Friday, May 30, 2014
My contemporary horror novel is available over at Amazon for a whopping .99 cents…for a limited time!
Go on over and pick yourselves up a copy, will you? I need the beer money and Miss Sydney could do with a new couch pad.
I've finally decided on a cover. I know it looks a little '70s-schlocky, but hey, Mean Pete himself is '70's-schlocky. The book, however, is a page-turner. Guaranteed! It even has an old cowboy in it who I hope will be played in the movie--knock on wood--by the great Harry Dean Stanton...
When you've finished reading the book, consider leaving Mean Pete a review. It don't HAVE to be a five-star…unless you think, like Mean Pete himself, that it's worth five stars.
I really would appreciate an honest assessment of the yarn, and other prospective readers would, too. And this isn't one of Mean Pete's nasty tricks. I will not send my attack dog after anyone who gives the book less than five stars. In fact, I've given Miss Sydney the next two weeks off. (See below.) So rest easy and I hope you enjoy the tale of sundry nefarious and grisly doings in the Colorado Rocky Mountain high country…
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Buy at AMAZON
Buy at BARNES & NOBLE
Plus a bonus horror short-story: “Johnny & Devlin Forever: Terror in the Piney Woods”
Two men. One woman. A blistering love triangle that turns deadly at...
Meet Jake, David, and Ashley. They’re all good-looking and 30-something. They live in Colorado. They’re lifelong friends.
They’ve hiked the mountain trail to Paradox Falls regularly since they were teenagers.
David and Ashley are married...and wealthy.
Jake is married, as well...to Brenda. Jake is not nearly as wealthy as David and Ashley. Jake’s a struggling writer and part-time bar tender in Denver. He may or may not be in love with his wife.
Jake and Ashley had once been lovers. They were each other’s first love, in fact. But that was back in high school. Even so, their flame has never totally died.
That becomes obvious on the trail to Paradox Falls, when petty jealousies, old resentments, carnal passions and slow-burning insecurities...as well as a beautiful blond hiker named Jasmine and an old cowboy named Jerry who’s hunting a killer wielding a crossbow...churn into a lethal concoction resulting in crushed dreams and bloody murder...
***BEWARE: VIOLENCE, EXPLICIT SEX, STRONG LANGUAGE***
After the second girl had been cut down in the water...
An eerie silence had descended over the lake.
Footsteps sounded—the crunching of brush and gravel, the dull thuds of boot heels. They were growing gradually louder.
There were also the unmistakable metallic clicks of a shotgun being reloaded.
“Dave?” Jake said, realizing he’d only whispered it. “Dave?” he said again, raising his voice.
The footsteps continued to grow louder—a steady, purposeful rhythm, like a metronome. The plastic shells were being thumbed into the shotgun.
“Dave!” Jake shouted, his voice trembling along with the rest of him. “What the...what the fuck is going on?”
The footsteps grew louder.
Faintly, Jake saw a shadow move in the darkness maybe fifty, sixty yards beyond him.
There was an almost girlish, snickering laugh.
Then Dave’s voice rose in a bellowing shout so berserk that it could have been the voice of the devil himself: “Bloody MUR-DERRRRRRR!”
Monday, May 26, 2014
(I have finished the book and am moving forth with the arduous task of editing, polishing, hammering the rough hide into an eye-catching suit of clothes. Should have it up on Amazon tomorrow or Wednesday--MP)
Jake moved carefully through the brush beyond the camp. He came to the creek that was only a couple of feet wide, sounding like chimes as it rippled over and around stones, flashing in the starlight, and dropped to one knee, looking around.
He felt an adrenaline rush of adventure. Suddenly, he was a character in one of his westerns, stalking someone on a dark night in the mountains—a bank robber, say. Only, when he stepped across the creek and a heard a woman’s musical voice off in the darkness beyond the stream, the fantasy was gone and the rush turned to dark shock.
The shock grew darker when he heard David’s voice.
Jake’s heart thudded heavily.
He continued forward, setting one hiking boot down slowly before lifting the other, gritting his teeth at the soft grinding of grass and ferns beneath his feet. The voices were coming from behind a dark screen of shrubs in the tall pines, dead ahead.
“...the opportunity arose and I decided to tag along for the ride and the hike. I wouldn’t have come if Seth hadn’t wanted to come, but his friends were going and...”
The girl let her voice trail off. The voice belonged to the blonde with the dreadlocks, nose ring, and copper-toned legs.
“Seriously?” David said on the other side of the shrubs. “You seriously expect me to believe that in the entire state of Colorado, teeming with mountains and hiking trails, you just happened to show up at this somewhat obscure hiking trail on the very same day that you knew I’d be here with my wife and a friend?”
A friend? Jake thought, momentarily losing track of the gravity of the situation. That’s all he was—a friend?
I thought we were best friends. Lifelong bros!
For some reason, Dave’s passing him off as merely a friend rather than a best friend irked him more than what was happening, but likely only because he still hadn’t wrapped the girl and David around his alcohol-sodden brain yet.
The girl. The beautiful blonde. And David.
