novel-in-progress

Deception Island: a scene

Okay folks, the following is a scene from the novel I’m currently working on, a suspense thriller entitled Deception Island. (I’ve posted a few excerpts before, some may remember). In this particular scene though, I’m not entirely sure I like how I’ve portrayed what happens, so I thought I’d seek your opinions. So please let me know what you think, or if you have any suggestions or criticism. I thank you in advance.

Now a little background in order to set up the scene.

Jason, the lead character, and his friends, “Danny” (Danielle) and Lisa, are running from both a private army and the police. A source, named Rebecca, tells them she has some documents they need to fight their enemies. Jason and his friends very much suspect it’s a trap, but need the documents. They decide to set up a meeting at a Safeway store.

This is what happens next.

The plan was fairly simple, as the best plans usually were. Danny drove the Volkswagen into town and circled the Safeway parking lot until a spot opened up that gave them an unobstructed view of the north entrance, where the meeting was to take place. Danny had scanned the vehicles in the lot and did not see any that belonged to officers she knew.

Danny was to remain in the car and keep an eye on the vehicles and people in the parking lot.

Lisa adjusted her wig, got out, grabbed a shopping cart and leisurely shopped for the groceries they needed, all the while watching for shoppers who didn’t seem to be shopping, or store employees who were paying unusual attention to what was going on outside the store.

Jason climbed out of the car with Lisa, but instead of going into the store, pulled the hood of the raincoat over his head and went to slouch against the wall between two vending machines, about fifty feet from the entrance doors. He hoped everyone would see him as just another twenty-something slacker, waiting for a ride. He appeared to be fixated with working his cell, but that was just for show. He was actually watching everything and everyone around him.

The store was still pretty busy. It was the tail end of the dinner rush and now most of the customers were lone adults picking up last minute things. A few folks had kids in tow, but they were outnumbered by men leaving with a gallon of milk and loaf of bread, or tired-looking women in business clothes carrying a box of fried chicken from the deli.

Jason scanned each person as they came within view, but saw no ear buds. No one seemed unusually interested in the store’s entryway. No one said a word into their wrists.

It was all perfectly normal.

A text came in from Lisa. Nothing.

It was ten minutes to the meeting. If this was indeed a trap, if Rebecca were working for Lundgren or the cops, their people would have to be in place by now.

He sent a quick text to Danny. Anything?

All clear.

Another text from Lisa. Can’t stall much more.

Finish up and head to the car.

K.

Five minutes later, Lisa pushed her shopping cart out of the store and over to the car. Danny didn’t get out to help her load the groceries. She had more important things to do, like watch for Rebecca.

Lisa finished loading the groceries into the trunk of the Volkswagen and climbed into the passenger seat. The rain continued to fall in a steady, windless downpour. Jason was beginning to feel the chill in his hands and feet.

His Tracfone signaled an incoming text from Danny. She’s here. Your 12 o’clock.

He glanced up and spotted the secretary walking across the dark parking lot, an umbrella protecting her from the rain. She had changed into jeans and sneakers since he’d last seen her and wore a camel-colored cloth overcoat against the chill. She held a manila envelope in her right hand. The other clutched the umbrella handle.

Jason watched as she waited for a passing car, then crossed over to the shelter of the entrance portico, closed her umbrella and glanced around, looking for him. Apparently, his disguise was effective. Her eyes passed over him without recognition and she turned to face the parking lot, waiting.

The flow of customers into and out of the store had slowed by a few degrees. As far as Jason could tell, none of them took any notice of Rebecca.

He sent a text to Danny. Anything?

Nothing.

I’m going in.

Careful.

Jason took one more look around, saw nothing that aroused his survival instinct, then pushed himself away from the wall.

Rebecca had her back to him, but had shifted a little away from the store’s doorway to get out of the traffic.

He approached her from behind. “Rebecca?”

She started, turned, and broke into a smile when she recognized him under the hood. “Oh, hi.”

“Hi,” he replied and pointedly looked at the manila envelope in her hand. “Those the leases?”

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a car pull out of the parking area beyond Rebecca and move toward the exit. It seemed to be going a little fast.

Rebecca handed him the envelope. “Every one I could find.”

“No one knows you did this?”

She shook her head. “I was care–”

Someone set off a string of firecrackers. Rebecca grunted and her eyes went wide, then she fell against him. Jason tried to catch her, but lost his balance and went over backwards with Rebecca draped over him. Something smacked the back of his head. As if firecrackers weren’t enough, the delinquents now threw rocks at them. They smacked the concrete and against the side of the store. Someone yelled. Jason found himself staring up at the underside of the portico as stars whirled before his eyes, wondering why kids would do this? They think it was funny? Didn’t they have anything better to do?

