The sex scenes are better than the rest of the story, almost like everything that isn’t dealing with sex is just filler to get to the next sex scene.  The BDSM aspect was obvious from the moment I met Grey.  The scene where he and Ana met reminded me of a James Spader movie called Secretary.  

I’ve read my share of romance and erotica and all the stories that fall between them.  This book was classified--basically--as mainstream erotica.  The BDSM made it that.  And the language.  The sex scenes in this book, while erotic, are more of an erotic romance type than straight-up erotica.  James gives details, but no more than a book from Harlequin's Blaze series.  (And those are better stories with better writing.)

Personally, curse words, especially the f-bomb, seem to be used for shock factor by authors that perhaps aren’t eloquent enough with their vocabulary to express what they really want to say.  There are exceptions within characters, but if Ana is as innocent as James would have us believe, she wouldn’t use the f-bomb except to reflect on Grey’s words.  But she does.  Although, maybe that part of her is just a twist in her personality.  I thought that she came off as the religious zealot type, without the religion, so her extensive use of the f-bomb could’ve been replace with other, lesser words like hell or shit.  James used the f-bomb more and more as the story progressed.

Then there’s the “inner goddess” and “subconscious” aspect of Ana.  She talked about them so much--my “inner goddess” count ended at 48--and gave them such distinctive personalities that I wouldn’t be surprised if she was later diagnosed with multiple personality disorder or some other mental distress involving polyphony.  She even goes so far as to describe their physical appearances, like the “half-moon spectacles” of the subconscious.  Essentially these two characters, for they are indeed minor supporting characters, are the proverbial “angel” and “devil” sitting on Ana’s shoulders.

If the other supporting characters had been developed as well as the “inner goddess” and “subconscious” the story would have been more well rounded.  Making Jose more direct in his pursuit of Ana, for example, would have caused more conflict all around.  This reader would have liked to see Grey have to “fight” for Ana’s affection instead of just having her melt into a pile of goo in his presence.

The ending, now that was something.  I loved the ending.  So often books end happily with the hero and heroine falling madly in love and getting married, all loose ends neatly tidied up.  And I know that, in general, readers want that happy ending, but occasionally I’d like to see the heroine or hero fall flat, fail to reach that plateau where the sky is a cloudless blue and the sun shines so there are no shadows.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love happy endings because they make me feel like life isn’t always an uphill battle, but every so often I’d like to see something different.  Fifty Shades of Grey provided that sadder ending when Ana left Grey, admitting that neither of them could give the other what they wanted or needed.  I enjoyed reading her exit from his life without preamble.  I am happy with that ending, even knowing there are two more books to complete their story.  For me, it’s over.  She left.  End of story.  

If I do read the next book, I sincerely hope that Jose becomes a more pertinent character.  I hope that the editor she is going to work for is also groomed into a well-rounded character.  Especially since he was described with the same “dark expression” as Grey when Ana met him.

I’m not saying it was a bad book.  It wasn’t horrible, but wasn’t the 5-star spectacle that society made it out to be, either.  As I said in the beginning, I started this book on the defensive, and I read it with a very critical eye.  But, it wasn’t meant to be a literary masterpiece, as one friend pointed out.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

Chapter 32

Silent tears stream down my face, weeping for my little girl.  I rocked her like I had when she was so much smaller, pressing kisses into her hair.

“H-h-he w-w-was gonna h-hurt you, Mommy,” she sobbed.

“Shhh, baby.  I know.  I know,” I murmured.  “It’s all right now.  We’re okay.”

She pulled back and stared up at me with puffy, red-rimmed eyes.  “Is he dead, Mommy?  Did I kill that man?”  Those blue eyes pleaded with me to say no.

I cradled her face with one hand.  “I don’t know, sweetie.  But he was alive when we came outside.”

Just then the door opened and Dominic limped through.  In his hands were our packed bags.  His gaze swept over me and fell on Allison curled on my lap.  “You okay, honey?” 

She nodded slightly.  She was alive and uninjured, but she was far from okay.  

Dominic lifted his eyes to mine.  “Jennings is unconscious, but alive,” he said.  Then mouthed barely.  “He was hit in the lung, so. . .”  He let the thought hang in the air, but I knew what he meant.