No way. This wasn’t happening. Dave wasn’t boning that girl in the shrubs while Ashley lie sleeping in their RV. Jake was still lying by the dead fire, sound asleep, dreaming.
“Come on, hon. Let it go. Okay, I made a mistake. I’m jealous, all right? You said you’d tell her about us and you haven’t, and I can’t stop thinking about you.” The girl groaned. Jake saw her grab the collar of David’s pullover. She pulled him down to where she lay on a sleeping bag.
“Let’s fuck,” the girl coaxed. “Come on, hon—fuck me, honey.” She was fairly mewling with need, like a wild animal.
Jake couldn’t deny that she was making his pants get a little tight in the crotch.
David sagged down on top of her. Jake heard the rasping of their clothes, the saliva-crackling sounds of kissing. The girl sighed, moaned.
David lifted his head and laughed. “You damn near gave me a heart attack, Jas. I mean, when I saw your Tyler’s Jeep pull into the campground, I damn near kicked the bucket.”
“You should have told her by now, darling. I love you so much. You said you’d tell her.”
“I know, I know. But it’s complicated. We have the girls. We have the house. Christ, we have the dogs!”
“I was going to spring it on her over the trip. I was gonna sort of filter it through my buddy, so I could hear how it sounded first, and see how he’d react. Then I’d have a better way of knowing—”
“She’s not going to like it,” the girl, Jas, said. “Of course she’s not going to like it. But you said yourself there’s no passion between you anymore. Tell me something, David—you haven’t been fucking her, have you? You said you wouldn’t fuck her again before you told her...”
“No, of course not. Hell, we were hardly ever having sex, anyway. She’s got it in her head she’s fat.”
“Personally, I thought she was a little chunky.”
David laughed. “Christ, you’re sexy.”
“And I’m all yours.”
Jake heard the sound of a zipper. He could see David and Jas’s shadows moving around on the other side of the shrub. They were breathing hard, grunting. Jas giggled. Then Jake saw David mount her. She spread her knees and wrapped her long, bare, beautifully tanned legs around his back. The soft, blue starlight glistened on her shins. The voyeur in Jake wanted to stay and watch the show, but the better part of him knew it was time to leave.
Moving furtively, he swung around and stole away from the shrubs on the balls of his hiking boots. He crossed the creek and returned to his chair by the cold, dark fire.
“What just happened?” he asked himself, his mind swirling. “What just happened over there?”
As he sat in the chair and let it sink in, he gradually became queasy. His guts writhed like poisonous snakes. Suddenly, he started to feel his meal and all the alcohol he’d drank work its way up toward his throat. He pushed out of the chair, knocking it over, and stumbled back through the shrubs. He dropped to his knees, and the contents of his belly shot up out of his belly like a geyser, and splattered on the rocky ground by the creek.
He vomited several times, the roiling, half-digested steak and booze searing his tonsils and throat, until there was nothing left to come up.
“Oh, shit,” he said, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. “Oh...oh, shit.” He wasn’t sure he’d ever felt this miserable. His head pounded. His stomach churned. His throat was burning. His tongue was swollen. It felt like a dead snake in his mouth.
His knees quivered. Cold sweat was popping out on his forehead and dripping down his cheeks.
The ground pitched around him.
If a gun were handy, he probably would have stuck the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
He drew a ragged breath and then walked over to the creek and bathed his face. He sucked several mouthfuls of water and spit them out, trying to rid the sour taste from his tongue.
As he sat back on his heels and stared at the sky, he could hear the girl moaning softly. It was a quiet night, and sound carried. Jake gritted his teeth and turned toward the RV. Ashley probably couldn’t hear the girl in there. The windows were likely closed.
What if the other young folks heard? He assumed they knew about Jas and David, but they probably didn’t know what was happening just now behind the bush. That had the earmarks of a tryst. If they did know, they might stumble around and wake Ashley.
Oh, hell—why should Jake care?
He didn’t know, but he did. He didn’t want Ash to find out this way.
What would happen when she did find out? Would she and David split?
If so, that would leave an opening for Jake to make his long-anticipated move...
Jake leaned forward and retched once more. There was nothing more to come up. He leaned forward with his forehead pressed against the cold, gravelly ground, and wished that he would die and spare himself the misery of this night and the rest of his life.
“Jake?” It was Ashley’s voice.
He turned. She stood a few feet behind him in baggy gray sweats and slippers, a gold and brown wool Buffaloes cap pulled down over her ears. Her honey-blond hair slithered over her shoulders. She wore long, brown knit mittens.
Despite his misery, Jake tried to pitch his voice with joviality. “Ye-yep?”
His heart thudded like cymbals in his ears. He glanced in the direction of where David was throwing the blocks to the blonde, but he could see only starlit leaves and dense shadows. There were no sounds.
“What’s the matter?” Ashley asked. “You don’t sound so good.”
“Just...” Jake ran his hand across his mouth and smiled wryly. “Lost my cookies. Embarrassing. Man, I’ve become a lightweight.”
“Yeah, I’m not feeling so good myself.” Ashley rubbed her belly and looked around. “Have you seen David?”