Then it went silent.

Someone was sobbing.

Jason tried to push himself up, but his right arm refused to work. No pain. It just wouldn’t do what he wanted.

He managed to slide out from under Rebecca. She wasn’t moving. She would never move again. Part of her skull above her left ear was missing. Jason could clearly see the pinkish tissue of her brain.

He managed to get to his feet, stumbled a bit, then regained his balance. The front of his raincoat was covered with blood. More blood dripped from his right hand and something warm was trickling down his neck.

“Jason!”

He looked over just as Lisa leaped from the passenger seat of the Volkswagen, just feet away. “Oh my God! Are you hurt?”

He shook his head.

“Come on!” Danny yelled through the open car door.“We need to go!”

Lisa tried to help him, but he shook her off, picked up Rebecca’s manila envelope and half climbed, half fell into the back seat of the car.

Danny had it moving before the door even closed.

“What the hell happened?” Jason asked.

“Drive by shooting,” Danny said, glancing up at him in the rearview. “They came out of nowhere. There was nothing I could do.”

The initial shock was wearing off. His right arm began to throb and still hung useless. His hand felt like it was on fire and the back of his head ached something terrible.

He was still in better shape than Rebecca.

“Jason, your hand,” Lisa said. Her face was white, her eyes wide and glistening. “Look at your hand.”

He did. There was a neat little hole through the flesh between his thumb and index finger. It looked like someone had stabbed him with a pencil. A steady flow of blood ran across his hand and dripped on to the floor boards.

He’d been shot.

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novel-in-progress

Deception Island: Chapter 2, scene 3

Jason ran down to the deli a few blocks away to get a couple of sandwiches for lunch while Lisa started another load in the washer and folded his dried jeans. Lisa had a 2:30 seminar and they agreed she needed to attend, but until then she would help Jason with his laundry.

When he returned, they unwrapped the sandwiches–a pastrami on sourdough for himself, a turkey on wheat for Lisa and two bags of chips–on the coffee table and sat on the couch to eat. Jason had given away his dining room table years ago to make room for his desk, so meals were taken on the coffee table. For a few minutes they concentrated on their lunch. Because they’d overslept that morning, neither had eaten breakfast. Both were starving.

“Tell me about your dad,” Lisa said, pausing between halves of her sandwich. “What was he like?”

Jason wiped his fingers on one of the cheap deli napkins and thought about an answer to her question. “He was a man.”

“Well, I kind of assumed that.”

“No.” Jason shook his head. “Not just an adult male, but a man. There’s a difference.”

Lisa looked intrigued. “I’m listening…”

“He was strong and tough as anyone. I don’t think he was sick the entire time I was growing up. I know he never set foot in a doctor’s office unless it was for one of us kids, or when Mom got sick. He was a commercial fisherman until us kids came along, then, because Mom thought fishing was too dangerous, managed the cannery until he retired. Both are tough jobs that employ tough people.”
Lisa nodded and took a bite of the second half of her sandwich.

“But the same tough guy never raised a hand against his wife, never belittled us kids when we screwed up, never made us feel stupid. Life wasn’t perfect, by any means, but growing up I never doubted my parents loved each other and that both loved us kids.” He looked at her. “There’s an awful lot of people who can’t say that.”

Lisa hooked an errant lock of hair behind her ear. Her own parents had divorced when she was in grade school. Both remarried within a few years and she’d spent her childhood bouncing back and forth between the households.

Jason smiled as a memory came to him. “We had a dog when I was growing up, a goofy mutt named Festus.”

“Festus?” Lisa frowned.

“Festus,” he grinned. “It was the name of the lame deputy on Gunsmoke; my dad was a big fan.”

“Okay.”

“Hey, I didn’t pick the name. I just loved that dog the way a little boy does. He was as much a part of my family as my brother, my mom, or my dad.”

“Like Hector.”

“Like Hector,” he admitted. “Anyway, one day when I was nine or ten, Festus wouldn’t get up when I went to feed him in the morning. He’d never done that before. I went and got my dad, who explained that Festus was fourteen years old, really old for a dog, and dying.”

“Oh man.”

Jason nodded. “He explained to my brother, Jeremy, and me that everything dies sooner or later and that the best thing we could do for Festus was be there so he wouldn’t be scared. My father, the tough guy fisherman, sat down on the floor with us and took Festus’ head in his lap while me and Jeremy knelt down beside him. He held Festus’ head and stroked him and told him what a good boy he was, while Jeremy and I petted his back. We sat there like that until he finally stopped breathing.”

