While my posts on this blog tend to be up-beat, I also have a darker side. It comes out in my writing of fiction. To avoid reader whiplash between the lighter and darker sides of my writing, I created a separate blog for the darker, grittier stuff. It is called, “Imaginings of a Grateful Man” and can be found at http:/imaginingsofagratefulman.com.
On the darker side of things I’m working on a short story called, “Blood” (which will probably be included in one of the anthologies I’m co-creating with some wonderful people and writers.) I decided to share with readers of this blog the part of “Blood” that I’ve written so far with readers of this blog.
Please note that the content of this story is a huge departure from what you normally read here. It is grittier. More intense. Please only read it if you enjoy reading mysteries and thrillers or similar genres.
With that caveat, here is “Blood”.
By Russ Towne
The man was in his early forties. A trickle of sweat dripped down his forehead, stinging his right eye. He blinked rapidly, his eyes already irritated by too little sleep for too long. White lines rushed by, along with everything else he saw with blurry eyes.
He stomped on the accelerator and the engine bucked and roared in protest but complied, a wheeled horse being raked with vicious spurs. The man looked at the clock on his dashboard for the hundredth time, willing it to move slower. “I can still barely make it if everything goes right,” he thought to himself.
He crested a hill and followed the road as it turned left. He saw too late the jack-knifed big rig that blocked both lanes, the trucker desperately pumping his arm downward in the “SLOW DOWN!” gesture. The man in the car hit the brakes and swerved right, crashed through a wooden guard rail and plunged down a steep slope. It glanced off a large tree with a loud crunch-scrape, somersaulted sideways, until hitting a jagged boulder with a screeching blow so hard the car bent into a U-shape at the center of its roof line. It rested there. The only noise was from a slow-motion chain-reaction of a land-slide that had been started as the car scraped and bounced toward its final resting place.
The man tried to open his eyes to take stock of his situation, but so much blood was running into his eyes from a gash in his forehead that he could barely see even after repeatedly trying to wipe it away with the sleeve of his shirt. Other than that one arm, he couldn’t move. His torso was wedged between a bent steering column and compressed seat. He could tell by the unnatural angles of his legs that they were broken in multiple places, and several ribs were likely fractured. He smelled gasoline. Fuel had leaked and drenched everything inside the cage which had once been his car.
A moment later a rock that had been dislodged by the rolling car hit a piece of metal at just the right angle to create a spark, igniting the gas. It only took two seconds before the flames reached him. He could do nothing but try to protect his face with his one his one good arm.
His screams echoed throughout the small canyons, reaching the ears of the helpless trucker who collapsed to his knees in horror.
Lucas Barnett writhed in his bed, bathed in sweat. He jerked awake. He’d had the nightmare again. The same one every night for the last two weeks. It always seemed so real that he could feel the heat of the flames and hear the screams. Each time, he never got a good look at the man’s face, but knew somehow that the man was his father.
The young man laid there thinking. What do I really know about him? He could have died many years ago or still be alive today. I don’t remember him at all. He left when I was a baby. Mom never said anything about him even when I begged her to describe him to me. I don’t even have a picture of him or know what he looked like. Heck, I don’t even know if he was tall or short, fat or thin. For the ten-thousandth time, such questions swirled in his mind, but no answers came. He didn’t notice that for the first time he was asking questions about his father using the past tense.
Now mom’s dead and I’ll probably never know about him. Her death had been sudden. The police had called it an accident, but he doubted it. His mom was deathly afraid of heights; so afraid that she never ventured out onto the balcony of her tenth-story apartment. It was just not in her to have leaned over the railing, let alone lean so far that she could slip and fall to her death. Lucas also knew that she hadn’t committed suicide. They’d talked only two days before her death and she had been excited that her long-planned cruise to the Bahamas with her dearest friend was only two weeks away. Her sudden death had jarred him to the core.
Now this nightmare about someone he believed was his father. He decided he had to find answers to questions that had long-haunted him. Lucas knew Barnett was his mother’s maiden name. He had never been told the name of his father, but once when he was about ten years old he found a file of old papers stashed in an unmarked folder at the back of the bottom drawer of a file cabinet that his Mom had always kept locked. She had been sick in bed when he grabbed the key and went looking for answers. Some of the papers in that unmarked folder bore a name he’d never heard before. Jacob Makepeace.
Now, ten years later, he began searching for information about people with that name. Lucas worked all day and into the evening, barely stopping to grab something to eat, stretch, and use the toilet. He was deep in thought when he heard a soft rapping on his front door. He sighed with annoyance as he looked at the clock. 10:37?! Who comes to the door so late at night he asked himself with tinge of anger and fear.
As he carefully opened the door, he saw a man quickly back away from the light that streamed out of the entryway, as though the stranger had been scalded by it. He remained in the shadows as he urgently whispered, “I’m your father’s friend. Please help me.” The stranger reached out a hand to make a pleading gesture. As it came into the light, Lucas instinctively pulled back. It was covered in blood.
Lucas helped the man inside and onto a couch, then closed the door. The man began talking even as Lucas went over to sit in a chair across from him. “I’m John Fenton. Your dad and I have been friends since high school.”
“Wait!” Lucas blurted. “You’re hurt and should get to a hospital right…” NO! Fenton interrupted. “They’re hoping I’ll do that so they can finish the job they started with this.” He pulled a bloody hand away from a jagged gash that began a few inches above his belt line and extended almost to his right side, then quickly covered it again as blood gushed from the wound.