Jake’s heart beat a war rhythm against his ribs. “Isn’t he in the camper?”
Ashley shook her head. “I woke up and he was gone.”
“He must’ve come out when I was...”
Jake let his voice trail off. A shadow moved behind Ashley. There was the soft crunch of footsteps.
“Hey, what’s goin’ on?” David said, moving through the brush. “What’re you two doing out here?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” Ashley said.
“Trip to the crapper.” As though for proof, David pulled half a roll of toilet tissue out of his sweatshirt pocket. “After all we ate and drank”—he grinned and shook his head—“I would have stunk you out if I’d used the commode in the RV.”
“Right, thank you,” Ashley said.
“Hey, what’s wrong, bro?” David knelt down beside Jake, who fought off the urge to punch him. To wipe that smug, self-satisfied look off David’s dimple-cheeked, cleft-chinned, handsome face. It just occurred to Jake that Dave was playing a game. He didn’t really mind that Jas was here, and that she’d even walked into their camp earlier, where Ashley had gotten a good look at her.
It excited him.
It was a game.
Jake doubted that David had any intention of telling Ashley about Jas.
It was a game. A dangerous game. But his life was so boring otherwise, and he’d attained so much that he’d stiven for, that he needed some spice in his life. Two women was pretty good spice.
“Jake had the same problem, I think,” Ashley said. “Only his came out the front end.”
“Well, bro, I can sympathize. Man, what lightweights we are. A couple of old goats who can’t hold their hooch.”
David helped Jake to his feet. “Why you sleeping out here?”
“Felt like getting out under the stars, inhaling some fresh air sans the Denver smog.”
“He probably heard us arguing.” Ashley smiled and rubbed her cheek against David’s shoulder. “Don’t worry—we worked it out. All better now. Sometimes I get jealous and more than a little owly when I’ve been drinking. It’s the wine, I think.”
“Oh. Okay. Good.”
“Come on inside,” Dave said.
“I’m good out here,” Jake said. “The cool air feels nice...under the circumstances. Clears my head. And, who knows, I might need to use the crapper later.”
“Right—well, okay.” David stretched, yawning, holding Ashley taut against him. “It’s back to bed for me—what says you, Mrs. Whitfield?” He kissed her temple.
“Mrs. Whitfield seconds the motion. ‘Night, Jakey.”
They strolled arm in arm to the RV.
Jake crawled back into the sleeping bag. He thought long and hard about Dave. He was back to feeling envious now of David having Ashley and a beautiful blonde on the side. Two beautiful blondes, one young and supple and child-like, the other mature and supple and likely knowing her way around a man’s needs.
No, Ash knew her way around them, all right. Jake knew that from experience. Even as a teenager, she’d known how to please him. Not at first, but she’d been a quick study.
Ashley would have been enough for Jake.
“Don’t worry about it,” he silently told himself, feeling the fatigue of the day weighing on him. He yawned. “You’re rich, F. Scott. You’ll have a bigger house than David and Ash’s. Might even buy one close to them up Four Mile, so Brenda and I can drive by their place in our sports cars, toot the horns. They can see all our wine deliveries. Hah!”
Suddenly, he missed her. He wished she’d come along. He couldn’t wait to give her the good news.
He sat up suddenly, looked around. He’d heard something moving around out in the shrubs near the creek. Now as he stared, a shadow moved quickly, briefly. And then it was gone.
Apprehension wriggled like a snake across the back of Jake’s neck. A bear? The bow-and-arrow killer?
Then he smiled, realizing.
“’Night Jas,” he whispered, and lay back down.
Something woke Jake at dawn.
Blinking and shivering against the cold, he sat up and looked around. Gray light filtered into the campground. Birds were chirping. But the birds were not what had awakened him. The dull thudding sounds were what had reached into his sleep and pulled him into consciousness.
The smell of fresh horseshit laced the breeze. Then Jake realized that the large shadow moving through the shrubs at the edge of the camp was a horse and rider silhouetted against the eastern sky. Beneath the thuds of the shod hooves were the softer thuds of the apples the horse was plopping onto the ground as Jerry skirted the camp aboard the chestnut.
The old cowboy wore his quilted tan jacket and gloves. He wore a blue sweatshirt under the jacket, and the hood was drawn up over his dirty green feed cap. He had something strapped to his back. It was still to dark for Jake to see clearly. It was probably the crossbow and quiver. The saddlebags draped across the chestnut’s rump were bulging with gear. There was a leather scabbard strapped to the saddle, and the rifle shoved down into it was probably the .30-30.
The heeler, Otis, trotted along behind the horse, nose to the ground.
As he rode, Jerry pulled a flask out of the inside of his jacket. He took a long pull and then returned the flask to the inside of his jacket. He shook his head, smacked his lips, and shivered.
Jake watched as Jerry rode around the edge of the young folks’ camp and then swung left, angling toward a green steel stock gate that marked the beginning of the Paradox Falls trail, a hundred or so yards beyond. Jerry dismounted, and there was the clank of a chain and the squawk of steel hinges as he opened the gate. He led the chestnut over the cattle guard and onto the trail. He closed the gate and chained it. Otis slipped under the barbed wire fence left of the gate, avoiding the cattle guard.