For a few moments, neither of them said anything. The remains of the sandwiches lay on the wax paper, forgotten, unwanted.

“He sounds like he was a really good man.”

For the first time all day, the loss of his father was beginning to feel real. He thought he might prefer the way it was before.

“You’ve never talk about him much.”

“Dad and I were never that close,” he said. “Not as close as I think either of us wanted.”

“Why’s that?” Lisa pinched off a corner of her sandwich and slipped the tidbit into her mouth.

“I don’t know. We just never had all that much in common. I think if my dad and I were just two men, unrelated, we’d be acquaintances, but not really friends.” He looked at her. “Know what I mean?”

“Sure.”

“I was the artsy one, the one who took after Mom. Jeremy was the one who took after Dad. He was the football and basketball star, the hunter, the soldier. I sometimes thought Dad couldn’t quite figure me out.”

“What do you mean, ‘figure you out’?”

He paused for a moment, searching for a good example. “It’s easy to show your support for your kid when they’re a running back on the football team. You go to the games. You celebrate their touchdowns. You save their clippings from the paper. That’s easy. How do you show the same amount of support for your other kid who was named editor of the school newspaper? Then editor of the yearbook? There’s no cheering section for that.” Jason shrugged. “I don’t think he ever really figured that out.”

The dryer buzzed.

Lisa was on her feet before Jason could react. “I’ll get it.”

“You don’t have to do that. I can do my own laundry, you know.”

She leaned over to kiss his cheek. “Since you won’t let me come along to help you up there, doing your laundry lets me help you down here. Besides, I’m going to have to head to my seminar soon. You’re on your own after that.”

She hugged him then, kissed him again, and went off to fold his dry clothing. Jason remained on the sofa, staring at the remains of their sandwiches on the coffee table. After a moment, he reached over and began to re-wrap his sandwich. He was no longer hungry.

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writing

A Question About Quotation Marks

Okay, all you writers (and readers) of fiction out there in the blogosphere, I have a question for you. There seems to be a trend (movement, what-have-you) to do away with the use of quotation marks to indicate dialogue. How do you feel about this? Are you okay with it? Like it? Don’t like it? Why?

Speaking for myself, I’m inclined against the idea. As a writer, I know it can be a challenge just to make clear to the reader exactly who is speaking and how, even with the device of quotes. I can imagine the difficulty of writing the same scene without them and maintaining that clarity in the reader. And if your story includes snippets of interior monologue (as mine often do), how do you differentiate that from spoken dialogue?

It would be an interesting exercise, or perhaps a conceit for a particular work, but I can’t see it as the new standard.

In my opinion, having no quotation marks as the standard has a huge potential to only confuse the reader, possibly even to the point where they give up on the story. And while we, as writers, should be pushing the boundaries of technique and challenging our readers, we must also realize that we are already competing for their attention with countless media that are far easier. The reading audience in Western Society is already shrinking. Do we really want to make reading harder?

Let me know what you think.

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novel-in-progress

“Deception Island” Chapter 1, scenes 1 and 2

Really.

All he wanted from life right now was just one day he could sleep in.

Instead, once again, her damn dog was on the bed.

Beside him, Lisa groaned and pulled the edge of the comforter over her head. Maybe if the dog couldn’t see her, she seemed to think, it would move on to something else. Jason tried pretending he was still asleep. Hector, Lisa’s little dust mop, wasn’t buying either ploy. He tap danced across Jason’s feet and lower legs, then tried a soft shoe over Lisa’s. In case that hadn’t gotten their attention, he barked twice, if you could call it that. His bark wasn’t exactly guard-dog quality. Hector was Pomeranian, ten pounds of long beige fur, attitude and little else. He was what Jason’s dad, who’d had a series of labs, retrievers, and setters over the years, would call a yip-yip dog.

“Hector, go back to sleep,” Lisa groaned. “Leave us alone.”

Hector yipped again and improvised another tap dance across their legs.

A claw dug into Jason’s ankle like a tiny little knife. “Ow!” He jerked the injured leg away. “Damn it!”

Hector celebrated his success by performing doggy calisthenics over their legs and yipping nonstop. He had them now and he knew it.

Lisa turned over and snuggled up against Jason’s back. “He needs to go outside. Can you take him?”

“Why me? He’s your dog. Or whatever he is.”

He felt her stiffen beside him.

“Fine.” She tossed the comforter aside and sat up on the edge of her side of the bed. “Come here, Hector, my good boy. Mommy will take you outside in a minute. Don’t listen to Mr. Grumpy Pants.”

Mr. Grumpy Pants? What was this? Kindergarten?