“I tried my cell, but I couldn’t get a signal out here,” he said to change the subject.  “We should get going.  If Ritter really is on his way, we should be gone before he gets here.”

A small smile twitched on Allison’s lips.  “I got a signal.”

We gaped at her.

“Out in the woods, there was a spot where I had three bars on your phone, Mom.”

“Do you remember where?  Was it close?” Dominic asked her.

She looked sheepish, like she had done something wrong.  “Well, I left the phone there.”

“Why, baby?” I questioned.  What was the point of leaving the phone in the only spot with a signal, unless she knew where it was?

She my questioning eyes.  “I called Officer Brecky’s number.  When she answered, I whispered who I was and that we were somewhere in the mountains north of Church Hill and being attacked.  I left the phone on vibrate and turned the speaker volume all the way down, so it wouldn’t make any noise.  Then I left it there and kept going.  I thought maybe they could find the phone.  They can do that, right?  They could track where the call was coming from?”

Eyes wide with shock, I squeezed her tight.  “Oh, Allison!  You are such a smart girl!”

The station would have caller ID, so Brecky would know it was my phone calling.  When she heard Allison whispering, she’d probably try to track it.  She might have even heard gun shots depending on when Allison called.  I could only hope.

Meeting Dominic’s equally shocked expression I said, “We should leave the phone and get on the road.  If they’re tracking it, we’ll probably see them on the way out.”

I picked up the bags from where Dominic had dropped them and loaded them in the car.  Allison helped.  When she stared to climb into the back seat, I stopped her.  

“Let Mr. Dominic sit in the back so he can stretch out his leg.  You sit up front with me.”

She nodded and climbed in the front with a small smile.  I didn’t usually let her sit up front, so this lifted her spirits, even if just a bit.

Going back to Dominic, I put his left arm across my shoulders and wrapped my right arm around his back.  I couldn’t give much, but, with a hole in his left thigh, any support was better than hopping along dragging his leg.  I helped him sit on the driver side of the back seat, then went around to help pull him through from the other side.

“Ella, I can do it,” he said with weary pride.  

I stood back and watched him drag his body back so his leg rested the seat.  Once he was settled, he beckoned me.  I leaned in, and he threaded his fingers into my hair.  His lips tickled my ear as he whispered, “Do not injure yourself more on my part.”  He paused then added, “But thank you.”  Kissing me softly, he let go and I closed the door at his back.

We pulled away from the cabin in our stolen car.  If we could get out to the paved road before Ritter came, we’d be in the clear.  But, just in case, Dominic and I kept our pistols on our laps.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Chapter 31 (part 2)

I knew I had to do something, but what?  I needed a distraction.  The problem was my location.  The only way to distract Jennings would be to draw him toward me, but that meant drawing him closer to Allison, too.  I’d have to find another way.

If I’d had the rifle, I could’ve picked him off from where I sat, but Dominic had the rifle when he came through the front.  That meant Jennings now had it.  All I had was a fully loaded pistol, and while I was a pretty good shot, I would take that chance.  Not yet, anyway.  I had to get closer.

I waited until Jennings stopped pacing and sat on the sofa that separated the living area from the kitchen.  He was facing Dominic, which meant he was facing away form me.  I scurried to hide behind the sofa, being careful not to bump it.  

I felt Jennings’s weight shift, but he didn’t get up.  “What’s taking her so long?” he asked Dominic.

“I told you.  She won’t come for me.  She’ll only wait so long, then she’ll take the car and leave.”  To my ears, Dominic sounded full of false hope.  He knew I wouldn’t leave without him. Or at least without knowing what was going on.

Jennings didn’t buy it either.  Whether because of his spying on me and my family for who knew how long, or because he heard the false bravado in Dominic’s voice as well.  “I don’t buy it, Sterling.  She’s too much of a self sacrificer.”

“She won’t sacrifice herself for me because that would mean leaving her daughter an orphan,” Dominic said, his voice icy.  “You’ve got me.  I’m the one who got Ritter locked up.  I’m the one he wants.  Just take me, and let’s go.  Leave Ella in peace.  She’s been through enough.”