Jerry hadn’t bothered to sign his name to the notebook the forest service kept in a wooden box near the entrance to the trail, under a roofed wooden sign that had pictures of mountain lions, black bears, moose, elk, and other possible trail hazards tacked to a board behind glass. There was the obligatory Smoky the Bear warnings, as well, of course. And emergency phone numbers though those did little good out here, where there was no cell coverage, no landlines.
On the other side of the gate, Jerry swung up into the saddle. In the gray light, Jake could see the flash of a white sneaker.
Jerry batted his heels against the horse’s ribs, and they started off along the rocky trail that curved up through towering pines. In seconds, horse, rider and Otis were gone.
Shivering, his head feeling as though an angry, brawny lumberjack were attacking it every three seconds with a sledge hammer, Jake collapsed against his air mattress.
“See ya later, Lone Ranger,” he said, and squeezed his eyes closed against the lumberjack’s blows.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
Jake had tried to say the same thing Dave had said, but the word got trapped and strangled by his vocal chords, so that it merely sounded as though he belched.
“Please pardon the interruption,” the girl said in the latest faddish lilts, “but my friends and I were wondering if we could buy some firewood from you...?”
“Not a chance,” David said crisply.
The girl stared at him from the other side of the fire. “Oh...kayy....”
“Your money’s no good here,” David said, wriggling out from beneath Ashley with a grunt. “But I’d be more than happy to share my supply with you at no charge. I mean, come on—it’s only wood, right? We burly wilderness types have to stick together.”
Ashley said, “Really, David? Are you sure we have extra? Remember, we are going to need more wood for after we’ve hiked back down from the falls.”
David glanced at her, slid an embarrassed glance at the girl, who blushed.
“You said on the way out here that you weren’t sure you brought enough wood along for after the falls....” Ashley reminded him coolly.
Jake cringed inside the collar of the hooded sweatshirt he’d donned after the sun had gone down.
“You know what?” David said. “I was wrong, Ash. I brought more than enough wood, just like I always do.” He turned to the girl. “I’m a little anal about the wood, is all, and I never think I’ve brought enough. But, hey, we wilderness seekers have to look out for one another, right?”
“Yes, certainly,” the girl said, smiling and bouncing forward as though she were walking on air. Jake noticed she avoided making eye contact with Ashley. “We burly wilderness types do need to stick together!”
“Watch each other’s back,” David said, as he tramped over to the motorhome, still wearing shorts and flip flops though the temperature had dropped into the fifties. “I mean, without wood you all might freeze to death over there, and that would make things awkward for us over here. We'd have a moral dilemma on our hands, and who needs moral dilemmas when you're on vacation? We’d be stuck with the decision of should we call the authorities now or after we’ve hiked to the falls?”
The girl laughed loudly. It was like an old lady’s cackle that made her all the more endearing.
“And that’s a very real possibility,” she said as David opened one of the storage department doors near the back of the RV. “It’s getting sooo cold. I didn’t realize how cold it got up here and didn’t dress for it.”
“I see that,” Ashley muttered over her wine glass at the fire, and glanced at Jake. Jake smiled edgily.
He didn’t think the girl had heard. She’d followed David over to the motorhome. He pulled out a plastic garbage bag filled with split firewood, and said, “There—that gonna be enough? I’ve broken my supply into manageable bundles.”
“Actually, that’s wonderful. We still have some of the wood we gathered but it’s kinda wet.”
“And you probably need some dry stuff to keep it burning.”
“Right. Are you sure I can’t pay you?” She brandished a bill high between her thumb and index finger. “We all chipped in....”
If she smiled more tantalizingly beautifully, Jake thought, Ashley was going to get up and bitch-slap her. He could feel her simmering in her chair there beside him.
“Stick it in back in your bra, sister!” Dave said, and hefted the bundle on his shoulder. “And I’ll even mule it over there for you.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that!”
David had already clip-clopped off in the direction of the young folks’ camp. “Watch me!”
The girl followed him, laughing. They disappeared for a time in the darkness and then Jake saw their silhouettes against the glow of the fire over there—Jake’s much larger than the girl’s. Ashley watched in stony silence, holding her wine glass up against her mouth. Jake didn’t look at her, but he knew she was staring toward the other fire.
He felt his muscles grow taut between his shoulders.
He could hear Dave talking loudly for a time with the teenagers. The teenagers laughed. Dave laughed. Dave talked a little more, charmingly joking around, and then one of the young men said, “Hey, thanks, man. If you need anything from us, you know—not to hesitate.”
“Stay warm!” Dave said as he started walking back toward Jake and Ashley.
“Wow,” Ashley said as Dave approached the camp. “She’s hot!”
“Shhh,” Dave said, glancing behind him. “She might hear you!”
“Don’t tell me she hasn’t heard it before.”
Dave shrugged as he crouched to toss a couple more logs on the fire. “I didn’t think she was all that hot.”