Jason tried to tune them out and go back to sleep.

“Oh crap! Crap, crap crap!”

Jason sighed. Sleep obviously wasn’t going to happen. Not today. “What now?”

He felt her abruptly leave the bed. When he raised his head Lisa was already hunched over the dresser in the tee and panties she’d slept in, frantically pulling clothing out of a drawer. “The alarm didn’t go off! We’re late!”

“Shit . . .” Jason glanced over at the alarm on Lisa’s night stand. It read 7:37. The alarm was supposed to wake them more than an hour ago.

“I’m supposed to be teaching 121 at 8:30!”

Lisa ran to the closet, gathering a ski sweater to add to her load of underwear and jeans. Hector hovered near her feet, barking nonstop with the sudden excitement and running in tight little circles.

“Jason, honey, could you please take Hector out while I jump in the shower?”

“Sure,” he sighed. “I’d love to.”

More than anything.

His sarcasm was wasted. Lisa had already disappeared into the bathroom. A second later, the shower started up.

He rubbed the sleep off his face and climbed out of the nice warm bed, found yesterday’s pair of jeans, and slipped them on. Hector, the impatient little fur ball, yipped nonstop and bounced between Jason’s feet and the bedroom doorway.

“I’m coming, you overgrown rat.”

Hector darted out into the living room ahead of him. He paused to sniff at the empty cartons from last night’s Chinese on the coffee table. Jason was a couple of steps behind him. “Don’t even think about it.”

Hector turned away and scurried to the sliding glass door leading to the back patio.

Jason paused over the empty food cartons. A single piece of barbecued pork clung to one side, It was no bigger than a fingernail. He picked it off the cardboard and crouched down in front of Hector. “Don’t tell your mom, okay?”

Hector accepted the tidbit, downed it and thanked him with a quick lick of the fingers.

Jason stood, unlocked the sliding door and pushed it open. Hector bounded over the little patio and onto the lawn like he was beginning a great adventure.

Jason shivered and closed the door against the morning chill. It was October and it was Seattle, which meant it was cold and wet and would be cold and wet pretty much until spring. It wasn’t actually raining now, but everything was still glistening wet. A low, soiled-looking overcast clamped down just above the tops of the neighborhood firs. Even the light seemed weak as if filtered by heavy curtains.

Upstairs, the shower went off. Lisa would be putting on her face in a moment.

Outside, Hector had found the perfect patch of grass and squatted down to do his business.

Monday morning.

Jason sighed and kicked himself for letting her talk him into staying over again last night.

It being Monday morning and all, a multi-car accident on I-5 just south of 40th Street had transformed all four southbound lanes into a parking lot. Seattle’s notorious rush hour had just become a nightmare. According to the local news radio, traffic was backed up as far as Everett. Highway 99, the other major north/south route, was nearly as bad because of the overflow.

The city itself was a natural bottleneck. Seattle was built on a strip of land about twenty-five miles long north to south, but only six or seven miles wide. Several million people commuted to the city every day, almost all of them either from the north or the south. All it took was one little hitch in the flow and everything ground to a halt.

Like now.

Jason turned east on 45th Street, away from the Interstate, cruised through light traffic for a mile and a half, before turning south on Mountlake Boulevard toward the University. Lisa had probably steered her little Civic on the exact same route thirty minutes before. Maybe she’d missed the worst of the traffic.

Within a block and a half he was back in bumper to bumper traffic, but that was normal. Like most colleges, the University of Washington had not been designed for auto traffic and he usually avoided the area if he could, but at least it was moving. He could probably walk faster, but it was moving.

No sooner had he formed the thought than both lanes of traffic ground to a halt. To their left the massive facade of Husky Stadium hulked across barren parking lots. To the right, students in raincoats or the protection of umbrellas scurried around red brick buildings toward their morning classes. The overcast seemed to have lowered and grown darker. In the distance, he could just see the steel gray surface of Lake Washington.

He glanced over at the powder blue minivan idling beside him. A woman with long dark hair was talking on her cell phone and gesturing with her free hand. Behind him, a man with a mustache that matched the dark color of his SUV grimly sipped coffee from a Starbucks cup.

One afternoon, several years before, while sitting at a traffic light, he’d glanced over to the car next to him and recognized the prominent Pastor of an area mega church. The good Pastor had been spending his down time at the traffic light getting friendly with a blond woman in the passenger seat. Jason had suspected the blond was not his wife. He’d snapped a quick photo with his cell phone, done some investigating and confirmed that the good Pastor was indeed breaking the Seventh Commandment.

His story had ended up on the front page, below the fold, but the front page. You never knew where the next story would come from.