“I don’t give a damn what’s she’s been through.  She’s part of this as much as you are.  Especially now.  The two of you killed three of Ritter’s best men.  Two of which worked with me.  He wants blood.  Yours and hers.”  I felt him lean back again, like he was lounging.

I needed to move.  Crawling, trying not to make a sound, I edged closer to where Jennings sat.  His weight shifted again.  It felt like he stood.  Crap.  I would have a better advantage if he was sitting.  I could shoot him through the sofa if I had to.

I took a chance and peeked around the corner.  I could see Jennings standing over Dominic again.  To Dominic’s credit, he looked cool as iced lemonade in summer.  

Slipping behind the sofa again, I made a decision.  I crouched and slowly brought my head up so I could see over the sofa back.  I scanned the scene quickly.  Too late I noticed the reflective sheet metal covering the wall in the corner.  

Jennings met my reflected gaze before whipping around.  He lunged, his hand seizing my hair.  He fisted it and yanked me to my feet and over the back of the sofa.  I cried out from the pain as my body flopped on the couch.  He jerked me to my feet, and threw me on top of a startled Dominic.

“I told you she’d come for you, Sterling,” he laughed.  He gestured at my injured arm.  “I see one of the boys got a small piece, at least.  Ritter will be happy to hear that.  Now we just have to wait for the kid to come looking for her mommy.”

Dominic cradled me in his strong arms, his hand massaging my sore scalp.  “She’s not even in the cabin, asshole.  We left her hiding in the woods.”

Jennings shrugged.  “No matter.  Wherever she is, she’s as done as you two.  She can’t survive out here without you, and she has no way of getting home.  I’ll find her eventually, or she’ll die of starvation or exposure.  Whichever. . .”

“You son of a bitch!”  I launched myself out of Dominic’s arms and straight at Jennings’s face.  My fist hit him in the throat, knocking him off his feet.  

My gun had been knocked from my hand when he pulled me over the couch, and I reached for it.  But he was swift to recover.  He kicked me in the hip, and I rolled away from the weapon.  

Dominic launched himself at Jennings, but the agent lifted his pistol and fired.  The bullet hit Dominic in the thigh, and he buckled.  

Jennings took the opportunity of my distraction to recover my weapon.  He pointed both guns at me and flicked them in the direction of the couch.  I crawled to where Dominic lay on the floor.

There was so much blood.  I had no doubt the bullet had gone through.  He was already pale from the loss.  Tearing his shirt down the front, I pulled it off and tied it around his thigh above the wound.

A cold and humorless sound oozed from Jennings’s throat.  It might have been a laugh, but there was no humor in it.  It was pure evil.

“It doesn’t matter what you do.  You’ll both be dead soon anyway,” he grumbled.

I finished tying the shirt, pulling tight on the knot so it would hold.  This bastard wasn’t going to take me down without a fight, and I would do everything in my power to protect Allison and Dominic.

Dominic grimaced at me as he gripped my good arm.  His eyes pleaded with me.  And, without a word between us, I knew he was begging me to get Allison and leave him there.

Fat chance.  I wouldn’t leave him behind, but beyond that, I didn’t see a way out of the situation.  Not yet.  I was sure, given enough time, I could figure something out, but that passage eluded me right then.

I turned back to face Jennings.  Being in the corner gave me a good view of the entire living space.  Jennings sat on the sofa again, his back to the center of the room.  I tried to look around for a weapon without drawing attention to what I was doing.

“I do have a few guns, you know.”  Jennings’s voice dripped with malice.  He leaned forward, holding me with his glare.  Something sparked in his dark eyes, and it terrified me.  “You’re a feisty one, aren’t you, Ella?”  The spark became a small flame as a wicked grin spread across his face.  “I’m waiting for Ritter to show, but maybe I could have some fun while we wait.”

“Don’t you touch her,” Dominic boomed as he tried to lunge at Jennings again.  But the gun shot in his leg slowed him.  Jennings didn’t raise his gun again.  He just pushed Dominic to the floor with a kick to his chest and that evil laugh.  