“Really?” Ashley turned to Jake. “You thought she was hot—didn’t you, Jake?”
“Ashley,” he wanted to say but only said it to himself, “I thought she was hot, but I can honestly say I find you hotter. You’re a woman and she’s just a girl. And if Dave wasn’t here tonight, and if I had a choice between you and her, I’d choose you and thank my lucky fucking stars for just one more night with you under the covers. Why I ever let you go in the first place, I’ll never figure.”
Instead, rising heavily from his chair, he said: “I suddenly feel the desperate need to take a piss.”
“Chicken!” As he walked away, Ashley bounced a pinecone off his back.
“Ouch!” Jake said as he moved into the trees beyond the fire.
When he was well away from the fire, he unzipped and let go. Afterwards, he didn’t head back to the camp. Things were too tense back there. He hadn’t had much reefer after supper, but he was too drunk to sort through it all—David, Ashley, the pretty girl, Jerry “The Man-Hunter” Johnson, the life-changing phone call he’d gotten from Roger Goldstein just before they’d gotten out of cellphone range.
He’d have called Brenda and told her the news, if he’d had time. But everything had happened so quickly after that, and then they were out here where there was no coverage.
He strolled through the brush, crossed a narrow creek in whose black, rippling water the stars sparkled like diamonds. He strolled some more in the cool night air under the stars. So much to sort out. He felt jittery now about the money. He knew it was not to his credit that the main thing he kept thinking about was Ashley and how she’d react when she found out he was rich.
Or at least relatively so.
He knew he should have been thinking about Brenda and planning out the much better, more comfortable life he and she could start living once he’d cashed the Hollywood check. Nope. His thoughts kept meandering back to Ashley Whitfield, making his heart feel raw with want and regret and jealousy and every other piece-of-shit emotion a human being could entertain.
“Fool,” he told himself, running his hands through his longish brown hair. “You’re a goddamn fool, Jake Gorton. A goddamn fool. Forget her. She’s Dave’s. David’s. Besides, if you had her, would you really want her? Maybe you’re too fucked up to ever appreciate anything you have. Maybe you’re destined to always want for something else...”
Hearing the gentle strains of a fiddle, he stopped. A fire flickered before him. He’d thought he’d been heading generally back toward his own camp, but now, peering through the dark brush, he saw that he’d somehow strayed over to the backside of Jerry and Marigold’s camp.
They had a Coleman gas lamp hanging from a pole, hissing, and bluegrass music playing on a radio or cd player inside the trailer. The music wasn’t very loud. Jerry and Marigold were dancing to it, on the other side of their campfire that lay between Jake and them, about fifty yards away. The horse, tied to its picket line, watched them, twitching its ears. The firelight was reflected in the chestnut’s black eyes.
Otis lay near the horse, curled in a ball, sleeping with his snout resting atop his paws.
Jerry and Marigold were dancing slowly, cheek to cheek, shuffling from side to side and then in a slow, tight circle. An old-fashioned dance—a very slow waltz, Jake thought. Or their own version. The kind of dance today’s youth only learn in ballrooms.
Their eyes were closed, and Jerry was smiling, keeping his cheek pressed tightly against the unsmiling but happy-looking Marigold as they moved to the poignant strains of a fiddle and what Jake thought was a dulcimer. Old-time music. Appalachian music.
Jerry and Marigold looked like teenagers very much in love.
Jake’s eyes sti=ung. He turned away, ashamed of having spied on the pair. Tears pooled in his eyes. They rolled down his cheeks. As he walked away from the dancers, he brushed the tears from his cheeks with his fists, bewildered.
What in Christ had gotten into him?
Too much to drink. Too many different things to drink on top of the pot. For some reason, all the alcohol and marijuana in his system had swollen his heart to the size of a gas can, and it was chugging heavily beneath his breastbone. As he moved away from Jerry and Marigold’s camp, the music dwindled behind him. Walking along beside the creek, he saw the low, umber glow of his own fire. He pushed through the shrubs.
David and Ashley’s chairs were empty. Their empty glasses lay on the ground near the chairs. Slow guitar music rose from the direction of the young folks’ fire. They were all sitting around the fire over there, a boy and a girl singing softly.
There was a light on in the rear of the motorhome. David moved slowly toward the RV. As he did, he could hear David and Ashley’s voices emanating from the lighted windows at the back, from the bedroom. They were talking in low, taut, testy tones.
They were having it out over the girl.
Jake cursed under his breath.
He added another log to the fire and sat in his chair, kicked back and staring at the stars, listening to the young people sing, talk, and laugh together. One of the boys gave a brief, coyote-like howl.
“Shut up!” one of the girls said. “You trying to call the killer in or what?”
The others chuckled.
They quieted down after that. Eventually, David and Ashley stopped arguing, and the lights went out in the back of the RV. Jake waited another fifteen minutes for the pair to go to sleep, and then he moved quietly over to the motorhome. Usually when they camped together, he broke the dinette down into a bed. It was a comfortable enough arrangement, and he didn’t feel out of place in there with the two of them.