But not today.

His cell burped that he’d received a text. He fished the phone from his jacket pocket and glanced at the display. Lisa. He opened the phone and the message.

Made it, she’d written. CU 2nite? Luv u.

His phone asked him if he wanted to reply.

He wasn’t sure.

He wasn’t sure about a lot of things when it came to Lisa. Oh, he liked her. He liked her a lot. There was no doubt about that. She was kind and smart and funny in a goofy sort of way. She was working on her Masters in American History at the University and could spend an evening discussing the nuances of the nineteenth Century political climate and then without any kind of transition be on the floor wrestling with Hector like a little girl.

She collected teddy bears, for God’s sake.

He truly enjoyed being with her. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that she was beginning to make long term plans. As in lifetime plans. He wasn’t sure he was ready for that. They had to have a serious talk, but he didn’t know how to go about it. He didn’t want to break up; he didn’t want to see other people; he just wanted to slow down a bit. He just didn’t know how to tell her without hurting her.

He decided to avoid the whole issue for now, saved her text, and instead called the newsroom. Marcia, the receptionist, answered on the second ring, only a touch of frazzle to her voice. He told her about the traffic situation and that he’d be late.

“Oh we’ve heard,” she told him. “Believe me, we’ve heard. Half the newsroom is running late. Miles is not a happy man.”

Miles Condiff was City Editor and Jason’s boss.

“Miles wouldn’t be happy if Jesus came down to personally hand him a Pulitzer.”

Marcia laughed. She had a nice throaty laugh.

“Besides, it’s Seattle. He ought to be used to it by now.”

“You know Miles. ‘We’ve got a paper to get out!’”

“Tell him not to have a coronary. I’m on my way.”

Marcia said she would relay the message. “By the way, I really liked your story yesterday.”

He smiled and thanked her. It still made his heart glow when someone liked his writing. They said their goodbyes and he closed his cell phone.

Reminded by Marcia’s compliment, he ejected the CD from his car’s stereo. The radio was already tuned to one of the all news channels. He viewed most of his colleagues in broadcasting with barely concealed contempt. How could you take seriously a medium in which an in-depth report lasted two minutes?

But he wanted to hear whether anyone else picked up his story.

With the help of an inside source, he had uncovered a scam involving a contractor who was providing inferior asphalt to the City Roads Department, but charging for top-of-the line product. It was no wonder the city’s streets were always in such sad shape. Not only was the contractor essentially doubling his profits at taxpayer expense, but he’d been doing it for nearly ten years. Coincidentally, that was almost exactly how long the contractor’s father, Harold Stevenson, had been on the City Council.

There was no mention of it on the radio, but it was late in the rotation and they were talking about the Huskies win over Cal last Saturday and whether they had a shot at upsetting the Oregon Ducks on Saturday. (Jason wouldn’t bet on it. The Ducks were very good.) The headlines would come at the hour and half-hour. He checked his watch. He had ten minutes.

The double column of vehicles ahead of him began to move forward. He slipped his car into gear and followed the taillights of the Camry in front of him for about a hundred yards before the procession again came to a stop. Now though, he could see the traffic signals ahead. He figured he’d get through the intersection on the next cycle.

A few raindrops splattered against his windshield, then thickened to a light rain.

“Perfect,” he sighed.

He opened his cell phone again and dialed his home phone number. No one was there, of course. No one had been there since Friday morning, which is why he needed to check his messages. When it switched over to voice mail, he punched in the access code and waited as the computers did their thing.

The spooky computerized woman told him he had twelve new messages.

He told the computer to play the messages.

The first three were computer-generated sales pitches offering to refinance his mortgage (he rented) eliminate his credit card debt (it was reasonable, thank you) and save him money on his auto insurance. He quickly erased all three. Next up was a man’s voice: “Hey, it’s Charlie. Listen, I met this gorgeous woman, but she won’t go out unless I find a guy to go out with her roommate. What are you doing tonight?” Jason had no idea who the guy was. Charlie? He didn’t think he knew anyone named Charlie. Besides, the message had been left on Saturday night, so it was too late now. He deleted the message.

He quickly deleted five more messages that were either sales calls or hang-ups, then a man’s voice caught his attention. For one thing, it was a real man, not a computerized imitation. The voice also had a tone that grabbed his attention, somber. “This is Detective (the name was unclear), of the King County Sheriff’s Department. I’m trying to reach Mr. Jason Reynolds. It is very important that I speak to him as soon as possible.” He repeated that it was very important and left a call-back number. The voice mail said the message had been left Saturday afternoon.

Jason frowned, wondering what that was all about and hit the button to save the message.

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