“I don’t think you’re in any position to be her knight in shining armor, Sterling.  In fact, maybe I’ll make you watch.  And when Ritter gets here, you can watch again because he showed interest in our little fireball here.”  He gestured at me with the gun.

I held Dominic down with my hand on his chest.  “It’s not worth it, Dominic,” I said, my eyes never leaving Jennings.

“Listen to her, Sterling.  She’s a smart one.  She knows there’s no point in fighting, ‘cause I have all the power here.  Just sit back, and take it like a man.  Though I can’t say you’ll be able to do that once Ritter gets his hands on you.  He’s wanted you for years since you rolled on him, so there’s no telling what he’s gonna do to you.”

Jennings was one sick miscreant, to put it nicely.  He was honestly enjoying himself.  How the hell did a man like him get into the FBI?

He stood and took the few steps necessary to reach us on the floor.  Grabbing my hair again, he attempted to make an obscene gesture.  

I saw my opportunity.  

I let him drag me forward.  Just before he would’ve shove my face in his crotch, I threw my head forward.  He doubled over as my head slammed into his sensitive organs between his legs.  

I grabbed for his pistol, wrapping my hand around the barrel, but he was still stronger.  With his other hand, he backhanded me across the face.  I went sprawling onto the sofa, and he took advantage.

I felt his weight press me into the springy cushions.  His left hand pushed my face into the fabric, and I coughed on the dust.  

“Stay back, Sterling,” he growled.  “You’re no good to her dead.”

The weight on top of me shifted.  I heard the very clear sound of jeans being unbuttoned, unzipped.  

Oh hell! 

I was completely helpless the way he had me pinned.  Then he rolled me over so he could get to my pants.  My good arm was underneath my body, and my other arm. . . Well, it was no use at all.

As he started to fuss with my button, gun held on Dominic, I heard a sound.  It was the faint scrape of fabric on fabric, like a person crawling on carpet.  

My heart sank.  Allison couldn’t see me like this.  I strained my ears.

But it was unnecessary.  A high-pitched voice, filled with fear, shouted with incredible force, “Get off of my mom!”

Jennings snapped his head up at the same time I twisted my neck back to see my ten year old daughter standing behind the other sofa, her arms stretched out in front of her, the 9mm gripped firmly in her small hands and pointed at Jennings.  

My jaw fell open at the sight.  I turned back to Jennings in time to see him gape too.  Then the evil smirk returned, and he climbed off of me full of confidence.

“Allison.  So glad you decided to join us.”  He didn’t approach her, but his stance and tone said he didn’t think she would shoot the gun.  “Why don’t you put the gun down and come over here?”  His voice turned oily as if lubricating it would persuade a terrified girl to come closer to the danger that permeated the air around him.

“No!” she snapped.  

My only consolation was that Jennings didn’t raise his gun to her.  That and the fact that, while obviously frightened, she seemed to be confident in what she was doing.

“No?” Jennings asked in disbelief.  He pointed his pistol at me.  “Well I want you to come over here, or I’ll shoot your mom.”

“Don’t you hurt her!”  Every word that came out of Allison’s little mouth came with a force that would have unnerved if she was an adult.  But the pitch made Jennings laugh again.

“Or what, little girl?  You’ll shoot me?  You don’t even know how to use that gun.”

There was his weakness.  He mistook Allison for an average ten year old girl.  Ignorant of the trials she had experienced, Jennings thought she was weak and naive.  

He took a step toward her.

The cabin shook with the boom of the report as it reverberated through the small space.  Instinct had me curling into a ball where I lay.  All I could hear was the ringing in my head.  I had no idea who had fired the gun.

As I straightened out, I saw Jennings lying on the floor.  His breath was shallow and gurgling.  Blood pooled beneath his body.  My peripheral vision revealed Dominic scrambling to get up now that Jennings was down.

Allison still stood behind the sofa.  The pistol in her hand had a thin whiff of smoke trailing up from the barrel and it shook as her small body began to shudder.  

I jumped up and ran to her.  She collapsed into my arms as they came around her.  Her sobs wracked her body as she cried on my shoulder.  Scooping her up, I carried her outside and sat in a chair on the porch with her bundled on my lap.