But tonight he felt like an intruder. He felt like a third wheel again, just as he’d felt on the way out here, and he didn’t like feeling that way around them. They were his closest friends, even closer to him than family. At least, he usually felt that way. Tonight, however, he didn’t want to sleep in the RV. He needed his own space.
He stole quietly into the rig, gathered his gear, brought it outside, and spread his air mattress and sleeping bag beside the fire. He removed his sweatshirt and hiking boots but kept his cargo pants and long- and short-sleeved T-shirts on. It was bound to get colder once the fire died.
Jake crawled into the sleeping bag, zipped it all the way up, used the sweatshirt for a pillow of sorts, and closed his eyes. For a time, Jerry and Marigold’s sweet faces floated like fire balloons against the backs of his closed lids. He had a brief remembrance of the dream he’d had when he’d nodded off in the RV earlier—the dream of Ashley seducing him and taking her halter off. To avoid a hard on, he rolled onto his side, used a mental broom to sweep his mind clear, and drew a long, deep breath.
“An arrow to the heart,” he heard one of the young men say. “That’s a nasty way to go, bro.”
“Unless it’s a Cupid’s arrow,” one of the girl’s said smartly. Jake thought it was the tan beauty who’d been flirting with David.
Jake must have slept for a time. When a noise jolted him awake, his fire had gone out entirely. He saw no light next door, either. It was very cold. Keeping his cheek pressed to his sweatshirt, he looked around, half-expecting to see a ghostly specter wielding a crossbow moving toward him from out of the darkness.
There was the faint squawk of a motorhome spring. It was followed by the resolute click of the RV’s door being gently latched. David or Ashley was outside. Why? If they needed to tend nature, they had a commode inside.
Keeping his head down, feigning sleep for some reason he was not sure about, he heard the crunch of gravel beneath a stealthy tread. A figure stepped around him and moved out away from the dead fire—a large figure in a red fleece sweatshirt and baggy, red plaid sleeping pants. David’s wool-lined deerskin moccasins flashed dully in the starlight as he stole off into the night, heading in the direction of the creek.
“Stole” was the right word.
For some reason he was stealing away from the camp. He was sneaking. Being furtive.
Before he even realized what he was doing, Jake was out of his sleeping bag and stepping into his hiking boots. He had no business doing so, but he intended to follow Dave and find out where he was going though something told him he already knew.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
(The book is nearly done and I'm polishing. It will be up by June 5.)
The Sweet Nelly campground was ten or so primitive campsites and one stinking Forest Service privy under pines, aspens, firs, and birches on the shoulder of the mountain up which the trail snaked to Paradox Falls. The trees were sun-dappled and dripping now after the rain. There were three horse trailer parking spots—long and broader than the others--and Jake saw that one was occupied.
“That’s my sweet li’l ole gal!” Jerry said, looking out the window over the kitchen sink. “Hold up here, amigo,” he said to David. “I’ll disembark right here! That’s Marigold, my gal. She stables my horse for me, on account of I’m too stove up to look after him anymore myself.”
Dave slammed on the brakes, and Jake nearly went over backwards in his chair. Ashley cursed and smacked David across the back of the neck.
“Easy there, hoss!” Jerry said, almost tumbling into Jake but managing to cling to the sink and a towel rack. “These ole knees ain’t what they used to be. Sawbones in Fort Collins wants to cut ‘em both out and replace ‘em with titanium. I told him he could do so, but only if he could replace my pecker with the same stuff!”
He roared, opened the door, and ambled down the steps with a grunt. Otis barked and leaped out beside him. As the dog immediately ran off with his nose to the ground, Jerry went shambling off in his white tennis shoes to where a large form in a tan jacket like Jerry’s was sitting beneath the awning of a long, white horse trailer plastered with rodeo, pro-NRA, and anti-government stickers.
Only the long, light-red hair told Jake, standing in the doorway, that the person was a woman. She must have weighed close to two hundred and fifty pounds, and she was wearing Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots. She sat in a lawn chair with a large, red plastic Circle K cup resting on one thigh. There was a cover on the cup and a straw sticking up out of the cover.
“Hi, Marigold,” Jerry said, opening his arms as he approached the woman sitting motionless, expressionless, glancing behind him at the motorhome suspiciously, as though she thought it might be filled with government spies. “You been waitin’ long, precious? Did you miss your Jerry?”
If Marigold responded, Jake couldn’t hear what she said above the RV’s rumble. Otis ran up and greeted her warmly while she totally ignored the dog. An old ironing board stood in front of the trailer. On the board was a carton of Old Gold cigarettes, a two-liter bottle of Diet coke, a gallon jug of Canadian Club whiskey, a brick of Velveeta cheese, a box of Wheat Thin crackers, Little Debbies, Dorito chips, and a plastic ice bucket swiped from a motel.
To the right of the horse trailer, which had an air conditioner sticking out of one window near the front, was a large, battered Ford pickup liberally coated in mud. A horse stood nearby, tied to a long rope stretched between two pines. The horse—chestnut colored and sleek, with three white stockings--whinnied, shook its head, and arched its tail as it stared toward Jerry and Marigold.