Lucas ran to get some clean towels and gave them to Fenton to help slow the bleeding. “I can’t go to the hospital. Justin Slater and his thugs will find and kill me. They’ve already gotten your mother.”
The news was a hammer-blow to Lucas.
Fenton continued, “Would have gotten me, but I saw ‘em coming. Was getting in my car when Justin shot me. Lost them in traffic. They won’t stop ‘til I’m dead.”
“What about my father?”
“Died in a car crash on the way to your mom’s. He tried to warn her.”
Lucas reeled. A balled fist against his lips. Fast, sharp breaths. Trying to hold it together.
Fenton wasn’t done giving bad news. “We’re all in danger. Even Jennifer and you.”
“How did all of this start?”
“I was always getting into trouble. Your father was a straight arrow. Most loyal man I ever met. Never gave up on me.”
Pride welled up in Lucas. He’d waited to hear such words all his life.
Fenton winced as he adjusted the make-shift bandage, then continued, “I started doing drugs. Gambling. He tried to help me. I wouldn’t listen.”
The wounded man stopped talking. Alone in his thoughts. He shook his head sadly from side to side, then went on, “Got in way over my head. Justin his thugs came to break my knee caps. Jake came from outta nowhere. Decked Justin and one of his gorillas. They pulled guns.”
Lucas inhaled sharply and realized he’d been holding his breath.
Fenton continued, “Neighbor must have called the cops. They showed up in force. Justin and the others started shooting. Killed a cop and wounded another.”
Lucas saw the towel over the wound was soaked with blood and handed Fenton a clean one, who took it with a nod.
“The cops shredded Justin’s goons. He turned his gun on us. Told us to pick up guns of a couple of his men or he’d kill us. We knew he would, so grabbed the guns. That’s when the cops rushed us.”
“Yeah. Justin threw down his gun. Said we were trying to kill him. Cops didn’t buy it.”
The wounded man sighed. “They didn’t believe our story either. Too much cops’ blood had been spilled. Someone had to pay.”
Lucas exhaled sharply. The news a punch in the gut.
“The three of us rotted in different prisons for nearly twenty years.”
Lucas wanted so much to disbelieve it all but knew it was true.
“Justin blamed us for everything. Vowed he’d kill us and our families when he got out.”
Terror and rage began building inside Lucas, far stronger than he’d ever felt before.
“We were all convicted of the same crimes. Got out at the about the same time. Justin’s prison was closer to where your mom lived.”
Lucas didn’t want to hear any more, but knew he must.
“Jake called your mom. Said he was on his way. Sit tight at a neighbor’s. Neither of them made it.”
Lucas silently took the steady blows, each burning away a little more of the young man he’d been. He began to feel old. Very old.
“They caught up to me this morning. Barely made it out alive. Luckily, I saw them coming. Ran out the back door.
Was getting in my car when Justin shot me. Lost them in traffic. They’ll keep coming until they finish the job they started on me.”
“We can hide.”
“Too late for that. Can’t hide all the blood. They’ll finish me off soon. My wife died of cancer, so next they’ll come for Jennifer and you. She’s camping somewhere. No cell phone reception.”
Lucas almost blurted, “Maybe they won’t find her” but knew it wasn’t true.
“You’ve got to find my daughter before they do. Please help her! I don’t want anyone else to die because I’ve been stupid!”
“I’ll do my best. What does your daughter look like?”
With great effort, Fenton pulled out his wallet and handed a photo of her to Lucas. It was partially covered in blood from the wounded father’s hand. Lucas carefully wiped away the sticky red liquid. He was greeted by friendly emerald-green eyes and a stunning smile. Long brown hair. A pert nose and a few freckles.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” Fenton said; more of a statement than a question.
“She is indeed.”
“What if Jennifer doesn’t believe me? I’m a stranger to her.”
Fenton thought for a moment, and then smiled. “When she was a baby, I tickled her nose with my eyelashes. She’d giggle. Her mom took a picture of me giving her those ‘Butterfly Kisses’. She wrote to me that Jennifer loved that photo. Always keeps it on her night stand. Tell Jennifer that my knowing she did that helped keep me from going crazy all those years I was locked up.
After a moment, Lucas decided it was time to change the subject. “What does Justin look like?”
“He’s 6’ 4”. Blond hair. Before the shootout with the cops, your father broke Justin’s nose. Gave him a gash over his right eye.” Fenton beamed. “When I saw Justin this morning, his nose still looks broken. He’s now got a jagged scar over his right eye.”
Lucas smiled, enjoying the visual. “How will you protect yourself?”
“I brought a gun. Now get out of here. Out the back way. Don’t drive your car. Run. Call a cab when you get away. Pay cash. Got some?”
“Good! Take all the money you can. Goodbye and good luck!”
Lucas yelled, “Same to you,” as he grabbed his cash and ran out the back door. He scrambled over the back fence (blessing the day when the former occupants with their big dogs had moved out), and had made it about 100 feet down the street behind his when the gunshots started. They didn’t last long. He knew his father’s best friend was dead, and now they’d be coming for him and a girl he’d never met but had to try to save. A cold chill ran down his spine as he ran as fast as he could while dodging the glare of the street lights.