There was a tarp-covered pile of something nearby. Probably tack.
“Hey, Jerry,” Jake called. “What about your gear?”
Jerry was hugging Marigold, who’d risen from her chair to return the hug, holding the Circle K cup in one hand, an Old Gold in the other. Jerry had to stretch to get his arms around the big woman. Jerry kissed Marigold on the lips and glanced over his shoulder at Jake.
“Haul it out here for me, will you, amigo?” Jerry winced and grabbed his lower back. “Ridin’ in that heap threw my back out o’ whack. My gear, too, if it’s not too much trouble!”
Jake glanced over at Dave.
“Christ!” Dave jerked the gearshift into park.
“It’s your own fault, Clyde Barrow,” Ashley told him, standing behind Jake and staring out at Jerry and Marigold playing kissy-face. “If you wouldn’t have stolen that candy bar to prove you still run with the wolves...”
David walked around the front of the rig to the door. “Yeah, but then you wouldn’t have met Mr. Wonderful,” he told Ashley as he climbed into the rig.
“True,” Ashley said. “How true.” She smiled out the door. “He is rather wonderful, isn’t he?”
Jake and David each took a handle of the ice chest and carried it out of the motorhome. Grunting and cursing, they hauled it over to Jerry and Marigold, and, at Jerry’s direction, set it on the opposite side of the trailer’s door from the makeshift liquor table. Jake thought maybe Jerry was going to introduce him and David to Marigold, but Jerry and the woman merely walked off together, heading in the direction of the horse. Marigold was easily three times Jerry’s size though her head only came up to his chin. She held her Circle K cup in one hand and smoked the cigarette with the other.
Dave scowled after them and then returned to the motorhome for the duffel bag and the rifle, both of which he set atop the ice chest.
Jake turned toward where Jerry and Marigold stood near the horse. Jerry extended his arm straight out from his shoulder and lifted his thump. He looked at Ashley standing in the motorhome’s open door and grinned. “See you around, beautiful!”
Ashley grinned and waved. “Bye, Jerry!”
“Bye, Jerry,” David mocked as he headed for the driver’s side of the cab.
Ashley gazed off toward where Jerry and Marigold were standing and talking near the horse, their backs now facing the RV. Ashley planted a fist on her hip and said to Jake, “Why, that two-bit hussy! She grabbed him right out from under me!”
“She needs an open-handed bitch slap,” Jake said.
Just then he realized he’d been a little jealous of Jerry himself.
Jake and Ashley helped Dave back the motorhome into a horse trailer camping spot about thirty yards from Jerry and Marigold. As the sun sank in the west, and shadows grew long, the air cooling quickly, they set up camp and then built a fire out of dry wood that David and Ash had brought from home. David fired up his stainless steel gas grill, and after they’d had a few more drinks over happy hour, David grilled T-bones.
Jerry and Marigold had been the only other campers at Sweet Nelly until, at dusk, a Jeep load of college-age kids came splashing into the campground and loudly set up camp, including three nylon tents the color of jellybeans, on two spots just north of the Whitfields’ RV. Kicked back in his canvas outdoor easy chair, a glass of bourbon on the rocks in one hand, a cigarette in the other, Jake saw that they were an energetic, good-looking lot.
The fairly new, dark-blue Jeep Wrangler told him they weren’t hard up for money, like he had been at that age. They seemed to have all the latest gear. There were three girls and three boys. One of the girls wore her nearly white hair in dreadlocks. She wore an old, faded red T-shirt with the arms cut off and the bottom cut to expose her flat belly and silver belly button ring. If her stylishly tattered denim shorts had been any shorter, there would have been no point in wearing them.
She was long-limbed and tan, and she walked around with effortless grace, laughing and fooling with the others, all of whom treated her with the deference due a queen. One of the other girls, a brunette, was plump. She appeared to be paired with the beefier guy, who seemed to be taking a lot of shit from the other, better-looking guys.
Good-natured shit, but shit just the same.
“That’s all right, sport,” Jake said under his breath, his thoughts having returned to his phone call from Roger Goldstein now that Jerry had turned out not to be the killer he’d feared, “play your cards right, hold your course, and you’ll get your chance.”
“What’s that, there, F. Scott?” David said, collapsing with a sigh into the chair next to Jake’s.
Jake flushed. “I was just muttering to that chunky guy over there that if he plays his cards right, he might have a shot.” He congratulated himself on the nice recovery.
They were both staring over the fire at the teenagers.
David sipped his bourbon on the rocks. “With the blonde? Not unless he’s well-heeled or well-hung.”
“You never know.”
“Look at her. Look at him.”
“I’m thinking they might be together,” Jake said, reconsidering the group dynamic.
“They might have come together, but trust me, they’re not together. They’re friends. The chunky kid’s either gay or going to art school.”
The art school comment was a dig at Jake’s writing. Jake thought about Roger Goldstein and ground his molars to keep from blurting out how rich he was. Or would be soon, at any rate.
The blonde and the chunky kid were hauling sleeping bags out of the rear of the Jeep. They were talking and laughing. “Shut up!” Jake heard her say in a lilting, throaty voice that grabbed him by the balls.
As she turned away from the Jeep, she glanced over toward where Jake and David were ogling her on the other side of their fire, and she cut her eyes away knowingly, smiling. She walked like a two-year-old filly on long, slender legs as light as the air.
“Honeybunch?” Ashley called from inside the motorhome, leaning out the door.
“Yes, my flower?”
“The salad and the quinoa is done. How’re the steaks doing?”
“They’re done as well, petal. I just turned the grill off.”
“All right, boys—stop ogling the jailbait over there and come fill your plates!”
David glanced at Jake, and snorted. “Your wish is our command, Cookie!”
They ate dinner inside the motorhome, dining on rare T-bones, Mexican-spiced quinoa and black beans, a garden salad, and several glasses of California red wine that David had shipped home when he’d traveled out to Glen Ellin for a week-long tea conference last January. The wine had become the bomb all up and down Four Mile Canyon and amongst Ashley’s office mates in CU Alumni Relations. The vineyard had shipped Ashley and David a free case in their appreciation for the recommendations.
“Oh, yeah?” Jake said, studying the understated black-and-white label on the bottle. It was a single heron winging over a single tree of unspecified variety. “Maybe I’ll have to buy a case or two myself. Damn good swill, if you ask me.”
He caught Ashley and David glancing at each other furtively, dubiously out the corners of their eyes. He almost spilled Goldstein’s phone call right then and there. In fact, he’d just lowered his wine glass and was clearing his throat to do just that when he was saved by Ashley saying, “All right, boys—you have to help me with the dishes, and then we’ll go toke like old times around the fire and count the shooting stars!”
“And every time we see one, I get to kiss my rose petal!” David said as he wriggled up out of the dinette.
Drunkenly, Ashley stepped up to him, snaked an arm around his neck, ground her pelvis against his, and kissed him. Jake saw her tongue slither out of her mouth. He could hear their saliva mingling.
“Why don’t you two lovebirds take it outside?” Jake said, wrestling out from behind the table. “I’m the chief bottle washer tonight. Least I can do. Come on, come on—out, out, the two of yas! I know how it’s done!”
Laughing and holding hands like young lovers, David and Ashley headed on out of the motorhome.
Jake burned with jealousy and petty annoyance. While he pumped water out of the hot water heater into the tiny sink, and washed the dishes as well as he could in the cramped quarters, setting them all out on a dishtowel to dry, he considered spilling the Goldstein beans.
He calmed down and reconsidered. Something again told him not to. Changing the dynamic might ruin the trip.
He was their poor stray dog from the old neighborhood. They seemed to need him to remain that way. Unsuccessful. Maybe it made their success, by contrast, all the sweeter. Everyone needed a Jake Gorton in their lives.
He couldn’t blame them. People were people. Fucked up. He’d probably be the same, shameful way if he were in their shoes. In fact, he couldn’t help imagining how it might have been between him and Ashley...if only he’d gotten this movie deal ten years ago.
How would she react once she finally knew he was rich—maybe richer than she and David? Would she see him as more than just an old boyfriend she found sport in making jealous after all these years?
Jake dumped his unfinished glass of wine down the drain, swabbed out the glass, set it on the table, and poured himself a fresh bourbon over ice. He went outside and sat by the fire with his old friends, and soon, despite his inward gloating and resentment, it was like old times again. They sort of regressed to when they’d first started coming out here. Though Ashley and David cuddled in the same chair, they weren’t so much a pair. The three of them were a group. Together.
They laughed and reminisced about the old days, and shared a few bowls of Mary Jane.
No mention was made of Anton Woode and/or the bow and arrow killings.
Jake couldn’t see Jerry and Marigold, because their camp was over on the other side of the motorhome. He could, however, see the glow of their bonfire. The teenagers were milling around their own fire, leaving the camp in small groups of various sizes, or just sitting around talking. Their campfire cast noir-like shadows to and fro.
They didn’t have chairs, so they lounged around on the ground, some in sleeping bags. For the most part they’d quieted down except for brief spurts of bawdy laughter. One was quietly strumming a guitar.
Jake, Ashley, and David had also quieted down. They grew dreamy as they watched the stars above the pine boughs, and sipped their drinks.
A shadow separated itself from the teenagers’ fire. A figure moved toward Jake’s and the Whitfields’ camp. Soon he could see the familiar slender figure though now the blond had a Packers wool cap pulled down over her ears, and mittens on her hands. She still wore the incredibly short denim shorts and midriff bearing T-shirt, however. On her feet were hiking boots and wool socks pulled up nearly to her knees.
“Hello,” she said musically, stopping just beyond the edge of the firelight.
Jake’s heart quickened. She was a coolly spectacular beauty.
“Hello” was all he’d heard her say so far, but he knew she was one of those naturally attractive, worldly young women who said and did the right things without effort whatever the situation. You could fly her to Dubai tonight and she’d wake up in the morning and order menemen for breakfast in fluent Arabic.
“Hello,” David said in his best movie star voice.